Inspirational Rockhampton teacher changing students’ lives
A former lawyer turned teacher making an extraordinary difference in the lives of at-risk Rockhampton students is a finalist for a state teaching award.
As a teacher at Carinity Education Rockhampton, Mitchell McAulay-Powell is helping to improve the educational and career prospects of teenaged students who had previously disengaged from schooling.
Now Mitchell is a finalist for the Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Outstanding Contribution to School Community Award.
Mitchell has achieved inspirational results with students whose education had stalled, using his knowledge of pop culture to engage with teens. Changing classroom design to cater for different students and dressing as Disney characters are ways he breaks through to some teenagers.
Relationship-building and a ‘Zen Den’, available at any time in Mitchell’s classroom and allowing students to self-manage their wellbeing and learning, have been crucial to student success.
His classroom features ‘breakout zones’ where students can complete tasks or de-escalate by participating in drum circles, undertake arts and crafts or work with another student to play board games and achieve their goals together. Students can use fidget toys, access wellbeing pamphlets, or just sit in a beanbag designed to feel like a hug.
“I love thinking of new ways to engage with students and to try to get them into the classroom. It’s about really getting to know them and working really hard to really break that stigma around wellbeing and turning their self-confidence issues into courage,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s approach is working, with students achieving individual record attendance levels. One student has attended school every day for two months after not going for two years.
“I have a passion for seeing students grow and improve not just academically but also emotionally. We give students a chance to learn and prosper through engagement methods that you would not see in a mainstream setting,” Mitchell said.
“I enjoy being able to see new ways of engaging students and seeing them improve each day is a blessing. It is one of the reasons why I became a teacher.”
Mitchell had a life-changing moment when a student he tutored won an award. The student told him, “I wouldn’t be where I am today if you didn’t help and tutor me”.
“The next day I quit my job as a lawyer and basically started my teaching degree. I’ve loved every moment of it. It’s been an absolutely incredible experience. I love it. I know I can make a difference in these kids’ lives,” Mitchell said.
Of the 29 Queensland teachers who are finalists over six categories of the TEACHX awards, Mitchell is the only one from Central Queensland. Winners will be announced on October 28, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day celebrations in Queensland, and will win $5,000 for professional development.