Nudging the candle flame of positivity closer

Other teachers went out of their way to support me and relieve me of a burden.

I had fun explaining where element names come from, especially to an EALD student.

I played safety dance to confused but entranced year 8 students.

A year 7 showed me this meme for our lesson on cellular respiration.


A year 8 student asked me if she could take a textbook home to study.

There’s a science/maths teacher we might hire who seems very promising.

Holiday Reflection

So I made it! One complete term of full-time work. I feel… tired. Tired like anemia, right down to my bones. Luckily I don’t have to do anything this week except catch up with friends and entertain my cat, so I should be able to build up my reserves.

Thinking back I’ve tried to draw some lessons from how things went this term. It’s easy for me to be critical, so lets start with the good stuff.

I looked after myself.

I took days off when I needed them. I ate proper meals. I took time to socialise and have fun. I didn’t beat myself up over my mistakes. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you look after the basics first and everything else second.

I’ve accomplished good things with my senior classes.

Year 11 & 12 I’ve talked about previously, but I’ll add the fact that I feel pretty good about how I taught the final HSC topic, and hopefully my students will carry that into the exam. I’ve also had some really good engagement with my Year 10 students, even with some not particularly academic students, and I’m quite proud of that.

Now let’s move on to the things I want to change.

I need to set higher standards for behaviour in my junior classes.

Right now we’re at a level where most students aren’t necessarily misbehaving, but they’re constantly toeing the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. This is an exhausting situation to be constantly monitoring, and it means the more volatile students don’t have far to go before they incur consequences like a detention.

More work on my lesson plans.

During the last term I took a lot of shortcuts with my lesson planning. I don’t regret this, as it allowed me to stay sane and healthy. However I did find that the lessons I threw together quickly were less rewarding for me to teach. Going forward the basics of teaching should take less of my energy, so I want to put more of it into lessons that are a little bit creative and exciting.

I could probably think of more, but I’d rather not! Those two are enough to be getting on with. In conclusion, I would like to leave you all with a bit of wisdom that I picked up during Year 12’s Definitely-Not-A-Muck-Up-Day Activities: lab safety goggles provide excellent eye protection during the throwing of water balloons, sponges and saving cream. To all of my teacher friends, have a good holidays!

Happy news

One of the challenges of my particular job, above and beyond the regular challenges of being a new teacher, is that I teach a combined Year 11/12 Physics class. That means that I currently have three students studying the Year 11 syllabus, and five studying the Year 12 syllabus, and we all meet at the same time, in the same classroom, for 4 periods a week.

I’m sure that some of you have done the maths and realised that 4 periods, split between 2 classes, only gives 2 periods a week I can dedicate to each year. My readers who are also teachers might have also calculated that 4 periods a week, with 2 different classes, equals 8 lessons planned! Last term the poor Chemistry teacher was teaching combined Chemistry AND covering the combined Physics, and you could see the stress of juggling so many classes was really getting to him. And that’s where I come in…

Scared newbie reporting for duty

My head teacher’s advice was basically to experiment, find a method that worked for me, and re-evaluate once the students had had time to get used to me. I also had a few things that were working in my favour, the most important being the independent study skills of my year 12 students – their experience of Physics had been a mixture of being taught by a non-Physics teacher, doing some intensive lessons through distance education, and being left to their own devices to study. As such, they had developed some really great independent study skills. All of my students were also very good at collaborating and helping each other out when they were stuck.

So here’s what I’ve been doing

Stages of Lesson Prep

  • Select the syllabus dot points I want to cover with each class.
  • Plan active teaching methods that address the dot points (e.g. How am I going to explain or demonstrate this?).
  • Collect resources that address the dot points (textbooks, websites, worksheets).

Stages of the Lesson

  • Walk in, tell one year group to read ahead on what we’ll be covering today, usually from the textbook.
  • Spend 10-15 minutes talking with the second year group about their topic. This could be a straight up lecture, a practical demo, or working through some problems together.
  • Leave the second year group with something to work on, usually answering questions or writing notes.
  • Go over to the first year group and ask them to explain what they just read. Elaborate on their points and correct misconceptions. This could also take 10-15 minutes.
  • Leave the first year group with something to do, check in with the second how their work is going. Once again, help them when they’re stuck, correct misconceptions.
  • Check how the first year group is doing with their task.
  • If the bell has not yet gone, continue switching between groups at regular intervals until it does.

