Part 3. Read part 2 of this series.
School’s in, in more ways than one
Teach For Australia’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) is full on. Participants like Cohort 2021 Associate Josh Biermann complete a Master of Teaching while balancing work commitments which include a 0.8 teaching load, studying and connecting with a new school community, often in a new part of Australia.
The demands are especially tough in the first six months of the program. So much so that Josh’s wife Candice decided to delay job hunting for four months in order to fully support Josh in his new role.
“As the partner, you are taking a massive back foot. It can literally feel like there’s no time for the two of you with the demands of the course,” Candice said.
“There’s no time to make friends or sightsee or do any of the stuff you’d normally do when you get to a new town. Instead I found myself thinking, ‘My goodness, is this going to be two years of this? Have we made the biggest mistake?’ but then that feeling lifts and while it’s really hard for the first six months, we can now breathe; we can go away and can plan trips to explore South and Central Australia.”
Josh agreed, adding that Term One is essentially driven entirely by the program’s needs, while Term Two offers fractionally more freedom.
“For the first six months you’re not going to do much – no real time away – but at the Term One break I actually forced Candice and I to have a short holiday. I had an assignment due but I thought my mental well-being, and Candice’s, was more important,” Josh said.
Josh is qualified to teach STEM, Maths and Physics, which means plenty of subject knowledge is required to give his students the best possible learning opportunities. Preparation for class, completing Masters coursework, marking, and the million other chores of a teacher meant Candice’s support role was critical to their initial experience of the TFA program.
So, what’s the secret to making a partnership work in a re-ordered world? A world where the demands of the LDP, a rapidly approaching assignment deadline and a new career are just some of the balls being juggled? As ever, it’s communication.
“From my perspective, it’s very easy to be busy and caught up with study and work. It’s very easy to, I guess, overlook your partner but Candice is quite good at voicing and sharing her concern,” Josh said.
“That is incredibly helpful because I’m able to realise that I have tunnel vision and need to lock out time for Candice. That being said, I think even now, I’m still not perfect at it, although we’re getting into our stride.”
“I agree,” Candice said, “I used to just put on a brave face but that really does take its toll. I had to actually go ‘Wait a minute. Hey, Josh, I’m not okay. It is hard because for me, I’m in a new town, I’m settling in, trying to look for work and keep the household going so you can focus on the LDP’ and those conversations clear the air.”
That said, Candice has already found herself as part of the school community, attending regular functions and being welcomed by the school staff who have regularly scheduled staff events the pair can attend.
After she and Josh got into a routine and she supported Josh through the difficult first few months of the program Candice decided to start her job hunt, landing a part-time role at the town’s library delivering programs for children.
“The decision to wait before starting work, and then going part-time was deliberate,” Candice said.
“Doing the LDP is very much like ripping the band aid off: you go from nothing because you’ve likely left your job before starting the program, to boom – you’re doing every major life stressor within a month in a really quite intense situation, so we made a decision to stagger my entry to employment.”
Outside of school and work the Biermanns reported a familiar country town experience; being recognised by everyone – and we do mean everyone – as the town’s new teacher, or the new teacher’s wife.
When your students are the ones serving you at the supermarket check-out, or jotting down your breakfast order, you may find yourself taking a little more care with what you’re wearing to go grab coffee on a Sunday morning Josh said.
“In hindsight, the things I stressed about in the lead up to moving to Roxby and in the time we’ve been here weren’t worth worrying about,” Candice said.
“The way that TFA organises placements, supports moving, connects the community and their partners, and supports people like Josh who are doing the program, is incredible.”
Candice said that it can be easy for a partner of a TFA Associate to feel like they are simply the supporter for this huge life change that the Associate is going through.
“At least this is how I felt going into TFA with Josh. The realisation I had a few months into the year was that the partner of an Associate is actually going through just as much of a life change as the Associate. The partner of an Associate has also left behind life as they knew it, all their support networks and they too are likely starting a new job in a new town.” Candice said.
“The only difference is that, unlike the Associate, they have not attended a six-week NII to prepare them for some of these changes and give them a chance to meet others going through the same thing or be assigned a mentor.”
“That’s all to say that, as the partner of an Associate, this is actually a really tough transition for you. You may feel like you have left behind your support network and even your partner is far too busy with LDP to support you, and therefore you are in this alone. But this isn’t true – you simply need to reach out.”
TFA establishes a support network around the Associate once they are placed. Candice suggested that partners need to make sure that once they arrive at their new town that they are intentional about building a support network for themselves.
“This could mean connecting with people in the new town or even reaching out to the Associate’s Teaching and Leadership Adviser (TLA). Remember that they want to support you, the partner, as much as they want to see the Associate succeed!”
“Overall, be kind to yourself during this transition and don’t forget to look after your own personal mental health and physical well-being!”
TFA would like to thank Candice and Josh for sharing the story of their move from Brisbane to Roxby Downs.