28. Annette Welch

10 Apr

annette welchAnnette Welch is a truly inspiring woman. Even from speaking to her for the short time that I did, her compassion, warmth and sensitivity shone through. Annette is a maths teacher and administrator at Diamond Valley Learning Centre and is recognised by all as an invaluable member of staff. Annette has assisted hundreds of young adults to see the relevance of maths beyond the classroom, understand the concepts and gain confidence in their own abilities.

Ever since Annette was a little girl she has wanted to be a teacher; “I think I’m the sort of person that likes to help people. So teaching was something that I always wanted to do, even when I was young I wanted to be a teacher.” She had been teaching in traditional school settings before starting a family and then the opportunity to teach at DVLC, as she puts it “fell into my lap”. At first she only worked with the adults there, but over time more and more young people joined the adult classes. Annette realised that being taught in the same class as the adults didn’t suit the youth; so she helped to develop the VCAL program.

The inspiration behind this came from the realisation that these students had so many gaps in their knowledge alongside her strong value of equality. “I just feel that they should have the same chance as everybody else, and often in their lives they’ve had all sorts of issues and problems with their education. I just want to help guide them in the right direction.” At first it was difficult to begin these classes but as more and more students came to DVLC, the numbers were high enough to start a separate program to the adult classes. The program is run differently to your average class. DVLC aims to make the students feel welcome and part of a community. The students are treated as adults and a safe and enjoyable environment is created. “They love coming” Annette laughs “maybe they don’t like to do all the work, but they do love coming, which says a lot about the program as attendance is normally a big issue for these students in mainstream schools. ” She goes on to talk about  the importance of this “It’s horrible, but people often isolated or feel isolated and Valley VCAL at DVLC  gives them a place to connect with other people and I think that one of the biggest strengths  here is that connection with other people.”

Many of the students that Annette teaches have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They generally have had trouble with education and previous teachers. This is not, however, the case with Annette. Her students think the world of her; one of her students Jess said “Annette is not only a great maths teacher, but one of my vital supports through rough times. Her warm and caring personality makes her classes not only a great place to learn, but a place I always feel safe and could rely on to lift my moods and get me through the week.” As evident from this testimony, Annette’s teaching has been greatly beneficial to the students at DVLC. When asked about this Annette states “I think that everyone needs to be numerate. It is such an important skill to have in society and I just want to give them those skills. They just need to see that numbers are not horrible and are needed every day. I just want to give them these basic survival skills for when they are out in the world.” Furthermore, the VCAL program that Annette works on at DVLC greatly assists the students. Students learning styles all differ. These students don’t see the relevance in traditional learning; this  where VCAL is different. VCAL adopts  a very hands on approach.  “If you learn by the traditional methods that schools generally teach towards, you can normally do well, but often the students that come here have different learning styles. We can help cater for that a lot better because we’re smaller and we focus on the sorts of things that our students need. I think that’s really beneficial for them.”

As well as teaching, Annette has helped with fantastic new programs and ideas at DVLC. In 2011, DVLC ran their very first VCAL camp; an idea supported by Annette. The camp takes place at a ranch in Daylesford, where the students get to experience things they may have never imagined. It is also important as it bridges the gap between the teachers and the students. “The students get to know the staff on a different level, which is really important.” Not only that but it’s a chance for the students to stay away from home, which some of them have never done before. It gives them a sense of independence and maturity. When recalling one of the camps, Annette laughingly says “One of the things they loved the most was going to the spa. They had a day at the spa and it was such a pampering treatment for them.” Annette has also been a part of the waterwatch program. Waterwatch is a program where volunteers help collect information for the council waterwatch program on the quality of the water, in the different waterways. Annette volunteers for this in her own time, but last year decided to bring it into DVLC as a science program. “It’s really good because it makes students have a sense of belonging to the area that they’re in and they can start thinking a little bit about the environment.”

Annette loves her job, when asked about it she states “It’s a very rewarding experience and very challenging.” Although, it is a rewarding and enriching experience, it can be very difficult. So what gets her through? It’s the little things; they may not seem much to an outsider but they make a world of difference to Annette. “It may be a student who would spend all their time playing a gameboy, who this year is actually sitting and doing her work. She has gotten past that and doesn’t need to revert back to the gameboy to feel safe; she can now be part of the class in a meaningful way. Those sorts of achievements and outcomes are really, so much better than the educational ones, so that keeps you going.”

Working at DVLC has not only affected the lives of many students who attend school there, it’s affected Annette’s life as well; “It’s made me realise how lucky I am in my life because it never ceases me to amaze me what some people have been through and that they’re still bring themselves to places like this and hope to get some kind of education. That inspires me really, and that’s why I’m here to greet them with a smile and teach them about numbers.” So does Annette see herself continuing at DLVC in the future? Yes she does; “I want to continue here. I like being at the grass roots of it all.” And doing her part, she most definitely is. Her students say that they would not have made it to graduation without her, and her colleagues say she is an exemplary member of the teaching staff and an inspiration to all. Overall she is a truly admirable and inspirational woman whose contributions to DVLC have greatly benefited all those around her.

Words: Elysha Ringin

Photo: Adrian Faure


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