10 Lessons From My First Year Teaching

Despite my upbeat posts on social media, the past twelve months have been incredibly challenging and full of personal lessons that come from my many failings as a first-year teacher. I have often felt like Han Solo, trying to escape sticky situations in a beat up Millennium Falcon with a malfunctioning hyperdrive. Fortunately, the students in my classes were as forgiving of me as I was of them.

As the year draws to close, I wanted to reflect on my ten greatest lessons from this year. While I thought that some of these were true, I now know they are.

  1. Every student has the capacity to do whatever they want to do, but their mindset is key to unlocking this potential. The students I observed who are positive with a ‘can-do’ attitude and ‘growth mindset’ are the ones who consistently achieve. It’s not rocket science, but developing this before students enter the school gates must be a priority for parents.
  2. Cultivating a desire to gain knowledge and giving kids the skills to acquire it is far more important than teaching facts. While there are some students I have met who know many things, the students with the desire and ability to seek out new information themselves are the ones who are the most dynamic.
  3. Being too nice is killing education. I love positivity and try to make it permeate my classroom. Unfortunately, teachers often seem unable to ‘tell it like it is’. From politically correct reports to the ‘softly softly’ approach of behaviour management, ‘real talk’ appears to be missing from education. While unconditional positive regard is important, we need to be more honest with children and parents.
  4. Our systems let kids down.We don’t expect children to run when they are struggling to crawl. We give them support. We help them. I am constantly baffled as to why our systems allow students to remain disengaged in a school, ‘fail’ an entire year, then move them onto the next year without support. Schools must be enabled to provide the assistance each child needs to succeed.
  5. Providing kids with choice is a must, but basic skills are too. Most of my students loved the amount of freedom I gave them in tasks. For many, I wish I could have provided more. However, it is important to acknowledge that while most students can embrace and learn in an environment of choice, they must have basic skills to do this. Ensuring all students have these should be a priority for all schools.
  6. Differentiation is necessary, tough and takes time. Adjusting tasks, activities and assessment to help students learn more is one of the most rewarding parts of teaching. However, to do this well is genuinely difficult and means you must plan effectively. I hope to improve this next year.
  7. Apathy is the most challenging element in a classroom. It eats passion, kills creativity and reduces talented students to zombies. Building my ability to structurally combat apathy is my big challenge in 2016.
  8. Nothing should be taught without a good reason. Students hate, hate, hate! learning things they believe are useless and without meaning. Teachers must constantly ask themselves if what they are teaching really is useful.
  9. Forming strong relationships is the best way to get things done.The only reason I have been able to achieve anything this year is due to relationships. Like politics, sales, or staff management, relationships are the foundation of convincing students to learn, parents to engage or staff to change.
  10. Saying hello, thanks and sorry are three of the most powerful words in education. These words are not said enough in schools, I hope I can continue to work to change this.

These lessons and more will help me to improve next year.

As I said goodbye and ‘merry Christmas’ to students at Melrose High School yesterday, a student gave me a card that reminded me what a magical experience I have had in 2015.

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Time to discuss disrespect with our kids

When I started teaching this year, I was unprepared for the consistent disrespect of women that I heard from kids in my classroom. Comments like ‘you’re such a little girl’, ‘that stupid bitch’ or ‘shes’s such a slut’, were casually hurled around the school by boys and girls alike.

For me, my Year 7 class of 30 boys was the main challenge, but regular comments from the Year 10 girls about each other were not much better. Across the school, there were regular examples of how our society disrespects women.

I quickly made the choice to actively ‘shut down’ these comments in my classroom. Each time I heard them I would stop the class and explain what had happened. I revealed exactly why those comments were so ‘bad’. It wasn’t simply the swearing or the insults, it was the inherently derogatory nature of the comments towards women. It was the disrespect.

We discussed why disliking a Prime Minister’s policy, had nothing to do with their gender. We attempted to unpack what ‘victim blaming’ is and talked about the notion of ‘slut shaming’. We work-shopped why relationships and sexuality are matters of personal own choice, and nobody else’s business.

