Emily has backgrounds in science and science communication, and made the jump to teaching in 2014. She has spent the majority of her time teaching in Australia, but spent a year teaching in London. Back in Australia now, she is expanding her teaching experience and trying out new things.
Why did you become a teacher?
Teaching was not something that I’d always wanted to do. I left high school wanting to become a scientist, so I completed a Bachelor of Science, with a major in Plant Science. I worked casually for almost two years in different research labs, and although the work was easy and enjoyable, I felt like it wasn’t my passion. I realised that I really enjoyed telling people about science and watching their faces light up when they actually understood something they didn’t before.
From here I thought I’d like to work in informal education, believing that I wouldn’t enjoy the bureaucracy of formal education (boy was I right!). My ideal was to work for CSIRO education outreach, so I spent many hours on the phone with the important people there working out what I would need to do to get a job. Turns out that was another degree, so off I went to complete a Master of Communication, with a major in Science Education.
Throughout this degree, I had a lot of freedom with the direction of my assessments, and found that I was tailoring them all toward two things – how the GMO controversy was represented in the media, and formal science education.
By the end of that degree, I realised it had not served me well at all to gain employment in the informal education sector. I didn’t mind too much though, I had already decided I wanted to give ‘proper’ teaching a try.
I felt like, within myself, I was ‘ready’ to be a teacher, and that it was something I could be good at.
So back to university I went for a third time, to complete a Graduate Diploma in Education.
What has kept you in the profession?
Definitely not the workload, that’s for sure. Who in their right mind would work 10-12 hour days, while only being paid for 5 of those hours?
While the holidays are nice, they aren’t it either.
For me it’s the students.
It’s little Johhny who is so happy he could cry and hug me because he got a D in math in year 8, when all through primary school he’s only ever gotten an E.
It’s little Jane who loves science so much she constantly interrupts the lesson with slightly irrelevant questions, and stays back at lunch to pursue them when we have to move on during the lesson.
It’s the students who constantly want to give up, but I won’t let them. I am mean about it, and they know it. I won’t help them if they’re being lazy, but they do eventually get there in the end (with much complaining).
It’s the students who have unpleasant experiences outside the classroom who I can give a bit of structure, trust and kindness to. That includes the ones who look to school as a welcome escape and engage, but it also includes those who disengage (willfully or because that’s all they’ve ever known) even if we are constantly at loggerheads.
It’s the look on their faces when they finally understand something, when they discover something new, when they catch themselves enjoying the lesson.
It’s the students who say I am the best science/math teacher they’ve ever had and can I please never leave because they finally understand this stuff now.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
At the moment the biggest challenge I face is my workload. I mean this in the sense that I have 17 unique classes, with a total of 427 individual students that I teach. Most of them I see only once a fortnight, but my senior students I see four times a fortnight.
I wrote a more detailed explanation of this – I feel like it is too big of a topic to answer properly here!
Have I ever felt like quitting the profession? Yes, a few times. But each time I gave myself a couple of weeks to move past the current issue and see if I still enjoy it or not. Each time I’ve realised once I’ve worked out how to deal with everything that’s going wrong at that moment, I do still enjoy actually teaching. So far, that’s been enough to keep me doing this.
Is there something you would like to try out with your classes?
I would love to try a flipped classroom. The whole concept is novel to me, but I can definitely see the benefits in the right situations.
One of my colleagues currently does this with his senior classes, so I hope to see it in action over the coming weeks. I do think it is an incredible amount of work to set up, and to get yourself and the students used to it. It seems to be working really well for him though!
Come to think of it, I have only really heard of it being done with senior students, and most of my classes are junior. Does anyone out there have experience doing flipped classrooms with junior/KS3 classes? I’d love to hear about it!
What advice do you have for beginning (or experienced) teachers?
Ask for help when you need it, and accept help when offered.
We have far too much to deal with to try dealing alone – lean on people around you when you need to!
Need advice on how to deal with a particular student? Ask their other teachers or the pastoral team.
Need ideas for activities, lessons, experiments? Ask the other teachers in your department, and definitely the technicians (they are often an untapped wealth of knowledge for experiments and activities – they’ve seen them all work and fail before, so ask for help and ideas!).
Feel like you’re completely drowning and want to quit? Talk to your line manager (or theirs), colleagues, friends and family.
Don’t ever feel like you are isolated, with no one else having any understanding of what you’re dealing with – we’re all there at some point or other, even if we look fine often we’re struggling underneath the strong outward persona. So ask for help, no one will ever think you are stupid or weak!
If someone else approaches you for help, help them out too. Don’t leave another teacher floundering, we need all the support we can get.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask one of our ‘Meet The Teachers’, or if you would like to tell us a bit about yourself, please get in contact in the comments below or on the contacts page!