As a teacher, there’s no such thing as easing back into a new school term. From day 1 you are bombarded with everything from new timetables, class lists and topics to teach, to IT stuff-ups and the same old problematic behaviours. Coming out of the last five days, I feel like I’ve been smacked in the face.

I want to take a step out of all that though and focus on one young lady, whom I’ll call Tina, who in my opinion is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. Tina is in a maths class that comprises about 75% boys. Many of these boys walk into class each day, ignoring any implicit (or explicit) distinction that exists between the classroom and the playground. For some of these boys, I am slowly applying Skinnerian operant conditioning techniques in order for them to independently get out a pen and begin their work each lesson.

In class, Tina sits alone, but positions herself between two of the more “studious” groups of her classmates. At first glance, Tina doesn’t appear to fit the mould of the model student: she has straightened bleached hair, wears heavy make-up and manicured nails. Yet she is respectful, hard working and somehow seems to always remain unfazed by whatever crap is going on around her.

Ideally in a lesson much of my time should be spent wandering around the room assisting students with small but meaningful questions about the maths they are working on. In reality, my time gets distributed very differently. I ask Student A to put away their phone for the n-th time; request that Student B stops drawing on Student C or ripping pages out of their peer’s book; write an out-of-class slip so that Student D can stop sniffling and go and find a tissue; legitimately assist Student E with a problem that then takes 10 minutes to explain given that they are three years behind the level that they should be at… And during all of this time Tina continues with her work. As she tells me, when I finally get around to assisting her about 2 minutes before the bell, “I’m not sure if this is right. I just guessed for some of the questions”. Looking down at her book I see neatly set out rows of equations, showing a fluent understanding of the required procedure. With only a minor error here or there, I can’t fault Tina’s work.

In amongst the many disruptions, I honestly don’t know how Tina’s drive and perseverance is maintained. I haven’t seen her once get angry or annoyed with her peers, and perhaps that day will come.

What I do know is that much of my own learning and development as a teacher is occurring so that I can better manage the behaviours in my classroom to not just help students like Tina, but push them to be more confident and to excel in their learning.

Keeping it fresh

A commonly levelled assumption about teaching is that we have short working days and many holidays. True in part, at times, maybe.

Over the last week of the school holidays, I have been surrounded by 40 other teachers, also 6 months into their teaching experience. These 40, while positioned all over the country and teaching different subjects, have one thing in common: we are passionate about the educational outcomes of the students we teach.

At the end of 12 hour days, we have gathered together chatting excitedly about our experiences in the classroom so far. Seriously, can teachers talk.  Stories about students who have blown them away, and turned around behaviours, attitudes, abilities. Stories about terrible days, being threatened, being sworn at, having a lesson plan go out the door five minutes into class. Stories about the funny, the unexpected, the sad, the upsetting, the beautiful.

At midnight each night this week there has been a buzz in the room with no sign of conversation dissipating.

All in all, my young colleagues have discovered a love for their new profession and the students they are teaching. Like me, many are now feeling more settled in their schools, while also realising that this isn’t a job that sits still. Assessments, phone calls, meetings, planning, incident reports, photocopying, yard duties… oh, and classes.

Honestly, the education industry can be overwhelming  at times. I have seen teachers who would prefer to give up or take an easy route, rather than confront challenge. In coming together and sharing our stories, however, I have been reminded about how much can be gained in this profession from being surrounded by like-minded colleagues who motivate you to continue to do your best and to stay positive about what can be achieved.

 

Term 2 completo, and what a way to end it. What job sends you on an all expenses paid trip to a Pacific Island? Teaching of course!

My school was recently awarded a grant to undertake a social responsibility project with a group of students, and I am one of the fortunate teachers to be accompanying them. As a result, my current “holiday” has turned into a series of meetings with community groups, the Australian High Commission on this island, and the other accompanying teachers. For the trip, students will be involved in organising and setting up IT equipment for a school in need.

In many ways, this trip is the sort of opportunity I only dreamed of when entering this profession. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young People aims for all Australian students to become active and informed citizens. Back in 2010, I wrote my Honours thesis on civics and citizenship education, disentangling the very concept of citizenship. I concluded that active and informed citizenship necessarily involves respect and engagement in dialogue with those around us, so that we can learn about the boundaries of our own thought and discover commonalities with those who appear different.

Opportunities such as this trip, will develop students’ moral and intellectual capacities; they will gain a heightened sense of awareness of their own identity and the roles they play within their (local/national/international) community. The students will undoubtedly meet with confronting situations that will force them to acknowledge the privileges of their lives, but also to realise that, in many ways, young people around the world face similar issues.

In the lead up to the trip, I will be teaching the students for a term. Students will research the nation we are to visit, organise aspects of the project, and develop team and leadership skills, as well as a sense of social responsibility. From the outset I am cautious that “social responsibility” is not associated with some patronising colonial mind-set. It is not our aim to impose a developed nation’s unneeded tools on another, who we perceive as worthy recipients of our generosity.

Instead, the project aims to develop ties between our rural community (which contains many emigres from the particular Pacific Island nation) and the destination country, and provide assistance as is deemed appropriate at their end. For our students, who have never travelled overseas before, this will not be a trip to Canberra to learn about Australian political history (the “textbook experience”), nor will it be a unique – though increasingly common – opportunity to get a taste of the culture and traditions located throughout Europe. Instead, this trip will enable students to become more socially aware, capable and autonomous, deliberate and respectful young adults.

…And yes, this is a public school.