Jennifer English is a Teacher Quality Advisor (relieving) with the NSW Department of Education and Communities. Here are her responses to our five questions:
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?
I had always wanted to be a teacher. My Kindergarten report said “Jenny is bossy and fusses over others”, suggesting I was born to it. I was also inspired by the great teachers that I had throughout my schooling. Several school teacher relatives tried to talk me out of education as a career but after leaving school and working for a couple of years I decided I didn’t want to spend my life saying “if only”. So off to university I went to do a Science Degree and a Dip Ed. My first year teaching was awful. I was given the bottom streamed classes in each year group and initially provided with little support. I finished the year but quit teaching. I was lucky to get an admin job at the NSW Board of Studies, working for the remarkable Rosemary Hafner, who was the Inspector of Science. The wonderful, passionate people I worked with at the Board convinced me to go back to teaching. I am happy I did and one of my goals is to make sure no beginning teacher experiences what I did.
I currently live and work in Wollongong, NSW. During Term 1 and 2 of this year I am Relieving Teacher Quality Advisor for the NSW DEC. I will explain this new role (new to me and a new position in the DEC) as the week goes on. When not relieving in this position I am Head Teacher Science at Figtree High School and have been in this position since 2008. Prior to that I was both a Science Teacher and Head Teacher in South Western Sydney.
Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?
The people I work with, both students and teachers, inspire me to do better and be better. I am passionate about quality, free education. Despite spending most of my childhood living in middle class suburban comfort, life happened and I spent my final years in high school in a not so middle class or financially stable situation. I had always attended public schools but it was not until we had no other option that I appreciated how important free, quality public education is. Without it, Austudy and a freeish university education, I would not be where I am now. It is important to me that every child has access to a free, quality education and that I pay back what was invested into my education.
What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?
The biggest rewards for me, working in education, are often not very big to others. It is the small rewards, that have nothing to do with marks that are the most fulfilling. Unfortunately, they are not quantifiable. The best day of my teaching career was when my Principal relayed that my most difficult student, from the class that I was convinced that I had failed, told the School Education Director that she would only come back to school if I was her Science teacher. According to her, I was the only person who never gave up on her no matter how obnoxious she became and I would always try and teach the class regardless of how unwillingly they were to learn. Normally, I would never have known this was how she felt. I was convinced that I had failed to teach this class anything in the year we were together. In fact the data showed that I hadn’t. However, one student believed that there was another human being who was willing to never give up on her. This was far more humbling than any of my students who had achieved academic success. Try putting that on the MySchool website. The point to my trip down memory lane is that the biggest challenge for educators is that the difference you make may never be known to you and is never measurable. We must take note of the small things because they do make all the difference.
If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?
No prizes for guessing I’m going to say fund public education. The only way we can improve the outcomes of all Australians is to ensure that every student gets the best education that money can buy. The only way to make everyone equal is to fund equitably. We need to fund quality teachers and quality teaching programs to be delivered in schools that are well resourced and not falling apart.
What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?
EduTweetOz is about connecting teachers to ideas and each other. This week I hope to get people talking about accreditation, professional learning, supporting early career teachers, equity and quality teaching. Oh, and I am easily distracted by bright shiny objects so expect a few of those thrown in here and there.
To connect with Jennifer, follow her on Twitter at @jeneng