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 grew up in England and went to a school which had very high academic standards and inspired me to learn in all subjects. I had thought about teaching when I was in secondary school, but put it out of my mind when I went to university, loved studying and continued on to do a Masters, and considered the possibility of a life in academia. It wasn’t until I had begun a full time PhD that I began to think that perhaps there were better options, particularly given the climate of the university world with reduced numbers of jobs in theology. So I decided to take time out from the PhD and complete a PGCE in Religious Education as a stepping stone into a much more secure career. I had two fantastic mentors in my placement schools – one of which was a pretty tough school to work in – when I was training, and they helped to make me the teacher I am.
I have always taught Religious Education, a compulsory subject in secondary schools in England. Since training as a teacher, I have worked in three very different schools in the North East of England – one state, two Catholic. The post I left before I came to Australia was in an outstanding Sisters of Mercy Girls’ Academy. There I worked with a fantastic team of specialist RE teachers.
After much consideration, I decided to pursue a career in Australia. I was delighted to be appointed as Head of Religion in St Augustine’s College, Cairns, for January 2015. Unfortunately visa delays (which you may have heard about if you follow me on twittter) meant I didn’t arrive in Australia until May – but I managed to complete my PhD in the meantime (although I had to return home for the viva in the September holidays). I am working on making up for lost time! My role involves coordinating the department and fostering the academic study of religion across all years in school (7-12).
Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work? I love new challenges, and this keeps me motivated – for example writing and implementing a new curriculum (or three…), which has been my biggest challenge since arriving in Australia. I also like learning about new educational strategies and tools with the students, as they can often teach me something. I have rolled out flipped learning across all senior classes in my subject this year. It has been successful so far! I find that connecting with other teachers is often key to my own professional learning. Most of all, though, I love challenging the students to think outside the box and learn to think critically and openly about a variety of traditions and belief systems, and thereby develop their own beliefs from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance.
What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today? The best part about being a teacher is that you will always have a funny story to share at a social gathering! You learn to always expect the unexpected, and to take nothing for granted. This makes the job exciting. The biggest reward has to be in building positive relationships with the students such that you watch them grow into young adults, ready to take on new challenges once they leave the school gates for the last time.
The biggest challenge has to be in avoiding the politics that inevitably surrounds education. Having arrived from the UK a year ago – where there is at least one innovative educational strategy implemented with each changing government – I think teachers have to learn to be resilient and to believe in their training and knowledge.
If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do? When I arrived, I was surprised, but also a little bit pleased, to discover that there were no external exams in Queensland. I realise that this is about to change, and perhaps it should in order to ensure that senior students study with academic rigour, but I would not want to go back to the English model of teaching to the test, particularly as we did with our GCSE students. I don’t want to be in the position where a student asks “is this going to be on the test?” I like the flexibility that the Queensland curriculum allows for. Having taught in Australia for over a year now, I would definitely change the amount of assessment. For students to complete 5 comprehensive assessments in each year of their senior schooling is totally overkill. Not only that, but it takes away teaching time. Give me a three-hour external exam instead of this!
The main thing I don’t want to see is for Australia to follow England down the route of testing for the sake of testing. Too much attention was given to “data” showing “progress” such that we fabricated level indicators 1-8, and then broke them down further into a, b and c, such that we could show the powers that be that a student had made progress during a year because our mark books said 4c at the start of the year, and 4a at the end. I like the way that Australia trusts teachers to be professional and teach students to make progress, without constantly checking up on them.
What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week? I hope to connect with teachers across Australia during the week, and I hope to learn a lot from them about their experience of education in Australia and beyond. I also hope that I have something to bring to the table from my experience in England and my last year in Australia.
Is there anything else you would like to add? I love teaching in Australia. It is the best move I’ve made. I think every teacher should get out of their comfort zone and teach in a new environment – whether that is a different school, town, or country – to expand their understanding of teaching. I am also an academic, and love getting involved in theology conferences around Australia.
Also check out a chat she moderates: @REchatOZ