Rocking it in Western Australia

Catherine Harris (C2016) taught Humanities at Ellenbrook Secondary College in Western Australia during the Leadership Development Program. As an Alumna, Catherine continued to teach Humanities at Hampton Senior High School, where she cultivated her passion for the environment as a leader in the Bush Ranger Cadet program. Her commitment to providing a quality education for all has recently taken her to Uganda, where she developed and facilitated a professional development program that mentors and up-skills classroom teachers. In her spare time in Perth, Catherine plays on the Teach For Australia social netball team “Homework Club”, and enjoys hiking in the Perth Hills.

Can you tell us about your background?

I am originally from New Zealand. I went to school in a low socio-economic area and then went to University in New Zealand back in the Stone Age where I studied Geology (no pun intended), before moving to Melbourne in 2012. After a year in Melbourne I moved across to Perth and now call Western Australia home. Before the Leadership Development Program, I was a contaminated land consultant for about ten years.

Did you ever see yourself as a teacher beforehand?

I often toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher but Mum (who was a teacher) would often say how hard it was, so I never really put all of my energy into it. But in 2015, I was doing some freelance consulting and I thought, you know what, I really do want to be a teacher.

What was your motivation to apply for the Leadership Development Program?

I wasn’t satisfied with environmental consulting. I was working for an oil company and it just became a bit too soulless. I always wanted to do something after I finished my time as an environmental consultant, especially as a teacher, and share my passion for science. So I explored my options and came across Teach For Australia and I fell in love with the idea.

I went to a school in New Zealand which was in a low socioeconomic area. When I heard of Teach For Australia, I really wanted to teach in the kind of schools like the one that I went to.Despite living in these areas, I had some fantastic teachers that I still remember now, who inspired me to do something with my life. I very nearly didn’t go to university – but I did go, and my passion for education hasn’t stopped since then.

What are some of your teaching achievements?

At Ellenbrook, I developed a general Geography program – Geology wasn’t run there before. For Year 11 and 12 students, I created all the assessments and everything that went with that. When I moved to Hampton, they had an established Year 11 program, however they didn’t have a year 12 program, so I established that this year. Teachers will be able to use that in the future, which is really great.

What is one of your proudest moments?

One of the proudest moments that I had during the program was watching the Year 12s graduate and develop. Teaching them in Year 11 and 12 then seeing these students succeed not only in school, but also out of school, gives me a great sense of pride.

And most challenging?

The biggest challenge for me was finding that balance between classroom management and building relationships. There is a fine line between the two, and I feel like at the beginning I focused more of my time on classroom management rather than building relationships with the students. Over my two years in the Leadership Development Program I was able change the way that I went about managing the two, and now as I’m coming towards the end of my third year in a classroom I feel as though it has become one my greatest strengths.Some days, I still feel like I’m not doing it well. But those are the days when you have to take a step back and reflect on the little wins. I had a fight in one of my classes, but those students came back to my class [later] and they were getting on. It’s those kinds of things that make you realise that you are making a difference.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’d love to still be teaching in five years, but I’d also like to create an organisation where I can develop a program that helps low socioeconomic schools source funding for excursions and ultimately offer the opportunity for other schools to get on board also.I’m finding it really hard to get excursions up and running for low socioeconomic schools, the costs are quite high. Also, it can be difficult to come up with ideas for Politics and Economics subjects. The idea is still very much in the planning stages but I have spoken to a few people who think it is a great idea so now I have to put my thoughts into action.

I am also very interested in teacher education and mentoring so I would love to be involved in these aspects. What the Leadership Development Program offers in terms of mentoring and support is something that university graduates just don’t get. Associates are spoilt for choice when it comes to the support networks that they have around them and I would like to see university graduates get the same level of support as graduate teachers.

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone thinking about applying for the Leadership Development Program, what would it be?

My story is not remarkable. I haven’t created a new innovative product, I didn’t have a 99 ATAR. But I am there, every day for my students.My advice to anyone thinking of applying for the Leadership Development Program would be to just do it. It is something that needs to be thought of carefully but in saying that, it is one of the most courageous things that you can do in your life. Be brave and do it.

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