April 29, 2013

My commentary on the Teach For Australia feature article in The Age

Feature article about Teach For Australia in today's Age newspaper here: http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/journey-into-teaching-20130426-2iir0.html.  

The article states that TFA requires more funding for future cohorts, and also outlines some debates on teacher recruitment, profiles a past associate, and discusses who would want to join the program.  
Commenting on the political debate about the rising number of students with low tertiary entry scores enrolling in teacher education courses, Dean Ashenden, an education consultant, former teacher educator and founder of the Good Universities Guide, says no one is willing to do what is needed to make teaching a more attractive employment option. Two reasons why teacher education does so poorly: it cannot attract enough able candidates; and "it does a bad job with the ones it has," he says.
Mr Ashenden argues that a big boost to teacher salaries would attract more able students into the profession. But despite teacher organisations trying for 50 years to achieve this, neither the state nor federal governments have been willing to oblige – including former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, who before he won government promised a marked increase in teachers' wages. The result has been that "teacher salaries, status and entry standards remain as low as ever, perhaps even worse", Mr Ashenden says.
He says the impasse in teacher education is disheartening because teacher educators have at last figured out how to do a good job. Pointing to the maser of teaching degree at Melbourne University and the Teach for Australia graduate diploma of teaching, he notes these concentrate on fixing the key weakness in most teacher training courses: they do not teach people how to teach.
Making teaching more attractive is more complex than just better education skills and higher salaries, but it's a great starting point.
"That first group students were taking a health and human development subject and everything was new to them," Mr Keating says. "There was a range of academic abilities and behavioural challenges but I focused on building relationships from the beginning and we got along really well. We achieved a lot in that first semester and I hope what I taught was useful to them."
He says he faced no serious discipline problems in his first two years at the school. Although some classes were "challenging", he says Mill Park has a firm discipline policy and that the management strategies he learnt at Melbourne proved useful.
Having strong leadership at school makes a HUGE difference to implement consistent policies and promote the school's vision.  There should be just as much focus on having good principals as there is on good teachers, to create a stable and well-run school for the teachers to do our jobs properly!

From its first intake of 45 graduates in 2009, Teach for Australia has attracted would-be pedagogues with an average ENTER score of 95 and an astonishing array of talents. The current group, a record number of 50 graduates now in the first of their two years training in schools, have degrees from 19 different universities and display a vast range of talents and backgrounds.
TFA acting chief executive Kallie Rougos says they include graduates with chemistry and history PhDs, medical doctors, finance and senior business analysts, business owners and former managing directors, representatives of Australia in international mathematics and debating competitions, community workers with the Red Cross, Wesley Mission, Oxfam and UNICEF, foreign aid and exchange workers across East Timor, Palestine, Peru, South Korea and Liberia, fluent speakers of Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, French and German, and a trained firefighter and even a former national fencing champion.
Ms Rougos says nearly 3300 graduates from around Australia have applied to undertake the two-year course at Melbourne since the scheme began and, of those, 320 have been offered a place, with 175 undertaking the training at the university and in schools. While 85 graduates from the first two cohorts have completed the two-year program at Melbourne, a third group is halfway through, a fourth started this year and will finish in 2014, and the fifth group of 50 is being selected to begin the course next year.
It's pretty exciting that people who may not have normally considered teaching are now considering Teach For Australia to be a really viable career path.  It's becoming a real alternative to the more mainstream consulting, finance or law options that are pitched to graduates at law school and the top universities.  That's another huge strength of the program because there are so many who do really want to become teachers and work in education but it's never been presented to them as an option before

Even if associates leave the profession to go onto other areas, it means they have more of an understanding of what is faced by so many who are in less privileged positions and have spent two years working with students who need the most support in really challenging schools.  That experience changes people's life trajectories, including mine.  Teach For America associates have gone onto create charter schools, become policy-makers, become life-long advocates of educational equality for all.  Who knows what will come out of Teach For Australia?  

It fills me with huge outrage when I think back to the completely avoidable systemic and structural difficulties that my students had to face at school on top of their already hard lives at home (Semester 1 reports handed out in the middle of term 3, with most having no comments due to the teacher strike?!).  It makes me fume to consider the ill-thought out policies governments wanted to enact to address educational issues (performance pay when a school principal has stated they play favourites?!)  And sadly, I have seen first-hand that, despite all the amazing, inspiring, hard-working teachers I have met and worked with, there are many others who work in schools that are not invested in their students and not making sure they have the best education.  That was my own naivety coming into the education system and I'm glad I know better now.

