World Teachers' Day: Celebrating those in education

Celebrating our teachers: Bunbury Regional Prison education manager Catherine Talbot. Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Celebrating our teachers: Bunbury Regional Prison education manager Catherine Talbot. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

As the education manager of the Bunbury Regional Prison, Catherine Talbot isn't your traditional teacher.

However, like teachers across the globe, Ms Talbot plays a pivotal role in the lives of her students.

After working in early childhood education and teaching university preparation courses at the Bunbury's Edith Cowan University campus, Ms Talbot took on the role at the prison in early 2015 after stumbling across the role online.

Up until then, Ms Talbot admits she had no idea what went on behind the fence of Bunbury Regional Prison, which is home to almost 300 prisoners.

"I learnt an awful lot about it immediately," she said.

"As an educator, it had never occurred to me how prisons dealt with education and what was on offer until I actually did some research for the job interview.

"It's busy, and it's constantly changing.

"It's a very broad job and was a huge learning curve for me.

"I have some great education coordinators that work with me and they do a lot of the delivery at the coalface and coordinating of the short courses."

From basic reading and writing to traineeships and course certificates, Ms Talbot said the facility offered prisoners on the ground training in a bid to prepare them for life on the outside.

According to Ms Talbot, many of the prisoners come to classes full-time and others undertake hands-on training on the prison grounds.

"There are a huge range of training services offered," she said.

"There is basic reading and writing for those prisoners who fell through the cracks in the education system way back in the beginning, right through to traineeships and certificate courses in a whole lot of industry areas, including cabinet making, food processing and warehousing and logistics, right through to university.

"Our role is to try to set them up with that direct pathway for when they get out."

After almost five years in the role, Ms Talbot said the most rewarding part of the job had been seeing the students succeed and the confidence they had gained from the experience.

"The prisoners have been really appreciative," she said.

"It's very gratifying to hand over that certificate at the end of that training and to see the look on their face, to see them qualified in that area.

"For a lot of them, that's their first achievement or milestone in education.

"Quite often, they've had a difficult time at school or they've reached year 10 and left and have never had the opportunity to gain any kind of qualification or training on the outside.

"It [being in the role] has certainly broadened my understanding and given me an appreciation of just how complex it is for people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds."

In celebration of World Teachers' Day on Saturday, October 5, Ms Talbot congratulated her fellow teachers for their efforts in what can be a very challenging, but highly rewarding role.

"It is an amazing job, and it's very eclectic," she said.

"For those people who understand what teaching is about, and for those that don't, if you see a teacher, give them a pat on the back.

"It is a great job - it's very challenging, but also very rewarding.

"Much like the prison system, the classroom is a closed environment - people don't seem to see what goes on on the inside on a day-to-day basis.

"It's a really dynamic job that goes far beyond simply teaching letters in the classroom."