"There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them."
-Attributed to Denis Waitley
If you do not feel like reading a long-ish article, there is a tl;dr summary at the end.
In 2014 I completed my initial teaching education, having been awarded both Honours Class I and the Faculty Medal. I was then asked to write and deliver the Graduate Address at our graduation ceremony in July 2015.
I still feel about teaching the way that I did then. My Teaching Philosophy still accurately sums up why I believe in the public education system and why I want to teach. I still find great joy in seeing my students' faces light up when they get it after grappling with some new concept or skill. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my Stage Three students last year and enjoy that they still put their hands up for a high-five whenever I pass them in the corridor or the playground. This year, I am enjoying Stage One more than I thought that I would and am learning an incredible amount from my team-teaching colleague.
So why then, am I leaving classroom teaching?
I was aware, going into teaching, that it was not the nine-to-five profession that appears to be the belief in society; that there was paperwork, marking, planning, excursions, parent-teacher interviews and politics. What I did not realise, and what I do not think anybody is capable of realising until you are waist-deep in teaching is just how pervasive and all-consuming teaching is and can be. It is hard enough to feel the need to be in my room at six in the morning in order to get things set up for the day, to work out what writing groups my students need to be in today based on their writing from yesterday, to decide which students need to move up a reading level, what strategy am I going to use to engage a challenging student, and and at the end of Wednesday, to get the room tidied, the marking done and the notes up to date for my job-share partner to take over on Thursday.
To then be feeling guilty on the weekend for not getting the things I could be doing, or getting a head start on, when I should simply be enjoying time with my wife and daughter during these beautiful moments of infant joy (she is so close to crawling, and her belly laugh is the sound of pure joy) while they are there, is not how life should be lived.
In 2012 I completed my first professional experience placement. It was in a Year Six class and was actually at my current school. It was a steep learning curve, but for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I was in the right place professionally.
In 2015 and 2016, I was employed on a temporary basis, for four days a week as an RFF teacher in 2015 and three days a week in a job-share arrangement on Stage Three. We got by financially as Mrs. C21 was employed full-time. As my regular readers would be aware, however, our amazingly bright and bubbly baby girl was born in August last year, and thus we are now relying solely on my 0.6 FTE wage. It is not working.
The last few years have been challenging at my school as well. I was offered the temporary contract in 2015 as the Librarian was on long-term sick leave and ended up passing away during the Semester One holidays. I got to be that guy who took over her space and her role. No-one ever said, nor gave even a hint of negativity about me being in that role in the library. Everyone was welcoming and helpful. Despite that, I personally felt awkward and struggled with being in the Librarian's shadow and did not feel that I could really make the space my own, leaving everything up on the walls that was already there and not even going into the Librarian's office except to add library specific items to a pile.
I was offered another temporary contract for 2016, and though I was thankful to have a set class rather than be working in an RFF capacity, being employed for only three days a week was frustrating. It tightened up the options for casual work, and made it difficult to get really thoroughly and deeply stuck into anything. I did, however, learn a lot about my practice and formed some strong relationships with my students and I am proud of what I achieved last year with them, especially when I see the growth in the start of year vs end of year testing data
Additionally, the school has been undergoing a significant building project in order to remove the twelve demountable buildings and return the playground to the students to...you know, play on over the last two years. It has been a cause of significant stress, frustration, worry, and excitement across the staff. The building is now complete with only the final touches of the new playground spaces left. The teachers in those spaces are excited about the potential for what they can achieve and the new library has a new librarian who is doing an amazing job setting up after the school has been without an active library for a few years. Oh, we also had a new Principal start at the beginning of last year and multiple staff retirements which has generated a lot of change as well.
This year I was offered another three-days-per-week job-share arrangement, in a team -teaching context....in the old library. To be fair, it has been structurally changed insofar as the walls dividing the building into library/office/computer lab were removed, making it one big open space. I was apprehensive about being back in their again, however, I am confident, and have been told by some of the staff, that the previous Librarian would be proud as punch to see the space as it is now and to see the students busily working, learning and enjoying the space.
