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.

16 comments:

  1. Also shocked to see your posts taken out of context like that.

    Everything public on the internet is fair play, and I'm sure Caroline must have felt like she stumbled upon a goldmine when she found your blog, but manipulating your words to suit her own agenda is just not cricket.

    This is what passes for journalism these days. Glad you got a chance to respond, even if Caroline's chances of reading it are slim, but she should know that her comments have a very real impact on your reputation. The Australian should issue a retraction/correction on her presumption that this year will be your last; you weren't interviewed, nor were you even contacted.

    Shameful.

    J

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    1. Hi J, I've written in to the editor so we'll see what happens.

      That's the nature of putting yourself out there online for everyone to see. Anything you say can be bastardised and used against you without your permission or without you even realising. Yet another way that being honest about such a thorny politicised issue such as education is difficult. But I'm not about to censor myself because of it.

      I just hope that people don't jump to the same conclusions that Caroline Overington did though. I'm in this education game for the long haul.

      Instead, the excerpts she's used should expose the conditions that teachers have to put up with, and how desperately children need better educational opportunities. It shouldn't be the natural inference that I am not "thriving", or "waiting to leave".

      We should be angry that teachers have to put up with some of the stuff I chronicle. I'm sure there are people out there who work in even more difficult areas. Why is this the case?!

      Delete
  2. I agree with the above comment. Don't let it take your focus off what you are trying to do. Of course new teachers find the job challenging and it's great you admit it and are prepared to share your experiences. Good luck!
    Ruth

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    1. Thanks very much Ruth for your support. It's difficult being honest in the first place, but I hope through writing about this that it helps give some context to "educational disadvantage" and how we need desperately to change this landscape.

      Delete
  3. I don't think Overington's article unduly distorted your views - even your good days (see your link above) paint a discouraging picture.

    My suggestion is that you stop thinking of yourself as a teacher and start thinking of yourself as a motivator and guide.

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    1. Hi Phil, very nice of you to comment.

      Yes you're right, disadvantaged schools can be very discouraging places in which to work. I hope if anything, people start to realise just how much my students, and so many in their position, need better opportunities. It is a crucial issue.

      This is why we need the best people to work in education, and get together to transform systems, schools and students.

      Currently, the way teachers (usually TFA associates) are portrayed though in the media are as crazy nutters.

      Why else would you want to teach disadvantaged youth if you have the ability to do "so much more"? Why would you actually choose to do this?

      I hope this attitude towards my profession changes in my lifetime. I hope Australia becomes a country renowned for its innovative educational initiatives. I hope every single child can have a decent education and amazing teachers.


      We're at a global tipping point for educational reform and I'm riding the wave. It's AWESOME.

      Delete
  4. Thank you for responding to the article in the Australian. It is great to hear your personal voice rather than a misquoted version of events. As a selection day candidate I am very interested in your perspective!
    P

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    1. Good luck with your selection day! Hope you get an offer. I hope my blog gives a better day to day context of one TFA experience (bearing in mind each school is vastly different).

      Delete
  5. It may be staggering news to some but if teachers are properly preopared before they enter the classroom as full time professionals things do not seem so overwhelming and the teacher him/herself does not endure such anguish.

    It is knowing the pitfalls of trying to do something as demanding as teaching without a full preparation that made many of so sympathetic to TFA associates and thus so very much against the program.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi there

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it's definitely important to have proper preparation, but that's a thorny issue - what does it mean to be prepared? A one year dip ed does not properly prepare you for the classroom. Most teachers do their learning when they begin teaching. My first class, students were taking their pants off and punching each other.

      I would argue that your reasons for being against this program go much further than the issue of being "prepared" and I'm unlikely to change your mind otherwise.

      Delete
  6. You shouldn’t have to put up with verbal abuse/physical threats in the classroom, full stop.

    Students shouldn’t have to either – but there’s little discipline these days and a reluctance to deal with issues for political reasons.

    Talk therapy has failed a generation. And yes, I think political correctness undermines education in Australia: an issue the chattering classes aren’t ready to deal with.

    As an added pressure, many people in your profession are dealing with groupthink, from what I hear.

    It’s great that you’re trying to be optimistic, but why should you have to struggle in the first place?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hi Ben

      Really appreciate you stopping by to comment. It's very sad that many teachers do have to put up with so many negative issues in our profession.

      In an ideal world, all education policy would be completely directly for the students' benefit. Hopefully, there's more of a sea change happening and the policy-makers in future will at least have more of a ground level understanding of classrooms (this is one of the ideas around the TFA model).

      I would love not to struggle so much, but I suppose this is how things are at the moment and I have to accept that I am doing what I can within what I can control.

      Delete
  7. I definitely think the whole political correctness issue is a major issue in undermining education and educational reform. Its not just in Australia, but in many western countries. Hard choices are frequently not popular.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hello farmland investments!

      Totally agree. Have you seen the Ken Robinson talk on changing educational paradigms? It's brilliant.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

      Delete
  8. Journalism by a university student; convenient cut and paste. I haven't seen a raw deal like that since I ordered a blue rare steak at a Chinese food market.

    ReplyDelete

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