So what?  I want to learn more, I want to see what I can do to be part of closing the gap, I want to see an end to students getting a sub-par education just because they come from families that don't have as much money and live in an area where public schools are failing...

An African proverb says: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." To transform education for every child in this country, we must go together. (From Rick Hess's amazing blog)

That's the thing about education: it's a global issue, everyone and their cat has an opinion, there are a million different policies and problems, it's hugely political, interdisciplinary, the teaching profession is dominated by females which makes it a target for attacks, throwing money at it doesn't make it all better, and the achievement gap between high and low socio-economic students is actually widening in Australia.

Working and studying in this landscape has been a huge roller coaster ride and I'm happy to be documenting the journey.  

April 26, 2013

Having fun...

Penelope Trunk says, "fun to me is reading and writing all day, and every so often, someone pops in to listen to me talk about what I’m thinking, and then I go back to reading and writing. That is a great day for me."

That's what I've been doing.  Reading books about education, policy, privilege and class, healing, health, relationships....  I'm meeting people who are supportive, engaged, genuine and passionate.  I meditate, cycle, go for walks, drink good coffee and tea... lie on the grass and stare up at the sky... 

I love the intensity of learning NEW THINGS... grasping concepts, following leads, discussing them with people, thinking of how to put what I've learnt into practice.

I'll always be a life long student, except now my formal education and what I enjoy learning about in real life have coincided.  I deeply respect all my teachers - who may come in the guise of friends, uni professors, young children, my former students, and experience (which is the best, but hardest teacher from whom to learn). 

After two years teaching and studying, it is a luxury to have time to ponder, think and engage with ideas.  Money poor but time rich.  Writing is a way to make sense of everything going on and process them all.  

In between all this nerdy stuff I've been relief teaching and am finishing my studies at the University of Melbourne.  

A student I taught in Year 6 this week ate a kiwi fruit for the first time in his life.  He ate it with the skin on, taking a tiny bite, then looked over at his friend and me and said in a surprised voice, "it's delicious!" Such a highlight to see such innocence and wonderment at a fruit we usually take for granted.

This journey is so scary, overwhelming and intense.  I deeply value this time of quiet solitude and feel so lucky and grateful for being able to be in this position.  

Soon I'll be off to the Disneyland for nerds to go on an intellectual marathon. 

November 10, 2012

One step at a time...

I wrote a short profile piece for my alma mater intended for current law students and new graduates.  It captures a little bit about my current role, the values which have underpinned my career so far, and a bit of advice for those thinking about their next steps.

Mike Witter, a fantastic educator who started out at Teach For America, then at a KIPP school and now works for TFA, spoke about perceiving one's existential crises (often plural) as "existential opportunities".  I love how such a subtle shift of the language can make all the difference to one's thinking.  So many of my friends and I have been lost post-university.  The ability to see each new decision-making process as an opening towards exciting new paths, rather than as a chance to fret about the myriad of issues neurotic former law students have, is liberating.

It's Saturday night and I'm working on my final assessment piece for uni.  One step at a time... getting there!

What is your current role?   What does it involve, and why do you value it?

I am a teacher in regional Victoria working as part of the Teach For Australia (“TFA”) program which targets educationally disadvantaged high schools.  I teach humanities and legal studies to year 10 – 12 students and am studying to become a fully registered teacher. 

Every work day is different, not least because I am teaching adolescents whose moods fluctuate more than the Victorian weather.  Multiplied by 25 students in a classroom and this definitely makes for some interesting experiences and stories! 

I have learnt an incredible amount since I began teaching in January 2011, both about the nature of educational disadvantage in Australia and about my own capacity to deal with difficult situations.  I have also taken students on some interesting excursions (including to a maximum security prison to speak with inmates), and on a daily basis I attempt to deal with school administration, student truancy, behavioural issues, and disengagement. 

I believe education can transform lives and all students should have equal opportunities for a quality education, regardless of their parents’ income levels.  This is not happening in Australia right now and is especially apparent in the environment in which I teach. 

In my classrooms I see the extent of the obstacles and disadvantages students face with their learning.   Some of my students have been pushed through the educational system despite extremely low literacy levels; some live in cyclical poverty and are affected by emotional trauma and suffer the associated volatility; others are young parents, live surrounded by violence, and have no proper support.  Teaching in this environment is meaningful, humbling, and challenging.