With these small ‘side lessons’ and regular conversations, attitudes began to change and the comments slowly stopped in my classroom. Unfortunately, a genuine understanding still wasn’t there. In the wild ride that is first year teaching, I had felt that I wasn’t able to really address this issue in a way that made an impact.

This week, I wanted to try again to do something about it. With White Ribbon Day, I decided to hold a lesson on ‘respect’ with my Year 7’s and 10s.

I began with a quote from our current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull:

“Disrespecting women doesn’t always lead to violence but all violence against women begins with disrespect.”

We watched a series of videos from the White Ribbon campaign, unpacked key terms and then held a discussion lead by students. I wanted to hear their ideas for solving this issue, starting in our own school.

I was blown away by the calm and respectful way the Year 7 boys approached the topic. Gone were the days of giggling about the man on YouTube ‘joking’ about hitting a woman. They were engaged, focused and serious.

Mindful of the dark and emotional aspects of the topic, I made sure that they knew that I was not saying the violence against women in Australia was their fault. I simply explained why they have a responsibility to change the cultural attitudes in Australia that leads to it.

The Year 10’s were different. Their initial discussion was music to my ears. Comments were on point and the discussion lead to ideas that the school could implement to improve respect, particularly towards women. Unfortunately, this ended with derogatory remarks about the sexual lives of girls in their year.

To me, this was absolutely unacceptable. I wasn’t getting through to them. They didn’t understand the damage of those types of ‘whispers’ and the disrespect it showed to women more generally.

To get through to all students, we need to share with them the truth. They don’t just need sugar-coated stories and discussions. They don’t just need friendly videos. They need real stories from real people about what disrespect can ultimately lead to.

Our Prime Minister is right, it all starts with disrespect and my school isn’t the only one with these challenges.  All schools have a responsibility to be part of a cultural shift that empowers young girls and boys to both believe in themselves and respect each other.

10 Books That Improved My Teaching

A wise man once said “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” This lovely Dr Seuss quote adorns my classroom wall and is just as true for me as it is for my students.

This time last year I was beginning my teaching career with the Teach for Australia program. Reading widely has helped me to both prepare for and improve my teaching.

Next weekend, 130 other Australians who are passionate about addressing educational inequity will start the same journey with TFA. With a few friends joining the program, I thought I’d take the time to highlight the top ten books that have helped me most.

I hope this list will help new teachers looking for advice before and during their first year of teaching. I’ve separated them into books I found useful to read before teaching, and those for while I was in the classroom.

Before you enter the school gates…

  • 1) Mindset – Dr Carol Dweck. While I didn’t specifically read this to prepare for teaching, I found the content important for my classroom. The mindset of each of my students genuinely impacts on their ability to engage and succeed in class. 
  • 2) How Children Succeed – Paul Tough. A must read! Tough argues that the qualities of grit, perseverance, and curiosity help shape our children’s future more than ‘intelligence’. Highly recommend listening to this piece from This American Life too. 
  • 3) Emotional Intelligence – Dr Daniel Goleman. A look into the ’emotional’ side of intelligence, something important for all teachers to actively develop in their students. 
  • 4) Learned Optimism – Dr Martin Seligman. Linking with Mindset and Emotional Intelligence, this one highlights the importance of building optimism in our students. I’ve worked with parents to create a number of simple homework tasks for Year 7 boys on this with positive results.

While you’re in the classroom… 

  • 5) Teach Like A Champion – Doug Lemov // Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire – Rafe Esquith. I included these together as I found them remarkably helpful with small and practical tips throughout the year. I wasn’t ready for them in week one, but regularly reviewing these books helped my practice develop.
  • 6) You Know The Fair Rule – Dr Bill Rogers. For classroom management strategies, Rogers work is an essential read.  
  • 7) Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design – Tomlinson & McTighe. A helpful and practical guide for two of the most important concepts for new educators. 
  • 8) Cultivating Judgement: Teaching Critical Thinking – John Nelson.A great book full of practical strategies to teach critical thinking in all classrooms. Has a range of relevant subject specific ideas. 
  • 9) How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Faber & Mazlish. Learning how to effectively speak with students is one of the finer arts of teaching, this one definitely helped!
  • 10)Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling. I highly recommend reading books you fell in love with as a child while teaching. It’s important to remember there should be a little magic in every classroom.