In addition to the work involved in teaching, there is also the time spent writing these articles, making the FTPL videos, and attending conferences to consider, which although separate to my teaching, I consider integral to my teaching persona. All of that wrapped up together is the context from which Mrs. C21 and I made the decision that it was time to leave classroom teaching.
A few weeks ago, I received a message from a HR Manager who said they wanted to chat to me about a position they were advertising and for which they felt I might be a good fit. It seemed to be completely out of the blue and gave enough information to have me curious and so we e-mailed back and forth over the weekend discussing some basic details of the company and the role. Things continued to move along and after some more phone-calls, Skype video-calls, a face-to-face meeting, and further e-mails and phone calls, I was formally offered a full-time, permanent position with the company.
Full time. Permanent.
Those words are like gold to a casual or temporary teacher. Mrs. C21 and I spent many hours during the whole process discussing the role, the potential, the status quo, the challenges that this role would present to me personally and us as a family and how to negotiate those challenges, and whether it was going to be good for us as a family and what the ramifications for me professionally might be. Ultimately, however, I accepted the offer to join ClickView as their NSW/ACT Education Account Advisor. In essence, I will be working with teachers to provide training, support and professional learning in schools using ClickView across NSW and the ACT.
I was asked if I would miss the classroom and I absolutely will. Over the course of the e-mails, phone and Skype calls, and face-to-face meetings, however, I gained the belief that from a certain point of view, I am not leaving the classroom per se. I may not be standing in front of a room of students, but I will still be present through the teachers with whom I work. One of my personal goals as a teacher is to be able to look back and know that I have had a positive impact on the lives of my students, to be remembered with the fondness that Ms. Flexer was remembered by her students. I can certainly achieve that in my current role in the classroom. This new role gives me scope to scale that impact, and though I may not have the connections with students that I currently do, I will be able to positively influence their lives through my work with teachers.
I also feel that over the last six to twelve months that I have been at a cross roads in my teaching career. I enjoy being in the class and working with my students. I have also found that I thoroughly enjoy being able to work with colleagues to deliver professional learning opportunities and I feel that I am more comfortable and confident in that scope. I also thoroughly enjoy engaging with research and data, and miss being absorbed in reading and writing. This role, along with giving me stability and security of employment, allows me to continue to engage with education in those same three areas, whilst being encouraged to grow and develop in particular areas that interest me professionally and with scope to be creative. I said during the face-to-face meeting, and I genuinely believe it, that although this role would see me leaving the classroom, I do not feel that I am leaving teaching. I am still working with students and teachers, it is just a different context.
I will be sad to leave my current school. I had my first professional experience there, my first excursion, my first class and I feel that I am leaving positively. I am grateful to the support and encouragement of my job-share partners of this year and last year, to my team-teacher who has been a fount of professional learning so far this term, to my mentor who allowed me to blather on about whatever it was that had me excited/frustrated/tired/annoyed/cynical/worried and offered her advice and guidance, humbly and patiently.
I am looking forward to not having the will I be offered another contract for next year stress, which normally begins to set in around the start of Term Three. I am relieved that we won't be continuing to go backwards financially and the incumbent stress of being in that position. I look forward to not feeling guilty for not working on the weekends or at night. I am excited for this new journey. But most importantly, I am excited that when I am home, that I will be able to be more present with my family, that I will not miss important milestones because I am too busy programming / planning / marking / writing reports / writing rubrics / spending money on resources for the science lesson. My wife is certainly incredibly happy about me being more present than I am at the moment.
Ultimately, I had to make a decision based on what was best for my family. It just so happens that it also provides an incredible opportunity professionally. My final day in my classroom will be tomorrow, Wednesday 8 March.
As always, thank you for reading.
The tl;dr version is that I was offered a permanent, full-time position with ClickView and it is in the best interests of my family and I to take it, so I have.
