During a lecture in the first semester of my teaching degree, my peers and I were told that 50 per cent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years.
The lecturer said this not to scare us, but to prepare us, and to ask us to look after ourselves as we embarked on our new career.
The warning stayed with me. When I first heard it, I made a silent promise to myself not to be part of that statistic.
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Throughout my first four years of teaching, I have periodically remembered that promise. These days, I have a daily, internal fight about my place in the teaching profession. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life, but the NSW public education system seems like it could crumble at any moment.
Today, I walked past the canteen during lunch, and one of my Year 9 students asked whether I had a lesson next period.
"No", I said. "Why?"
She asked me if I could take her class. You see, the whole year group was being placed under "minimal supervision" next period. Not for the first time this term, either. That means we can’t staff their classes with separate teachers, so instead the whole year group spends the period in the hall, or on the playground, without set work, under the supervision of a single teacher.
And by the way, we have four periods per day, 75 minutes each. For those playing at home, that’s 25 per cent of their learning lost today.
It broke my heart to explain the state of affairs to this driven, intelligent, and somewhat rare Year 9 student who didn’t want to miss out on her learning time. I’ll break it down for you, just like I did for her.
Unfortunately, I have already taken too many extra periods this term, and have exceeded the award limit. As much as I would love to cover her class so they could do some structured learning, I also have to mark assessments, prepare lessons, make phone calls, and coordinate excursions.
She nodded in understanding. "Yeah, I guess if you take this lesson, you won’t have time to prepare our actual Geography lessons."
It’s worth noting that many of us are willing to take more extras than we can technically be given, because we do not want our students being placed under minimal supervision. But we just can’t do it every day. As my student recognises, teaching requires work outside of the periods of face-to-face teaching, and if that preparation doesn’t happen, the students suffer. Then again, they suffer under minimal supervision as well.