And an online companion for the whole journey..

  • Edutopia (George Lucas Education Foundation) – An incredible online resource full of ideas for new teachers to improve their practice.

Along with Edutopia, this selection of books have helped shape my teaching and build my understanding of what is required to become a truly ‘great’ teacher. While I’m a long way off, I’d be much further away without the wise words of these authors.

Creating ‘Asia Literate’ Classrooms

This week my Year 7 Geography class had the pleasure of hosting Andrea Myles, CEO of the China Australia Millennial Project (CAMP). Andrea and I studied together a few years ago and my students were very lucky to hear about her experiences living in China and of her work with CAMP.

When discussing Andrea’s presentation with my class, I was struck by my students lack of cultural knowledge and understanding of China. This shouldn’t have surprised me. For a population of over 1.35 billion and with the second largest economy in the world, Australians’ (myself included) know a surprisingly little amount about China. Reflecting on my visits to other schools and conversations with colleagues, it struck me how little we are doing to prepare our students for the so-called ‘Asian century’.

I feel that Australia has consistently missed educational opportunities to strengthen our cultural understanding of China and other Asian nations. While curriculum development is one issue, it’s also a cultural one. As former Prime Minister Keating said in his 1992 ‘Knowing Who We Are’ address, Australia’s destiny is as an Asia-Pacific nation. He argued that to achieve this we needed a cultural reform to change our ‘outlook’ as a nation. Nearly 25 years later, that cultural reform is still slowly taking place, but our students are ready to shift their focus towards Asia.

Many of the students in my classes are already beginning to be ‘Asia literate’. Our school runs student exchange programs with Taiwan and has multiple sister-school arrangements. Some students have visited or lived in an Asian nation, others have and share their Asian family heritage and many are studying Chinese, Japanese or Indonesian within our Languages Faculty. I enjoyed watching my Year 7 students sharing with Andrea some of the Chinese words they knew, and the facts they have learned in their studies.

While this is a good beginning, all teachers need to take a more active role in shaping students cultural understanding of and appreciation for Asian nations. While I was pleased to be able to integrate some study of China into both my Ancient History and Place and Liveability units, I know that many students will leave high school without a sound cultural literacy of China, or other Asian nations.

A former ANU Alum Sue-Lin Wong wrote this 2012 New York Times article on ‘Asia literacy’ in 2013. She writes about the need to think more broadly than just China, or just a language when it comes to understanding Asia.

For me, ‘Asia literacy’ in the classroom about ensuring my students have a high level of respect for and understanding of the opportunities within Asian nations. It’s not simply about knowing a few facts or words, it’s about embracing Keating’s notion of a ‘cultural shift’. We must continue to shake of the shackles of colonialism and see Australia as a confident nation within the Asia Pacific and value the opportunities to be had within Asian neighbours in particular.

To support students to embrace this attitude, I will do a number of things:

  • ensure that my classroom displays cultural images from Asian nations;
  • actively use and promote the use of words from languages that children are studying at our school (Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian);
  • incorporate more information on and conversations about Asian nations into lessons;
  • work with the ANU to bring Asian international students into my classroom; and
  • ensure my assignments incorporate components where students are required to complete research into Asian nations.

I naturally do these things for United States and Europe, it is about time I more actively integrated Asia into my teaching. While these are only small measures, they will help ensure my students begin to see Asian nations as places where they may want to travel, work or even live in the future.

Authentic learning helps kids succeed

As someone who found the academic side of school appealing, I am mindful of the need to understand my students who find it difficult to engage in school.

One of the opportunities I have found most rewarding this year has been hearing the insights of students who generally haven’t enjoyed their education. Students I have spoken with have offered a range of insightful perspectives on the education system and what does and doesn’t work for them.

One of the key challenges often laid down by students is for their teachers to make learning ‘relevant’ and ‘authentic’. If they can’t connect with and see the relevance of what they are learning they find it difficult to get motivated. While some students enjoy debating or learning about abstract concepts, others need a direct and tangible reason for them to get on board with a lesson.