“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”
– Attributed to Viggo Mortensen
Welcome back to Term Four, the downhill run of the school year and what I am discovering on Stage Three is an incredibly busy time. I have not written an article for some time for a huge variety of reasons. The primary reason, of course, being my amazing now eight-week-old daughter. She arrived on August 25, at the end of week six of term three. The timing could not have been better. I took four weeks off which lead into the two weeks of school holidays and thus was able to spend the first six weeks of my daughter’s life being there. I became incredibly used to spending time on the couch at four in the morning with her sleeping soundly on my chest after an hour of crying, or having had a feed but not wanting to go back to sleep.
I will be honest. I did not want to return to school for term four.
It has not, as any parent can attest to, been easy. It has been very tough at various points and Mrs C21 and I have battled through the lack of sleep, the incessant worrying, the fear that we had done something when she was diagnosed with developmental hip displaysia, the frustration and resentment and anger when we could not settle her down after two hours of hysterical crying and the worry about returning to work and not being able to support Mrs C21 and Youngling as I return to work full-time (my job share partner has gone off on maternity leave herself!). There have, truth be told, been times where I have wanted to put my daughter down and walk away. You can only take hysterical crying at two in the morning for so long before it gets under your skin and you are crying yourself with a mixture of each of the neutral and negative emotions. But as a team, Mrs C21 and I got through it. She is a rock, though she does not see it, and is far stronger than she gives herself credit for.
It has been a stressful return to school and there are so many interruptions to the week it is amazing anything is achieved and I am finding that to be incredibly stressful. I took some maths diagnostic tests home to mark on the weekend, something I could do while Audrey slept in the ring sling on my chest so that Mrs C21 could go out and have some time out from being a mother. I got my marking completed, but it took the whole day. Mrs C21’s mobile phone stopped working last week, so a new one was in order. She asked if I wanted to go out with her (I had literally not left the house since arriving home on Friday at this point) and I responded with I need to get x and y done, sorry.
It was a powerful moment for me.
My wife wanted to go out and spend some time with me, something we are finding difficult to do now that school has returned, on a Sunday afternoon and I said no. There was a moment of disappointment and hurt and I realised that I was falling into the trap of burying myself in work, in I need to get x done. I felt horrible for being the cause of that and realised that I was falling into the trap of just burying myself in work. As a teenager, I had a friend with a father who did that and it destroyed the marriage and his relationship with the children. I do not want to be that kind of father.
I was two minds while I was on paternity leave. One part of me was excited by the prospect of the time off and the thought of how much I would be able to achieve vis-a-vis planning, programming and developing of resources. Another part of me wanted to completely disconnect with work and just focus on my daughter and my wife. In the end, I got nothing done for school until the second week of the school holidays. Part of me resents teaching for taking away even that small part of the precious time with Youngling. Part of me wants to resent Youngling for taking away from what could have been such a productive time.
As teachers, we often put our students before everything else. I know that my personality is the type that will do that without even realising. However, family comes first. Specifically, my family comes first; before my students and before anything else to do with school.
I do not know how often I will be posting now, certainly not every day as I was doing. I do have some other, positive news to share and a range of other things I wish to write about. However, my priorities have shifted slightly and I need to rebalance myself accordingly.
“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio
What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?
I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.
This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.
In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away. Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.
Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.
At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.
I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.
As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis. I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?
There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?
I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.
On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.
I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.
Today did actually go well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.
I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.
That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year. As always, thank you for reading.
“Time stays long enough for those who use it.“
– Attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci
I am looking for some feedback on my teaching career progression and am hoping that you, my readers, are able to help. Last year I was fortunate enough to gain regular casual employment each week until I was eventually offered a temporary contract from Term Two through to the end of the year.That role was as a Release from Face-to-Face (RFF), or as I have heard it called elsewhere, Non-Contact or Supply Teaching. In this capacity, I had a timetable wherein I moved from class to class at set times, teaching digital literacy to students from Kindergarten up to Year Six.
This year, I have been offered a contract for the full year on a Year Five and Six composite class, for three days a week. I am discovering a great number of tasks that last year went unnoticed by me, as they did not fall within my purview, mainly administration issues. I had a conversation with another teacher recently who has gone the other way, from teaching a class in a job-share arrangement, back to an RFF role, and it was interesting that she is discovering all of the things that she no longer has to worry about.
