Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?
After completing an honours degree in Arts (majoring in performing arts) at Monash University, I undertook a diploma of education in 2004 with the idea that I might like to become an education/arts officer at a cultural institution. If I’m honest, I was also probably motivated by the opportunity to complete a teaching practicum in the Cook Islands… I had an incredible mentor who inspired me to follow my current career pathway.
I quickly found ‘my people’ when I started volunteering at the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria during my DipEd year as a judge for a free competition called the National History Challenge. It embodied everything great about history education – rigorous research, a variety of presentation methods and the idea that historians could be creative. I’ve now been a Victorian coordinator of the National History Challenge for 8 years and still love the way that it can change the way students engage with the study of history. Teachers and parents have shared stories with us to explain how participating in the competition has been life-changing for their student/child.
Even though I did spend a few years teaching in the classroom after completing my DipEd, I was more interested in the development side of education i.e. creating resources for other teachers to use. Since then I have worked as a programs offer at the Melbourne Museum, palliative biographer, tutor/guest lecturer at the University of Melbourne, simulated patient for medical exams, magician and freelance history education consultant.
I began my PhD in 2007 at the University of Melbourne and finally completed it last year. My thesis had a focus on museum studies, particularly on how artefacts can be interpreted through museum theatre. I conducted research in Europe and the United States. Doing a PhD is a very hard slog, particularly when you’re also working. I’ve definitely managed to strike a better work/life/health balance since I finished.
My current role is Manager of Education and Consultancy at the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria. I love the autonomy and diversity of the job. A typical week for me could include driving to present to teachers/students in regional Victoria, filming/editing a documentary, writing a book and presenting at a conference. It is equally possible that my week could involve sending millions of emails, lugging a trolley full of boxes up three flights of stairs at a University and feeding student personal information forms one by one into a document shredder.
Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?
I particularly treasure working with people I like and admire. This includes HTAV colleagues, teachers and staff from cultural institutions/government agencies. I am particularly inspired by students. We run an event with Australian Catholic University called the Kids’ Conference where all presenters are primary or secondary students. They showcase history or geography projects that they have completed using innovative technology. The adults in the room take a very peripheral role during the day – the students are the stars. I really get a kick out of that.
What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?
Classroom teachers have my utmost respect. It is an incredibly demanding job with stresses and stains that people outside the industry cannot comprehend. It is a privilege to work in a teacher support role. One of the biggest challenges for teachers is trying to cater for both the social and academic needs of their students. In addition to teaching, they must also be social workers, psychologists, parents and mind-readers. I think most educators agree that the best part of teaching is when a student tells you that something you did changed their life for the better.
If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?
In an ideal world with no budgetary constraints, I would like all schools to double the number of teachers they employ in order to reduce class sizes. I have observed systems where each home group has two teachers – one to deal with pastoral care and the other to look after the academic side of education. That could be a useful tactic for many regions. Teachers should also have fewer periods in their weekly allotment and be able to use the time to continue developing their own teaching practice.
I would also like to see more new classrooms built with an understanding of acoustics. Many are designed to look impressive, but create a lot of distracting background noise from other classes. This makes it difficult for the teacher to moderate the dynamics of their lessons and can also cause anxiety in some students.
What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?
I love twitter as an educational networking tool. I’m excited that through accounts like EduTweetsOz educators can access an international peer group to provide ideas, support and encouragement for their teaching practice. Over the week I hope to share free resources, answer questions about working in teacher support and start a range of conversations on classroom layout, digital technology, teachers as entrepreneurs, gifted and talented students, disability training for teachers, differentiating lessons, personal learning plans and project-based learning.