Providing students with opportunities to learn in a context that resembles real world situations helps to engage kids who find the more abstract parts of school frustrating. This was clearly on display for me over the past week in my own school.

At Melrose High our SOSE Faculty (humanities) coordinate an Australian Business Week (ABW) Enterprise Education Program. The ABW program is run over a week for Year 10 students at the end of our third term. Students are placed into teams of 12 and participate in a range of activities acting as a company. They elect a CEO and each student is assigned a particular responsibility.

During ABW, each team takes ownership of a a simulated manufacturing company over a period of two years. Students make important decisions at each financial quarter that determine the fate of their company and it’s share price. The team also work together to design and pitch a product and video advertisement, develop and present a company report and participate in a trade display night with parents. This is almost as close to an authentic business situation as a school can provide.

It was incredible to see students supported by over a dozen local volunteers from businesses, universities and community groups. In particular it was great to have former-students come back to help the program. The advice provided by founders of start-ups, marketing coordinators for major retailers, bank managers and not-for-profit leaders helped provide all students with inspiration. This was combined with one-on-one mentoring for groups throughout the week.

I often witnessed our most disengaged students asking our guests for career advice, questioning what their jobs were really like and looking for hints and tips for their ideas.

As I watched students grapple with deadlines, decisions and designs I saw incredible learning happening in each team. Without working together, teams would fall apart and at times emotions were high. Despite this, students all pulled together to meet each target throughout the week.

While the ABW program is impressive, it’s core learning ideas are transferrable to other subjects and school settings.

1) Students thrive in learning tasks that resemble the real world.
2) Collaboration between classmates that wouldn’t normally work with helps to build teamwork skills.
3) Learning spaces with different types of competition enable students with various passions to thrive in their own way.
4) Students enjoy developing soft skills that they can see are relevant for their future.
5) Mentors from outside school help to promote stronger learning.
6) Engaging parents and displaying student work helps to create positive learning experiences.

At the final awards presentation on the Friday afternoon, I was amazed at the level of engagement and buzz in our school library. Both our most academically engaged and disengaged students were on stage receiving awards for the best video design, company pitch or report. The acknowledgement of their success was clearly meaningful and valued by the students.

When talking with these students I was amazed by how excited they were about school that week. Many remarked that this was the most stimulating learning experience they had ever participated in.

While this was a one-off week of learning, I hope that I can continue to embed similar ‘authentic’ opportunities into my own lessons. It is crucial that teachers support all students to have a reason to be in their classroom. Without that, learning may never happen.

Teaching empathy through letters

The ability of some children to appear truly devoid of empathy astounds me. Fortunately, with a few choice questions, this illusion generally fades and their compassion and understanding rises to the surface. I’ve found that students can quickly go from hurling abuse to understanding and apologetic tears, if only they are asked the right questions.

‘I don’t have to listen to what they think, they are stupid!’ … ‘Who cares about the ‘dumb’ kids?’ … ‘Why should I care about them?’ … ‘I’m never going to understand, they are too weird!’

These are just some of the comments students have made in conversation with me over the past few weeks. In so many interactions, I have noticed a distinct lack of understanding, compassion or care being given from one student to another.

Empathy can be defined as ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. This ability seems fundamental to good relationships and a strong community, yet is often sparse in schools. From the lack of a reciprocated ‘hello’ or ‘how was your weekend’, to intense bullying, the absence of empathy concerns me.

A few years ago someone told me that if I felt like something was wrong, I should do something about it. I decided I needed to at the very least help the students in my classes to build their empathy. The challenge for me was how to incorporate this into my history and business curriculum.

While thinking about this, I had also noticed that a few teachers at the school were going through a tough time. This gave me an idea.

I decided I would get all of my students to write a thank you letter to one teacher.

For my Year 9 class, I created a lesson focused on World War I and the letters that Australian soldiers sent home to their loved ones. For Year 10, their lesson was on how to build customer relationships and understand their clients. Each student was then given a piece of paper and asked to write a one page letter to a teacher.

