High school graduates are choosing to stay and work in a regional mining town in Central Queensland thanks to an inspirational teacher who is using her world experience to provide new career pathways and opportunities.
Moranbah State High School (MSHS) teacher Gemma Whapham, who teaches Home Economics and Vocational Education and Training subjects including Education Support, Hospitality and Tourism, is a finalist in the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) Outstanding Contribution to School Community Award.
Ms Whapham said she had always wanted to be a teacher, but she graduated from school when she was 16 years old and didn’t feel mature enough to work with high school students, so she worked in childcare and travelled internationally, working in hospitality instead. She is now transferring the skills she learnt across the world to the classroom.
“I am the Hospitality teacher at the school. The Certificate II students must complete work experience at some point, but I try to give them experiences where they are immersed into some sort of community event where it is about helping the community in terms of keeping their costs down, while also giving students the opportunities to develop their skills wherever they can,” Ms Whapham said.
“The big reason I think community involvement with the students is important is because we need as many people [as possible] to stay in the region and keep the businesses going,” she says.
Students do work experience as teacher aides at the primary schools, as trainees at the Bright Kids afternoon school care program – which could not run without the students’ help – in local businesses and at community events, including sporting events, high teas, the NAIDOC Dinner, Eat Street Markets and the Mental Health breakfast. They also run the Rhino Café on Fridays, delivering coffee to teachers.
Over the past 18 months MSHS graduates have taken up positions in childcare and in hospitality in the mines.
“We have a very good intake of students going into apprenticeships in the mines each year and I like now that it’s not just the typical electrician or diesel fitter, it’s now looking at other career paths including administration roles or hospitality,” she said.
Ms Whapham said she loved working in Moranbah due to the “great community feel” and encouraged anyone thinking of teaching to give regional and rural schools a go.
“Some of the best opportunities that you can get are from working in rural communities,” she said.
The QCT Excellence in Teaching Awards are the only state government awards which recognise teachers from all schooling sectors state-wide. Winners will be announced on October 25, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day celebrations in Australia.