Usually the way it works out is that within each period each year group gets one introductory style lecture, one question-answer problem solving session, and two blocks of independent study. And how do the students feel about this method? Well, last week we had the chance to ask them, and the take away is this…


The students all said that they like the way I split the time between the two years, and that my teaching style generally is working for them. Which is such an encouraging thing to hear as a first year teacher!

I suppose the final point I want to make is the way challenging teaching situations force us to confront the weaknesses in our teaching style. I have a tendency to be a bit of a helicopter teacher, hovering over the students’ shoulders, ready to default to a lecture whenever they get stuck. Splitting my time between the classes means that the students automatically have blocks of time to work through problems and solve them at their own pace. This makes them more independent, and better prepared for the HSC and beyond. So really, it’s good news all round.

Uphill both ways

Last weekend, my teacher friend said to me, “Days off are more trouble than they’re worth. By the time you prepare all of your lessons for that day, you might as well show up and teach them.”

Yesterday, my colleague said to me, “Don’t let yourself get run down. If you need a day off, take it.”

Both of these things are true.

Some of my readers already know that I have a chronic medical condition. I’d rather not say what, since I haven’t decided how open to be about it at work – but the politics of invisible disabilities is a rant for another day. In practice, most days I function perfectly well. Where it gets tricky is when you pile other things on top of it – like a cold, or sleep deprivation, or stress. These things sometimes hit me harder than they would a perfectly healthy person, and I don’t bounce back quite as quickly.

Strategy one for dealing with these circumstances is, basically, to suck it up. Being independent, holding down a job and honouring commitments I’ve made all require me to sometimes drag myself through the day even when I’m feeling crappy. You may recognise this as a condition shared by 99.9% of the human race, so at least I’m in good company!

Strategy two involves looking after myself. Some people can spend their early twenties eating whatever they want and pulling all-nighters without any negative consequences. I’m not one of those people. I don’t do anything special, and god knows I could exercise more, but I have to invest a certain level of self-care into my body if I want it to be working when I need it.

The real trick, I’m finding, is pinpointing the line between strategy one and strategy two. Whenever I’m pushing myself to work through it, I have to ask myself if I’m looking after myself enough.But I also have to recognise that sometimes I want to sleep in, eat pasta and lie around the house when I would be much better off just getting off my posterior and getting things done.

So today I took a day off. Was it a pain putting together lessons for the substitute? Yes. Did I enjoy my sleep in this morning? For sure. Was it the right choice? I don’t know. I’ll be back at school tomorrow, anyway.

Professional Development

So this week I sat down with my head teacher to work out what my goals were for this year. I thought I’d talk about them a bit here.,

1) Develop my behavioural management skills.

This is an obvious one for a new teacher. I had a truly excellent lecturer on this topic at Uni, but there’s a huge learning curve once you start putting it into practice.

Lots of people, when I tell them I’m a high school teacher, tell me that they couldn’t handle working with teenagers. To which I say, fair enough! But the last two weeks have taught me a very important lesson about behaviour management – when a student it misbehaving, it’s not the teacher that suffers the most. It’s all the other students in the classroom.

I don’t want my students being picked on. I don’t want to see them wince when the noise level gets too high. I don’t want to have to stop doing pracs because people aren’t being safe. To a certain extent I can deal with a chaotic lesson or a student mouthing off, because years of growing and maturing have left me with plenty of emotional resources to draw on. Most teenagers haven’t developed that, and I hate to see this making them unhappy in my classroom (the unhappiness I inflict is an entirely different matter, of course).

2) Increase my knowledge for working with autistic students.

When I was told I would be taking a special education class for science, I was hugely intimidated. Then I actually met the class and started to work with them, and I realised that this wasn’t going to be the class I stressed over – this was going to be the class where I got to be creative and make science as fun as possible. The personalities of the students, their relationships with the support staff, and the support from my faculty have all combined to turn an imagined ordeal into an opportunity to grow as a teacher, and I want to take advantage of it.

3) Creating a portfolio of resources for Yr 11 & 12 Physics.

Because of small numbers, my Physics class contains students from Year 11 and 12, studying their respective curricula in parallel. It’s a tough situation, but it means that the students have developed some kick-ass independent study skills. I want to have the resources to feed their brains, so that when I’m doing one thing with one year in class, the other students never have to spend a minute twiddling their thumbs.

