The secret to teaching is understanding your students

What first sparked your interest in this area?

I have always had an interest in science even as a kid, particularly in animals and plants. I had absolutely amazing science teachers through my time at Orange High School, who very much influenced my decision to study a Bachelor of Science at Macquarie University. I went on to have a successful career in medical research but made the decision to restudy and become a science teacher.

I knew the importance and influence that my own science teachers had on my personal and professional growth and I had the desire to do the same for others; to pass on an interest and fascination of the world around us.

What do you like most about the job?

As a head teacher I have the opportunity to lead and influence a faculty, provide direction, opportunities and support the professional development of staff with a wide range of experiences. Importantly this is done while maintaining a relatively normal teaching load, which means I still spend the majority of my time in the classroom engaging with students; the part of the job I enjoy the most.

There are so many factors that influence any given moment within the school environment that you simply do not know what each day will bring. I love the humour and camaraderie that some of those moments bring.

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What was the most unexpected thing you have had to do in your job?

Pre-mobile phone days I had to ring a parent and explain to her that we had lost her daughter on a day excursion. All turned out OK. The student had left the building in pursuit of romance with a student from another school. Or there was the time we had to fish out two students from Sydney Harbour after they disrobed and went for a dip to cool off during an excursion to Luna Park.

What is the worst thing you have had to do?

Perhaps not the worst but certainly the toughest is dealing with some of the welfare and mental health issues faced by students.

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How transferable are your skills?

The skills toolkit for good teachers requires them to be highly organised, empathetic and have excellent interpersonal skills where they can clearly articulate and communicate with a wide range of stakeholders. My teaching career has provided opportunities, including working with a range of universities, textbook publishing companies and an online platform delivering biology content to students across NSW.

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What are the innovative teaching practices you’ve employed during COVID?

One positive to be taken from COVID has been the professional development required for teachers to shift our delivery of content from face-to-face to various online platforms.

As a faculty we have engaged with various online platforms, which provided the opportunity to deliver content via a “flipped classroom” approach. In short, students would complete online activities, where their progress could be monitored by the teacher and feedback provided direct to the students. The class could then be brought together via platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams to provide feedback.

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What advice do you have for people wanting to get into this career?

Undertake teaching because it’s your plan A and not your plan B or C. While it is incredibly enjoyable and rewarding, if you think it will be easy, think again. It’s not just about imparting knowledge, it’s about building relationships, sometimes with difficult and challenging students, parents and other teachers. In terms of experiences, a good knowledge of your content area is of course important but more so is the ability to engage with young people and communicate that knowledge.

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Interpersonal skills and an ability to engage with the teenage mindset is critical. Get to know each of your students and understand what makes them tick and how their life outside of school has shaped some of their behaviours.

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