After graduating a Bachelor of Science with majors in Biotechnology and Biomedicine, Nate began his high school science teaching journey with a Graduate Diploma of Education. He has been teaching since 2014, but as much as he loves the job, he is already thinking of taking his skills into a slightly different arena.
Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher because I wanted to help individuals, like my teachers did for me. Well, one teacher in particular. I wasn’t the most enthusiastic or well behaved student. I was easily distracted and had trouble understanding the importance of some of the areas of my education. I kind of thought “What’s the point?”.
There was one teacher though, my biology teacher, who established an environment and a relationship in which I felt comfortable with investing time and effort into learning. I actually started to enjoy learning. Started to actually try with some of the assessment pieces. I even started earlier than the night before!
Something happened in the middle of year 12 though that stopped all of that. My teacher had a stroke and was hospitalised for an indefinite period of time. We had a supervising teacher for the rest of year 12, which wasn’t an issue because he was a friend of the teacher. He would give us the occasional update on the progression of his recovery and rehabilitation. I graduated from year 12 and continued on with my life.
I was studying occupational therapy at university first year out. To make some money, I was working at Donut King at the local shopping centre. One day, maybe almost a year since graduating high school, I saw my old teacher. He was in a wheelchair. He couldn’t speak, he could only gesture. He was with his wife and daughter. The wife approached and ordered a coffee. I said hi and informed her that I was one of his students last year and that I hope that he is well. She returned to him and I started on the coffees. I saw her start talking to him. He turned, looked at me and stuck his tongue out. I returned the expression and started to laugh. The wife returned and asked who I was. I said that I was one of the more problematic students of the class and that we had butt heads before. She laughed and said “You must have left an impression on him because he has only recently remembered who I was.”
I wanted that.
I wanted to be someone who continued to try and push students to become better than who they were the day before, even if they didn’t believe in their own abilities.
What is the best lesson you’ve ever taught? What made it so?
One of the best lessons that I ever had was completely unplanned actually. It was in a year 8 class where we were talking about anatomical and physiological sexual education. The topic of abortions came up and the students wanted to understand the idea more. Very delicate subject to discuss but it worked really well.
I like to think (I am biased of course) that, like my teacher, I have established an environment in which students feel comfortable asking me questions that they might originally find to be awkward or embarrassing. I sat down with the students on the desks and we talked about it for 40 minutes. I didn’t give them my perspective but I fostered opinions by explaining the views of others with their justifications.
It was a really rewarding lesson to see students having different opinions on something that is very important but acknowledging the differences in beliefs.
Is there something you would like to try out with your classes?
I have had teachers tell me of similar things that they do, especially in science.
Some have a box where students write questions in that they might feel a little uncomfortable able asking aloud. Then, within a specific period of time, the teacher takes those questions home and answers all of them and uses a lesson or part of one to deliver the information. I think that would be lots of fun and very rewarding.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Staying in the profession.
I enjoy the altering of content to ensure that a lesson is broken down easily and is delivered in a way in which everyone has an equal opportunity to learn. But it is still all the extra loopholes that a teacher has to jump through to get the job done by administrative standards.
To try and make it more appealing, I did start up a little side project called Inform where I break down news articles in the science world into simple little articles that are easy to read and understand. That was something that I use as a form to balance out all of the additional requirements of teaching. Something to get me excited about science again instead of reading an article and going “which unit will I be able to incorporate this into to make it a current, literacy based lesson?”.
Why are you considering leaving the profession?
I am considering leaving the profession and it isn’t because of the act of teaching but more of the system that is put in place to “support” and “accommodate” teaching.
Creating content that students will like and delivering it in a class is lots of fun and I really enjoy it. Sure, you have your days where it is the absolute worse but if those days didn’t occur then it would be super boring.
The issue is the administrative system that is associated with teaching. It’s a very fine balancing act between ensure that the content caters for the particular needs of every student but also ticking all of the appropriate boxes that have been set by the education department.
It is a lot of work to be a teacher and it is definitely an instance of working hard and not necessarily smart. I’m sure there is going to be people who disagree with that point of view but, from what I have seen, that seems to be the best descriptor of it.
What advice do you have for beginning (or experienced) teachers?
You’ve just got to ride it out sometimes!
In a classroom, there will be peaks and troughs. You need to change it up, take your foot off the pedal when the class peaks and floor it when it starts to trough.
Also, you have to find a balance. Teaching wrecks you mentally and emotionally. Believe me. You need to find something to counter all of that. I would go to the gym 5 times a week at 4:30am, play Futsal or soccer at night or on the weekend, go to the movies or out to dinner, or even just designate an evening where I would get home and not do any work. Order in, have a drink (or more) and watch some anime or game for a bit.
You have to establish yourself past the definition of being a teacher, which is hard at times, but it will definitely keep you more sane. That is if you haven’t already.