Many were confused, unsure of why they were being asked to write to a teacher. It was as if teachers were strange monsters to them. ‘But why do we have to write to a teacher!?’ some asked. However, after some coaxing they were on board.

I asked students to spend time thinking about how their teachers feel. What might they be thinking about at this time of year? What have they done for the students? What would they want to hear about? We did a brief ‘think-pair-share’ then students got writing.

I gave each student an envelope to seal then dropped the letters off to teachers. The smiles, tears and laughter spoke for themselves.

Students in the following week remarked at how thankful teachers were, how they really appreciated their letters. They were surprised at how happy it made them.

I was then able to have a discussion with the students about empathy, giving thanks and how purposeful action can help build relationships. It was a great way to discuss this with the students in a way they really understood and felt connected to.

At the end of our discussion, I shared with the students two of my favourite quotes on empathy and asked them to write a short reflection. I was impressed with the shift in many of their attitudes and their understanding of empathy.

Next term I hope to trial this again in a few different formats that other teachers have suggested to me for my Year 7 students. If you have any advice, please let me know!

If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far. – Daniel Goleman 

Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place. – Daniel Pink

Conformity and creativity? A challenge for new educators

In many industries there are often times of great ‘change’ and upheaval. Unfortunately, education is rarely one of those.

While systems of schools often respond to various needs or pressures in their country or community, the way we teach children has not ‘radically’ altered in the past century. This understanding is used by many popular ‘heroes’ of education, such as Sir Ken Robinson, as a platform to call for substantial reform.

There are compelling arguments both for reforms and for a continuation of traditions. Different research in education will point to various solutions and can be frustrating to read as a new educator. This is mostly due to the dubious nature of some research and the question of ‘can this work in my school context’.

From what I’ve read and experienced this year, it is clear that there are some standard practices that work well for many, while others stop children from learning in a way that works for them. Ultimately, systems don’t have the funding to completely differentiate for every child.

However, this is where the challenge for new educators begins.

Before starting teaching, I had read many inspiring books, stories and examples of innovative teaching. I’d visited a number of charter schools and ones in Australia who were doing something ‘special’. I was excited.

I was then faced with the reality of teaching in a high school. The various and ever-changing pressures from departments, school executive, other teachers, parents, and of course, the students. It was confusing and confronting.

Many of the exciting ideas faded away for a while as I adjusted to the school environment. But now, they are back and some of the frustrations I’ve had with teaching and schooling have fuelled a desire to embark upon a ‘revolution’ that Robinson calls for.

But… is that the best idea?

The question I have been asking myself is: how ‘revolutionary’ should teachers really be when teaching in a standardised system? If I start letting students complete elaborate creative tasks, drop all tests and respond to every student in an individual way, will they miss out on preparing for the standardised assessment used to determine their entrance into university?

I’m currently teaching Year 9 and 10 students in the ACT public system where students attend high school from Y7-10 and then transition to ‘college’. Colleges are separate Y11 & 12 schools with university-like feel to them. No uniform, attendance only required when classes are on and a highly independent learning experience.

I love to constantly trial and test many of the interesting ideas I’ve read in blogs, books and websites. However, I also have a responsibility to be preparing students to do well in college.

I say to my students that I love all of their dreams, what ever they are. I think it’s incredible that they all have different ideas and aspirations. But what I want for them is: that by the time they finish schooling in the ACT, they will be able to choose what ever it is they want to do. That their choices won’t be limited by their decisions during school, or by a system that didn’t work for them.

To live this out, I believe it is important to start with good relationships and then be responsive to students’ needs. However, while doing this, it is important for teachers to be honest with themselves, and with the students.

Yes, if you work hard, there are many pathways to success. Look at Gates, DeGeneres and Branson. However, there is a set way of doing things in education. While in the system, we can’t forget where we are.

I want to be an experimenter and an explorer. I want to challenge students perceptions of what is right and wrong, and enable them to always think for themselves. However, I also want to make sure they can do incredibly well in our system, to be able to walk into a standardised test with confidence, write great essays and of course, speak well.

