'I've worked at some of Sydney's roughest schools. Here's what it's like.'

On my very first day as a student teacher, in my very first hour, at my first ever school, a kid pissed on a teacher.

A fifteen-year-old, teenage boy, upset that this woman had confiscated his drugs from him, as he was dealing them at 8am on a Monday morning on the school oval, decided that, in his anger, he would piss on her. 

It was an eye-opening and somewhat shocking induction into the world of teaching. I watched the event in disbelief; I couldn’t look away. Was this what it was like to be a teacher in a middle-class public high school in 2012? I asked myself. 

I wasn’t sure if this was what it was like for everyone, what was I getting myself into? I promised myself, in that moment, that if I wasn’t getting pissed on, then I was having a good day.

Watch: Thank you to all teachers, everywhere. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Before my first ever day working with my own class, I spent hours at home, preparing worksheets, finding relevant video clips, poring over the syllabus, and differentiating the work to suit what little I knew about my classes. 

I knew that these students were a little behind in covering the content, their teacher had been absent on stress leave for months, and they had been given casual teacher after casual teacher with little consistency in the content or skill level of the work that they were provided. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, everyone was doing the best they could, given the circumstances, but these kids needed consistency, and I was excited to be the one to provide it for them. 


I arrived at the school gates almost as soon as they opened, where the only other staff member there was the general assistant. He helped me drag my dozens of bags up my to desk, and by the time the other staff members started filtering in, I had been working for approximately three hours. 

I didn’t want anyone to view me as lazy or entitled, another millennial teacher here, expecting everything handed to them on a silver platter. I had made a little bag of chocolates and put one on the desk of every member of my faculty. With it, I had added a small card, introducing myself, and apologising in advance for all the questions I might have to ask as I learnt to navigate my first ever teaching position. 

An older teacher, Alana*, who had been at the school for almost as long as I had been alive, immediately threw the chocolates in the bin. 

"What the f*** are these? It’ll take more than that for you to earn respect around here," she grumbled at me as I introduced myself. I was perhaps a little too eager to please, and definitely a little nervous. I apologised to her for the chocolates and moved back to my desk to continue sorting the activities I had made for my first class of the day. 


"You know that enthusiasm won’t last. You’ll be as cynical and angry as the rest of us one day. Give it a term, not even. You’ll understand."

I didn’t feel even remotely daunted by her words. I had been told I would change and lose my passion all of my life. Some people loved my positivity and enthusiasm, and others found it endlessly annoying. They’d remind me that it was temporary, that my motivation and zeal would slowly die as time passed. 

I feel very lucky and proud to say that just over nine years later, my passion for teaching, and working with students, is just as strong as it was that day. Although I’d be lying if I said that my first day on my own in the classroom didn’t shake me.

I was confident, but I was petrified – I am sure you know the feeling. A mix of reminding yourself that you’re good enough, combined with an overwhelming surge of fear that pounds through your chest. It’s the sort of feeling that comes with a new job, but imagine that feeling, and knowing that on top of having to make sure you do a good job on your first day, you are also at the judgemental mercy of anywhere between ninety to one hundred and fifty teenagers (depending on how many classes you have that day). 

They know you’re new, they know you’re nervous, and they know that you don’t know the expectations of the school. It feels like they’re looking for your weaknesses. An over exaggeration I know now, but not always.

And so it was with nerves and excitement that I went into my first period in my own classroom, alone as a teacher for the very first time. I laid out the activities, and I wrote notes on the board. I had brought small welcome gifts for every student, alongside an 'about me' introduction sheet, so the kids could get to know me a little better. 


I had decorated the room, according to educational research regarding enhanced productivity, but I had also spoken extensively to my head teacher, and she had been working with the students to find out the sorts of films, TV shows, and musicians that they liked. 

I spent hours online and in-store, trying to find posters, or magazine articles, that catered to each and every one of their interests, and then I tried to make activities that linked with both the topic we were studying and the things that they were interested in. I wanted so badly to engage them and to make them feel like I truly cared about their own thoughts and opinions.

I was ripe for a reality check.

As the Year 9 students filed it, I was blissfully innocent and hopeful. That hope lasted about forty seconds before one student glanced at one of the papers I had left on his desk, picked it up, and shoved it in his mouth. He chewed it enthusiastically, much to the enjoyment of the last few students filing in the room, and then he spat out the saliva-soaked paper, and dropped it on my desk, smiling enigmatically. 

I ignored him, settled the students, and tried to begin my lesson. 'Tried' being the operative word. Before I could even begin to introduce myself, a quiet boy at the back of the room began playing hardcore porn videos on his phone at full volume, and before I knew it, he had a boom box connected via Bluetooth.


