Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Random brilliance

Teaching History

Home
Teaching History
Stuff and Nonsense
Easy Connections
Photo Album
Photo Album (again)
Photo Album (and again)
Our furbaby
Contact

This is an article (tome) that I wrote about my
teaching history for our school's professional
development magazine in October 2006.

After graduating from university with my B’Ed finally in hand, I chose to continue working for six months with the YMCA Adelaide camping program, which I had been associated with since my 2nd year of uni, first as a volunteer and then as a paid staff member. During this time, I worked with teachers in the rustic surrounds of Loftia Park (near Stirling) to create school camp programs focusing on outdoor education and environmental conservation. I also worked with the volunteer team to organise and run holidays camps for at-risk children in the holiday breaks. After six months of camp food and homesick tears, it was finally time to set off – on the I’ve-finished-uni-now-it’s-time-to-explore-the-world adventure that seems a given for my generation! My first stop was Missouri, where I worked for three months at a small town, Girl Scout camp. Finding myself in the middle of the Bible Belt, it certainly was a culture shock. I remember being very surprised at the points of view expressed by people my age on many political and social issues. Having been involved in some areas of student unionism at Flinders, it was challenging to understand such differing views on women’s roles within society, abortion, homosexuality and other issues that I thought had mainstream acceptance in American society. Working with the campers also meant that I ended up developing a distinct Missouri “boot-heel” drawl so that they could understand what I was saying!

 

After a three-week trip solo across the US, I finally disembarked at Heathrow. Freshly qualified and totally alone, I had one of those what-am-I-doing? moments before heading off to find a hotel and a phone. I was armed with a list of teaching agencies and began calling the next day. Unfortunately, despite all the promises that agencies make when they sign teachers up at university open days, I had very little support in the first few weeks. I had a few odd days here and there at some terrible schools, but it was a little while until I had my first contract position – 6 weeks at a primary school while the teacher was recovering from “stress”. When I walked in the door, I was told that I had 35 kids in my class, I was also the primary school science specialist, there were no lessons plans provided and the government Ofsted inspector would be arriving the following week. Ofsted inspections were a huge trauma for even seasoned teachers. The report was published in the local press and though teachers weren’t named, it was pretty obvious who was who. (Incidentally, I was commended as the only teacher who was teaching spelling effectively but my Science skills were sadly lacking. J)

 

After leaving that school at Christmas, I moved into a high school position. I worked for the following two terms at a school in Tower Hamlets, one of the most challenging boroughs in London. The school was in the middle of a square, surrounded by council towers and we often could see our students hanging out on their balconies, having a smoke while they should have been in class. The staff at this school were wonderful and I also came to realise that the worse behaved the kids are, the better a school staff cooperates in many cases.

 

pl.gif

After completing two terms at this school, I declined a permanent position and was rewarded by my agency for surviving (their exact words) with a week at a girls’ school in East Ham. Though it was a government school in East London, it had an excellent reputation for academic results as most of the school population came from recently arrived immigrant families from India and Pakistan. Most students came to the school with ESL challenges but also with a burning desire to learn and succeed. My one-week contract was offered as they were aiming to find the “right” teacher for a permanent role and one week became two, then a month, then a term and finally a year. At the end of the year, I decided to accept a permanent position (though it meant a training program to attain Qualified Teacher Status) as the school had an interesting policy of “graduating” core subject teachers with the students. This meant that students would have the same Maths, Science and English teachers every year and would be taught in their homegroups which also would not change. The potential for disaster in this situation is fairly obvious, but it worked well for the students when they had good teachers. Thankfully, this was the case – and as the students were almost consistently lovely, the teachers were spared the “settling in” period at the beginning of the year and could get straight on with content. This system was especially important in the GCSE years as it is a two year course where students polish a folio of work in their second year for submission, as well as preparing for the national exam.

 

My second year of teaching at this school passed in a flash. I gained my Qualified Teacher Status (after four observations from random government-appointed strangers and submission of a folio of lesson plans, mission statements and other busy work) the week before I left the school in search of a new challenge. Leaving this school was a really hard decision as while I felt I had achieved all I would there, I was very fond of “my girls” and the friends that I had made on staff. During the time I was there, I had worked with many of the English department on curriculum updates, especially in regards to text selection, and greatly extended my professional knowledge. My GSCE class and I had bonded especially, so as a farewell present, they had a salwar kameez custom made for me, so we would all match on the final day of term, a casual day which would rival the fashion shows of Paris and Milan.

 

I was leaving London for a new experience in the United States however and once all the farewells were done, I began to get quite nervous about the next challenge. I had been offered positions in schools in Belgium and Switzerland but decided to join the VIF Program as an international faculty member. I signed a contract with the Newport News Schools Board in Virginia without having a truly accurate idea where the state was but knew that I was going to be living near an ocean for the first time in two years. Perhaps this was the true deciding factor!

 

My experience with the VIF Program was a lot less stressful than arriving in London. The program was developed by two brothers in North Carolina who travelled to England as adults and realised this was the first time they had met anyone who wasn’t American. They were involved in language classes in Europe and found that learning from a native speaker was completely different to the lessons than they had experienced before. They decided to set up a program where students in NC could have international teachers visit on a year-long exchange basis. The program soon expanded into other states and into mainstream subjects and now places approximately 1800 international exchange teachers each year. The program coordinated contact between the school district and I before I actually left London, so I knew on arrival that I would be teaching at Denbigh High School, though not much more. Browsing the school’s website, I learnt that the school mascot was the Patriot and that the school had an aviation magnet (students in the program completed training to become aircraft technicians while at high school) and JROTC (army cadets in our phraseology).

