Our news
27 April 2017

Testing Teachers: Episode Two

As a nation, Australians aspire to a fair society in which every student can realise their potential. As it stands, not every student is receiving the educational opportunity that they need to reach their potential.

In episode one of Testing Teachers, the audience was introduced to educational disadvantage through three schools, six teachers, and numerous students – together just small examples of the tens of thousands striving to do their best in the face of significant odds.

In episode two, the audience explores three themes. First are additional facets of educational disadvantage, including trauma, bullying and English as an additional language. Through emerging relationships with students and high expectations for what they can achieve, we begin to see teacher persistence pay dividends. Finally, the episode highlights the importance of strong support for early career teachers.

Additional facets of educational disadvantage

“Up to 40 per cent of the kids at [Melton Secondary College] have experienced trauma or multiple traumas.”

Trauma is a form of physical and/or psychological stress that often takes the shape of abuse, violence or neglect. It can be witnessed and/or directly experienced.

Single events that may have a lagging emotional/psychological impact can cause trauma. On the other hand, “complex trauma” is typified by an almost normative or routine exposure to traumatic stressors.

“I’ve heard a lot of things about kids’ families and kids’ living situations. Some are tough, some are tough situations where kids are coming from. Really, really sad stuff.” – Associate Emmanuel

With exponential growth in social media, bullying can now occur 24/7. Together, with traditional school boundaries, bullying can be verbal, social or physical, more often.

“One in five students regularly experience bullying in Australia.”

“The bullying that we see now on the social media is consistent, these kids aren’t getting a break from it.” – Kirsten Dowd, Southern River College Student Services

We also see how language backgrounds other than English also present challenges – and not only for students who are new migrants or from a refugee or asylum seeker background.

Among Indigenous Australian students, many begin school with little or no English. Curriculum access proves extremely difficult for these students and the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian students grows over time.

“In the NT, 50 per cent of Indigenous students fall below the national minimum standard in numeracy.”

“Fiona’s not only teaching maths, but literacy as well.”

The necessary ingredient: teacher persistence

The role of a teacher is seemingly never-ending: protecting students, removing graffiti, crawling on the floor, breaking up fights, delivering one-to-one exams, engaging parents and so on.

“I’m looking for a chair that has some really inappropriate language on it because I want to clean it off.” – Associate Stephanie

Managing student behaviour is perhaps one of the greatest challenges that teachers (particularly, early career teachers) face.

“Almost 50 per cent of students in disadvantaged schools report disruption in most or every class.”

“You can’t just expect or demand authority because you’re a teacher. It’s not about authority, it’s about being the leader in the room.” – Felicity Stark, Teach For Australia Senior Teaching and Leadership Adviser

Furthermore, with up to seven years between top and bottom students in a typical Year 9 class, teachers need to differentiate their lessons accordingly so that all students are provided with the opportunity to learn and achieve.

“Trying to cater to 25 really different people, 25 really different personalities, 25 people who learn differently, to really support all of them and get to know all of them and get them to their best.” – Associate Sasha

Importantly though, it’s not just what the teacher does with students, but also how they think towards them that influences educational outcomes.

Students of teachers with high expectations for all members of their class tend to meet these high expectations, just as the students of teachers with low expectations tend to conform to low expectations. This is particularly true for students from low SES backgrounds.

“Steph has got unconditional positive regard for her students, no matter how much they might throw it back in her face at times. And that’s really tough, really tough to do day after day.” – Felicity Stark, Teach For Australia Senior Teaching and Leadership Adviser

“It is about making them feel like they’re successful.” – Associate Will

The importance of support for early career teachers

To help teachers (particularly, early-career teachers) succeed, support is essential.

At Melton Secondary College, Southern River College and Tennant Creek High School, this support is clear, stretching from principals, assistant principals and in-school mentors to student services and school counsellors as well as Teach For Australia and other community organisations.

“Sasha coming down and talking with me this morning about her concerns was absolutely the right thing to do.” – Kirsten Dowd, Southern River College Student Services

“Kitty turns to the school’s experienced counsellors for support.”

Despite the myriad of challenges, all three schools are achieving success as a result of school and community wide efforts.

“Over the past five years, [Melton Secondary College] has improved school attendance and Year 12 results are on the rise.”