Support structures at Bendigo TAFE


26 July 2023

Bendigo TAFE is celebrating 150 years this year and its City campus is one of the oldest continuously running TAFE in the country. Starting as the Bendigo School of Mines in 1873, Bendigo TAFE now has five campuses across central Victoria serving around 7,000 students per year. The City campus features central courtyards with native landscaping, new buildings seamlessly blended with old, including the original School of Mines building. Inside the brick, glass and metal structures lies state of-the-art learning and support facilities such as a learning hub, beauty salon, cooking school, Indigenous Centre, rehab centre, library and more. Unique in its location right in the centre of the city of Bendigo, the campus was revitalised through a $60 million government grant, with works completed in 2021.

Located in a regional centre, Bendigo TAFE offers over 120 courses and was named Australia’s top large training provider for 2022 at the Australian Training Awards.

Nuts and bolts

Ian Grinter, a literacy, numeracy and mechanics teacher and AEU sub-branch representative, has been teaching students at Bendigo TAFE for 28 years. Growing up in Shepparton, Grinter knew he wanted to teach and after a very brief stint in schools he realised that TAFE was where he wanted to be and Bendigo TAFE is where he found his second home.

“It is part of the philosophy of the TAFE that we are supporting everyone from the community who wants to take on adult education,” he says, adding that’s what drew him to TAFE.

Based at the City campus, he admires the recently completed renovations that provide state-of-the-art training facilities whilst still honouring the campus’ rich history. “I like the way the old and new buildings have been integrated quite cleverly – they really do complement each other,” he says.

As an engineering mechanics and Learning Support Unit teacher, he sees the physical structure forming the foundation from which teaching and supportive structures can combine to give students the best possible chance for success.

“[Bendigo TAFE] is very supportive of the Learning Support Unit and the teachers and that in turn allows the teachers to support their students,” he says.

“Bendigo TAFE has that added extra in supporting students. We have a program called ‘preparation
for study’, which provides a pathway for preparing students to come into other adult education. We build up their skills, numeracy, literacy and digital literacy so they can get into other adult education courses.”

In addition to teaching the preparation for study program, he also provides one-on-one support for other students, predominantly in electrical engineering, where there is a particular need for support for the mathematical aspect of electrical theory. A typical day for Grinter would be teaching in the morning and then one-on-one support in the late afternoons to the evenings, so that apprentices can access support after work.

“Our Diploma of Engineering is a pathway to university, so helping students complete that pathway and get into university is great to see because students make a huge amount of progress in that one-year diploma and then go on to uni and it is a really important part of what we offer,” he says.

Grinter sees the role of TAFE is to support communities through education and opportunity.

“Whether students that are working in industry or trying to get into industry through a pre-apprentice program or pre-vocational program in the trade areas, we’re supporting the local industry in terms of skills and knowledge and helping to sustain and strengthen the industry and that has the flow-on effect of strengthening the economic wealth of the community or communities,” he says. “It’s also a pathway for students to come out of the community into courses to improve their lives through getting a qualification or getting employed. Providing opportunities for people in society – that’s a really important role of TAFE – to allow people to improve their lives.”

Language of learning

Emily Anderson has taught Vocational English at Bendigo TAFE for the past two years. Living in Bendigo, with a degree in English and knowing that she wanted to teach English as an additional language, she went into TAFE and asked what she would need to become a teacher there, and then went out and became qualified.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher for a really long time. My mother was a teacher, my sister is a teacher, I’ve accepted my fate,” she laughs. “I’ve wanted to be an English teacher ever since I was a foreign language student myself.

“I chose Spanish, I was so keen to learn, I have family in Spain, I worked with Chilean people, I had an interest in Spanish literature, I thought this will be great and it was actually the hardest subject I did, I didn’t do very well,” she says. “So I thought I’d research about how the adult brain learns languages ... and that was fascinating, so I just kept going.”

She then knew she wanted to teach English as an additional language and after moving to Bendigo with her family, she knew she wanted to teach Vocational English at Bendigo TAFE.

“Vocational English is a structured course that is for people of migrant or refugee backgrounds for whom English is their second, third, fourth, fifth language, and getting them proficient in the language so not only can they be integrated with the community and build their life here, but they can go on and do other courses in TAFE – trades, nurses, beauty therapy – so we get their English up to a satisfactory level for that,” she says.

Anderson says in Bendigo there is a large Karen cohort (an ethnolinguistic group of Sino-Tibetan language-speaking peoples), as well as people speaking Arabic, Dari, Farsi and Persian, Dinka Bor from South Sudan and Chinese languages.

Learning is based on what the students are interested in and what skills they already have, such as horticulture or agriculture or engineering, for example, or where they want to go.