While acknowledging that education may not be a panacea for disadvantaged students, it can be crucial in influencing their future opportunities.  I value the work I do with TFA because I have an opportunity to help in closing the education gap.  

What types of values have underpinned your career?   How have you been able to express these values in different work environments and activities? 

 Since we are naturally influenced and affected by our external circumstances, it is important that my values are aligned and not inconsistent with my career.

I believe in the importance of integrity, sincerity, empathy, respect, and compassion.  Beyond this, as a teacher I am learning to be more patient (far beyond what I would normally put up with), calm in the face of a whirlwind of chaos, confident in my creative abilities when nothing goes to plan, and to follow my intuition when reading a class to anticipate what they want to do, or will not budge on doing, next.   

What advice do you have for current law students and new graduates who want to “make a difference” through their careers?

Because of your tertiary education, especially as a law student, you are in a position of privilege.  Associated with this privilege is perhaps the expectation that you will pursue career paths which may not align with your actual interests or passions. 

What I mean by this can be illustrated through my own story:

I worked at the corporate law firm for about two years and learnt from many brilliant lawyers at the top of their field.  Nonetheless, it is a reality of working in such a firm that one is exposed to very high pressure situations and many extremely late nights.  I questioned whether preparing for construction litigation or drafting banking documents was what I really wanted to be doing: while I was willing to work very hard, I wanted to do this in an area I was passionate about. 

The corporate law path did not seem to fit me and while I knew this intuitively during law school, I became complacent and perhaps almost resigned to working in such a prestigious firm.   Consequently, I spent a lot of time feeling lost about where I wanted to be.  This pressure was exacerbated because I had spent the past seven years studying to become a solicitor, and had also internalised others’ expectations of what I should be doing. 

However, I am not the only one who has faced this career dilemma; I came across many people who appeared disillusioned in the corporate world and public sector.  I was inspired by other people and their journeys in trying different things and not being so constrained by their own and others’ expectations of themselves. 

The solution is certainly not as simple as having one’s passion magically appear one day.  But there is nothing wrong with being “lost” – if anything, it made me think outside my comfort zone and, being in the environment and head space I was in, drove me to reflect on what I valued and what priorities were important to me.  Ultimately, this helped in making more informed decisions, including to join TFA. 

If you are unsure of what you would like to do you should first consider and reflect on what is actually important to you.  Be honest with yourself and be brave enough to take the risks you need to get there.  This can be confronting and difficult, but there are many opportunities to making a difference.  Enjoy being lost and trying different paths.  

I encourage you to look into the TFA program which is targeted at recent graduates and aims to better educational outcomes for disadvantaged children throughout Australia

October 15, 2012

Term 4: putting it in perspective

Yesterday I had a BBQ in the park. One old friend from high school said he'd just been back to our hometown and visited J, who's recently been overseas skiing and climbing a lot and living out of his car.

Intrigued, I went on J's Facebook and read his blog. He spoke of the "dirtbag" way of life - not showering much, eating free food, getting the most out of Walmart's generous policies to sleep in their car parks... The difficulties and thrills of not being part of out 9-5 productive society. On his albums he'd uploaded a few photos of the most spectacular rocky mountain cliff faces, vast expanses of fresh powdered snow... I imagine that in those moments of scaling those cliffs and standing atop seeing the beauty of the wintery landscapes, none of the other stuff matters much at all.

Having some perspective is a useful and wise tool.

My two year contract at school ends this term. In 10 weeks, my students would have graduated for another year, and for some it will be the end of their formalised education. It's been a life changing experience for me and also just a blip in the universe.

August 29, 2012

The guilt, oh the guilt!

Another day stuck in bed, waiting for the antibiotics to kick in. The worst is wanting to go into school so badly and waking up realising you're too sick, again.

My brain thinks, "Arggggh! You failed your students by not turning up!" Plus the added guilt of knowing some classes will be cancelled.

Rationally, I know this is an exaggeration, an unhealthy way of thinking. I need to look after myself before anyone else.

Our school has a policy of not providing relief teachers for year 12 classes if the class is on first or last period. Year 12's should be motivated enough to do work by themselves, apparently. Even if this is the case, I think students should be given the opportunity to do catch up work in the usual classroom at the usual time. the reality is, even Year 12 students need some guidance an supervision with their work sometimes.