So there you have it, my goals for this year – or my professional goals at least. My personal goals include checking out the local Yum cha, touring at least one winery, keeping in touch with friends and completing every achievement for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Now to find the time…

Roller-coaster Ride

This class is brilliant. That class is a disaster. There’s a kid at sport who’s too rough. There’s a kid in one class who asks all the right questions. There’s a kid who has already lived through more trauma than you have in a lifetime (and another, and another…). There’s a group that works hard, works independently, and supports each other. There’s a group that sets each other off. Now do a WHS training. Now create a trial exam. Now split these nine complete strangers into two balanced basketball teams. Make seating plans. Tears and conflict. Adjust seating plans. Now do a prac. The lab techs are very helpful… so long as they’re working that day. The teachers’ aides are invaluable. Your staffroom is invaluable. Your head teacher is invaluable. Give a detention. Give a reward. Give a Stern Talking To. Arrange a meeting where we discuss How We Can Do Better. Play badminton, and wake up with a sore arm. Track down a missing student. Track down a missing class. Log incidents into the system. Set off an alarm (whoops). Break some equipment. Go to parent-teacher night and a staff meeting. Plan a practical lesson, only to discover that all but one student will be away. Where is this year up to? Where do I find the pipettes? Does this key get me into there? How is this kid so awesome? How is this kid so frustrating?

I’ve been teaching for seven days.

No need for ALARM

I spent today at a professional learning event being trained on the use of ALARM, aka A Learning And Response Matrix. The basic idea is that even if students are capable of learning the content, they may struggle to express that learning when it comes to extended response questions. ALARM provides a matrix that helps the student structure their answer in a way that is logical and covers everything the question asks. On the flip side, it gives teachers a matrix to structure their teaching so that it builds from the very basic content through the higher order thinking skills without skipping any steps.

I could definitely see myself using ALARM in the classroom, both explicitly and implicitly. The training itself was quite well run, apart from going over time, which is a bit annoying when you’ve got an hour’s bus ride to get back! Still, it was a chance to have a bit of fun with the other teachers.

As for tomorrow, I’ve got my lessons roughly planned out. I’m going to have a big focus on behaviour with the junior years. Our first activity is going to be a class discussion, centred around respect and responsibility, where I intend to get the students to agree on what is an acceptable standard of behaviour in the classroom. One of my favourite parts of that activity is asking the students to give examples of how I, the teacher, display respectful behaviour in the classroom. I guess I’ll report back soon with how it all goes!

…Gang aft agley

When I accepted my teaching position the first emotion I felt was joy. The second was panic. Luckily I know what to do with panic – sublimate it into plans, schedules and lists (so many lists). I had three weeks in which I planned to drive to the school, do some casual days, find a house, drive back, buy furniture and arrange for delivery, arrange for electricity and gas and internet, get a new phone, help run a training day for ISS volunteers, babysit my cousin’s kids overnight, MC an engineering challenge, take 30 students to Taronga Zoo, pack up my belongings, move house, build all of my flat-pack furniture, and plan all of my lessons for the first week.

Too easy, right?!?

With the help of friends, family and colleagues I actually managed to stay on top of things through the first and second week. My three days teaching at the school were fantastic. I got to meet my future classes, watch the other teachers in action, and get to know the people I’ll be working with. I stayed the the spare room of the head teacher of science, which was brilliant for many reasons, but in particular her husband was the physics teacher at the school before he retired, so the chance to pick his brains was invaluable.

(I’ve just realised that if I’m going to be blogging about these people frequently, it might be worth giving them pseudonyms. Maybe Albert for the physicist and Nettie for the biologist?)

Anyway, the first warning sign that it was all about to go horribly wrong was when my cousin rang and let me know that his two year old daughter (henceforth referred to as “Plaguechild”) had a cough and a fever. Now it should be said that Plaguechild was actually fairly easy to babysit. She took her medicine without a fuss, played nicely with her brother, and went to bed early. She did, however, forget to cover her mouth while coughing about half the time. So when I woke up on Saturday with a sore throat, I knew who was to blame.


I will spare my readers the grosser details of the last week of my life. I will mention that for several days the only thing I could taste was garlic. And that my temperature regulation was so out of whack that the only way I could tell whether I was freezing cold or dangerously overheated was to stick my hands in my armpits and check. And I went through an entire box of tissues in three days, even though I was taking decongestants every four hours. And I’m still sick a week later. Damn you, Plaguechild.

Thanks to my parents and a family friend driving out here on Friday I am actually set up and unpacked (thank you, thank you, thank you!). The part of the schedule that really went awry was my plan to do a whole bunch of lesson planning in advance. What I have done, instead, is outlined the first day, with a heavy reliance on activities that don’t involve me talking much, just in case my voice is still croaky. Ah well, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…