Does the system rule how we teach, or does out teaching shape the system…? This is the challenge. How can we challenge the system, use new methods and be responsive to our students needs, while ensuring they can succeed within it.

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Working towards project based learning

With reporting season nearly finished, I have been reflecting on what I wanted to achieve myself this semester, and how I might fare if I received a report card on my teaching.

As a new educator, I have been focusing on getting the basics right: working on my classroom management, instruction and engagement with students. It has been a constant minefield of different ideas, perspectives and challenges but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Flashback to May last year, I was in Washington D.C. and wrote about my experience seeing some incredible project based learning in action at Two Rivers Public Charter School. It made me excited about teaching and was one of the final experiences that ensured I would apply for Teach for Australia.

While looking at ‘enquiry based learning’, ‘project based learning’ and ‘scenario based learning’ all helps, I think at the core there needs to be an achievable project. I believe classes where students: have choice, participate in ‘action learning’, and create something to be celebrated at the end, give students the best chance to soak up rich learning and develop lasting skills.

With this belief, I often feel that I’m not delivering content in a way that I myself would enjoy as a student. I want to be listening to what students want and incorporating that into interesting projects that deliver the curriculum in a way that is engaging. Big ask, but it is an aim I believe all teachers should have. While my skills are improving, I hope to give my students more freedom and choice in the classroom next semester.

This term, I started to test a few ideas, giving students small projects, scenarios and tasks for one, two or three lessons. While they had mixed results, scenarios have been the most interesting and successful from my perspective.

For the ‘scenario lessons’, I provided each student with a ‘real life’ challenge that they needed to solve. I gave them a brief context, explaining who they were and the decisions they needed to make. I then listed a series of outcomes they must meet by the end of the lesson along with steps they could take if they get stuck.

Students are given a simple task to ensure their minds are placed into the scenario setting, then choose how to complete the remainder of the outcomes. Usually in pairs, students would progress at a different pace and achieve different learning along the way, but need to answer a few key questions by the end of the lesson.

During the lessons, some students required little to no help, while others needed consistent reassurance and support. However, almost all students were engaged, learning and participated in a way they felt comfortable with. They were also pushed to answer all the questions, but in a way where they could choose how to manage this.

At the end, students had to present their solution to the class, building speaking confidence and showcasing the different ideas that were developed. Each presentation was clapped and supported with energy in the room.

In other lessons, I organised computer access and gave out individual research projects to complete by the end of two-three lessons. The focus was to develop literacy, asking students to research different questions and answer in the form of a paragraph, Facebook post, tweet or graphic. Once completed they would show a friend for editing then email me with a digital copy of the assignment upon completion as evidence.

These lessons were particularly useful for ensuring I deliver differentiation properly. It ensured that students who need extra support, an additional push or a specific task could easily be provided with opportunities tailored to their learning requirements.

Next semester, I aim to continue to develop these skills by observing a range of primary school and college (Y11-12) classes to see how they use projects to deliver content to students. This should provide me with a few interesting ideas to try out in my own classroom.

In particular, I am excited about working with my new Year 10 Business and Global Studies class on term-long projects that build their skills. While I am a long way from delivering high-level project based learning in my classes, I am glad to be working at a school that encourages new teachers to collaborate with colleagues and constantly challenge themselves.

Reduce assessment stress with laughter

When I was in high school, I always hated class tests. I found them restrictive, they made me stressed and I mostly felt that I couldn’t do my best. Assignments allowed me to be at least a little creative and, as in the real world, seek and receive help when needed.

I had a particular dislike for maths (sorry maths teachers) as it always seemed to take me a little longer than everyone else to complete equations. I remember also the incredibly boring scenarios that would be given to us where ‘Joe Bloggs’ would buy some apples from ‘John Smith’.

Despite how I loathed them, I do recognise that tests are practical and a legitimate form of assessment. While testing and examinations are an regular part of summative assessment in schools, they don’t need to be so dry and boring.

At my current school we have end of term tests for our Studies of Society and the Environment units. Fortunately, teachers are allowed to write their own questions and differentiate for students with particular learning needs.

