Teach for your life

I remember those long days as a graduate teacher. The learning curve was sharp, the stress levels high and everyday there was more I didn’t know than what I could confidently say I did. Does anything ever prepare you for being in the classroom alone? Probably not. I am intrigued by this six week accelerated course that prepares intelligent, high achievers to walk into a classroom alone, fully “qualified’ and ready to teach.Teach for Australia. In my heart I believe it should work. Take a motivated, smart individual and give them the basics of education pedagogy, methodology and classroom management. Hope that this marries well with their own highly refined and adaptable skills of communication, personal resilience and confidence.

The start of any teaching career is a baptism of fire. I remember “Daryl” like it was yesterday. “I am going to slash your tyres Miss,” he ranted one lesson. Daryl had no Mum, some of Dad and wore the same uniform each day, each week pretty much unwashed and unloved. He was a nice kid but home was in a bad way. I learnt to teach Daryl with the support of several key teachers and an older experienced male staff member who played Dad to him and offered tough love. You cannot learn this from a text book or a year long Dip Ed or a four year Bachelor of Teaching. You hear stories like mine from colleagues, fellow student teachers, older staff member who become mentors and you realise you learn on the job. We all have our “Daryl.”

The Teach for Australia program is an amazing initiative. But there needs to be more opportunities for teachers than a remote rural disadvantaged school, you need experience in a range of settings. And new teachers need mentors. I know the Department has a system in place as does the Catholic Education and Independent schools system. But these mentors need to be experienced teachers who retain a passion for teaching. And if you look around, I think they are few and far between.

Caroline Overington’s article, Trainees at the Chalkface (May 5, 2012)┬áin the Weekend Australian Magazine presents some of the highlights and lowlights of the Teach for Australia program. She quotes a teacher from the program, Quentin who has blogged his way through his first year:

Here’s a post from March this year: “Exhaustion. Fatigue. Overwhelmed. Lack of support. No wonder I don’t feel like writing much these days. School is chewing me up and going to spit me out. Overly dramatic, yes, but that’s how I feel. There’s only so much effort, hard work, patience, resilience and grit that one has before it becomes too much. I’m finding it difficult to care.”
And from the last week of last term: “Penultimate year 10 class of the year. First 5 minutes and one of my students, X, raises his fist at me and has this look on his face like, “I am going to smash your face.” The hatred in his eyes scares me shitless and I immediately tell him to go outside. Thank God he does. The other time I asked another student to move, she said, “bullshit, c*&t”. So this kid leaves the classroom and I’m shaking. There’s still 85 minutes of the lesson to go. I stand outside wondering what I am going to do. I put on a four minute YouTube video. I can’t think straight. Breathe. Focus. I feel like crying.”

My heart aches for him and I wonder where his mentor is, where his friends are who have opted for the corporate high life of long hours but major money. There are days when you will feel unsafe, overwhelmed with what you don’t know and what you cannot possibly achieve. But one magic moment with a student when they finally master something is a glorious experience and makes you go back in to the classroom and face it all again. Some days it will feel like you are teaching for your life – to make it all go fast, go away and get through. But hopefully, you will teach because as you do so you are giving life and opportunity to someone who really needs it.