Twenty weeks ago, I was just another new teaching graduate, anticipating the start of the school year and hoping that the few school contacts I had made in the last term of 2014 would remember to call me if they needed a casual teacher. After months of tailoring my resume, writing job applications and receiving countless rejections, I could empathise with the thousands of other teachers in Australia who struggle to land a job in this over-saturated market. But nineteen weeks ago, a school where I had completed my final teaching internship called me, interviewed me and employed me to teach high school history this year— all within the space of about sixteen hours. I resigned from my retail job that same day and traded in customer service for lesson planning, assessment marking, new teacher induction, conflict resolution and navigating the ups and downs of adolescents.
Eighteen weeks ago, I was officially thrown into the deep, murky waters of teaching, with less than a week to collect to my thoughts and only a few days to plan my first lessons. I have officially survived my first term and am so grateful to have the opportunity to still be teaching in the next one. My emotions during the first term have been a melange of success, failure, joy, frustration, empowerment, disappointment, motivation and anxiety. Here are my ten reflections from the first ten weeks:
- I’m tired. Everyday I wake up and I hate myself because firstly, I am not a morning person and secondly, I never get enough sleep. A few nights ago I stayed awake until 1:30am marking assessment tasks and then woke up at 5:30am to get ready for school. I obviously don’t have a work/life balance and as a result, the main thing that I am excited to do during the school holidays is sleep. Sleeping-in on the weekend has never ever felt so good.
- There are usually more ‘good’ kids than ‘bad’ kids, but the ‘bad’ kids take all the attention. You will always learn the name of the student who pushes the line, when you really want to learn the name of the student who makes themselves the wallflower.
- The administrative side of teaching sucks. I directly teach a total of 168 students, and keeping up to date with who submitted what, which kid has a detention when, and whose parents I need to call this week are the little tasks that mind-bogglingly seem to take up the most time.
- Everyday is a new day and brings with it new challenges. This is definitely what makes teaching so interesting and dynamic. I see students at their best, their worst and everything in between. Some days I need to be a motivator or a mediator and other days I need to exercise more empathy. While it is difficult to wear all the hats and change my approach according to the individuals I am teaching, what I do is never stagnant, and my practice is always evolving.
- Teaching Year 12 is more stressful than I anticipated. High-stakes testing can take the fun out of learning at times, but I’m trying not to let it take over the experience. I find myself preparing for, worrying about, marking for and teaching my Year 12's about 50% of the time. When they finally had two weeks off to do their half-yearly exams, this freed-up brain power allowed me to start noticing some important things about my other classes.
- Being firm but fair is a struggle. I’ve never been a very confrontational person and prefer to simply go with the flow — and in that respect teaching has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone. I not only have to call people out for their poor effort, it is now my job to do so and any less would be doing a disservice to any attempt I’ve made at creating an environment built for learning.
- I am actually a full-time actor. When I enter the school gates, I am on show and this is my stage. With hundreds of little eyes constantly watching, I need to think carefully about the persona I portray. In the same way that I teach about the pharaohs of New Kingdom Egypt, I’m also teaching about behaviour through the way that I model it.
- I am always asking myself “is learning happening?” This is one of the first things I remember learning about during my teaching degree before we went on our first class observations and it has definitely stuck.
- Trying to accept that being “just okay” right now is hard. When you come straight out of the idealism of university, it’s difficult to come to terms with the real world of schools, teaching and learning. Sometimes your ideas will not work, sometimes a lesson will be a complete disaster and sometimes there is just not enough time to make things amazing. But it helps to to remember that it is just one moment, in a long series of moments, where things will get infinitely better overall.
- Being a teacher means that you are always a learner. Whether its learning about the social structure of Ancient China so you can teach it to your boisterous Year 8's in 5th period or learning the meaning behind some new adolescent colloquialism, there is always something new to know — and I like that.