Like other South West TAFE teachers, Ms Toleman comes from an industry background and likes to see herself as an equal to her students and a mouthpiece for her industry.
South West TAFE’s agriculture teacher, who was named 2022 Teacher of the Year at the Victorian Training Awards, comes from a farming background and has never lost her roots.
“It’s not uncommon for me to get up at 5 in the morning and go out and work in a dairy alongside one of my trainees, or to drench hundreds of animals with my students,” she says.
“It’s important that they feel like you’re at the same level as them; which is a big difference between what we do at TAFE and an everyday teacher in a classroom.
“Unlike a teacher in a primary school or high school, TAFE or RTO (Registered Training Organisation) teachers are from our industries and are still actively working in our industries. We’ve got building teachers here who still own their businesses and have trainees themselves.”
Ms Toleman grew up on a hobby farm at Hawkesdale and trained in pharmacy before having children. She was later asked to do some relief milking and fell in love with cows and their calves.
As a mother of three, she re-trained and achieved Certificates III and IV in Agriculture and an artificial insemination licence.
Ms Toleman intended to work for a breeding company to support local farmers but was offered a role at an RTO as a dairy coordinator.
“I did that for four and a half years and absolutely loved it because you’re not just standing in front of students, you’re physically on-farm working alongside them,” she said.
TAFE teachers are known to go the extra mile for their students, and Ms Toleman is no exception.
“We all do extra things on the side,” she said. “I’ve just supported a group of students to register their cows as show animals. Eight students and myself went to the Camperdown Show and I was there to help them prepare the cattle and to support them as they went into the ring.”
The agriculture courses rely on south-west farms to open their doors for students.
“It’s important that students see agriculture across the broad; it’s more than just being a dairy farmer or sheep farmer; this is a massive industry.”
By utilising local farms, Ms Toleman has been able to help many students into jobs but she can also help the farms.
“Because we come from the industry, we become the mouthpiece of that industry,” she said. “We’re the go-between. We take what we hear about what is required and implement that from the training perspective.”
South West TAFE has about 150 teachers, including contract and casual staff.
South West TAFE executive manager of education Louise Cameron said World Teacher Day on October 28 was a good time to recognise the importance of teachers.
“We can’t educate and progress without teachers,” Ms Cameron said. “Teachers have a very special role with their commitment and passion to pass their skills to another generation, especially in the vocational area which is very much about applied learning.”