PE & Health Teacher and Sport Manager, Kerang Technical High School
Grew up in Charlton but now calls Swan Hill home.
Tessa Demaria (nee Burton) proudly identifies as a small town girl. And at 30-years-young, she fondly remembers her earliest ambitions, as a bright-eyed primary pupil, to one day become a school teacher.
As she recalls, her aspiration was drawn from inspiration — by watching and learning from her own teachers she decided she wanted to help people “just like they did”.
Fast forward to adulthood and the art of teaching flows naturally for Tessa as a high-school educator but also an elite netball coach, player and all-round sporting buff.
Indeed, her passion for teaching is possibly only eclipsed by her love of sport and the great outdoors; something she equally nurtured as a young country kid who “hated sitting still”.
For those who knew Tessa best during her childhood growing-up in Charlton, there’s possibly little surprise she went on to become a PE teacher; a vocation allowing her to spend a good portion of her days outdoors being active.
Perhaps they would say it was a fairly safe bet for someone so athletically inclined.
But what they should also say — what we would hope they would say — is what a fine testament her journey has been to the importance of building ASPIRATIONS in our country kids …
So that they, too, can follow their dreams, just as Tessa did.
Tessa Demaria — Victorian Rural Inspire Ambassador for October, 2018.
Tessa, tell us a bit about where you grew up?
I grew up in the small town of Charlton, in the Mallee. I enjoyed all different types of sports including netball, badminton, tennis, basketball, as well as going to all school sporting events, such as swimming, cross country and athletics carnivals. I guess it’s safe to say I was an ‘outdoors kind of kid’.
I’d describe life in Charlton as simple and quiet; everyone knew everyone, and it was a great family community where we had no fear and no real problems to worry about.
In the Winter I’d go wood cutting with my Dad, which is a fond memory, and otherwise I’d be out with my friends in town or on farms, riding bikes down by the river, swimming at the local pool – anything and everything that didn’t involve sitting down, sitting still or being stuck inside.
What about school, where did you go, and did you enjoy it?
I first started out at Charlton Primary School, which I loved, and then we moved to a new P-12 Campus (Charlton College) that was built just around the corner. I quickly grew used to the concept of being in a school that had both primary and high school students, and given I had two older siblings I thought that was pretty “cool”.
I have to admit I was one of those kids who did love school, because that’s where all my friends were, that’s where friendships blossomed and, being a small community, I had great relationship with the teachers.
So, what kind of student were you?
I think in primary school I was quite cheeky; I loved school and was happy to please my teachers and I wanted to help with anything and everything, all of the time (from what I can remember).
In high school, I was fairly studious; neat, tidy and organised but I struggled with maths. I got tutoring for this and I made it through but, on reflection, I’d say this was a low-point in my schooling and the only thing I truly didn’t enjoy.
What about your teachers, did any of them inspire you?
Two teachers were particularly special in my schooling; Kim Fitzpatrick (both primary and high school) and Barry McKenzie (high school).
Eventually you moved away from Charlton to undertake tertiary studies – what was your path to and experience of university?
An interesting one, I’d say. I took a “gap year” when I finished Year 12 and moved to Melbourne, where I undertook an AFL Sports Ready Traineeship with Connors Sports Management (AFL Player Management Company). This gave me an excellent insight into the world of professional AFL and everything that goes on behind the scenes. I made lots of great friendships and professional relationships, some which I still have today.
I then started my formal studies at Deakin University (Burwood Campus) in a Batchelor of Physical and Health Education, but I also continued working part-time at Connors Sports Management.
It was then that I was offered a scholarship to move over to the UK and study part-time while playing national league netball. Being all of 19 years old, I had nothing to lose so deferred my course in Australia and moved aboard, where I spent three years studying (MSc Sport Coaching) and playing in the Netball Super League competition.
After three years I returned home to Australia and applied for a Batchelor Of Physical and Outdoor Education (with a sub major in Health) at La Trobe University in Bendigo, which I proudly completed in 2015.
I certainly loved my time at university but having been there for just over six years (with all my credits, the travel and then starting study again), it was very nice to close that chapter at the end of 2015 and get out in the workforce.
So, what are you doing now – what is life like in the workforce?
Currently I am employed as a PE and Health teacher at Kerang Technical High School, where I have been since graduating my course. I truly love and enjoy my job. It has taken a long time to get to this point in my career due to the path I took as a 19-year-old but I don’t regret it. Back then, I was presented an opportunity through netball and I was able to travel overseas and live independently from a young age; I don’t think you can understate the life skills I took from this experience. And now, on the flip side, I think that obtaining my teaching degree at a more mature age has set me in good stead. I feel I have had more life experience and, therefore, have more to offer my students.
Do you think growing up in a rural area is an advantage or disadvantage?
I think it is a bit of both. As an advantage there is the family and community feel, where everyone looks after each other, you have support, you know everyone, and you feel safe.
But there definitely are disadvantages too, such as being limited with the subjects we could learn, limited in access to facilities and limited in resources as well.
Also, when everyone knows everyone, sometimes your privacy and personal space can be invaded.
Would you say you’re proud of your country upbringing?
Absolutely! I love being a small town, country girl. I feel that I was raised to be kind, nurturing, grounded and appreciative of the small things in life, and I attribute a lot of this to being from the country. I have lived in big cities in Australia and abroad, but I happily made my way back to live in a country town (Swan Hill) and to work in Kerang, which is a very similar setting to my school in Charlton.
If you could offer some advice to your teenage self, what would it be?
Not to get caught-up in the small things, like worrying about other people’s opinions. Looking back, I think we spend so much time when we are young trying to act and behave in ways that make us fit in rather than being true to ourselves and, therefore, being accepted for who we truly are. I’d also say, ‘be nice and kind to everyone’ because I think we’re all guilty of getting so caught-up in ourselves that we forget about other people.
And what would you say to current teenagers in high-school?
I think my message would be to do your best at everything you do. I feel life is all about effort; when we put effort in, we can see results.
Looking at the school system in its current format, do you think there is too much pressure on Year 12 school-leavers to achieve a good ATAR and head to university?
Tough one. I’d say yes and no. There are so many different avenues for school-leavers these days; apprenticeships, traineeships, tafe and on-the-job learning and I think this is emphasised in schools.
If a student wants to go to university to further their studies that is a great choice but there are many ways to achieve that goal; it doesn’t have to be straight out of Year 12 – look at me!
Do you think there should be greater government assistance to help rural students attend university?
I think there is good assistance with Centrelink and Youth Allowance, it certainly helped me immensely through my studies. However, I think there should be more services for relocation costs and fuel – some country kids have to relocate hundreds of kilometres from home to study, it’s very expensive and a challenge that metropolitan kids don’t even have to think about.
Final question -- If you could change anything about our education system, what would it be?
We need more support and funding for rural and small schools to upgrade resources, buildings, technology … the list is never-ending, really. I think we also need to critically rethink the way we attract and retain quality teachers in the country. As a suggestion, the government could increase salaries for certain areas and certain schools that are struggling to attract teachers.