This year, I decided to try and make my tests more relatable and enjoyable for students. While some sections will always be dull, I tried to ‘spice things up’ with a dose of lame humour.

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The aim was to make sure that the students would laugh or smile. While this isn’t a normal occurrence in tests, and can be a little distracting, I thought it was worth it to try and reduce ‘test stress’.

Ridiculous additional answers for multiple choice questions, scenarios involving Gotham City, Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran and additional silly questions were all included.

My Year 7 students all let me know how incredibly lame I am after reading this question that was based on a class joke.

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While it might seem like a daft idea, it did make the kids laugh or groan, the jokes were incredibly lame after all. However, at least I know that during an hour of hell for many students, there was a little enjoyment. After all, what’s the world without a bit of fun.

I’ve also tried to make assignments more enjoyable too focusing on small projects that are constantly becoming more practical. While my Year 9’s have recently been writing a report for our SOSE faculty on a natural disaster, I gave the Year 7’s an imaginary $2000 to design an exclusive two day party for themselves and 9 friends.

This weekend I have been reading about their exciting (and expensive) plans. Trips to Sydney, jumping castles in family backyards, scuba-diving, and a hired chef and magician at a penthouse room at the Hyatt! I hope their parents don’t complain about the inflated party expectations…

Assessment is tough, it should be. We should have high expectations and standards for our kids and they should aim to meet them. But it shouldn’t always be boring, and it has to be flexible!

Most of my students complain about all of their assessment. However, I hope that they can bare mine and, perhaps, even manage a smile or two along the way.

My first term as a teacher

After a particularly hard class during my first term of teaching, one of my older students said ‘Sir, why do you even bother?’ It was one of the more raw questions I have been asked and one I hoped I wouldn’t receive only a few weeks into teaching.

When I decided to teach, I had this image of myself as someone who’s desire to help students to learn and follow their passions would be evident through my teaching. I believe actions should speak louder than words and I thought that the way I treated students would ensure they knew why I was there.

While Term 1 has been made up of good, average and bad days, I have walked into my school every day with the knowledge that I’m there to make a difference. I explain to my students that at the end of Year 12, I want them to be able to choose what ever they want to do. The choice is theirs to make, but I don’t want their choices to be limited because I allowed them to disengage in my classroom. I try to support this mantra with action in my classes.

A few weeks later another student in the playground came up to me and said ‘thanks for being so nice to me’, then quickly ran off to play with their friends. This student had been one of the more difficult in my classes, but getting to know them had helped turn their behaviour around.

The two anecdotes from student interactions above sum up my experience as a first term teacher.

It has been a journey of confusion, full of questions and frustrating answers. It has also been one that has shown me that empathy and understanding must be at the heart of everything we do in schools.

Those first ten weeks were a huge learning journey filled with questions of ‘why’. Why we teach, why do students learn, why do we have tests, and why do we structure education in the way that we do? It has been frustrating, humbling, inspiring and full of ego-crushing blows from particularly witty students.

Discipline, classroom management and giving a students a reason to want to be in my classroom have been the most challenging aspects of. I know my many, many lessons from Term 1 will help to make Term 2 a better experience for my students.

Teaching is far more challenging, rewarding and interesting than I had ever imagined. Responsibility is omnipresent and the pressures faced by staff are incredible but there is constant gratification. I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my life right now and am grateful for the opportunity to teach with a wise and supportive staff team at Melrose High School.

The highlight from this term has been getting to know students outside the classroom through the Year 7 Camp and working as one of the school’s SRC coordinators. Seeing students organising events, speaking at assembly, sharing ideas on how to improve the school or working on projects reminds me how important it is to focus on teaching students skills in our classrooms.

As Helen Hayes once said, ‘The expert in anything was once a beginner’, and the remnants of my ego that lay scattered on the floor of my classroom are proof that ‘Mr Duggan’ has a lot to learn. Thank you to all the people who have helped me over the past few months with advice and support.

While I know that it will take many years to become a quality teacher, I hope that in the future my students won’t have to ask why I bother and through my actions, will know how much I genuinely care.