Susan Caldis: Head Teacher HSIE at Castle Hill High School

We’re back in Sydney for the last week of February, with geography teacher, Susan Caldis taking up the hosting duties. Susan has taken many roles in education over her career, which give her a unique insight into Australian education.

You can connect with Susan by following her on Twitter: @SusanCaldis

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 have been teaching since 1996. Geography is my thing! Currently I am HT HSIE at Castle Hill High School (north-west Sydney) and I have been there for 18 months. I also teach Geography Methodology (the ‘how’ of teaching Geography) to final year pre-service teachers at Macquarie University. At the moment I am also engaged in postgraduate study – an MEd Res with a PhD pathway. My research project was published in December 2014. Prior to joining at Castle Hill HS I was at ACARA for 3 years leading the development of the Australian Curriculum: Geography. Before ACARA I was at NBSC Balgowlah Boys Campus for 9 years where I gained a promotion to HT Social Sciences. I started my career in the inner west at a school on the then Disadvantaged Schools Program. I was there for 5 years. I then ‘switched codes’ and had a year teaching in the Independent sector but realised that philosophically, public education was where I belonged – although I don’t engage in public vs private education debates – both have their merits and it is up to the individual to make that decision. Along the way I have also held year advisor, peer support coordinator, teaching and learning coordinator and teacher mentor positions. I have also been very privileged to be elected as President of the Geography Teacher’s Association of NSW for 2 years in a row. I am now in my 2nd year leading the association.

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

The opportunity to teach a subject I love every day, and to develop a love of Geography in a new generation of teachers as well as amongst my students at school. I am also very motivated by the variety of opportunities to develop new networks and connect meaningfully with people I admire and who inspire me, as well as now being in the fortunate position of being able to inspire others. In short, I suppose I am inspired and motivated by knowing that teachers can and do make a difference in a variety of ways, knowingly and unknowingly.

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

In my opinion one of the biggest rewards in education today will also be viewed as a challenge by some. For me this is the development of the national standards and the achievement of them via the accreditation process. It is a lengthy, rigorous and time consuming process but I think it is about time our profession was taken seriously, has a national approach towards understanding what a quality teacher is, and provides a situation whereby under-performing teachers will either have to adopt a new mind-set and strategy, or find an alternative employment, rather than just fly under the radar. Personally, I am not upset to be an experienced teacher who will now need to work through the accreditation process. Another reward I see in education today (compared to when I started teaching in the mid 90’s) is the availability of professional learning in both an informal, free-low cost format such as TeachMeets, twitter chats etc, and also in the more traditional formal and paid context. I think the emphasis on reflection and self improvement is a really positive thing for teachers. One of the main challenges will always be time and prioritising.

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

I would like to see an opportunity in the education system for teachers in schools (lets say any time after 7 years) to be ‘seconded’ to work in the other side of teaching for a year e.g. curriculum development, assessment development, policy development etc at a curriculum authority or education sector office or similar. From my experience, I believe an opportunity like this enables teachers to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation about why ‘things’ are the way they are, how ‘things’ get developed and then implemented, and provides the chance to expand networks, ideas and dialogue. An experience such as this also enables you to understand the work of schools and teachers from a different perspective.

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

I think EduTweetOz has a distinct role in introducing educators who may otherwise not have met – and from there the connections can continue more directly or not (technology based or face to face or both). I think this collaborative and diverse dialogue, initiated by EduTweetOz  is important for teachers to reflect on and seriously consider the realities of different situations (challenges and opportunities) and therefore different perspectives. My hopes for the account is to be able to promote thought and conversation about what we do in the classroom, why we do it and our risk taking aptitude i.e. how willing are we to try new things and when do we try new things – is it the first thing we do or a last resort?

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to host EduTweetOz and I really appreciate having been asked. Thank you xo

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