I never wanted to be a teacher.
I knew I was on the right path though. I could speak with authority, yet also maintain my desire to develop long-term friendships with colleagues, students and parents. I was allowing my personality to flourish. The “Russell” teachers, students and parents were seeing, was the “Russell” they were getting. Last month’s article detailed my growing confidence as a teacher living and working in Brisbane.
After 15 years of teaching, I was starting to feel like a teacher who could actually teach.
There were some hard times with this increasing confidence. I was able to discipline students through relationship, rather than through authority. There were times I felt “soft” or was perceived as “soft” in this approach. I felt it was more important to maintain the relationship than stick to the “rule”. I tried to help the behaviour behind the actions, rather than just deal solely with the action.
A trusted friend summed up my approach quite succinctly: “Russ, you teach students; I teach subjects.”
The Brisbane years were amazing. They were comfortable. The students I taught at Northside Christian College still remain some of the best students I have taught. Often, it felt like they achieved their results despite my teaching. Some of my best ideas and thoughts were written by students, not me!
I needed a new challenge.
I needed to be tested as a teacher. I needed to take myself and my family out of our comfort zones. As Christians, we needed to see if this following God “stuff” actually worked outside of the “bubble” we had created.
I was going to Alice Springs because I did not want to die without seeing if I can handle it and do something for my family and my God.
I was going to Alice Springs to follow God’s leading and calling.
Life in the centre of Australia was not without its challenges, but it had been part of a calling since I was 15. Through my high school years, I listened to the strains of the great Aussie band ‘Midnight Oil’ and was captured by the sights, sounds and places described in many of their songs from the album Diesel and Dust. When I was 17, something weird, strange, exciting happened to me. I got down on my knees one night at this thing called a “youth rally” and gave my life to God.
Something was born in my spirit that night and as I listened to those songs. My advocacy for Aboriginal rights began to take hold. I went on to major in Australian Studies at University, furthering my knowledge of Indigenous issues, but also continuing to have spiritual thoughts and passions stir within me.
Rod Hauser, Mark Doecke, Sean Synnott and Tony Qualischefski (a uni friend I had not seen for 15 years) became my mentors in Aboriginal education at Yirara College, Alice Springs. This was a Lutheran boarding school for remote area indigenous males and females. Rod and Mark’s simple counsel was, “If you can teach here, you can teach anywhere.”
The staff of the Clontarf Foundation Football Academy and the male boarding staff at Yirara became my “go to” guys for understanding indigenous behaviour and the importance of relationship and building trust within the indigenous community.
The young indigenous men I played football with at the South Alice Springs Kangaroos (“Supies forever”) accepted me as a brother. This humbled me greatly but gave me insight into a culture so often misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned.
Some people saw our journey to Alice Springs as me “dragging” my family along there while others saw it as something I needed “to get out of my system”. I wanted people to see this mission as being part of my family’s calling by God - to work with indigenous youth IN Australia.
Those whose calling is within their own community, are doing God’s work of equal value to those who move far from home. There may be others who do not even move as far as I did, whose work is worthy of equal praise to those who are more ‘obviously’ taking the Gospel to the ‘four corners of the Earth’.
However, we cannot cover all four corners unless we ‘fill in’ the pieces that are in between – and that covers the areas closer to our own society as well – to other areas of Australia; but also, those who minister to people within their own community. They should not be forgotten when a Church group gives praise to its ‘missionaries’.
It took 15 years in teaching for God to help me fulfil a dream of working full time with indigenous youth. I have now seen many of those places sung by “Midnight Oil”. I have a wife and family who supported me every step of the way; and they themselves also enjoyed their interactions with both indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Each step I took to get where I am today as a teacher was part of the wonderful journey God was creating for me. It continues whenever I hear God’s call to move, wherever He places me and with whomever I am called to serve.
So I served, where I was led by God to serve, in Alice Springs. To me and my family, it was a fulfilment of a type of dream we long held.
What was this dream doing to me and my family?
My teaching and ministry was taking me away from my own family.
I loved teaching indigenous kids. I loved playing footy with these indigenous blokes. Yet, I was losing my own family. I was losing connection with my sons. Our third son was born in “The Alice”, but we often joked that my eldest son was his second Dad, such was my absenteeism.
After four years I resigned from my dream job in Alice Springs.
I knew I could teach. I had successfully taught in one of the most rewarding and challenging teaching environments.
I had no job to go to. But, we packed up the ol’ faithful Mitsubishi Challenger and drove back to the Sunshine Coast (via Adelaide, Melbourne, Newcastle, Gold Coast). When you have no job to go to, you might as well take the time getting there!
Next month- Part 4- The Sunshine Coast years.
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.
Russell Modlin’s archive of previous article can be found at