Sink or swim? My view of the First Year as a Teacher

Today was the penultimate day of school, coming second only to its slightly more beautiful, ultimate day of school – otherwise known as the second to last and the last days of school!

Trouble is, today was also the last real opportunity that I had to complete my “application” to come off probationary employment. What did this entail you ask? Well, I had a meeting with my line manager to figure out what it actually involved and send it through to DECD to get the thumbs up to maintain me at the school for the rest of my tenure – little win for me!

So, through nutting out the standards with my line manager, I quickly realised how subjective some of the AITSL Professional Standards for Teachers standards can be. If, I was interested in only being a teacher and remaining as only a teacher (whatever that actually means), I would be really struggling to show any competency in some areas. Luckily, I’m in an awesome school that has given me some great opportunities to display these standards. Am I against the standards? Not really. I think that there ought to be something like this in place for teachers, its emphasis on stages however can be perceived differently depending on your opinion of development. I do believe that it is more a continuum rather than specific stages, and not each teacher identified or certified at a particular stage is only displaying the qualities outlined at that stage, rather a mix of stages across a range of focus areas of each standard.

Without getting too far away from my immediate thought process, I do have something positive to share. In particular, towards Early Career and Pre-Service Teachers.

The first year of teaching does not have to be just about keeping your head above water.

I am lucky enough to share a common dialogue around this notion with like-minded people through the Australian College of Educators Young Professionals Network (keep your eye out for us!). Through this dialogue, we quickly realised that, through university and even at schools on practicums, we were all told the same line, “if you can survive the first year, you are doing really well!” Firstly, that is so subjective to the school you end up teaching in, the length of contract that you are able to get, the support network you have in your school, and (something that you actually have control over) your mentality and own perception of your importance in your role (not to mention the myriad of other factors that I’m being way too ignorant of at the moment).

If someone said to you, “if you jump into that pool, you will most likely drown and die, and, at best, if you do manage to keep your head above the water, you may survive – just”. What would your perception of success be like? One of my students spoke eloquently at her Year 12 Valedictory last week about the subjectivity of success and how teachers can be great at making students feel successful based on what the teacher has made the students believe success consists of. Well, we may be good at doing that for students, but with teachers, we seem to suck.

I would say to this person (who is obviously underestimating my ability to swim), “you clearly haven’t seen me in a pool before”.

I’m a terrible swimmer, I’ve known that for a long time. What I didn’t know, however, was whether I was a good teacher or not – but, neither did anyone else. That is because, you don’t actually know until you jump in that pool. Being told that you will struggle immediately, with the slight possibility of succeeding at a very low level, does not help at all.

Coming into a school, I was told the same thing as my other early career colleagues. Sure, it’s not the same for everybody, but at the same token, it doesn’t have to be the same for everybody. It may have been my ignorance to stress or complete lack of any awareness of the responsibility placed into my hand with a Year 12 Maths Studies class in my first year. I didn’t stress out. I didn’t burn out. I didn’t take work home with me. I didn’t drown. Why? I had the supportive structures of the ASMS and an awesome mentor. What did they do for me that allowed me to have a life outside of school (and not because school life sucked – it totally didn’t)? They listened to me, asked me where I wanted to go with my career, and gave me opportunities. Something that we all get in our lives, its immediate importance to us may be varied, but we all, at some point, do get an opportunity.

This is why I believe that the AITSL Performance Standards are subjective to opportunities. Only opportunities? No way. It is how you take the opportunities and use them to create more from them.

You have to open the first door to see how many more doors there are in the next room.

So, my take-home message is, take the first opportunity, offer your ideas, and, if you can’t swim, float on your back until you’re ready. The next generation of teachers are in your classroom, you can make a difference now.

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One thought on “Sink or swim? My view of the First Year as a Teacher

  1. Pingback: Sink or swim? My view of the First Year as a Teacher | OzLokie

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