“I build on the skills and knowledge they already have and build on that by giving them the English words for that,” she says. “Everyone is crying out for trades, so when one of my students said they wanted to do carpentry, I was like ‘great’ we can make that happen for you!”

She says her role is to help students get their English up to a certain level and let them know what they can do next, as many are unfamiliar with how education works in Australia.

“Finding out what students need and want ... allows us to help and guide them and that’s why foundational programs are so important,” she says.

“My students are everyday success stories,” she says. When students complete, they can go out and find jobs or take on more study and many go on to help their own community. “Who knows how far they may go. One of my students now works at the daycare centre where my son goes ... it’s everyday people finding their place in the community and settling in. That saying about pulling people up the ladder behind them – these people are more like taking one rung and pulling people up immediately.

“TAFE’s massively important for the community because it centralises educational opportunities, like if a student expresses interest in hairdressing I can take them over to the teaching salon and introduce them to the team there,” she says.

She also says the community within TAFE is incredibly supportive. “I’m the newbie here, and [my colleagues] have looked after me so much. The benefit of having teachers, some of whom have been here for decades, and having them around and willing to share their knowledge and experience makes all the difference in the world. I don’t think any amount of education can make up for those relationships ... and the informal mentoring.”

Bendigo TAFE too has supported Anderson in her areas of interest and her professional development of research into teaching people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) “which is the vast majority of our students” and this in turn has been informing her practice and making her a better teacher.

“The support structures at TAFE too is about giving people the resources they need to care for students and taking an interest in why they may be struggling, why they may not be able to come to class ... getting to know them allows us to tailor the support needed. There are all these great services, but if we can’t link them, they are useless.

“I’m really happy to be teaching here, I just love it, love teaching, love my students,” she says. “It’s brilliant to be part of [Bendigo] history. The location is fantastic because we do walking excursions all the time. I can take my students outside and show them what’s around locally, we go to the gallery ... the post office, the local library, do tai chi in the park when that’s on, and all the great stuff that Bendigo has public or for free and that they can access.

“[It’s about] getting hands-on getting that experience – one of the difficulties in learning English is that it’s hard to retain, so the more practical applications and the more interesting your memories are, the more likely you are to retain that information. I really look forward to seeing my students every day.”

Centering support

Bendigo-raised Noongar woman Caroline Tarran is Koorie Liaison Officer at Bendigo TAFE. After studying music in Melbourne she returned to Bendigo and decided to return to study towards a career. Visiting the TAFE’s Schools and Jobs Centre at Bendigo TAFE, she told them she was looking for a career that allowed her to help people. “They suggested Community Services Diploma and I did my work placement at the Indigenous Education Centre,” she says of her journey to her current role. While studying, she was offered a role at the Echuca campus. Completing her Diploma, she then went on to do a Cert IV in Training and Assessment as part of the first Indigenous cohort – meaning a class specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students – a course she now teaches. “To think of how I was when I first started – I was that nervous coming in – to being in the classroom again and how I am now is just incredible, it’s just amazing honestly,” she says. “It was because of the care the teachers showed me that made me want to teach.”

Based in the Indigenous Education Centre (IEC), named Djimbayang by the Dja Dja Wurrung, which
means to learn and teach, Tarran is part of a team of Koorie Liaison Officers, Koorie Student Support Officers and a Koorie Engagement Mentor for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the City and Echuca campuses. Tarran says students come to the IEC for pastoral care, for meetings, for quiet respite or for support in their education or private life.

She says support starts from the initial application of interest to study and carries through their entire education: “It very important [to have support structures] because we need to show that we can support our Aboriginal students to be successful, whatever that looks like – even if it’s making them feel comfortable through the enrolment process because that can be quite overwhelming in itself, or during their course of study … or even once they’ve graduated, attending the ceremonies as well to show that we’ve walked with them through the whole process,” she says.

“Supporting students as individuals allows them to be themselves and not feel judged and shows we’ve got their best interests at heart.”

Building connections both to students and to the community is her favourite aspect of her job.

“We need to know what the community wants and need and that only happens through consultation, communication and conversation,” she says. “We want to see students come on board whether it’s for a specific program for Indigenous cohort or getting a group of our mob to be part of a mainstream program, but there’s a group of them so they can feel safe.”

Her love for Bendigo TAFE is clear and shares her full circle journey with TAFE as an example of what TAFE can offer compared to her university experience.

“A lot has changed with qualifications – it used to have to be you ‘have to go to university’ but with TAFE it’s getting you ready for the workforce. It’s the real-life skills you learn when you’re training here, I’m a big advocate for TAFE,” she says. “For Bendigo community we’re really lucky to have this here with the multiple campuses, the number of courses and of course Fee-Free TAFE, which makes it even easier to attend.”

Article by Diana Ward ; Photography by J. Forsyth

This article was originally published in The Australian TAFE Teacher, Autumn 2023