It makes me glad that I was not offered a permanent position immediately after graduating, as I am not sure how I would have coped, worrying about programming and planning, accreditation, the actual teaching and building relationships with my students, if I had also been required to complete the various paperwork and administration with which I am now faced. It enabled me to spend a year focusing on my pedagogy and classroom habits, which I believe has put me in a position for this year where I am not as stressed about juggling everything.
It has also made me think about my career progression. The end goal, for myself, at least, is to gain a permanent position in a classroom. However at this point in time, and I am open to feedback on this, I am considering that I am better off not applying for permanent jobs this year. That might sound odd, however, I feel that in the long run, my teaching, and therefore, my students would be better served by having a full year in a class, with a full year’s worth of teaching a single class with all of the associated experiences which come with that, rather than potentially being offered a permanent position mid-year, causing consistency issues for myself and both sets of students.
Students are resilient, and would get over it, however as someone who changed schools a lot as a student, I feel that the disruption, and the time for students to adapt to a new teachers routines, processes, and quirks, mid-year, would cause significant issues in regards to classroom more issues than would be worth it.
Of course, the alternative would be to simply ask my Principal to not release me until the end of the year, should I be offered a permanent position elsewhere, which I have heard of happening. However, I am not sure how well that idea would be received, both by the current Principal and my new Principal.
My reasoning makes sense to me and I am happy with the decision, but I am open to feedback and other ideas on the issue from those more experienced.
“It is essential for students that all teachers — casual, temporary or full time — meet the Proficient Teacher standards within a reasonable period…[e]ven casual teachers should have a supervisor to support them…this is a reasonable expectation of schools and school systems.” the [Department of Education] spokesman said.
– Alison Branley, The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13th February 2016
I entered university to undertake my initial teaching education at the start of 2010, and I have distinct memories of hearing, for at least the ten years leading up to that point, that there were significant teacher shortages, which, coupled with the apparent looming retirement of thousands of teachers nationally, was leading to a crisis in education. This narrative has continued every since, and I recall when I was in my third year of my ITE that there was an uproar after this article was published by The Sydney Morning Herald.
I was not overly concerned at the time, confident that I would be able to find casual work, as I had also heard that there was a shortage of casual teachers on the Central Coast. There was also an element of that’s-a-problem-for-future-me in my putting off worrying about it. I am conscious of the fact that I was very fortunate that I had no problems gaining regular casual employment almost straight after finishing my ITE and that I was was then offered a contract for four days a week from Term Two last and then for this year as well.
I attribute this to a few reasons. Firstly, I had an excellent relationship with my supervising teacher, the staff, and students whilst on my first practicum, to the point where I was offered a place on the Year Six Canberra excursion which occurred during my final week there; an invaluable opportunity from which I learned a lot about being on an overnight excursion. After I completed my practicum, my supervising teacher invited to come back in whenever I wanted and help out, an invitation I took him up on, going in to help out when my university timetable allowed.I continued to visit and help out throughout the remainder of my studies, keeping my face known and building rapport with the staff and students, and continuing to learn about myself as a teacher. I was told in no uncertain terms to be sure to let them know when I received my approval to teach so that they could add me to the list of casual teachers. I built that relationship, worked to develop and maintain it and reaped the benefits when I graduated.
The second reason was that in week two of 2015, having allowed schools a week to settle back in, I printed out and hand delivered a copy of my resume and the relevant paperwork to twenty schools, meeting the person who managed the casual teacher list where I was able to, and finding out the name of that person, if unable to do so. I hear a lot of anecdotal stories about people complaining they are unable to gain casual employment, and many of them, from what I hear, have not gone out and done the rounds of their local schools, beyond a small selection of up to four or five. I delivered resumes to twenty and heard back from only four schools, one of whom was the school at which I completed my first practicum and another from whom I did not have a call until around August after I was already engaged on a temporary contract.
I may have ended up working casually at only three schools, however, that was three callbacks from twenty resumes.
