Challis Public School – Rebecca Limpus
‘It was so great to have that external source of support, especially in a country town. So, having an Advocate really did stop me from leaving my teaching career.’
Rebecca started her teaching career at a school in an isolated rural community. The school was faced with high rates of staff attrition, and the accompanying challenges that this imposed. Unfortunately, this is a common burden worn by low SES schools. And considering that early career teachers disproportionately staff low SES schools, this story is representative of the broader issue.
As a primary school teacher, Rebecca was designated a K/1 composite class. When discussing her first experiences as a teacher, Rebecca explained the difficulties she experienced as a graduate:
‘That first term, you really are just trying to survive. You’re just trying to get through a term of not really knowing what you’re doing, finding your feet, getting to know your students and their families, becoming familiar with the town.’
After completing Module 1 of the Graduate Program, Rebecca elected to be allocated an Advocate through the In-Class Coaching stream. In the context of a challenging school culture and high staff turnover, Rebecca reasoned that external coaching would hopefully offer a sense of stability.
‘In the first module, I requested to have an Advocate teacher, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her.’
Following the first year of teaching, Rebecca transferred to Challis Primary School as a pre-primary teacher. Rebecca was ‘blown away’ by the level of support and professional development she received from the school. From immediate entry into Challis PS, Rebecca received regular support through: peer observation, in-school mentoring, and working collaboratively with teaching support staff. These forms of support, layered with the continued coaching from Rebecca’s Advocate, enabled her to grow professionally and to transition to a new school effectively.
‘It was really valuable having that constant support from the Advocate in making that transition to a new school.’
Finally, having now spent the first two years of her teaching career in low SES schools, Rebecca reflects that the external and confidential nature of the Advocate support is a large determinant for the program’s success:
‘Because of the confidential nature of having an Advocate, you can discuss things that you probably wouldn’t bring up [with other colleagues] in school.’
Rebecca is now feeling positive about her teaching practice, excited about her future as an educator.
Wilson Park Primary School - Rhiahn Mumme and Kate Smith
‘It’s been so helpful having contact with my Advocate to work through any issues that I have, and to take me through the graduate process of becoming registered.’ - Rhiahn
Negotiating the litany of demands to become a registered teacher is daunting. Piled with class pressures, lesson planning, reports, and much more, graduates need to juggle these commitments while completing teacher registration requirements. It quickly becomes an added stress, rather than a process of professional growth.
Kate Smith and Rhiahn Mumme are early career teachers from Wilson Park Primary School in Collie, and are well acquainted with this process. The support provided by their assigned Advocate has been critical in not only completing these requirements, but benefiting from them.
‘The discussion of the National Professional Standards and the help I received putting together my portfolio was the best part of having an Advocate.’ - Kate.
Both young teachers grew up in the local community and studied Education at the local Bunbury campus at Edith Cowan University (ECU). After becoming qualified teachers and working temporarily in several schools, Kate and Rhiahn were awarded fixed term contracts at Wilson Park PS.
Considering that Wilson Park PS is classified as a low SES school and with a high Indigenous student population, the school can face challenging student behaviours. Kate described the added complexity of teaching in a low SES school:
‘When our kids are playing up, it’s likely that there’s something going on at home… So as a teacher, it’s important to understand where this behaviour is coming from.’
These extra demands imposed by the constructs of social disadvantage compound with the constant loads a teacher must bear. As a result, it is common for early career teachers to feel overwhelmed and isolated in the initial stages of teaching. The Modules component of the Graduate Teacher Professional Learning Program provides an opportunity for teachers to come together and share experiences. Rhiahn has found this feature of the program particularly valuable:
‘It was so nice to speak to other graduates and hear what others are going through. It literally made you feel like you were normal… It was just nice to know that you weren’t the only one feeling stressed.’
Both Kate and Rhiahn considered the coaching services of the Advocate to be the most valuable aspect of the program. The external and specialist support offered an alternative perspective, which was highly valued by Kate and Rhiahn.
John Tonkin College -Tamy Adamec, Natalie Donkin, and Tricia Miels
‘When I went in [to the GTPLP] I thought that no one here can have it as bad as me, and I was feeling a bit disillusioned, questioning whether I had made the right professional decision; but then I came out of it reinvigorated because I had time to reflect, let it all gel, and to talk to other graduates.’ – Tricia
Sharing ideas and interaction with peers is essential for the development of any profession. For a profession like teaching, which is based on effective engagement, communication, and relationships, this process is particularly necessary.
Yet, once university training is complete, it is not uncommon for teachers to have limited exposure to such forms of professional interaction, resulting in feelings of isolation and a loss of professional identity.
Tamy, Natalie, and Tricia are three early career teachers from John Tonkin College in Mandurah, and have valued the opportunity to interact with other graduates during the Modules. Tamy explained that this interaction ‘normalised’ her initial feelings as a teacher, which reassured her professional practice:
‘I just loved listening to the other graduate teachers about what they’re doing in their classrooms, little activities and ideas, and to know that we’re all feeling the same things.’
All three teachers have come into the profession with previous careers and life experiences. While these respective experiences have strengthened their resilience in the classroom, the support of their Advocate has been instrumental in their professional development. Upon reflection, Natalie appreciates the in-confidence support that the Advocate has imparted upon her professional growth:
‘For me to talk through my work with an Advocate, has given me a really great sounding board… you can actually talk without worrying that it’s going to get back to someone. You can be more personal and open with an Advocate.’
While in-school support (through mentoring, peer observation etc.) to early career teachers is beneficial to professional growth, these brief stories illustrate the importance of independent, external support and professional interaction. The GTIP has given these three teachers a platform to reflect professionally upon their practice, and refine their skills in the classroom. Tamy, Natalie, and Tricia all feel that they have become a better teacher as a result of participating in the program.
Gilmore College and Mandurah Public School – Dr Bill Bennett, Helen Haslam, and Klara Farka
‘There’s a cycle of stuff that goes on in low SES environments… for me, teaching is a way to try to give the kids an option. That’s why I came back to teach.’ - Dr Bill Bennett
The learning curve for beginning teachers is steep. When these initial experiences are coupled with the challenges of teaching in a low SES environment, an extra layer of complexity is applied. The enthusiasm of graduates subsequently plummets and is swiftly replaced with a focus upon survival.
The value of the Advocate, therefore, is particularly realised in low SES schools. Dr Bill Bennett, a PhD in Medical Biology and now High School science teacher at Gilmore College, gives testament to this contention:
‘Certainly, the Advocate system was a lifesaver. When it was very difficult, my Advocate was very understanding and very supportive.’
Helen Haslem and Klara Farka from Mandurah Public School similarly had positive experiences. Both teachers have taken value from undergoing sessions of classroom observation with their Advocate. According to Helen:
‘Having an Advocate observe my lessons allows me to draw upon extra wisdom, outside of the school.’
With stretched resources and restricted time, the GTIP ultimately reduces the load held by the schools. As commented by Klara:
‘It’s a massive workload anyway as a teacher, but when it’s new as an early career teacher, it feels even bigger.’
So while the intention of the GTIP isn’t to ‘fill a gap’ and nor should it replace support practices performed by the schools, it does provide an essential service – one that is especially necessary in low SES schools.