Moving interstate can seem daunting at first. But it can also present opportunities for educators looking to grow their career. In this article, Peggy Mahy, Principal of Tranby College in Western Australia, shares some of the benefits and challenges involved in moving interstate for work.
Tranby College is a low-fee, values-based Uniting Church school in Baldivis, about 15 minutes inland from the Sunset Coast in Western Australia in one of the country’s fastest-growing school-aged demographics. The K-12 school was built 25 years ago with a vision of creating a co-ed school that was accessible to the community. It currently has 745 students and 90 staff, and is where Peggy Mahy has spent the past year-and-a-half as Principal.
Before moving to Perth, Mahy was Principal at The Scots School in Albury, New South Wales, for six-and-a-half years. And before that, she worked in both Victoria (Melbourne) and the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) in leading teacher positions and within the university education sector.
Mahy says broadening her search for jobs interstate allowed her to progress her career beyond what was possible in her local area.
Making the decision to move
There are a range of reasons you might want to look interstate for work. Reflecting on your career and life goals can help you put the decision into perspective and bring your options into focus.
‘I would just start with what your aspirations are and why you would leave the school you’re in,’ Mahy tells Teacher. ‘You might be seeking a new opportunity or to progress your career, or you might have an adventurous spirit and you want to see what's out there. So what's the why of why you would leave?’
Moving for your career
For some, moving between schools in your local area might be a logical first step.
‘I was one of those weird people who always wanted to be a principal, so when I went into teaching I thought – I want to be the best teacher I can be. I was pretty driven and I’d worked in some excellent schools in Melbourne, and I worked my way up to become head of department,’ Mahy reflects.
‘I talked to a number of recruiters who coached me over time, and they said you don't want to be in one school for too long… if you've been more than a decade in one school, then you won’t have really changed roles considerably, to put a case forward. Because if you want to become a principal, you need to show that diversity of experience.’
Mahy says after working at a number of schools in Melbourne, moving interstate opened up more opportunities to diversify her experience and build her career, with each state and territory offering something different.
‘In the case of WA, for example, it's incredibly friendly, relaxed and welcoming, and you don't get some of that edgy competitiveness that you might get in Sydney and Melbourne,’ she explains. ‘If you're a leader in the ACT… because the school system there is quite small, you might need to go [interstate for your next role]. Similarly in Tasmania there's not many schools that you can go to...
‘I changed schools a few times in Melbourne and got to a Vice Principal Deputy position at a girls’ school… and so then I got a job in Canberra as a Deputy Principal – Teaching and Learning at a really leading school… Because in Canberra there's fewer people that you're competing with – you get more opportunities,’ she says.
Moving for a different lifestyle
One of the great things about teaching is that you can often take your skills and expertise with you. For some, this creates flexibility in terms of where you can live, and what you or your family is looking for in terms of lifestyle.
‘So you might say, well, in our family we didn't want to travel and be in traffic, and we want to live in a really safe place with no crime and clean air,’ Mahy says.
Looking for job advertisements that mention assistance and relocation costs can be a good start, especially if you’re looking to move to a location with higher living expenses like Sydney or Canberra. However, some job advertisements don’t provide this information before the interview stages of the application process.
‘I would recommend not getting to the pointy end of those discussions until you have interviewed them and say “this is a school I want to work in” and also when they've decided they want to make you an offer,’ Mahy suggests. ‘And then if they really want you, you can look at what the challenges will be for you. For example, “I've got two kids” or “my husband will have to give up his job. What does that mean for us?”’
Moving school versus moving state
With borders opening and closing in Australia over the past two years, moving interstate can feel like moving to a whole new country. While there are always some practical adjustments to be made when relocating, taking a new job interstate might not be so different from accepting a position at a school down the road.
‘I'd have to say there are more differences between schools then there are between states,’ says Mahy.
‘So you can move from one school which has its own culture and practices and behaviours, to another school and have to adjust, quite considerably; your dress code, the way you speak, how long you work in the day, how you engage with technology – these can all be vastly different,’ she explains.
‘And then what's required of you when you move interstate, is really a matter of acronyms and just understanding that you will take about four weeks to learn… and then once that's done you just go, “I've got it”.’
Challenges to consider
Like any big change, moving interstate can come with its own challenges. Mahy shares some of the decisions that are involved in making a big move.
‘If you rent… you’ve got the flexibility to have an exit strategy because you can leave. So you need to understand if this is just for a break… or if this is somewhere where you can imagine embedding yourself.’
Another factor to consider is whether you want to live in a regional location, or closer to a city.
‘If you take on a leadership role in a regional setting, you get to know people very well and you get a lot of opportunity. It's a great privilege to be a leader, not just of your school, but of the community. The downside is that if you're a private person, people know what you're up to the whole time, and there's no anonymity when you're off hours,’ Mahy says.
Re-establishing your orientation points in a new setting can also be challenging in the beginning. ‘Where do you go shopping, who's going to be your doctor, who's going to be your dentist, who's going to be your physio? All of those things are points of human living that you have to re-establish in every environment,’ she adds.
- Build relationships in your new area as soon as you can – connect with principals, leaders, the mayor, the local member for Parliament
- Take some time to understand the systems schools operate in within different states – once you have this knowledge base, you can adjust to state requirements more easily
- Check pandemic restrictions and border requirements (for example, at the time of writing, if you’re travelling into WA, make sure to organise your G2G pass in advance)
- Make sure you remain registered in any state you’ve worked in – it can take a long time to start the process from scratch if you choose to return
Ultimately, Mahy says you shouldn't be fearful. ‘So if you working as a Catholic teacher in Victoria, and you come to New South Wales or WA, there's just so much commonality. It's really it's not daunting at all... It’s about asking what kind of life you want to lead.’
Take some time to reflect on your career goals as a teacher or leader and consider the steps you could take to get there – which of your goals can be achieved in your current school? In your state? What can be achieved by moving interstate?
If you’re considering moving interstate for work, reflect on some of the considerations mapped out in this article. What are the practical steps you can take to start the process?