WORDS BY HEIDI HELBIG
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN KRÜGER
Asher Rohde’s holistic approach to teaching is getting results, inside the classroom and out.
Walking among a throng of Nuriootpa High School students as the siren sounds, fresh-faced Asher Rohde might easily be mistaken for one of her young protégés.
But enter her Year 12 psychology class and it’s clear Asher is no Gen Z, but an enlightened and broad-minded educator with a heart for her students.
In fact the wellbeing of her students is just as important as the psychology and English curriculum Asher teaches, especially in the context of unprecedented social media exposure, bullying and teen depression.
On any given day Asher might be confidante, mentor or mediator.
“There are lots of roles in teaching besides being the teacher,” says the 26-year-old from Nuriootpa.
“The fact students can come to me and feel comfortable speaking to me gives them someone else they can confide in.
“It’s those aspects that make teaching what it is…It’s part of who I am, and it’s why I love the job.”
Destined for a career in education, Asher credits her grandmother and many “amazing” teachers with awakening her natural sense of curiosity.
“I’ve wanted to be a teacher ever since I can remember,” says Asher.
“My grandmother (Donella Beinke) was a teacher and the way she taught us grandkids, you could tell she was a teacher – in the most empathetic way. She genuinely wanted us to learn.
“I think I have always appreciated school and learning…I always found school, not easy, but I really liked the challenges.”
“There are lots of roles in teaching besides being the teacher. It’s those aspects that make teaching what it is…and why I love the job.” – Asher Rohde
Leaving Nuriootpa High a student and returning a qualified teacher, Asher is now privileged to work alongside her mentor and former psychology teacher, Kirsty Gebert.
“She’s the reason I am a psychology teacher today. As soon as she started teaching me, I knew,” says Asher.
“She was so passionate, always extending and challenging us, and that sparked the passion in me. I think that’s what makes a really good teacher.”
Like so many scholars before her, Asher continues to be fascinated by the science of psychology.
“It’s about why people do what they do, how people learn. I love it, if you can’t tell,” Asher laughs.
“It’s so relevant to everyday life. I love when my students go home and talk to their parents or grandma or sister or brother about what we’ve been discussing and how it applies to their life.”
However Asher is careful not to psychoanalyse those around her.
“I sometimes do it subconsciously – probably mostly with my family members – but I try to take people at face value,” says Asher.
“It’s important to separate my personal life from my teaching life because you can cross over very easily.”
As for her status as a young female teacher, Asher sees it as both a gift and a double-edged sword.
“It’s a big advantage because I can relate to the kids; it wasn’t that long ago that I was in high school,” says Asher. “I can connect with my own experiences and it doesn’t seem like a lifetime ago.
“It does have its disadvantages too. There have been times when my students don’t respect my authority as they would an older teacher, or speak inappropriately. You have to shut that down instantly and turn it into a learning experience.”
Technology is also a game-changer, inside the classroom and out.
“There are so many great online tools you can use that weren’t available even five years ago, quizzes and Padlet (online post-it notes) to help encourage discussion,” says Asher. “I’m always looking for different ways of teaching and applying so I can better teach my kids; I want to put myself in their shoes and understand how they best learn.”
But with unprecedented levels of online addiction, Asher says students need to be discerning.
“With social media students are accessible to one another 24-7. That’s really hard to get away from, especially for those being bullied,” she says.
“Fortunately we are more accepting of anxiety and stress and there’s lots more ways of dealing with it.
“If we can encourage students to look from a different perspective and ask ‘what’s the real story’, ‘where’s the truth’, ‘what research do I need to do’, that’s a really valuable skill to have.”
For all the complexities facing vulnerable teenagers, Asher remains full of hope for the next generation and their capacity to make their way in the world.
“There are some brilliant kids that I’m teaching who just have so much knowledge about what’s going on in the world and can evaluate things and have that really educated perspective on issues,” says Asher.
“I think they are going to have the most amazing, successful career and life beyond school.
“These kids just amaze me.”