Recently, there has been another round of articles talking about this issue, both from a job shortage point of view as well as from the point of view of the tertiary sector’s responsibility to the education industry as the provider’s of ITE programs, as well ongoing discussions about this topic within the education community on Twitter.
“I’m really angry especially with universities because the universities are the ones pushing the line ‘come and do a teaching degree and you’ll get a job’. They must know that’s false.”
– Steve Elliot, ABC News 13 February 2016
The ABC News article, written by Alison Branley, indicates that up to forty percent of graduates are unable to find work within four months of graduating, which can make it difficult to fulfil the requirement to work one hundred and eighty days within a five-year period, which is the time limit to complete the movement from Provisionally to Proficiently accredited.
As someone who is on a temporary contract, I have access to Professional Development opportunities through the school and support to piece together my portfolio of evidence for my own accreditation. As a casual teacher, however, that support is not as readily available to you, as schools’ funding is for professional development is limited, and does not often allow the provision of professional development to casual teachers, without those teachers bearing the cost of the course. Alison cites (uncredited) some interesting statistics, which, if taken at face-value, are frightening:
For those who undertake a three-year ITE program (my own was a four-year program), this has a significant cost to the taxpayer, which is essentially wasted money.
Workforce management within education, particularly the training of new teachers is an undoubtedly complex and difficult task. Anna Patty wrote an article for The Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 indicating that the just under seven thousand teacher graduates in 2013 were fighting for a mere two thousand two hundred jobs, of which only a thousand were advertised. There were, I believe, around one hundred and thirty (ish) who graduated in my cohort. I am only aware of around six or seven who received permanent positions under the NSW Department of Education’s Targeted Recruitment Program, with the remainder fighting for casual work and temporary contracts, with a small number having gone overseas or put teaching on hold to raise a family.
The situation is confusing as we are being given seemingly contradictory information, that there is both a teacher glut and a teacher shortage, and this comes back to the treatment of ITE programs as cash-cows, so dubbed by Stephen Dinham in January 2013. In contrast to Finland, where entry into an ITE program requires a Masters degree, as a starting point, a brief search of the UAC Education courses today (13 February 2016) showed that the majority of cut-offs for ITE programs is only sixty.
“We need other measures of suitability to teaching to augment ATAR scores.”
– Stephen Dinham, The Conversation. Retrieved 13 February 2016
I agree with Stephen’s call for other measures of suitability, but what they are, how they are judged and how you can tell if someone at nineteen years of age will be a suitable teacher when they graduate at around twenty-three, is open to debate. I have heard calls for an interview process similar to what I understand is required for entry into Medicine undergraduate programs, but I know that if I had gone into one of those interviews in Year Twelve, I would have been deemed unsuitable, as I would likely have been very unsure of whether it was what I wanted to do, and I know of many teachers my age, who did enter university to become teachers straight out of high school, and completed the degree very casually, just looking a Pass mark.
Whilst I am not old enough to know much about the Teachers College indentured employment system which many of my senior colleagues went through, whereby they were guaranteed a permanent posting straight out of university, perhaps a similar program for those willing to be posted to rural and remote locations, or to take postings in areas other than where they had originally considered is an idea worth investigating.
Alternatively, one of my Professors during my ITE who was trained and began his teaching career in the UK told us of how a similar issue was managed over there. Apparently, and I would love to hear from someone who can provide more concrete details of how it worked out, the offered voluntary retirement packages to a large percentage of teachers who were close to retirement age, which freed up a large number of positions higher up the ladder, which allowed those wanted to do so to move further up the chain, freeing up a large number of permanent teaching positions on the bottom rung. There are some obvious potential pitfalls to this concept, not least the loss of corporate knowledge, however, it is an interesting concept.
This is a complex topic, and I welcome any constructive discussion around the issue.
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
– Attributed to Neil Gaiman
Welcome back to a new year! I hope that the Christmas and New Year break was relaxing and you have returned refreshed and ready to start with your new class. Personally, I am looking forward to an exciting and eventful year, and will be achieving some goals and going a long way towards achieving others. What are your goals for the year? Have you set any?