Many policies are made without consulting teachers. This is just one example of why it's important to have policy makers who have an understanding of the policy environment rather than purely from an economic standpoint of saving money on relief teachers.

In happier news, my school library has the full collection of Tin Tin comics! I'm ridiculously excited to be re-reading them again.

I'll always have a childhood crush on Herge's lovable, brave and valiant comic book hero.

August 16, 2012

My method of escapism

Through books. I read voraciously. Everything.

Today I read Pat Conroy's heartbreaking piece about divorce, written in 1978 in an Atlanta magazine.


I came across this brilliant American writer when I borrowed his audiobook My Reading Life.

On the commute to school, I listened to this author from the deep South, so far removed from my own life, reading from his book about his love of Gone With the Wind and his sojourns in Paris. I laughed out loud at his tales of buying the school librarian whiskey, getting kicked out of Adrienne Rich's poetry session and accompanying his English teacher to take students to pass their driving test.

And then I'd arrive at school and often be surprised to stumble past a classroom full of students because I was still so absorbed in his narrative.

I played the last chapter of the audiobook to the Writer's Club in our inaugural lunchtime meeting.

Having a place to discuss and share our love of books and writing is very special, especially for my students who do not get this opportunity in their own homes. It's wonderful.

Conroy's piece is about divorce. He does what all great writers do, and manages to so thoughtfully articulate the real guts of what he has learnt from the ordeal. We can all learn from this.

"I will try to tell honestly what it was like for a woman to have a relationship with me and what I was thinking and how I was feeling toward her and how it seemed like a very bad thing to love me. Because I was raised an American male, I will tell that I did not learn to give or receive affection, that I did not learn to weep when I was hurting, that I did not learn to love women in ways that made them feel secure and desirable and needed. I will tell of the day I told the great Atlanta therapist, Marion O'Neill, that whenever I uttered the words "I love you" to a woman, they had the hollow dispossessed sound of someone ordering a meal for the first time in a foreign language. I will tell that I felt inexhaustible but inexpressible reserves of love within me, and I searched for women who were able to translate my silences, interpreters who understood about the inarticulate lover screaming from within.

I looked for women who would make me more like women. And it was unfair and cruel to all of them and far too much to ask. I will tell about listening to feminists and reading Ms. Magazine and feeling as if every one of the women had studied me personally for a very long time. I will tell about being an American male in the Seventies and how I became a feminist because I thought it right and because I knew it was my only hope and the only hope for other men like me."

June 2, 2012

The unexpected consequences of being in Teach For Australia


I’ve been too self-conscious to write since being “exposed” by the newspaper article.  Before that, I was probably too depressed to update. 


Writing about my teaching experiences honestly can be brutal when misconstrued and used without permission.  But that’s the risk one takes with putting words on the interwebs.  My posts present a snapshot of experiences I have, and I see these through different lenses depending on how I feel and what’s been influencing me at the moment.


Some of the most unexpected consequences of joining the TFA program have been:

  • seeing the extent of journalistic bias and misinformation that exists;
  • realising the massive politicisation of education policy which can be completely counter to improving student learning; and
  • on a more personal level, trying to overcome my perfectionism and self-critic and moving on from multiple failures (perceived or actual).


As an update, The Australian published my letter to the editor, and I received a book from Caroline Overington.


On the school front, I’ve organised work experience for my Year 11/12 legal studies students with some barristers and a law firm in Melbourne, applied for a national grant to improve the school’s financial literacy, am involved in a pilot feedback project by John Hattie, went on an instructional round to a neighbouring school to observe and learn best practice, and helped run Diversity Day to promote tolerance of other cultures and differences.  I’m running after school homework sessions and coaching sport each week.  Teaching Year 10’s formal language to help them articulate better (“Miss, what does articulate mean?!), and starting to volunteer at Parkville College, the new school for youth in remand or serving custodial sentences.


God.  Just talking about that makes me sound so bloody arrogant.  I wanted to delete it but my ego is saying, “take that Overington, for assuming I’m not thriving at school and think I can’t wait to leave!”

May 5, 2012

The Australian newspaper uses and misquotes my blog –a response


Caroline Overington has written an article about Teach for Australia here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/trainees-at-the-chalkface/story-e6frg8h6-1226343357470


I read with shock (having no idea this was going to be included – is this media these days?) my quotes from this blog featured in it.  She quotes from some of the worst moments I’ve had in the classroom and at school. 


