July 31, 2023
Over 300,000 people currently work as teachers in Australia, about a half/half split between Primary and Secondary schooling levels, with over 70% being female. When I began the career way back in 1978, I quickly realised that very little of what I thought I knew about teaching and what was shared with me at university was correct or useful. Educational theories and history and pedagogical practices and curriculum maps and technologies certainly provided a little of the necessary knowledge and skills teachers need, but the reality gap between academia and day-to-day workplaces was – and still is – huge.
By my fifth year of teaching, I was mapping a potential guide for people who were contemplating teaching as a career or were in the early years wondering what just happened. I began collecting comments and observations made by colleagues and storing them – conversations on yard duties, behaviour management, administrative paperwork, reliefs, union membership, and so on. The comments I collected are like:
“I was born branded as a teacher. Mum is a Principal. Dad teaches Tech. My grandmothers on both sides were teachers, and my father’s father worked as an accountant for an education company. I’ve never known a world outside teaching. We’re a bit like professional military families – actually, a lot like them.” (AK, Economics Teacher, 12th year in profession)
“Every morning, I coach myself to be positive when I walk into the school grounds. I smile, I greet people, I exude positivity because I know the impact it has on everyone else.” (JN, Year 5 teacher, 4th year in profession)
“If I have to do one more session on Mandatory Notification I will scream. I get it. I know what to do after four sessions. Really. Stop wasting my time. The sessions are so boring.” (CB, Food Technologies teacher, 22nd year in profession)
“I learned a lot of tech stuff during uni, but I was surprised at how many of my colleagues still struggle with tech at work. It’s embarrassing. I’m helping people with basic stuff and the kids know it.” (FS, Middle School teacher, 7th year in profession)
This year, as a side-task to other writing projects, I’ve finally pulled together a full draft of the teacher guide, and it currently sits around 42,000 words. I’m allowing myself a target of 50,000 words – long enough to cover quite a few topics; short enough to be readable. I’d like to make it a relaxed reading, one that non-teachers can read to understand the demands and joys of the profession. It doesn’t include leadership – it really is aimed at classroom teaching as a profession. Neither does it cover what courses generally cover: pedagogies, behaviour management practices, curriculum design, professional growth. If anything, for would-be teachers it’s a warts-and-all view.
I am wrestling with the method for the teacher observations. I want to provide anonymity for the hundreds of colleagues whose comments I’ve curated and anonymity for myself because some observations may not be what those colleagues want appearing in print, but I do want to give a sense of the commentators’ experience, so in the draft I’ve used fake initials, but actual experience in level of school and years in the profession. I know this won’t suit academic rigor or standards and it’s not meant to – the purpose is to share real comments in the context of the topic: nothing more. I have nothing I want to prove as irrefutable evidence.
And that brings me to developing the overall tone again – a conversation in essence. The current working title is a wee derivative – We Need To Talk About Teaching – but it I want a title that sets the tone from the outset: that chat we should have about the profession that makes it clearer to you what you really need to have to be successful and happy being a teacher. I’ll continue to explore possible titles as the draft is shared with beta-reader colleagues.
Writing is my passion. Ideas, opinions, beliefs, experiences expressed through language - through words and images - pervade and create my life. Writing is my voice, my soul, my self. My dream is one day writing will sustain my life...