As my regular readers may recall, I have been offered a year-long temporary contract for three days per week on a Year Five class with a more experienced teacher which I am excited for. I am hoping to utilise this year to complete my accreditation to move into the proficient bracket, as well as to expand my skills and abilities.
I am attending FutureSchools again this year and am also hoping to attend FlipConAus in Adelaide in November. I will once again write up a series of review articles based on my notes from the conferences. I am also attending a THRASS Foundation Course in the April holidays, which I am looking forward to.
I plan to continue with this blog, posting an article each day, Monday to Thursday, however, that may scale back to only Monday to Wednesday, depending on time management needs as I have a lot going on, as we all do, outside of education.
I am in the process of an upgrade certification as a Football (soccer) Referee, which when completed will see me refereeing in the third tier of football in Australia, National Premier League Division Two, and this goal will require a considerable amount of time and energy for training and matches.
My biggest goal for the year, however, is to manage my time more effectively. I have decided that in regards to working outside of school hours, I will, where possible and practical, only work while Mrs. C21st is at work, and I will not be working outside of school hours on Thursdays or Fridays unless absolutely necessary (such as during report season and the beginning few weeks of the school year where there is still a significant amount of planning and programming going on). I feel like this is going to be crucial to not burning out this year, given the time, physical and mental demands that I will be under with everything that is happening. I will also allow me time to complete any marking, planning, blog writing, Tweeting etc, but also provides me with time off (Thursday and Friday, though I will be looking to undertake some casual work on these days).
Thank you for reading, and I would love to hear, either in the comments or over on Twitter, what your goals are for the year.
“One of the very important characteristics of a student is to question. Let the students ask questions.”
– Attributed to A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
A positive article to round out the week, and I would like you to consider what your ‘win’ for the week was with your students and leave it in the comments. I was on a Year One class today, one that I have not had this year for no other reason than I have just not been assigned to that class. The teacher for whom I was covering for the day had left an outline of what she wanted to be completed over the course of the day. Nothing too onerous, some mathematics, some spelling, some HSIE and some grammar.
The class has been learning about nouns and verbs and this particular worksheet that had been left for them to do took them onto adjectives. It was a grid of words and the students were required to colour the nouns in blue; the verbs in red and the adjectives in yellow. We had the conversation about what an adjective was, and I reaffirmed that they understood what nouns and verbs were and sent them off to their tables.
About ten minutes later, one of the students came to me with a confused look on her face.
“Mr Mitchell, what do I do with ‘open’? I can open the door, which means it’s a doing word, a verb, but I can also describe the door as being open, which makes it an adjective.”
It was a fantastic moment because it was a genuine demonstration that she understood the concepts and had integrated what a verb, an adjective and a noun were into her schema of the English language and could apply it in different contexts. I did read the worksheet particularly closely; I scanned the instructions to clarify what it was about before the session, but I did not look at each of the words in the grid. It was a fantastic moment and one that has gone in my Book of Wins (a hardcover notebook mum gave me as a graduation gift after I completed my Teaching degree as a way of recording the small things that happen that are ‘wins’ with the students and which will remind me why I teach on the inevitable bad days.
“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
– Attributed to Alexander the Great
Recently I wrote an article talking about the issue of teacher work-life balance, and my current lack thereof. It has generated some interesting discussions and I have had some helpful conversations with members of my PLN who have reached out, for which I am grateful. It seems that the conversations I have had face-to-face where it has been indicated that the hours I keep currently are somewhat normal have been somewhat supported by conversations on Twitter.
A conversation with one Tweacher indicated they kept similar hours to myself vis-a-vis time spent at school but allowed a longer break between the end of the school day and resuming work at home, and with more frequent breaks over the weekend when working at home. Another Tweacher noted that for them, involvement with professional associations and Twitter allowed them to blend their social life with their educational life, acknowledging that they were unsure if this constituted having a work-life balance.
When I first began this blog, I wrote about why I teach and why I joined the teaching profession in a time when there is intense scrutiny of men professing a desire to work with children and men are seemingly avoiding the teaching profession. In my own Initial Teacher Education (ITE) cohort, there were perhaps only ten of us out of around one hundred and fifty.
