The Educator's PLN

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Reflecting on travelling the yellow brick road - taking career risks

The yellow brick road is one to lead us to an adventure and we deal with the challenges as they appear with the help from others around you. When the yellow brick road becomes a different colour, multi-coloured or there is a tree across it; sometimes you wonder if the challenge is worth the reward.

As a long time Secondary Humanities teacher, I have had the pleasure of going down the red brick, green brick, the orange brick, the cobblestone road and whatever other colours or type of brick road there is; at different times of my career. There has been a challenge in my career whether it be mastering my craft in the profession as a graduate, teaching at schools with a long commute, classes that have challenging student behaviour, learning how to be part of the culture of the school, managing the huge commitment that is expected for co-curricular or the piling of the next teacher duty at the time of marking HSC trials, 8 classes of Yr 9 assignments, going on Yr 10 camp and 3 parent teacher nights in a week.

I have also had the pleasure of working with delightful children who are genuine, hardworking and special. The staff in the school displaying professionalism with a great love of educating young people and being the company of young people. There are colleges and schools who have invested time in helping me along in my journey to always enrich my relationships with studentsand to develop professionally.

In the last 5 years; the brick road has changed colour quickly and dramatically a few times. The some of the biggest challenges have been the most enriching professionally.

Teaching in Britain in an area with huge socio-economic hurdles as well as some of the lowest literacy and numeracy results and failing OFSTED in the previous few years is one of my hardest years of my career. The challenges of engaging 15-16 year old students who have formally been classified as being NEAT in the future (Non-educated and trained) in a dysfunctional classroom to eventually having engaged students wanting to learn with expectations and boundaries, and wanting to achieve great things. My experience travelling and bringing my life experiences to my classroom made them see me as a colleague and mentor.

I was given a teaching position which gave me an opportunity to completely challenge my own teaching style I had built over a number of years, (though I had not always seen it as an opportunity) was instigated with having to adapt to the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program as well as fulfilling the NSW Board of Studies requirements. Professionally, the need to be flexible, resilient and fast learning with minimal support was by far one of the times when I got to the end of that road; I wanted for it to stay the same colour. However; it was time personally to move on.

One teaching contract I had for 12 months; I saw as the answer to my prayers as a professional educator. This gold-coated teaching assignment rusted me to the core. As a prominent well-resourced and having a strong community was a soul-destroying year. Though I worked extremely hard to maintain the legacy of a  highly accomplished teacher who always gave her best and motivating and giving my best made no difference for the awarding of a contract the following year. Even though my HSC students that year were all band 5 or 6 (with the exception of one student) achievers in a subject I had never taught before. It made no difference. The positive and solid relationship I had with my students which lead to achievement didn't matter. As a Masters student I had a previous student from this school in my class. Her genuine recollection of her time that year was both humbling and affirming.

The work I had done to learn and recruit students for an obscure co-curricular activity that I ended up coordinating; and was offered a big incentive to take students to Singapore was taken away to another staff member who had no contact with the activity or knew anything about it was sent in my place. What reward did this challenge have? No financial or professional reward. What did it teach me? Initially; when you think you have the job you always wanted; it isn't. Hard work, effective and being the master of my craft means nothing when big sums of money are involved. On reflection; I have learned the need to adapt quickly and extreme pressure to learn a new HSC syllabus and deliver it to high achieving students to the best of my ability brings rewards.

When the brick road changes again to a seemingly mundane and teaching position "that will pay the bills" was one of my most enjoyable teaching posts. This was a college of great history and tradition. As a casual teacher was a "favourite" and would love to be there again in the future. The college community in the two times I have had a post there, gave me great opportunities and challenged me to give my very best. Rewards professionally and satisfaction that the relationships with students were strong, warm and genuine, the students gave something back to the relationship and were appreciative of all those who helped them grow as a person. This road had to change colour because of circumstances beyond my control. My teaching ideology was shaped further because of this experience. The values I treasure about being a teacher were affirmed by this teaching post.

After settling into a new personal situation; the yellow brick road has taken a new direction and a new form. The skills I had learned in mastering my craft; are now tested in my current teaching position. Some of my values that I hold close are being exercised; particularly the belief that every person has the right to be literate and numerate with equitable opportunity to allow them to do this. Teaching HSC by distance gives a unique opportunity to build relationships with your students without meeting them face to face. My current challenge has been to implement a new syllabus with new learning materials and learning assignments; (this is the structure of the institution I work for uses for flexible delivery of a course) in a short amount of time as well as not having the teaching hours given to me to do this. The challenge is on-going and highly stressful at present. Will the reward be fair for the challenge I have been given? There is hope that it is. In an institution that is so big, and the teacher is only a needle in a haystack with a teaching number; it is uncertain that there is financial reward. However, there will be satisfaction that I have achieved something.

What colour is the brick road in the future? I am painting it at the moment. My decision to build the road in the opposite direction may be seen as brave or stupid. It is costing dearly financially. My family is enduring the challenge, though I am trying to minimise the impact on my baby boy. The personal reward is high. My decision to go back to full-time study of Master of Teaching (Primary) has given me the challenge to maintain my patience, achieve high results and learn to teach in the infant’s environment during my internship. The challenge to use my strong values in delivering education in a totally new environment is not large. This is the foundation of mastering my craft. The largest challenge is to connect with infants on their level. Part of this challenge is to learn how to teach my 6 year old students how to read and write, as well as give them the tools to teach themselves how to learn. So far, the road is missing bricks; which I am slowly repairing. The missing bricks can only be cemented back into the road by hard work, resilience and acting on the feedback from my colleague teacher, lecturers, and other students in my course; and others in my PLN. The foundations of the six lane highway are solid; the missing bricks will be replaced quickly.

The reward I am hoping for is the permanent teaching position where I can master the strategies I have employed as a teacher in the infant classroom to become skill and become part of my repertoire. Hopefully, I am also in a position to train new teachers as my contribution to the profession and be valued as a strong contributor to the community I am teaching in.

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