I always enjoyed casual teaching. You experienced a range of classes, schools, students, and did not have to worry about reports or so many other responsibilities that a teacher on a temporary contract or in a permanent position has. However, as a casual you do have one significant responsibility, which is to ensure that you mark all tasks you have students complete (unless otherwise directed by any note the normal teacher may leave, and you need to leave some form of note for the regular teacher as to what you have done and how the day/s went, what issues, if any, there were.
On my very first casual day I did not do this and when I was back in that school on the very next day, the teacher for that class pulled me aside and had a quiet word with me about my responsibilities as a casual teacher. Although the phrase had a quiet word tends to carry negative connotations, this teacher did so with good intent, with professionalism and with experience. I came to work in this school regularly and developed a lot of respect for this teacher. Her experience was significant (she only retired last year), her manner was direct, but her intentions were always good.
I experimented with different ways of leaving the notes for the regular teacher, but eventually struck upon the format that I offer as today's Friday Freebie. This form served me well and allowed me to simply fill in the blanks to let the teacher know what had been done, as well as gave the classroom teacher a direct line of contact to me if they needed it for the future.
“Everyone is in awe of the lion tamer in a cage with half a dozen lions. Everyone but a kindergarten teacher”
– Unknown (found here 9/11/15)
Ordinarily I would post an FTPL video on a Monday afternoon, however due to working on the elusive beast known as work-life balance I was unable to record one over the weekend. Instead, you have some musings on a day spent in a kindergarten class last week. My long-time readers would be aware that in my current role, Thursday is a day where I am utilised as a way of affording those teachers whom have missed out on their Release from face-to-face (RFF, also known as non-contact time in some states I am told) for various reasons. Last Thursday I spent the day on a kindergarten class as the teacher was at a course. Some of my friends from university would have been ecstatic with this, however for me, there was an element of fear.
I have felt, all the way through my initial teacher education program and the associated professional experience placements, and the teaching that I have done since graduating that I am better suited for upper primary. Teaching the younger years, particularly kindergarten, is out of my comfort zone. I have not been able to put a finger on exactly what it is about kindergarten that unnerves me, however going in for a full day on kindergarten had me rather nervous and feeling well out of my depth. At the end of the day however, I felt like I had achieved something with the class and was quite happy.
We began with a book reading (Mr McGee Goes to Sea), after which we discussed words that could be used to used to describe the main character, and students were then asked to write three describing sentences (the three snippets on the left-hand side of the above photo). Some students needed substantial support, but I was impressed with the effort and achievements, not having any real experience with kindergarten writing. The depth that some wanted to go to was, to me, impressive. There were a number that wanted to write about the main character’s pyjamas, but did not want to use the colloquial pjs, and needed help spelling the word.
When we moved on to mathematics, I introduced the concept of perimeter to them, something which I knew the regular teacher had not yet introduced after a conversation with the teacher next door. In this, I feel like I achieved something of substance. When we were finished, the class were all able to explain what perimeter was, could explain why each group had different measurements for their table, despite them being the same size, and could explain why you would not use small objects (e.g. paddle pop sticks) to measure the perimeter of large objects (e.g. the school) and vice-versa. When I showed some books to my supervisor, she was also impressed with the quality of their efforts.
The day gave me hope that, although I certainly do not see myself as a kindergarten teacher, I can be effective in a kindergarten class. As I gain more experience and confidence, who knows, I may well change my mind and move into the kindergarten space.
“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.”
– Dan Rather
The last few articles that I have published have been an examination of emerging themes from a Twitter conversation regarding pre-service teachers (PSTs) and initial teacher education (ITE). The conversation can be viewed in the original article in this series. There have been some thought provoking responses on Twitter and in the comments section on the various articles. Thus far in this series, I have written regarding ITE courses and ways of making the entry to those courses more rigorous, the value of teachers and teaching as perceived in the public sphere and the role of the Education and Training Minister and his/her (currently his) stance towards education and teachers and the way the Education Minister is perceived by teachers. This article will discuss the integration of graduate teachers into the wider profession at the culmination of their ITE, from a collegiate point of view.
