THIS article starts with an apology. For the first time in my working life I am delivering an article late — five months late.
I should explain. In February I enrolled at university, 19 years after first graduating. After years as a journalist, writing about education and science, I decided it was time to cross over to the other side and become a teacher.
Over the years I had watched two of my children journey through primary school — one more to go — and had seen the amazing impact good, and less good, teachers could have on students. Teachers change lives and I was hooked.
So, with all three children in school or kinder, I signed up at RMIT for a part-time graduate diploma in primary teaching. I naively thought it would be — perhaps not a breeze — but certainly doable. How hard could a primary teaching course be? I can write and do maths. I read widely, I have interviewed some of the world’s top scientists, my initial degree was in humanities and I have plenty of experience with my own children. Surely, I had all bases covered.
That was in February. Now, having had a semester break to finally catch breath, I can reveal, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have never worked so hard in my life.
I have had to relearn maths, or at least the language I will use to teach it, I have taken a three-hour exam (nerve-racking after so many years) as well as submitting numerous assignments, and I have been left contemplating so many things I took for granted about education and teaching. The kind of world experienced by 21st-century children is very different to the world of my own childhood and the kind of education these children need to thrive in tomorrow’s world will be similarly different.
The course has turned out to be full on and fascinating, and I have become an accomplished juggler of children, work and study. Whereas my undergraduate degree was chosen more lightly (it was at a time when courses, at least in Britain, were free and grants were available to cover your costs), I have embarked on this course knowing exactly what I want to achieve. I want to read everything, do the best I can, reflect on what I learn. I am passionate and committed and so are many of my fellow students.
They are an interesting bunch, a mix of those straight out of university, often with a love of children, and those with a few more wrinkles. Among my cohort are nurses, music teachers, artists, a profusion of business and science majors, teaching assistants, even a juggler — all deciding to become tomorrow’s teachers.
I have little doubt that most will make excellent teachers. Each is passionate and has made a very conscious decision to study for a year or two. I doubt any of them are doing it for the money, for the holidays, or for the kudos, while each of us is entering the profession aware of the pressures associated with NAPLAN, the MySchool website and the controversy surrounding performance-related pay. None of us has been put off — yet.
But I do wonder how many of us will be left teaching five years after graduating. The figures are not very encouraging. According to an Australian Education Union survey, almost a third of new teachers in Victoria do not see themselves working in public schools after five years. It makes sobering reading. Something is obviously going wrong if such committed people leave the profession.
I also wonder whether the move to two-year graduate diplomas is the way to go. From 2017, all graduates wanting to become teachers will need to study for two years full-time, that’s four years part-time, on top of an undergraduate degree, for a starting salary of about $57,000. If we want to make teaching a profession requiring a masters, as is the case in some parts of the world, surely we should pay teachers more to reflect this extra burden and to attract the very best people into the classroom.
But for me, at least, I have far more immediate concerns such as next week’s reading and assignment and getting my own children through the week. I have a year and a half of study still to go. I’ll need to get my head around art and music teaching, which is definitely not my strength, and will need to handle a physical education course with students half my age. There are also courses in humanities, literacy and science to get under my belt. And then there are teaching rounds to fit in.
I am very grateful to RMIT for offering a genuinely part-time teaching course and for accepting older students (not all universities do). Though places are limited, part-time study has been a great way to combine children, work and study and to prove juggling and teaching do go hand in hand. This week at least.