Monday Morning With Song – Why I’m Studying to Become a Teacher

I can’t believe it’s Monday – I needed to double check the calendar on my laptop before I committed  to it in writing. As I sit in the airy living area of my parents house in Queensland, I write this in order to reflect on what my life is like now.

It’s ‘winter’ here, although considering we’re technically in the sub-tropics, it just means I’m being a wimp. Currently the sun is shining, the breeze can’t quite make it over the balcony and through the screen door to chill me. Although I just don’t notice it because I’m wearing thermal clothing, a jumper and hot pink track pants with matching slippers.  There’s a willy wag-tail chirping madly at the screen door, its’ been there for hours. About five minutes ago a friend joined it and they’ve taken turns flying around the door, trying to get in.

I try and take a photo, but they’re too fast. The one not zipping around the door is running back and forth on the balcony railing. The sun looks so tempting, usually I’d go outside and subject my skin cells to some more UV/UB trauma, but it’s just too cold today. I wonder how I will handle the cold if Jodi and I end up going to Europe in January! I remember needing three hot water bottles when going to bed when I lived in Switzerland.

My attention comes back to my desk, or rather the large textbook on the pedagogy of teaching that I need to work through. I started working on it two days ago, on Saturday, slowly making my way through the first chapter. I haven’t finished yet. Teaching is much more complicated than I first thought.

Like most women (I’m assuming), there was a (very brief) moment when I was a little girl when I wanted to become a teacher. Then I had no idea what I wanted to be (although princess sounded pretty awesome), until I reached 14, when I resolutely decided I wanted to be a soil micro-biologist. There’s a long, boring back-story to this which I whip out when one of my friends suffers from insomnia. Works like a charm. Anyway, I ended up doing a Uni degree in Biology and Environmental Chemistry and then started working as a Natural Resource Management Officer, looking after water (both rivers and underground aquifers) in the Kimberley, a region in the far north-west of Australia.

The job was amazing and my co-workers even more so, but I just felt that there was something missing. A feeling which, after reading over a hundred travel blogs, I know is shared by many other people. My travel style is slightly annoying (to me) in that I’ve found that I can travel to a place for a few weeks, but then I get an irresistible urge to go home. After a few weeks, the bug to travel somewhere else builds up again, and I want to go somewhere else. In simple terms, this is not an economically viable way to travel – unless you have lots of money (which I don’t).

At the same time, while I loved my job caring for the environment, I found that I most loved working with people, and I would feel unsatisfied when I couldn’t help people more. I particularly hated when some piece of bureaucracy (I just had to look up how to spell it – I hate that word!) stood in the way of moving things along. So I decided I wanted a profession where I could help people. I also wanted something that I could travel with (i.e. I could work in other countries), that had decent holidays and that made a decent wage. I wasn’t afraid of working hard, I was afraid of spending all my savings travelling and then being stuck living with my parents while being totally unemployable.

A few things have led me to start doing my post-graduate degree in Secondary Teaching. The first (although not the most important) was that feeling of ‘teaching as a back-up’ that a lot of uni students think about when starting their degrees: “Well, if my degree in XXXXXX doesn’t get me any jobs, I’ll just do teaching”. The second thing was that I really wanted to help people. This is going to sound idealistic and naive, but I wanted to volunteer in third world places and really make a difference. I know that unqualified people do it all the time, but if I have the opportunity to become a professional teacher and really make a positive impact, then should I not do it?

Another option is to teach English abroad to experience a different culture as well as earn some more money for further travelling. For this I could have done a CELTA course or similar and jetted off to South Korea or some other exotic country on the basis of having done a one month course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and a three year undergraduate at an Australian university. Three things about doing this bothered me.

First was that I considered this selfish on my part. If I was studying a foreign language, and paying good money for it besides, I would expect a fully trained professional teacher, not just some random guy (or gal) from a country where it is spoken with 4 weeks of training (or even less in some cases). Yeah, I get that there are loads of people out there doing that and obviously I will be doing something similar after I finish my year and a half of postgrad studies on the first classes I teach. I can’t help thinking though that I would feel like a fraud teaching in this way.

The second thing that bothered me was that it would be incredibly difficult. I don’t know the first thing about lesson planning, classroom management, how to teach, how to deal with difficult students. In just a few days of looking through the textbooks that come with my course, I am almost overwhelmed with what teachers need to learn and practice during their teaching. One of them had a ‘short list’ of 50 essential points to remember for good classroom management. While every new teacher makes mistakes, it takes training to recognise these mistakes and knowledge on how to correct them.

Lastly, I figured that if I had more training and experience, I would be able to negotiate better working conditions and pay. Have you ever done an internet search on Teaching English as a Foreign Language? Half the stuff is advertising and the other half people bitching about how horrible their time was teaching at XXXXXX company in XXXXX country. There’s a lot of competition for the good jobs – you may as well make yourself competitive! I know that being a Science Teacher in Australia doesn’t automatically qualify you to teach English, and I would of course take a course which specialised in TEFL, but I would argue that a lot of the techniques (especially classroom management) would come in handy.

Back to the original thread of why I decided to take this course in the first place. This is a bit embarrassing, but when I look back at this halfway through my degree totally nonplussed why I started the stupid thing in the first place, I hope I’ll get some motivation from it – I took a ‘what career should I be in’ quiz online. Ok, I took about 15 of them. Every single one of them said I should become a teacher or a police officer. Basically I chose teacher because it would allow me to travel. Also because I would get to help people every day, not arrest them or hear their statements after they’d been robbed or assaulted, in other words – criminal, sad or angry people. To me, police work would just be downright depressing, as well as having all those bureaucracy issues I wanted to get away from in the first place. Or maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about – that’s most likely.

So, is there anything to dampen my enthusiasm for teaching? Well, you should do an internet search about graduate teachers in Australia, but basically the Universities are pumping out way too many new teachers for what the demand actually is. As in only a small percentage of new teachers find jobs these days. The good news is that the market saturation mainly relates to primary school teachers (I’ll be secondary) and there’s always a shortage of rural teachers, as well as teachers of science (I majored biology, minored chemistry) and math subjects. However, by the time I graduate, who knows what the situation will look like.

I’ve decided that even if I never teach a day in my life, the course will have been worth it for three main reasons. The first is that I will have an extra qualification to put on my CV, which may make it easier finding jobs in the future. The second is that I will be forever grateful in learning about the realities of teaching as a profession. Never again will I look at an educator in the same way. Lastly, it will give me ample time to think about what I really want to do next rather than rushing off somewhere for a few weeks again. After reading the account of a woman who took a career gap-year, I’m slowly coming to realise that I am not the type to be able to continuously travel. I need to have things to do, otherwise my motivation for travel slips away. Right now I think that planning in some volunteering and paid work into my trips might be the way to go.


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