The way that a teacher is integrated into the teaching profession will vary according to how they are engaged – permanent, part-time or casual, and for casual teachers, according to the view of casual teachers from the school with which they are engaging. My experience has generally been positive and I have felt like a valued professional in the majority of my engagements as a casual teacher. There has been, however, little support by way of integration offered in regards to an invitation to attend professional development sessions when they are conducted on the day I am in that school (only received from two schools I was engaged with), advice and feedback, whether constructive or positive, regarding my work (I utilise a template I designed when in a school on a casual basis that allows me to indicate what was done during the day within each KLA and asks for constructive or positive feedback to be sent via e-mail) or general advice in relation to such areas as playground duty expectations, how to deal with minor injuries students acquire whilst playing, how to engage with or avoid staff room politics or the realities of dealing with the paperwork and administrative requirements of teaching.
Casual teachers, l believe, fall through the gaps in regard to professional development, particularly those graduate teachers who are in the early days of their career and are trying to get their foot in the door. Greater efforts need to be made by the relevant bodies (NSW DEC, BOSTES AITSL etc.) to ensure that graduate teachers who are still operating casually receive assistance with finding their feet in the teaching profession. I should point out that the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) did put on a casual teachers seminar on the Central Coast earlier this year that was open to all casual teachers regardless of the time in teaching. This seminar was beneficial but I felt aimed more at casual teachers hero had been in the system for a while and had a good understanding of navigating their way through acquiring work etc. Casual teaching can be very lonely, given that day to day you may be in different schools, let alone different classes. Additionally, casual teachers in general and new graduates specifically may be somewhat isolated as many school staff rooms are devoid of life during break times due to playground duty personnel requirements, sporting and other extra-curricular activities or those teachers who elect to remain in their classroom to complete marking or other similar duties. I know that at my current school, if there are more than three or four people in the staff room it is unusual.
That has been my experience as a casual teacher across a range of schools. I dropped off a one page resume with copies of relevant documents such as my approval to teach, my Working With Children Check, my anaphylaxis training certification etc. attached, to twenty schools. I did this based on advice from a friend who is a Deputy Principal and indicated that many schools will not contact you at all for any number of reasons including but not limited to not needing any additional casual teacher on their casual list, teachers arranging their own casual cover as opposed to a central person within the school, not liking the font you used, that you emailed it as opposed to dropped it off in person and not liking the way you have set your resume out. Some of these are valid reasons, some of them are rather petty, but they are all reasons I have heard at various points.
The experience for those who receive permanent positions straight out of university is markedly different. The summary of that experience is based on what I have been told by some classmates who were in such fortunate positions. The initial phone all with the offer of a position is rather exciting to receive, of course, and those whom I know in such a position have all indicated that they were told what year group they would be teaching and were invited to attend during the summer holidays at some point to visit their classroom, meet colleagues, begin planning and programming and to begin the administrative process required to become a permanent employee. The main issue that I am aware of, again, from conversations with friends, is that there is no advice given as to the paperwork process that is required. A classmate was advised she had a permanent position, met her colleagues, saw the classroom was asked to begging planning and programming with but said to me that she had not received or signed a contract and was a little worried about that fact.
Clarity would no doubt have been appreciated from her as to what was happening. I learned, after asking the question at a local branch NSWTF meeting that “on boarding” was a lengthy process and that no contract would likely be seen until the paperwork had all been completed. The anxiety felt by my classmate would no doubt have been alleviated by a thirty second conversation that contained words to the effect of “the paperwork is being processed and it normally takes … You will receive your contract when it has been processed.” I want to reiterate the point that this summary is based upon what I have been told, not my own experience and that the classmate in question was feeling rather overwhelmed at this point.
On the plus side, as a targeted graduate, my friend received an additional session of relief from face to face (RFF) each week to provide her with additional time to plan and prepare as well as general guidance from an Executive Teacher. My understanding is that she was generally quite happy with the support she received, however was left feeling overwhelmed with the unanticipated responsibilities and duties that were not fully explained, either in description of in explanation of the time investment required to complete them.
I received my temporary engagement after having been working on a very regular basis in my school as a casual teacher for most of the year to that date, however, my understanding is that for temporary teachers, the experience of transitioning from pre-service teacher (PST) to teacher falls somewhere in between that of casual and permanent teachers.
I would very much like to hear from you as to your experience transitioning from PST to teacher and the support and guidance received from more experienced teachers and the various bodies to which teachers are required or encouraged to join, or for those of you who are in senior positions within schools, the systems or processes in place to integrate new graduates into the teaching profession and assist them with finding their feet.
Thank you for reading today, and I look forward to hearing people’s opinions on this topic, particularly anyone who came out of their ITE with a permanent or temporary position and can shed more light on the experience of transitioning form PST to either of those roles.
See here for the list of articles in this series.