Despite how I was feeling in general, I was still excited to be in the classroom. I have some great things going on with my students, particularly my Stage Three classes and this morning reinforced that. I had one of my Stage Three classes, and we have been learning about the Cornell note-taking strategy. To be able to take good quality notes is a very handy skill and something that I wish I had had in high school, or even in my first two years at university.
I was open about that, as well. I showed them some of my notes from a first-year course and we talked about what was wrong with them and why those notes were not as helpful as they could be. We then talked about the projects that they had completed that year with their classroom teacher and the research they did as part of that and how having useful notes would have made things easier.
I have been really proud of the way they have engaged with the learning process for this topic. We have spent a considerable amount of time practicing using the strategy and are now at the point where it is time to wrap the unit up with a summative assessment task.
Part of my professional development recently has included conversations about student choice, prompted, I think, by a comment that Jon Bergmann made during one of his keynotes at FlipConAus recently when he asked the audience “Why do we make our students demonstrate what they learned by making them take a test?”
I had heard something similar previously, though I cannot recall where, and I decided to try it out. So I had a conversation with each of my Stage Three classes and asked them “what do you want to do to demonstrate to me that you know how to use and can use the Cornell note-taking strategy on your own?” We discussed that, and then I asked them “what does success look like in your chosen strategy?” which prompted a conversation about what would be expected in each method that demonstrates understanding. The students loved it and were genuinely engaged with the process of developing their assignments.
It was a “so this is why I teach” moment for me. The students were genuinely engaged, poring through the notes they had taken as we learned about Cornell note-taking together to help them put together their own demonstration. Some of my students were filming a video where they explained it and then demonstrated how it was used, some of my students chose to take some notes on a self-chosen topic and submit those with annotations, and some have chosen to put together a PowerPoint presentation. There was creation, there was analysing, there was collaboration, group work, individual work, peer support as one of a more advanced students worked closely with a student who required some additional support, going through the same steps that I would have to support the students. I was cheering inside.
I told the students this during the session-end reflections. I also asked them how they felt about being able to direct their own learning in this way and as a whole group, they felt empowered to own their learning and show off what they actually knew in different ways, rather than in the same way as everyone else.
It was a great morning.
Then things returned to Earth and I ended up wandering down to our Deputy Principal’s office and asking her for some advice on an incident, which in and of itself, was very minor, but which in the larger picture of the students involved could merely be a stepping stone to something larger.
The afternoon was much better, I had another Stage Three class, who are one session away from finishing the current unit of work, after which I have said we will explore green screen technology using VeeScope Live.
Oh, the roller coaster of teaching! I wonder if students are truly aware of their impact on us, as teachers.
“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 evolution of social media into a robust mechanism for social transformation is already visible. Despite many adamant critics who insist that tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are little more than faddish distractions useful only to exchange trivial information, these critics are being proven wrong time and again. ”
– Attributed to Simon Mainwaring
The @EduTweetOz Twitter account describes itself as a “RoCur for Aussie educators to share ideas, experiences, q’s & passion. Building community. New host each wk” and is a very worthwhile Twitter account to follow. Each host brings with them a new topic and their own perspective on that topic to the table for discussion, and each host is also given an introductory interview blog on the EduTweetOz blog site which allows the accounts followers to gain an insight into the week’s host.
The beauty of the account is that it is open to nominations from educators from any sector of the industry, which keeps the discussion topics from the account fresh and interesting. You can nominate yourself to be a guest host by clicking here.
Recently, the account was hosted by Mark Johnson (@seminyaksunset) and I stumbled onto a conversation regarding pre-service teachers partway through the weekend, and joined in, as you can see below:
There are a few thoughts that arose from this conversation which I believe are important to discuss and if I provoke some constructive dialogue, whether it be in comments to this article here on the website, or alternatively, on Twitter or Google+, I believe that I will be happy. There were six main ideas or topics that I drew from the conversation with Mark, and this article will address the first of them, with others emerging over the course of the next week.
