Teaching from Inspiration

By Melanie Sloane

The experience of winning the Supreme Award pushed Melanie Sloane to travel the world and teach internationally.

It’s been 8 years since I was honoured to be even considered for the Attitude Awards let alone be named the Supreme Winner and it's safe to say - my life changed that evening!

Winning the Supreme award totally blew me away as my fellow nominees were all equally amazing in their own right. Experiencing the awards evening was inspiring for me and has influenced the choices I have made in my life since that day.

I used the Air NZ prize money to travel around Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland and wales for 8 weeks that following year and my eyes and heart were opened to a whole new world of adventures. This meant returning to NZ afterwards was very difficult for me. It was within that following year that I decided to move to England and teach for a year.

I packed up my house, off-loaded my dearly loved cats and turtle to family and set off wearing everything that didn’t fit into my already full suitcase. It was absolutely hilarious for anyone watching a wee blonde Hobbit with arthritis struggle through the London Underground with 35kg of belongings! This would be priceless viewing on its own.

I always had a feeling that I could make more of a difference, but I did not realise to what extent until I experienced a totally different mix of cultures, expectations and faiths.

Coventry, England, was my impromptu choice over London due to expenses and my desire to travel as much as possible.

Settling in was a hurdle I hadn’t put much thought into and I quickly realised that moving to the other side of the world wasn’t going to be a walk in the park - more like a ‘I’ve locked my keys in my car along with my phone and passport and have no numbers to call for help and am sat in the rain, drinking beer, crying all while suffering from hunger as my bank cards wouldn’t work and I had food poisoning and no doctor would take me as I had no proof of address yet’ - tricky times lay ahead for me but they smoothed out in the first 6 months - so much so that I quit my NZ job and decided to stay another year.

Six years have now passed, and my family back home have lost hope in my return anytime soon! As I write this, I am currently sat in the Iringa National Park, which is in Tanzania, Africa. I have volunteered here for the summer to work alongside teachers.

My mind has been opened to the differences in both culture and education and working with LRTT (Limited Resource Teacher Training) I have been able to do what I love best, teaching, all while having a life experience of my own yet again.

Teaching and living overseas has made me a better person and teacher. The affirmation you get from the children you teach here is far apart from what I had ever experienced back in NZ. The simplest of things can change a small person’s day, week and potentially future; and working in an environment where expectations from families, schools and children are so different to what I was used to has been what has made me stay. I feel I am having more of an influence here because I am allowed the freedom to do so within the flexible curriculum.

My health has had massive ups and downs. Not many people can say they’ve stayed in a Danish hospital for a month - but I have! My wee visit was not due to my Arthritis however, it was the aftermath of a burst appendix. This caused the last 3-4 years to be very difficult due to a flare up. It would seem that all my travelling has begun to take its toll on my body now and I have had to slow down a wee bit but I’ve only really rearranged my priorities.

Work and life balance had become a massive issue for me and I had left NZ because of the same problems. School expectations and my own high standards meant that I was missing the point of what life is for; we should be working to live and working should make you happy.

In the last two years I have simply said no to the greater workloads and expectations and focused on my actual teaching relationships with the kids I do this for. I have also set clear boundaries where I don’t take any work, home nor do I do any after leaving work.

I arrive at work at 8 am and leave between 4 and 5 pm each day; if it’s not done and if it’s not for the kids the following day, then it’s not that urgent. I would rather spend my time with my loved ones and doing things that make me a more well-rounded human than wear myself out only to be over critiqued all the time.

Since making this personal choice - I have become a better person both at work and at play. I feel that every teacher in NZ or the UK could benefit from choosing to make these changes also as changing the systems is proving too difficult from above, so we should start it ourselves. No Head will lose a good teacher because they value a balanced lifestyle.

Life will never be easy for me and the last year has proven that, with my own health and having to battle on, as well as the emotional pull from home where my brother is battling his own health challenge of Brain Cancer.

Going ‘home’ for me has played on my mind but deciding to stay in the UK has meant I have two homes now and that I’m not done with my travelling, nor my teaching. I have realised that my passion for teaching and empowering children cannot be crushed by my own challenges, both health and immigration wise. Ridiculous expectations often put upon us and the difficulties we have today when inspiring children who have perhaps limited options, I will continue to do what I do best - keep on keeping on.

Life is for living and challenges make us stronger in mind, body and spirit. Having the privilege to be able to travel and share and motivate children throughout the world is what I live for.

Without the Attitude Awards I truly believe I would never have done what I have. I once lived in fear of my disabling disease and imagined and fear the boundaries that impact us all too often. Had I not left, I’d be still in NZ, probably in the same school, teaching the same children, never knowing or understanding the true level of indifference around the world nor realising that no boundary is impossible if you just follow your heart.

I’ve found my happy place and that’s in me. I just need to keep sharing that with others.

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