The moans coming out of that boom box still haunt me to this day. I knew I had to get a head teacher, but when I tried to send any student for help, every single one refused. I knew legally I wasn’t allowed to leave the classroom unattended, so I was stuck. I asked the boy, politely, but firmly, to please put his pornography away or at least turn it down so I could begin the lesson, and he laughed in my face. 

"F***ing make me b*tch."

A girl, who up until this point had been filming me without my knowledge, lit a cigarette. I turned around, asking her to put it out, and also asking her to please put her phone away. I knew that the school policy was confiscation, but I didn’t know if it was worth getting into a power struggle over it. 

"I’d really like to not have to confiscate that, so if you could please put it away, that would be great." 

The girl smiled at me, and slowly pulled at the waistband of her pants. I looked away, not certain what she was doing, but certain I didn’t want to see it. 

"You’ll have to come get it if you want to confiscate it," she laughed, dropping her phone in her underwear and then standing up, shaking her pelvis around for the class.

Listen: Why 60 per cent of teachers want to quit. Post continues after podcast.

"This new teacher wants to touch my vagina!" she screamed, and the whole class laughed. And those were just the high-level behaviours going on at this point. 


I had two other students at the back of the room vaping, and another student who had begun to pour white out all over the carpet. I had three girls at the front of the room using their cameras to take photos down their bras and send them to a small group of boys at the back, and another girl who had started pulling my posters off the wall and slowly tearing each one to pieces. One boy sitting at the front, was taking Maltesers out of his bag, chewing them up slowly, then spitting each individual, half-formed Malteser on the ground. 

I’m not sure if you can fully imagine this scene, and how overwhelmed I felt. I could deal with one of these behaviours, sure, maybe even two, but the seventeen or so behaviour issues that I was experiencing within the first ten minutes of this lesson were too much for me as a first year, first day out teacher. 

You wouldn’t believe it, but I finally got them working. It took almost half the lesson, but by some stroke of luck, or godly intervention, by thirty or so minutes in, they all had paper in front of them, and most of them were attempting work. 

I am sure those of you who haven’t taught in a school like this might be thinking, "Why didn’t she…?"

Why didn’t she call the parents?

Because when I did call the parents, they either didn’t care, or they swore at me and hung up the phone. No matter how nicely I phrased it.

Why didn’t she tell the head teacher?

I did, after class. And as beautiful and supportive as she was, the honest truth was there was nothing she could do. We spoke to the principal as well, and she laughed ‘Yep those kids are rough, nothing we can do though besides issue detentions and call home.’


Why didn’t she issue a detention?

Because they say 'f*** off' and don’t turn up.

Why didn’t she talk to them one on one?

Because most of the time when you try, they call you a paedophile for trying to talk to them one on one. And those who you do get the opportunity to talk to, won’t even let you get a word out before telling you to fuck off and leave them alone. 

Why didn’t she give them positive reinforcement? 

I did. So many times. SO much. Every possible moment I could see something good being done I acknowledged it and told the students how much I appreciated it. I asked them individually whether they liked private or public praise, and adhered to their preference strictly, but it’s honestly really hard to give positive reinforcement to a kid who has just asked you to put out your hand and then spat it into your palm for fun. 


I had just finished picking the Maltesers up off the floor, with only two minutes left until the end of the lesson when I realised that James* was still leaning back in his chair. He hadn’t started the work and was making quite a mess by smearing chewing gum all over the paper and his desk. 

I brought him a new paper, and a wet wipe to clean the desk. I asked him, politely, if there was anything I could help him with. Did he want me to go over the questions with him, or was there anything he might be stuck on?


James took a long breath and smiled at me. It wasn’t a nice smile. 

"Miss, let me make it clear to you, right here, and right now…" James beckoned me closer, as though he was going to whisper a secret and instinctively I leaned in. 

"If you ever try and tell me what to do again, I am going to tell the principal you touched my penis, and you’ll be fired."

And then the bell rang.

Our anonymous contributor has worked in the NSW public school system for just over nine years. In this time, she has worked as a classroom teacher, a head teacher, and more recently as a school leader at a behaviour specialist school for students with extremely challenging behaviours. She loves her job, and everything about it, but feels very strongly that often people don’t understand the challenges that come with working in a ‘difficult’ school. With this series of articles, she hopes to help people gain a little understanding about the daily lives of teachers in these schools, and perhaps, hopefully, allow people to understand why so many teachers, the most in NSW history are struggling with their mental health.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Feature image: Getty.

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