Teaching is a difficult job and every day has its ups and downs. This blog has chronicled so many of mine. My posts paint an honest and sometimes painful account of what can happen at the chalkface teaching frustrated teenagers, and at a school in a system which can be difficult to navigate and often dysfunctional.  Teaching can be, as I’ve said, a mess of contradictions.  But I wouldn’t have changed this for the world. 


If anything, I hope it makes the public more aware of the context in which associates from Teach For Australia teach, and the true nature of educational disadvantage.  It’s only by being open and honest about how our schools are going that we can contribute to discussions on how to better our education system for the students who need it the most.


For all the misquotes and incorrect inferences, Caroline does have one thing right: I strongly believe in educational equality for all students and will continue to do strive to do the best I can for the students I teach.


I am not “waiting to leave” this profession, and as I have continually pointed out, joining Teach For Australia has been one of the best, if not toughest, decisions of my life.

This past year as a teacher has given me a stronger voice and the confidence and capacity to face difficult situations.  I've learnt about my limits and to put myself first.  I'm less self-critical and brave enough to seek support from others when I'm vulnerable. 


Here’s some of the article:

but not everyone who signed up has thrived, and some can't wait to leave. One example is "Quentin", who last year started a blog called "A Class of One's Own - Life as a New Teacher" to chronicle the decision to quit a career as a commercial lawyer to join Teach For Australia.

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." [Note – the rest of this blog post reads: AND YET I MUST."]

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."

Like all alumni, Quentin signed up for Teach For Australia because "I strongly believe in educational equality for all students". On the other hand, "I can't believe I have to work in a job where I am continually verbally abused and put up with insane amounts of stress". [NOTE – she cut me off mid-sentence.  The rest of the sentence reads: and on the other, I have to keep optimistic that this is what I chose to do and will stick at it…] It seems likely that this year will be Quentin's last.

March 14, 2012

One step at a time

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 yet, I must, because I still wake up every single night anxious about school, I solider on and try to make my classes better, I work at lessons at home, and cry when I talk to parents who just don't give a shit about how much effort you put into educating their child.  

Then again, I'm conscious of bias-reporting: of course I'm going to say I work hard at this.  Still doesn't make me a good teacher.  Just have to believe I'm doing the best job I can given the position that I'm in, and with the school and support structures that I have.

Sometimes this job totally sucks.

Dot point positives: 
- Year 12 excursion to Melbourne went well. 
- Finished watching Season 1 of Extras.
- Only ate KFC once last week.
- Year 10 class is better than last year (better being a completely relative concept).
- Yellow House, where I have a pastoral care class, won the Athletics carnival.

January 8, 2012

Happy New Year

School finished 2.5 weeks ago.  Term 4 is supposed to be easier as everything is finishing up, but it didn't stop me from running from the staffroom to cry in the bathroom or feel just generally exhausted from the daily dysfunctional politics of school administration.

It stopped being a healthy environment in which to work.   

In Victoria, every student who wants to study at University receives an Australian Tertiary Admission Ranking (ATAR) calculated out of 100 from school-assessed coursework and final exams.  As a guide, to study an undergraduate Arts degree at the University of Melbourne, one generally needs a minimum ATAR of 85, and to study Law or Medicine generally one's score must be over 95+.

My school's highest ATAR score was 71 (this is actually rather "high", considering in recent years, the top score was 63).

A school's effectiveness cannot be judged only on a top ATAR score.  But surely it is an indication of students being let down by the public education system. 


I have another year as a Teach For Australia associate in my school.  What are my teaching goals for this year?

1. To collect consistent and usable data for all my classes so I can keep track of student progress, behaviour and attendance.  Having a concrete and simple way of measuring this will help with everyone's motivation and I can use the data to tailor learning goals for each student (this is a big ask, but I think it is necessary and do-able, especially for year 11 and 12 where I have smaller classes).    

2. To plan backwards more effectively through writing big picture unit plans, weekly plans, and lesson plans (no matter how "sparse") so I have a clearer idea of exactly why and how I will teach students the content and skills they need to learn.  There were too many lessons this year which I planned ad-hoc.  

There's a heap of other skills I need to be a better teacher, but for now I'll work on these two. 


This past year as a teacher has given me a stronger voice and the confidence and capacity to face difficult situations.  I've learnt about my limits and to put myself first.  I'm less self-critical and brave enough to seek support from others when I'm vulnerable.  

It's been the toughest year of my life.

