Reality relished in rural retreat

Best friends Naomi Rodwell and Sammie Love used to spend their lunchtimes playing “schools” at St Joseph's Primary in East Maitland.

Earlier this year, the two turned their make-believe game into reality when they both landed their first jobs as teachers at St Joseph's Primary School in Merriwa.

The enthusiastic duo have been in step throughout life, having both attended All Saints’ College in Maitland during their high school years and then the University of Newcastle to study for a Bachelor of Education.

Naomi was thrilled in January when she was given the chance to take the reins as a teacher of Years 3 and 4 at the Upper Hunter school.

"I've wanted to be a teacher since I was in primary school and my passion for helping students and supporting their learning has only grown over the years," she says.

Sammie, who teaches Years 1 and 2, also shared the excitement for the profession from a young age.

"Initially I was tossing up what type," she says. "I had considered becoming a high school maths teacher, but ended up pursuing primary school teaching because I love kids and providing them with the opportunity to have fun while they learn."

This Friday, the duo will celebrate World Teachers Day with the St Joseph's School community in Merriwa, which they say has provided a welcoming and supportive environment from the moment they first arrived.

"Everyone here – the students, parents and staff – have all been so wonderful," says Sammie.

When the university cancelled graduation ceremonies due to the pandemic, the school rallied behind their newest teachers to ensure they still celebrated the auspicious occasion.

"St Joseph's held a party, even organising school hats for us to wear and throw up into the air," says Sammie.

And it's not just the St Joseph's community Naomi and Sammie appreciate, with both also developing a strong affiliation for the rural lifestyle Merriwa offers including visits to friends' farms and a membership at the local tennis club.

"I absolutely love the way of life in the country," Naomi says. "Merriwa provides different opportunities to what we had back home, and it's been so great getting to know everyone in town."

A move to the Upper Hunter wasn't something either had planned, and they never expected they would make a move together.

"As students in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle we had the opportunity to apply for a Teacher Education Scholarship,” Naomi says. “We were successful in our application, which meant we received financial assistance during our undergraduate studies as well as an opportunity to intern in a diocesan school, priority interviews for employment opportunities, and professional assistance with writing applications to schools and preparing for interviews."

Sammie says the pair had undertaken internships at schools across the region, and when two positions came up at St Joseph's in Merriwa and were offered to them, it almost seemed too good to be true.

They have observed differences when teaching students in rural locations compared with regional or metropolitan areas. Both agree that in general, students on the land are much more hands-on learners.

"The students here love to take their lessons outside," Naomi says.

Sammie was shocked when one of her students performed a whip-cracking demonstration for show-and-tell.

"I undertook a lot of my internships in larger schools in and around Newcastle,” she says. “Most of the time students there would bring in a toy or talk about a movie they'd gone to see, so it was terrific to have this student showcase a talent I'd never seen in person.

"They teach me things just as much as I teach them."

Naomi and Sammie hope to continue working at St Joseph’s in Merriwa over the coming years.  

"I didn't expect to have as much fun as I am as a teacher, and I wasn't sure what would be in store for us working in a smaller school, but it has been amazing," Sammie says.

Naomi adds: "We've developed such strong relationships. I really feel like I have found my purpose."


To explore current teaching positions within St Joseph's, Merriwa and the broader Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle please click here.

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Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.