It’s 9pm on a Thursday in March.
The Cricket World Cup is occupying my television screen and the images of Australian sixes and English wickets are providing an enjoyable backdrop as I sit down to mark my first set of Year 12 Economics assessments.
These are known to my students as ‘Outcomes’ and to me as SACs.
It’s somewhat daunting to read through the work of a Year 12 student you’ve been teaching, for their performance is a direct reflection on your efforts as their teacher.
At the same time, their performance on any given day, under the pressures of a high-stakes test, can be completely out of your control.
This dichotomy between the excellence expected of Year 12 teachers and the powerlessness we often feel makes the experience unique and rewarding.
From the first few weeks of teaching Year 11 Economics in 2014, I knew that I simply had to take the class through to Year 12 in 2015. I had the overwhelming desire to support this group of young adults academically flourish and confidently stride towards the finish line of their secondary education.
Thanks to the support of my school and the existing Year 12 Economics teacher, that desire became a reality this year.
Pressures on us All
Put simply, teaching a Year 12 class is hard work.
If you are going to do the job to the best of your ability, then it’s going to take a dedicated effort throughout the year across many competing requirements.
Firstly, there’s the daunting expectation that in three and a bit terms, you and your class will master a subject’s complete Study Design. Anyone who’s had experience in studying or analysing Economics will know that the discipline is dense in definitions, concepts, flowcharts and diagrams.
To pack all this in while dealing with interruptions for school sports, public holidays and Year 12 events, is certainly easier said than done.
Alongside this relentless need to push through content is the fundamental expectation that you as the teacher know your content down to a T.
My greatest fear as a Year 12 teacher is that I mis-teach a concept in February, fail to own up to it, re-teach the class in March, leave it until revision in October, and leave my students floundering in the middle of the final exam in November.
In Year 12, everything is laid on the line when it comes down to exams and as a teacher I can’t fail my students in such an avoidable way.
Finally there’s the challenge to make things fun.
Whilst I personally believe Economics to be the most insightful and informative subject available for students, not everyone agrees.
When it comes down to explaining the different degrees of competition in markets and their influence on prices for goods and services, do I blitz through it in a mini-lecture?
Do I flip ownership over to the students, and let them direct themselves through the new content?
Whilst I’m trying to improve it’s still hard to steer clear of waxing lyrical like a university lecturer.
All my lamentations on the challenges of teaching a Year 12 class pale in comparison when I my past self in 2009, an 18 year old student taking on everything in Year 12.
Many nights would stretch on beyond midnight, with Maths exercises requiring completion alongside an English text response. That would all have to come after sports training and planning for the weekend’s 18th birthday party.
One of my greatest challenges is to put my students’ mindsets at the forefront of my planning. It would be wrong of me to structure my teaching in a way that didn’t support them and nurture them through the most challenging year of their lives.
Ultimately, the pressures I’m feeling as a teacher of one Year 12 class are magnified many times over for students. Whilst they are heaped with expectation to be young adults and leaders of our schools, in many ways they are still kids trying to find their place in the world and simply get through.
It may be glib, but there’s only one chance to get it right at Year 12. Whilst I can continue to improve my lesson plans in future years of teaching Year 12 Economics, our students have one chance to make it.
It’s here where the words of my former Head of Year 12 Bob Hillman ring loudly:
“You can’t fake VCE.”
So let’s make the most of it
There’s something special about a Year 12 class when it all goes to plan.
It comes when the presentation of a headline about the latest rumblings for the Federal Budget catalyses a class debate about Australia’s economic performance and what future it holds for today’s youth.
It comes when a student is able to connect disparate parts of the Study Design across terms into a sophisticated understanding of why interest rates are being slashed by the Reserve Bank.
Most importantly, it comes when a student is achieving and is proud of it.
VCE is a great big game after all. It’s one that 40,000 young adults are playing against each other whilst under immense pressure from outsiders and within.
To see my students continue to grow and succeed throughout this year will be an important hallmark of my experience as a teacher.
So as I get back to marking these SACs and planning tomorrow’s lesson on the concept of market failure, reach out to someone you know who’s either studying or teaching at the Year 12 level.
They’re all working incredibly hard and deserve to be rewarded for it.