The pervasiveness of educational disadvantage and the extraordinary work of teachers are issues that deserve wider attention and recognition. Students in low socioeconomic communities are on average almost three years behind their wealthier peers and only 40 per cent of teachers believe that their profession is valued by society.
Three schools, six teachers and hundreds of students courageously offered to share their stories so that Australia could further understand both of these issues. What we saw in just a 60 minute episode is but a snapshot into the lives of tens of thousands of students and teachers across our nation, striving to do their best in the face of significant odds.
Educational disadvantage describes the challenges that students in our education system experience as a result of their social or historical background. As Tennant Creek High School Principal Maisie Floyd said, some students don’t necessarily come to school “school-ready”.
“They might have witnessed some kind of trauma the night before and they are bringing that baggage to school where we expect them as a mainstream high school to go into class, five periods for five hours a day and sit in a sit and learn and that’s a tough call, it’s hard.” – Kirsten Dowd, Southern River College Student Services
The challenges are complex and we see them manifest in various ways, including difficult behaviour, absenteeism, apathetic attitudes and, on occasion, violence.
“School violence has been substantially reduced at Melton [Secondary College] in recent years.”
“[Tennant Creek High School] is striving to reach 80 per cent attendance.”
How? Through strong leadership – evidenced by principals David Reynolds, Everal Miocevich and Maisie Floyd. Through dedicated teachers – both Teach For Australia teachers and non-Teach For Australia teachers alike. Through community-wide approaches that include parents and other important initiatives, such as the Clontarf Foundation. And through extraordinarily resilient students.
The first year of teaching is one of the toughest if not the toughest year of a teacher’s life. Not to mention the very first day. That’s true of everyone, no matter your pathway into the profession.
“An absolute nightmare.” – Associate Stephanie
“It’s a floodgates moment.” – Associate Fiona
The shared aim of teachers is to unlock the potential of the 25 odd students in front of them every working hour of every working day. In order to do so, teachers must first build relationships with their students.
“Every student is a whole human being and human beings are complex and interesting and so trying to understand that about all the students is a lot of information.” – Associate Kitty
“The reality is, some of these kids, you’ve got to work hard to win them over.” – Kirsten Dowd, Southern River College Student Services
Alongside behaviour management, lesson preparation and getting to know up to 120 students individually, it’s no surprise that one in four new teachers suffer emotional exhaustion.
“It is really difficult for teachers, they take on a lot of emotional stress in the roles that they do. It’s important for Stephanie to realise that those are not personal attacks, it’s just students responding to the environment that they’re in.” – Felicity Stark, Teach For Australia Senior Teaching and Leadership Adviser
One way to combat such, is support for early-career teachers. You see that at these three schools via the principals, the colleagues, the in-school mentors and the Teach For Australia Teaching and Leadership Advisers.
“I get a lot of support both at the school and from Teach For Australia in terms of people providing feedback.” – Associate Fiona
“I’m just thinking of all the kids I’ve met today and they’re all so different and they bring such different things… They seem like great kids and I feel really lucky to be able to be in their lives this way.” – Associate Sasha
Our Associates hold prior degrees making them qualified in their subject area, undergo a rigorous selection process and have completed 25 per cent of their Master of Teaching before entering the classroom. Over the remaining two years, they complete their degree whilst simultaneously teaching, receiving significant coaching and ongoing leadership development and support. Our model is designed to learn on the job.
“I think two years are going to be about learning… quickly. They’re going to be about making mistakes and bouncing from those mistakes.” – Associate Emmanuel
We work exclusively with schools in low socioeconomic communities to fill actual vacancies. Almost half of our partner schools are located in regional or remote communities and have difficulty staffing and retaining their workforce.