For Coral Richards education is more than a job; it’s a vocation. Born into a family of teachers, and as a high school teacher herself, Coral said that, while growing up, every moment was an opportunity to learn. “Teaching for my parents was a vocation,” she said. “Every opportunity was an opportunity to teach in our family when we were growing up. Everything was a learning experience.”
This year, due to budget cuts, Coral has moved from tutoring into a full teaching load, teaching English, careers and art at Coodanup College in Mandurah. For the past eight years she has worked as an Aboriginal tutor and family liaison officer at the school, which has 20% Indigenous population. She will, in part, return to this role in the new year. Coral has also worked for 15 years as a Primary Extension and Challenge (PEAC) teacher, supporting academically gifted children in years five and six.
Coral has a well-known reputation at Coodanup College for knowing how to help in a crisis. Students and teachers alike will often approach Coral for referrals, guidance and direction. She is highly trusted by families in the area, who often have no one else to turn to.
“You can’t be a fly-by-night teacher, who just goes, ‘I’m going to do six months here and then I’m going to go.’ That doesn’t work when you’re really working with these families,” she said.
“You give somebody the opportunity to show their trustworthiness and they step-up. They genuinely step-up. And they trust me.”
Working at a school in one of Perth’s low socioeconomic areas comes with its many challenges and rewards, which Coral believes is just part of the package of belonging to a vibrant community.
“I’m part of a community. I like being part of a community,” she said.
“Good community means that if I have too many eggs or fruit, I knock on people’s doors in my street and we share. And we help each other.
“They talk about neighbours a lot in the Bible, but how many people actually go and knock on their door and say ‘welcome to my community, here’s a bag of lemons, would you like to share?’”
As well as working full-time, Coral is heavily involved with Mandurah Uniting Church as chair of the Church Council; a pastoral leader; worship leader; chair of FinUCAre, a financial counselling service; and the treasurer of Uniting Outreach Mandurah, a community service program.
Her involvement with Mandurah Uniting Church is intertwined with her sense of community. Her students are all aware of her involvement with the church, and are often part of volunteering with some of the projects.
One student spent four years volunteering with Coral delivering bread to local families – a project of the congregation’s community service provider, Uniting Outreach Mandurah. During that time, Coral helped the student with her driving lessons and the work experience eventually helped her to gain employment in a traineeship. The bread run also helps Coral connect with some of the struggling families at the school. “
I’ve been doing that bread run for five or six years now, every Tuesday night,” she said. “It’s a bit of a mix between charity work and school work. I have kids running out and we do school business while I’m delivering bread, because they don’t separate it. So the charity enables me to interact very closely with those families, and they know that it all comes from the church.”
Being part of both communities provides space for her to act out and talk about her faith and calling, while reflecting on what keeps her going.
“We were challenged to stand-up and tell our story, as members of the congregation at one stage, so I did tell them, ‘you’re the reason I can do what I do. Because I come here every Sunday and you are my support base, you are my grounding and you are the place where I can share the stories,’” she said.
Coral believes life is all about giving and living generously.
“[My faith] stops me being selfish and just sitting at home saying ‘I don’t need to do that.’ I see staff who do that and then I think, ‘you miss out. You miss out on all the wonderful stuff that happens to me because of what I do.’
“Having the faith, that generosity is a good thing; your whole life becomes a form of service.”
One of the most important lessons Coral learnt while growing up, which shaped her attitude to life, giving and service as an adult, came from one of her own teachers as a young woman.
“I had a teacher in high school that said to me once; ‘whenever you go anywhere, leave it better than when you arrived,’” she said.
“It’s a great thing to do; wherever you go, leave it better than when you arrived. Leave your neighbourhood better, the camp site that you stay in, make that better,” she explained.
“And you will always be welcomed back.”