 

Teaching in the US was certainly an experience. Students are divided up into two streams in this district – Honors and Average. I balked at this at first – why would any student “choose” to be average? The Honors classes are worth extra points on the students’ GPAs and lead on to AP (Advanced Placement) classes. These are college level courses which are taught at high school so students can get credit points towards tertiary study before even being accepted. This is particularly attractive as it means that students pay less tuition fees at college – as they can do part time study for their first year. As a new teacher however, I was consigned to the Average level, teaching only one Honors class. I taught only 9th grade English and realised on the first day how mind numbing this was going to be, as I was handed a text book and an outline of which stories and comprehension questions my students would complete each week. The curriculum seemed to focus on comprehension over all other study – students were tested at the end of each 9 week period as to what they could remember of the plot of each story in a 100 question multiple choice question. I was soon a little stir crazy and joined the rebellious band of the English faculty who assigned the absolute minimum of texts so that we could add a little depth of analysis to the “average” course.

 

The other constraint of teaching English in the US was the texts were decided by the district – who seemed to have never met our students. We taught challenging texts like Julius Caesar and Antigone at the 9th grade level to classes full of students who could barely read! In the US, students who don’t pass the course have to repeat the subject. This is a great theory but when you have a delinquent 19 year old 9th grader, sitting next to a bright eyed 13 year old, you begin to wonder! We had lots of help from Special Education aids but students were determinedly mainstreamed in most subjects. Unfortunately, behavioural problems were classified as Special Education issues so many students who refused to complete assignments had to remain in class year after year. Another shock came when I was informed that I was expected to mark everything that the students did – homework, classwork, you name it. Teachers were expected to record at least one assessment grade in each lesson given, which would be averaged to form a class grade at the end of each 9 week term.

 

There were many wonderful experiences to be had too. In the classroom, I had many hardworking and struggling students who were willing to work really hard to achieve. As a new teacher in a new country, I had no friends or social life to distract me, so offered after school tutoring and worked with service clubs within the school, meeting some of the most caring and socially aware teenagers that I have ever come across. I also worked with a great staff (and met my now husband who taught English and Debate in the classroom opposite mine!) and learnt the idiosyncrasies of working in an American school – being paid an extra stipend for extra-curricular involvement, being expected to attend at least one game of each sporting team in the school each weekend and having to wear a “school spirit shirt” each Friday. In my second year at the school, I took on a newspaper journalism class which would produce the school newspaper, send it to print at a professional printing press and then bind and send out the 2000 copies to homes throughout the district. This was a wonderful opportunity as the students who chose the class had a broad spectrum of skills and allowed me to work with more senior students than I taught in my other classes.

 

At the end of my two-year visa, I decided to return to Australia to work for the VIF Organisation in Melbourne. I had been working in local support roles in Virginia, so when the opportunity for a full time role in recruitment became available, I was able to pick up the skills needed with relative ease. My job involved working with two other staff members to interview and select teachers from all over Australia for the program, review their documents and facilitate travel bookings, visa approval and teacher board licensure for states in the USA. The latter task was a really complicated requirement as each state has different requirements for teachers in each different subject. Many teachers who are qualified in Australia end up teaching out of their trained subject but this is not allowed in the US. If you haven’t completed the required number of Biology units at the college level, for instance, you will not be allowed to teach a high school class – never mind that you might have been teaching the subject for 15 years in Australia. There were also issues with pay scales as often teachers were shocked at how little US teachers were paid in some of the smaller states, as experience is capped at 5 years and teachers earn extra salary by adding responsibilities and extra curricular groups to their workloads. Working for VIF in Australia also meant frequent trips to the Philippines where we also recruited many teachers - as their education system was based on the US model, teachers from the Philippines were in high demand, especially for Maths and Science roles. Unfortunately, my role with VIF was only a contract as the office was a pilot program, which was discontinued after the initial year, and I moved back to Adelaide with thoughts of finding a teaching role again. While I enjoyed the freedoms that an office job enabled, I did miss interaction with students and the creativity of teaching.

 

I spent six months in Adelaide looking for the “right” job. I knew that I wanted to work at a school where the main focus was learning and while I took short contracts at various schools in Adelaide to pay the bills, it wasn’t until I applied for this position at USC that I decided that I could return to teaching full time. I was finishing a six week contract at a public school in the Southern suburbs when I called to make my appointment for an interview and I was struck from that first conversation by the positivity of the staff here. Calling from a depressing dark staffroom, I had a lovely chat with Laurene and then later, Brian – both of whom sounded actually enthusiastic about their jobs and the students at USC! A week later, I entered the main building for my interview with Jane and really noticed the difference in the environment of the school. The physical surroundings were clean and inviting and students smiled at adults as they passed – a huge difference to where I had been earlier that day. Working at USC has been a joy as I know that the students will aim to meet high expectations in most cases. I often grimace at my enormous towers of marking but then try to remember to count my blessings – the piles would be much smaller at some of my previous schools as the kids would have out-and-out refused to do the work! I’m having a great time with ESL and Australian Studies, extending my skills in these areas to meet the needs of these particular students and also enjoying pitching to a higher level in English as well. I think I have finally found the “right” job for me – at least for the present – and hope to be here for a fair while, enjoying all the blessings that USC has to offer!

 

Enter supporting content here

Lynn Jackson - greatest hits and memories.

Lynn Jackson - greatest hits and memories.