November 23, 2011

A self-absorbed stream of consciousness about a terrible day of school

The penultimate year 10 class of the year.  Just have to ride out the wave.  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, cunt.”


So this kid leaves the classroom and I’m shaking.  There’s still 85 minutes of the lesson to go.  T hides behind the door and starts yelling as I stand outside wondering what I am going to do.  I put on a four minute YouTube video.  Another student asks me for a piece of catch up work and it gives me the chance to escape to my office to fetch it.  I can’t think straight.  Breathe.  Focus.  I feel like crying.  Where’s the bloody worksheet?  Print it out again.  Don’t care that the whole class is waiting.  Walk past kid who tried to punch me, he’s outside sitting in the corridor with his earphones blasted on high.  The student manager is taking a class so didn’t get to talk to him.


Get back to the class.  Another teacher comes to help out and control the chaos for the last 30 minutes. Doesn’t help that another kid puts J in a headlock.  I am trying so, so hard to be calm and not lose it.  All I can hear is Miss! Miss! Swearing/sounds of frustration/disengagement/boredom/end of year (whole year?) apathy.  “How do I do this?!”  Inside, I want to scream, ‘READ THE BLOODY THING AND IT WILL TELL YOU EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO DO!” but they have difficulty following procedures and simple instructions we take for granted are rendered meaningless so instead I say calmly for the 100th time, “blah blah blah blah”. 


The bell finally rings.  I keep Z back and he says, “I just can’t sit still!  I just can’t!”  K interviews me for his immigration assignment then wheels the laptops back into the other classroom. 


Debrief back in my office with other teachers.  Walk past the principal who asks, “How are you Q” automatically, and before I get a chance to reply he walks back into his office.  Catch the student manager on the way out.  “I’ll ring X’s mum tomorrow.  Think we might look at an in-house suspension.” 


Had earlier arranged to meet the vice principal of next year to discuss behaviour management techniques but couldn’t deal with it.  Get home.  Want to cry but can’t. 


Collapse into bed, hide under the covers and go into a deep sleep.  Wake up with a huge headache and watch snippets of Simpson’s and Family Guy episodes to feel better.  End up reading today’s article on The Punch titled Violence against women is endemic to our sick culture and fully agreeing with the author’s view:


… many women – often very young and therefore just beginning to define what they would like their lives to be – who have experienced the terror and unrelenting horror of rape and gang rape. It’s a struggle that goes on and on through years of rebuilding a sense of self, a world view and working out a way of being part of a society again that not only allows the vast majority of rapes to never be punished but allows constant in your face debasement and trivialization of their trauma in billboards like this.

I cannot escape one simple fact: that if we continue to subject future generations of young men to great barrages of aggressive, misogynist, over-sexualized and violent imagery in pornography, movies, computer games and advertising, we will continue to see the rates of sexual violence against women and children that continue unabated today. Or worse.

And then I think back on one of my students who wrote about being raped, and all the women I know who have experienced sexual assault and can’t get out of bed. 


Two phone calls to friends and two hours later later, I drag myself out of bed and narrowly avoiding buy McDonald’s drive through.  Make/eat dinner and race through Join the Club by Rosenberg (link to the Guardian review), a Pulitzer price winning journalist.  She discusses how peer pressure can transform the world and it helps me temporarily escape my horrible day reading about how black and Latino student’s calculus scores are raised through this idea of the “social cure”, something I hope to introduce into my (GOOD, FUNCTIONING CLASSROOMS) and then I’m full but still have a massive headache and three essays to write by Monday for University.


Phone J’s mum about work he has to catch up on and she’s supportive and appreciative.  Sit down to continue by essay, but even the Pomodoro method (basically, working in 25 minute increments with short breaks) doesn’t work and I have to get today’s incident out of my head to process it properly.  So now I’m here and there’s work piling up.  Just gotta keep on truckin’…


Am experiencing cognitive dissonance: on the one hand, I can’t believe I have to work in a job where I am continually verbally abused and put up with insane amounts of stress, and on the other, I have to keep optimistic that this is what I chose to do and will stick at it…

November 21, 2011

Taking stock

It’s been a year since I stepped off the train in the middle of nowhere to visit my school for the first time.  The two other associates and I walked down the deserted road and ended up at the fast food joint Hungry Jacks.  The principal came to pick us up, and I sat in his office reading over the contract thinking, “what am I doing?!” 


