I’m sure any teacher would say the beginning of the school year is always an absolute whirlwind. It’s an exciting time imagining the challenges and successes of the teaching and learning journey ahead. Every teacher has their own story about what the start of the school year was like in their first year; welcome to a little snapshot of mine 🙂
Like many other graduates, I signed up for what I believe is the ultimate teaching adventure – teaching remote! In fact, my position is probably the most remote location in Queensland, on Saibai Island in the Torres Strait Islands, 4km from Papua New Guinea. My uplift went one month before school started, I packed my bags and after three consecutive plane rides I began what has been the adventure of a lifetime.
Being on a campus that is a part of a bigger college, my school was extremely efficient in providing support for all their first year teachers. In the week before school started, we had many professional development sessions going through all facets of teaching – curriculum planning, diagnostic, formative and summative assessment timelines, student tracking documents, behaviour management and literacy and numeracy programs. As well as this, the school provided contextualised inductions on teaching (and living) specifically in the Torres Straits – everything from cultural protocols and EAL/D learners, to how to buy power cards for electricity in your house!
But the fun really started when I entered my classroom. I think there’s only one way to describe it and that is ‘so much to do… so little time.’ This included everything from creating desk-mats, labels, subject covers, resources and attendance charts to rearranging desks and selecting areas of the classroom for a carpet area, reading corner, small group activity tables and a digital learning corner. Working out what behaviour management systems would work best, what attention grabber to use, what transitions might look like and how to put routines in place… As I said, so much to do, so little time! My biggest tip would definitely be to prioritise and set short term and long term goals. It is so hard to do everything well in your first year, so identify what is most crucial and maybe leave that classroom décor idea you saw on Pinterest for another day.
Then… the craziness started on the first day. In fact for me, the craziness lasted for the first week, the first term and probably the whole first year. Everything is new, and it’s exciting and terrifying at the same time. For me, having my very first Year 1/2 class, I felt (and still feel) a huge sense of responsibility and accountability for students’ progress and achievements. I felt that it was really important to have clear objectives for both curriculum learning and behaviour by the lesson, the week, the term and the year so my students, parents, school and I knew exactly what we were aiming towards. Within this, I strongly believe in the process of planning, implementing and reflecting continually and also celebrating what works and changing what doesn’t.
The school year is jam packed with so many events it can sometimes feel that there is no ‘normal’ week. Whether it be sporting events, parent teacher interviews, school fetes, Easter, Christmas, twilight sessions, parade items, school concerts, eisteddfods, swimming carnivals… the list goes on!
And then when you’ve moved more than 2,000km away from home to an island of 300 people, you learn a few extra tricks to have up your sleeve. Like how to change a gas bottle, how to light a hot water system, how to tie a fishing line, how to move like a Saibai dancer, how to survive when fresh fruit and veggies don’t arrive for 2 weeks and how to enjoy some of the most simple things in life for what they are.
Being a beginning teacher in a remote island school has been an incredible experience. It may be a cliché to say that you learn so much in your first year but it is completely true. It is hard work, extremely hard work, but also just as rewarding. For all those beginning teachers of 2017, who are working tirelessly day in and out to make a difference, take a deep breath and smile, because you’re not in this alone. Find the people in your teaching community who have sound advice and bring that positive energy. Let’s all support each other to make Queensland’s beginning teachers the best we can be!