This is why I teach.
I’m one of the lucky ones, for many reasons, however for the purpose of this article, it’s because I love my job. It’s cliché I know but seriously if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked ‘why?’ upon telling someone I’m a Secondary school teacher, I’d be writing this article on a sun lounge at the Hilton Bahamas right now.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a teacher, despite making my brother play ‘schools’ with me every chance I could and never letting him be the teacher. I was one of those little girls who was going to save animals. That is until I did it. Somehow, I managed to trick Melbourne University into thinking I was a good student. I also managed to get myself a part-time job working in a beachside vet clinic that literally looked across at the water. I was set! How quickly I realised though that it wasn’t what I wanted. I loved working in that vet clinic, but I knew after about a month of working there that I did not want to be a vet (shattering that little five-year old’s dream). It wasn’t the blood, the teeth of little yappy dogs, those sharp feline claws, or even the sadness that comes with putting an animal to sleep, it was the lifestyle. A lifestyle that I just knew wasn’t for me. The on call, the long days and nights, the time away from their families for what honestly really isn’t great money. I’m not saying vets are paid badly, or that they can’t ever be paid well, I’m saying that they’re not paid what they should be (despite vet bills sometimes costing more than a small car).
So that was it. I loved Science but no longer had my career path mapped out for me. I decided to finish my Science degree and then re-assess. Circa 2010 and there I was. I’d had teaching in the back of my mind from the day I decided I was no longer going to be Dr Harry 2.0. I applied, still not really being sure but thought worst case I love my subject content, I like kids, and who doesn’t love over a quarter of a year off on school holidays. Again, I got lucky. Not only did a University want me, the country really needed Science and Maths graduates, so I was a fortunate recipient of a scholarship to obtain my teaching degree. It was about a month into my course that I knew I was good. That very first day of placement in a school and I was sure. This was for me and this was my future. The thing that surprised me most about this realisation was that there wasn’t even any Science involved yet, and I was absolutely, completely in love with this profession.
I taught for three years before having Milla. Never could I have imagined just how different teaching is to what I’d always thought it was. For me, the only part of my teaching degree that really prepared me well for what was to come was the placements. The time spent immersed in a school, learning from amazing mentor teachers and from my own experiences during that time. I suppose that’s not really that different to any other profession, we learn best by doing.
I went into teaching because of my love of Science and wanting to use it to help kids become educated and prepared for our world, maybe even finding their own love of the subject along the way. I went back to teaching though, after becoming a mum, because of my love of the kids and my school.
Going back to work after having a child is tough. For so many reasons. Circumstances for every mother are different and no one should ever be judged for being a working mum or a stay home mum. I had a tough decision to make. We could manage. We’d sat down, done the Maths, and we’d be ok if we were careful. I didn’t have to go back to work. It might mean we don’t get the annual overseas trips, and I would need to minimise my online shopping, but we’d get by. But here’s the thing, I missed it. I missed the kids, the staff, the surroundings, the brain stimulation, the Friday morning teas, the adult conversation, and yeah ok maybe those sixteen or so weeks of paid holidays a year. So I made the decision to go back part-time when Milla was 16 months old and spend some time away from my own baby, to go back to other people’s grown up babies.
Teenagers really do cop a bad rap. I am blessed, I work in a relatively small, P-12 private school, that’s a big part of the community I live in. We have an incredible Principal, and wonderful staff. More than that though, are our kids and their parents. The majority of our parents are working class, and they work hard to send their kids to our school, meaning they all care about their child’s education. I’m not in any way saying parents who send their children to public schools don’t care, what I am saying though, is that if you choose to spend a decent proportion of your salary on your child’s education, when you don’t have to, you’re invested. You’re sacrificing something else, maybe overseas trips, or investment properties, for your child to go to a non-government school, for whatever your reasons may be. Our kids aren’t spoilt, nor do we often see any sense of entitlement. These are kids, and parents, who organise an amazing bridal shower when you get married, and baby showers when you have babies. They take time to write you appreciation cards and emails throughout the year, and even pick out lovely Christmas gifts at the end of what can sometimes feel like a really long year. I watch these kids go from gorgeous little twelve-year olds at the beginning of their secondary school journey, to young adults who we are so proud to send out into the world. A world my daughter is a now a part of.
Teenagers are capable of such compassion, intelligence, and often maturity beyond their years, and one of the very first things I ever learnt as a teacher was to never underestimate the power of relationships. Teenage kids, are like any other kids. They need to feel safe, respected, cared about, valued, and listened to. I know, I know, someone remind me of my pearls of wisdom when Milla hits this stage. Honestly though, you can show a teenager these values without having to become their friend. By no means is every student at our school perfect, nor do we live in some kind of ‘alternate school reality’ where bitchiness or pent-up emotions don’t exist, but 99.9% of teenagers I’ve ever come across are kind human beings. There is always work to do in our world, particularly when it comes to raising children to become caring and decent people, but the vast majority of parents really are doing it right. Seeing a child or young adult, in any kind of physical or emotional pain, for anyone who cares about that child, hurts, and it’s no different for us. We often spend more awake time with other people’s children than our own during each school term, how can we not care about them, smile with them, and hurt with them? It’s that relationship, which is so integral to a student’s learning, that will inevitably result in what can only really be described as love for the kids you teach. Students and teachers bring into the classroom many different backgrounds and home lives, yet both are there to learn or teach despite what may be going on for each individual. My kids affect me, and who I am as a person, every day. I had the toughest teaching year of my career last year, yet my students played a big role in getting me through. I kept going for them, and they supported me, without knowing it, just by working hard, appreciating my hard work and circumstances, and being kind, caring young adults.
So they are who I will go back this year for. We contemplated it. Me not teaching this year and taking a break from it. But who am I kidding, I’d hate it. I’d hate not spending time with the other kids in my life, hate not spending time with my colleagues who are an incredible support and I’m blessed to call such wonderful friends, and dare I say it… hate not organising lessons, marking tests and exams, checking homework, and looking at ways to implement engaging curriculum. My heart belongs to this job. Of course it belongs to my family first, and I’ve decided to drop back my days at school for this year, but the people I spend my working days with, both young and old, become my family, and I can’t imagine not being a part of my school’s community, or even more importantly, those kid’s lives.
Written by Alana Godwin. Check out her page @neonlulu on Instagram.