Honest reflections from a graduate teacher
Megan Lee completed her Bachelor of Primary Education (Honours) in 2017 and was a Dean’s Scholar. She accepted a permanent teaching position at a school in south-western Sydney commencing at the beginning of 2018. Megan also had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the Education students at their graduation ceremony earlier this year.
Reflection #1 – Sometimes lessons don’t work and that’s okay
The bell rang and I dismissed my students after yet another afternoon of watching Numberjacks on YouTube. Though the session had begun as a thoroughly planned maths lesson, I moved on when my students grew restless after the fourth unsuccessful explanation. Feeling deflated, I sauntered back to my classroom to raid my hidden chocolate stash. As I sat at my desk with a Kit-Kat in hand, a parent knocked on my door to say, ‘Thank you for teaching my son. For the first time in a long time, he really wants to come to school’.
It was a simple message, but it was a timely reminder of why I entered the teaching profession in the first place – to be a part of something meaningful. Contrary to popular belief, I have come to appreciate teaching as less about instigating academic gains in young people and more about supporting their development into resilient, kind and curious humans. If students do not feel supported by and interested in school, then there is almost no value in a perfectly planned and delivered lesson.
End the lesson. Do something fun.
Reflection #2 – If you are too tired to listen to your students’ weekend news without falling asleep, you’re probably overdoing it
One day in my first term of teaching, I was struggling to stay alert during news time. Without a doubt, my biggest challenge this year has been knowing when to stop. Teaching can be all consuming if you let it. Before you know it, it’s 1am on a school night and your laminating maths resources while listening to a children’s book on dinosaurs and wondering whether one of your students should be referred to learning support.
I realised the importance of boundaries that day. A teacher who is mentally present and attentive to students is more important than one who is meticulously prepared.
Reflection #3 – Listen in university. It’ll help more than you realise
With limited teaching experience, I am constantly referring to my university learning to deal with new situations. My degree forms the foundation of my pedagogical content knowledge and this gives value to the new strategies and learning I encounter each day.
Reflection #4 – There are highs and there are lows
Every day at work, I have fun. I am constantly laughing with my students and I like the opportunity to be a little bit silly. Furthermore, I truly value being able to support my students both academically and emotionally.
However, I would be lying if I said that my first year of teaching has been easy. There have been many nights when I have felt tired and defeated. Some students have really pushed my limits and have kept me up at night as I struggle with accommodating them in the classroom. Others have personal stories that I find difficult to leave at the school gates each afternoon. I care about my students and because of that, I never really switch off.
Negotiating the first year of teaching feels a lot like trying to keep your head above water. I learn something new everyday and sometimes that overwhelms me. Despite the challenges, I am fulfilled in my profession because of the relationships that I have developed with my students. Their futures excite me and I feel privileged to be an important element in their personal journeys.
My international teaching experience to Thailand
UOW pre-service teachers have the opportunity to complete an International Professional Experience placement. In June of 2018, 18 students were accompanied by UOW personnel to Thailand. Taylor Weule was one of the fortunate Pre-Service Teachers who participated in this amazing opportunity.
During my third-year practical, I had the opportunity to strengthen and further develop my professional teaching practices, as I took part in an International Teaching Experience to Thailand. Throughout this time, myself and 17 other preservice teachers travelled and worked alongside Academics and Professors from the University of Wollongong, who guided, supported and encouraged us during our journey. Leading up to this experience, I was eager to challenge myself, both professionally and personally, as I continue to develop my teaching philosophy.
My two weeks of teaching took place at Wat Dishongsaram Elementary School, located in the city of Bangkok. Each morning I was greeted at the school gate by my year 3 class, consisting of 42 students, most with little to no English-speaking skills. After struggling through the first few lessons, I realised that the verbal barrier between myself and the students created opportunities to communicate and build relationships in different ways. Throughout each lesson, I would incorporate music, movement, laughter and emotions to teach units in Mathematics, English, Geography and Science.
My year 3 class taught me so much about myself during my time with them. Both on a professional and personal level. I can only hope that my teaching has created memories for these students that will last a lifetime.