I suppose not much has changed since, because I often still think, “what am I doing?!” in my own classrooms.  It’s this self-criticism which has probably led to a billion times more stress than has be necessary.  It’s difficult not to take things personally when my humanities class is still so out of control this far into the school year. 


But if anything has changed, it’s my acknowledgement that I can’t do everything.  Of course that sounds silly on paper, but it’s a relief to internalise this and actually take a step back from immediately thinking, “T isn’t doing any work.  I should have differentiated the task more.  J is acting up, I didn’t follow through with calling his mother.  K is behind on his assignment.  Why didn’t I think to write a letter home earlier?”


I’m tired and need a break.  There have been many happy and fun moments in my classes, and I just need to get through this last little bit.


As I wrote in an email to a friend:

I've had a productive night of trying to juggle the ridiculous amount of responsibilities I keep agreeing to do (of course I need to put this in perspective.  In the grand scheme of things what I'm doing is tiny). 


Sometimes I think why do I make all this unnecessary stress for myself when life could be 100x more simple... So I'm thinking these holidays I'm going to go to the NSW coast for a week by myself and just read, do yoga and write.  I should just be happy being me and not continuously trying to be a "better person".  What am I trying to prove?

Is this just the general Type A personality?  My Teaching and Leadership Adviser  said, “Don’t think you’re so special Q!”  The principal said I was an improvement Nazi.  While both were joking, there’s definitely some truth in that.  I temper this default of being stressed with meditation, yoga, writing and introspection and feel really happy that even in the worst moments of my class, students have said, “Miss, why are you always so calm?  You’re always smiling.”

October 15, 2011

Term 4 begins after a holiday in China

It's a Saturday night, the day after my birthday. I'm at home listening to Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, 'Eroica' and doing some work. The holidays seem a bit surreal now that I've gotten back into the swing of school a bit more.

 China is a crazy place.
I saw midgets, male strippers, the Great Wall, too many couples taking wedding photos, lines of girls being paraded in front of me in a karaoke room to choose as "companions", a man in a wheelchair getting people to write on him as part of performance art and dogs running around in cocktail bars.

I sat in a rickshaw and chased a friend running through the middle of the night through Beijing's streets, drank Hennessy XO with a crime matriarch while listening to a random Chinese man sing opera, stayed at my American friend's apartment which had no electricity where he lived with a man who sang English cover songs at a Chinese club at set intervals to entertain, partied with ridiculously skinny models and rich businessmen (at different times), flirted with too many men, ran through the pouring rain in Hong Kong at 5am and bargained like crazy in Shenzhen shopping malls to buy "D&G" and "Miu Miu".

 I watched the women's world no 1 play a tennis game, wandered through stores which just sold thousands of buttons on the outskirts of Beijing hauled 10KG of baby milk powder formula into the country, got upgraded to business class on the flight over, went to visit a huge logistics company, and drank tea that was made from the droppings of an insect that ate a certain kind of wood (a delicacy).

 Then I arrived back at school and had to teach legal studies to apathetic students. Is it any wonder I suffered from post-holiday blues?

September 24, 2011

Another term over... Exhaustion sets in

I'm about ready to collapse. There's a certain mentality common amongst associates in that most of us have perfectionistic tendencies, are overly self-critical, and workaholics. While this term has been easier because I'm becoming more settled with my classes, I have difficulty saying no to more work opportunities. The mock court competition was incredibly time consuming on its own, and I also volunteered to do organise a few more events. It's been better for my mental health though to do work outside my classes as it helps build better relationships with students and staff. I'm really happy with my job right now. I enjoy working with bright, capable students. Now I'm off to China for two weeks and currently waiting at the airport lounge.

September 12, 2011

The final two weeks of term 3 and some fake eyelashes


On Sunday, I took one year 12 student (“"P”) to the University of Melbourne for a legal studies revision lectures.  For her first ever train trip, she travelled up with her mum and sister and as we walked on campus, she was quiet with nervousness and so scared with the unfamiliar.  I had texted her the exact details of the train trip, and called her before and after she got to the station.     


The entire lecture hall was filled with students.  I could see some of them had that air of nonchalance only acquired from being surrounded with privilege.  The had laptops, sat taking notes comfortably, and chatted with their friends.  Next year, they’ll be wandering around that very campus, drinking lattes and embarking on their lives of influence and brilliance.  