I certainly do not believe that I hold the answers to any of these issues, though I certainly have some opinion. However rigorous discussion around some of these issues appears to be sparse in their occurrence, despite the level of importance to which society as a rule attaches to education. The above issues are all, to a certain degree, inter-related, so their may be some topic-jumping, however I will do my best to keep this series of articles on topic.
I do not agree with the premise that increasing the entry score for ITE courses will necessarily equate to a raising in teacher standards. I strongly believe that there are too many variables in play, as with any sort of standardised testing regime for the overall mark awarded at the end of a students secondary education when they are either seventeen or eighteen to be any indication of the kind of teacher they will be later in life. I pointed out that as a secondary student, I performed poorly in my final secondary education exams, receiving a University Admission Index (UAI, currently known as the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) in NSW) score of only 55.55.
There were a number of potential reasons for my low score, which are ultimately irrelevant in this conversation, but I entered university as a mature age student, put in much more effort than I ever did in my secondary education, and came away with Honours Class I, the Education Faculty Medal and will be the Graduate Speaker at my cohort’s graduation ceremony in July of this year. My UAI was no indication of what kind of tertiary student I would be, and my tertiary academic results are no indication of what kind of teacher I will be.
So I do not believe that relying solely on an arbitrary ITE entrance score would necessarily have any real impact on the quality of teachers that graduate. My initial response, that ITE should move towards an entrance model akin to the medicine entrance model that combines entry score requirements with an interview and personality test would only help to a degree. For someone who wished to enter the teaching profession immediately out of high school in their late teens, the interview process would serve well to weed out those who only want to enter the ITE courses as they see them as an easy option. This may sound a little silly, but I distinctly recall hearing two classmates during my undergraduate state that they were only doing the course because their parents said they had to go to university after high school and teaching was easy to get into. However this alone would serve to reduce the number of disinterested teachers entering into the profession and that reason on its own, to me, seems to make introducing entrance interviews worth examining further.
Another measure that I believe could be added into the entry process is perhaps more controversial. I am aware from conversations with a number of my classmates that many of us feel that nothing in our ITE properly prepared us for what teaching is actually like. I was not offered a permanent position under the NSW Department of Education and Communities Targeted Graduate Program (TGR), and to be quite frank, I am rather thankful for that fact. I picked up some casual days early this year at a local school where one of my classmates received a permanent position under the TGR and when I asked how she was finding the position, she commented to me that, and I’m paraphrasing from memory here, “…[she] was not ready for a full-time spot straight out. There is so much stuff that was not covered [in our ITE]; even just the admin requirements alone, forget the need to interact with parents.”
This is a sentiment that I can sympathise with. I do agree that there was a lack of understanding imparted to us as to the way in which teaching can consume you if you do not take steps to prepare yourself, and the requirements outside of the purely teaching that are placed on teachers. A teacher friend of mine, who is currently in an Executive position, commented to me during a conversation one afternoon that “…teaching is a twenty-four hour job.” A sentiment which my classmate, and myself, are only just starting to properly grasp to truth of.
This knowledge, this understanding needs to be made more explicit somehow during the admission process. Whilst it may scare off some who would in fact be excellent teachers, it would also scare off those who think that teaching is a nine-to-three job, and allow prospective teachers to go in with, if not eyes wide-open, than at least somewhat aware of the enormity of the role which they are undertaking. There are a few ways in which this could be done, such as requiring prospective teachers to spend time with a teacher, not just in the classroom, but attending staff meetings, professional development session, report writing, planning and programming in an attempt to understand the workload that is placed on teachers. However, something such as I have just described could not realistically be expected to occur before the commencement of the ITE.
I am not sure what measures, other than introducing an interview process or perhaps some sort of requirement to spend time in a classroom prior to commencement of the ITE, could be introduced to the front-end of the ITE the system that would actually enhance the quality of teachers that graduate at the back-end. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has ideas to achieve this, either in the comment section here or alternatively on Twitter or Google+.
Thank you for reading my semi-organised thoughts on ITE today. The next article, which will be published on Monday, will discuss the structure and content of ITE courses in general, and mine specifically.
See here for the list of articles in this series.