The “Teach for Australia” program

Teach for Australia
Teach for Australia

The paths to becoming a secondary teacher in Australia are well-worn and familiar. Either you complete an Education Bachelor degree, with majors in your specialist areas; or you complete a degree in your chosen field(s) and then (at some stage) put yourself through the one year (or two years part time) of a Graduate Diploma in Education. Then you get to teach. Simple really.

I haven’t signed up for a traditional Graduate Diploma program. Instead, I’m part of the inaugural intake of a program called “Teach for Australia“: an initiative to “improve student outcomes in areas of educational disadvantage by attracting and supporting graduates to teach in disadvantaged schools for two years.” (“Our approach – Teach for Australia“) Teach for Australia is modeled on the “Teach for America” and “Teach First” programs in the USA and UK respectively, where they have been running for some time.  So instead of finding a way to scrape through part-time study and some semblance of full-time work: I’ll instead be involved in quite a different approach to how teachers are trained and equipped.

Starting in late November and running up until school is almost ready to start, I’ll be at the Teach for Australia “Academy”: the six week training program (no, my maths isn’t that bad – there’s a break over Christmas) run by the University of Melbourne. It’ll be living on campus (which my wife isn’t as excited about) and fully catered with a “living allowance” (which my wife is more pleased with). This will be pretty intense training as far as I can tell, and will form the bulk of the theoretical component of the eventual graduate diploma. Apparently there will be some ongoing education throughout the next two years, but it is unclear exactly what form that will take.

Starting in Term 1 next year, I’ll commence teaching an 80% load in an “educationally disadvantaged” school in Victoria. At this stage I’m not even certain where that will be, though we have been able to enter preferences for which general area of the state we would like to teach in. The Teach for Australia placement represents a two year commitment: with the understanding that there is significant support and ongoing training and development.

While there has been some controversy over the introduction of such a different teacher-training model, most teachers I’ve spoken with about the approach have tended to be fairly positive: pointing out that the vast majority of learning to become a teacher happens in your first year rather than during the degree. But I guess only time will tell, but one thing is for certain. The next two years will be quite an adventure!

Redefining “Work”

For all of my employment career so far, “work” has been a place as much as it has been an activity. Work has clearly specified hours, and any work that takes place outside of those hours has an even more beautiful name: “overtime”. But all that is about to change.

You don’t have to have grown up around teachers to understand that teaching is a violent departure from the 40 hour, 8 hours a day lifestyle I am so accustomed to, but it doesn’t hurt. I have vivid memories of parents spending every spare moment in the dining room for seemingly evenings on end, marking the latest tests or assignments, while us kids sat watching the TV. I remember that for the three or four weeks it took for the timetable to get settled during Mum’s years as timetable coordinator we’d just find any excuse to stay out of the way.

But deep down, it’s an exciting change. For starters, there is a degree of flexibility around the when and where of non-classroom related work. More than that though: I’m desperate to be doing work that I care about. So while I’m certain that the prevailing image in my head of how teaching will be must be a highly romanticized one, I am feeling quite at peace with the thought of sitting down of an evening with a glass of wine to sort out some marking.

Because I’m really hoping that teaching won’t be my next job. I’m hoping instead to have found a sense of vocation.

The Son of a Teacher Man

“The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man”

– Dusty Springfield, “Son of a Preacher Man”

Well, not quite. I am the son of two teachers, though my father has given up teaching to work for a church (so, preacher man?!). My younger sister is in her second year of primary teaching, and at the age of 25, it feels like I have spent half my life finding reasons why I wouldn’t become a teacher. But after 3 years of study and close on 5 years of working in Information Technology, it seems that teaching has been calling me after all.

I’ve signed up as an associate of “Teach for Australia“, a program designed to recruit high-achieving graduates into a 2 year program: teaching in disadvantaged schools. 2010 will be the first year that the program is running, and will only run in Victoria for the initial launch. At this stage I don’t know which school I’ll be teaching in, though we now have a better indication of which regions of the state the schools are situated.

The plan at this embryonic point will be to blog my experiences, as well as content around educational theory and specifically (given that I’ve got an IT background) the use of  computers and technology in the secondary classroom. I’m a passionate person, and I get excited about improving the educational experience of students: so hopefully we can carry that through once I get to the classroom.

Welcome to the beginning.