After the lectures, I took photos of P around the old buildings.  On the way back, I asked P about her family.  Her mother works as the “lollipop” lady near our school and at a Chinese take out, and her sister, another high school drop out, had two kids (a third on the way) and worked part-time at McDonalds.  I said, “P, you must be the angel of the family.”   


We met her sister and mother back at the station where they had been waiting for her, and they looked through the photos.   


The things we take for granted…


The year 10’s came back from work experience this week.  In class, they were going crazy as usual and I had to write up three behaviour incident reports.  On average, I write at least 5 each week.  Here’s one from this afternoon:


Y came into class today to socialise and use her phone and preen. instead of doing her work, she put foundation on. after providing her with school materials and repeatedly explaining the task, she looked up at me blankly as her fake eyelash came unglued. i asked her "do you want to pass year 10?"  she replied, "i can pass year 10 without passing humanities" (no she can't, because she's also failing her other classes) then she did absolutely no work and lay her head down on the desk while texting her friends.

I have to try so, so hard not to take teaching personally.  I feel personally responsibly for each student that doesn’t want to learn and it’s just absurd. 


The end of another term coming up.  What a year it’s been. 

September 7, 2011

Being more interesting



During really difficult periods of life, I am more creative.  This makes me more interesting, empathetic, aware.  I feel the full gamut of emotions and am inspired to write, draw and reflect on what’s happened.  


But honestly, if this is what I have to go through to be creative and interesting, I’d much rather have a “boring”, happy, stable life.  Is there really such a disjunct between being happy and interesting?  Well, boring and stability isn’t going to happen for me in the foreseeable future, so might as well just deal with it…


When people on Facebook post esoteric one line status updates designed to elicit responses of “what’s wrong?” or, “is everything OK?”, it makes me frustrated, but I feel as though this post will have to suffice. 



My year 11 students participated in the mock court competition at the Magistrates Court last night.  They won both the case by proving the accused was guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and on points due to their outstanding delivery and preparation. 


What made their victory even sweeter was because the team they were against was a well-known, very academic and intimidating private school.  It was really meaningful to them to have some external validation of their own hard work and intelligence which they probably didn’t quite believe before.  Today in class I said, “aww, you guys, I’m so proud of all of you!” and felt like an embarrassed parent. 


In my year 12 class, I had to ask one student to leave after asking her a question to which she replied, exasperatedly, “What makes you think I actually care?”  The level of disrespect, as a 19 year old mother who wants to be a lawyer – Jesus Christ!


Only 2.5 weeks of term 3 left to go.

August 25, 2011

Work so bloody hard for what!

For kids that don’t respect or value education.

For a system that is deeply entrenched in ideology and resistant to change.

For wrinkles, grey hair and premature aging.

For nightmares.

For (really) shitty pay.

For never ending administrative crap.


For fuck’s sake!



But there is much that I dislike about schools. Schools are compliance-oriented, bureaucratic structures, based around control, stability, and information delivery rather than transformative learning. Schools have more in common with prisons and mental asylums than innovative learning organisations. Schools are designed to conserve and they do their job extraordinarily well.

From this blog post by another teacher.

August 21, 2011

A Children’s Bill of Rights and an except from a UNICEF report


Children’s Bill of Rights


21-08-11 17-06-43

From Ruby Payne’s book Under-resourced Learners.  How many children in my school do not have these very basic rights?  Let alone all the children in the world who are missing so many of the resources we take for granted in western worlds… 


I’m currently preparing for my MGSE clinical praxis exam which consists of planning and implementing an “intervention” for a student with an identified learning need. It means I’m scanning through a lot of books and research.


Following on from Mandela’s quote about how a country treats its lowest citizens, I found this UNICEF excerpt apt (as well as beautifully written):

The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in families and societies into which they are born."*

*From “Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries”. 


In the report, overall the US and UK are ranked last (Australia has insufficient data to be ranked).  I skimmed through it, but as is often the case, I don’t have enough time to finish or properly digest their findings.  The amount of information out there on educational issues is absolutely overwhelming and I need to be more selective about what I read. 


The last time I was in London, I had to spend a lot of time on the tube looking down at my feet because there were too many billboards and ads.  A stupidly nerdy disclosure but I can’t not read something if I see text.  Last time I was at a footy game with some fellow TFA teachers, one of them remarked that the cardboard hand clapper had a patent pending and found that intriguing.  I made fun of her for reading the little small print on the clapper which had this fact, but it’s because I would do the same.

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