Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A teacher

I'm a high school science teacher. In Australia, this means teaching Years 7 to 12 (ages 12 to 18). This year I am working part-time in a job-share arrangement two days a week so I can homeschool my own kids. 

This is not the real me!

I wasn't always a teacher. I used to be lots of other things, but I went into teaching because I thought I could make a difference and "inspire" young minds! I guess I have always been slightly delusional!

I thought I would be a good teacher.  I ran courses for engineers and farmers on stream management and fluvial geomorphology (you'll have to look that one up!).  The feedback I got was very positive. I was told I was skilled at explaining complex ideas in simple terms which were easily understood. Interstate government departments paid me to travel and run my courses.

I imagined myself maybe not so much as the "cool" teacher, but at least as the one that the kids enjoyed having. You know, the one that made learning exciting. They were going to listen and learn from me because I was interesting, I had "real-world" experience and I would capture their attention with my sparkling personality! No boring science-nerd teaching here, thanks. 

I was hoping to inspire the next crop of environmentalists. Not extreme greenies, but citizens who would engage in the world at a local and global level. Who would understand the planning process and be ready to stand up for the environment when no one else was. They would totally get the "bigger picture".

So why is it, on my paid workdays (because every day is a work day here!), I have to drag myself out of bed and schlepp to work? Where is my enthusiasm? Why don't I love teaching like I thought I would? 

The reality of students is one issue. The majority (not all, but lots) are just not interested in science, the environment and taking action. All way too much effort. They are not very good at listening - actively or passively! They have lots of distractions in their lives I never had when I was at school - mobile phones, ipods, internet, laptops, games, social networking. I'm not quite instantaneous enough for them and neither is the reward of effort, even if I am as colourful and high tech as I can be. I do not look forward to practical activities because I don't have enough sets of eyes to make sure everyone is following instructions and being safe.

The reality of schools is another issue. I teach 7 different classes, with a minimum of 25 students in each, over the course of my two days a week. That's a lot of different lesson planning in not very much time, which means I am not realistically able to plan lessons to the standard I really want them to be. Mixed ability classes mean that I should differentiate for a range of abilities. Again more planning and not enough time to do it in. I absolutely still search out new and exciting ways to present the material I am required to teach, but there is a limit to how much sleep I am willing to forgo. I teach in several different shared classrooms which means we can't keep our projects out on desks or tables or even display our work (it gets vandalised).

Teaching may not be what I imagined it to be, but I still have "golden moments" where a student will write me a note and express how much I've helped them. I have had students run up to me and hug me when they have discovered I'm back teaching at their school. The students and I have shared camps and musical productions and excursions and extra-curricular workshops. 

There are moments when I know I am making a difference.  I just wish there more of them.


  1. Like I said before, I find it very impressive that you have been able to merge the two worlds of mainstream and non-mainstream education. I let my certification expire because I knew I would not go back into a traditional classroom. I do still tutor and I love that. I look at what the students bring me and I am amazed at the mis-mash of papers, busy work and test prep they are expected to do on a daily basis. Whereas I strive every day to make my girls learning connected, in school it seems they receive a smattering of information and are supposed to make their own connections.

    You are the type of teacher that schools need - dedicated, intelligent and driven to make learning connected to the students' lives. It may be frustrating, but you are making a difference!

  2. Wow, thanks Jessica! It will be interesting to see how long I can keep going doing both. I feel as if we just find our groove and lots of good things to do at home and then I have to go to work. The more I read about homeschooling and alternative forms of education, the more I feel as if traditional schooling is not working for such a lot of kids.

    I've started tutoring a girl who lives nearby and find it very rewarding. It is something that I might expand a bit in the future if I do chuck in the teaching.

    Thanks for your words of support - I'll keep plugging away!


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