Monday, October 4, 2010

Why supervising teachers should also get reports on THEIR progress.

Apparently, Australia has a shortage of teachers. So much so that my university offered all my maths subjects free of any charge or debt if I did them as part of a science/teaching double degree.

Wages for beginning teachers have been increased over the past couple of years and a program called “Teach For Australia is being introduced, which fast-tracks people who are doing well at their university degrees but are not taking a teaching degree so that they might be tempted into the profession to boost numbers.

There has never been a better time to become a teacher.

Given this “crisis”, one would think that experienced teachers who take on students teachers would want to do everything in their power to ensure that said students have the best possible experience and advice, kind of like your own personal Yoda for several weeks, guiding you and teaching you the Secret Ways of the Teacher. It creates images which are all very heartwarming and Zen. Unfortunately, this is not always so.

I know a few people who, in recent years, have had bad enough experiences with their supervising teachers to put them off teaching for a long time (if not altogether) and even I, amazing and wonderful and charming as I am, was not immune to poor treatment which resulted in a considerable drop in confidence. 

During this teaching round, I was at a reasonably well-to-do government school (that’s a big part of your problem right there; the well-to-do ones are even more prone to snobbery than a lot of private schools) in Melbourne, with reasonably good academic results (even more prone to snobbery again; I had some bad experiences in snobby government schools, can you tell?).
Many thanks to Oolon Colluphid for this one!
I had two supervising teachers, one who was getting close to retirement and another who was probably at least a decade older than he appeared. The first problem I had at this school was the issue of how many lessons to teach. The discrepancy went as follows:

University guideline: 1 lesson per day
Assumed lesson length: 50min

School lesson length: 78min
School insisted that I:  still teach 1 lesson per day

The result was that instead of teaching 500min ( or 8hrs and 20min) in total, I ended up teaching 750min (or 12hrs, 30min). This is a huge difference.

I did call the university to get their permission to teach fewer classes given the length of the period, but this had no effect on my supervisors, who also actually said they "didn't care" about the fact that I still had Science subjects running at uni which I needed to work on. It was at this point that I really should have called the university again.

Priorities. You don't can haz.

I ended up being at the school for 10 whole days, plus dropping in on an extra four (so that’s 14 days out of the 15 I had a choice in) in order to teach as many periods as my supervisors wanted me to. When I was talking to them to arrange this, I had my main supervisor (the older woman) tell me “That’s not acceptable; you’re not going to get much of a feel for the school if you’re just swanning in and out!”

Even after I counted out the 10 whole days I’d be there, she still wrote in my report that she didn’t feel I was “dedicated” to my teaching round, because I insisted on actually helping with the field research required for a group project in a university subject.

This is my Incredulous Face.
My other supervising teacher. Hmm. Ok. Reasons to be away during your student teacher's round:

  1. Death of a parent
  2. Death of a sibling
  3. Severe illness
  4. Moderate but highly contageous illness
  5. Severe injury
  6. Imprisonment, lawful or otherwise
  7. Suprise Conscription into Military Service
Reasons not to be away during your student teacher's round:
  1. You changed your mind and don't feel like it any more
  2. You arranged to take your Long Service Leave across that time period
  3. You arranged to be on a school camp that same week 
  4. Pretty much any reason that isn't covered under the first list
This guy was first away because his mother died (fair enough), THEN away because he decided to go on camp (NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!) He saw me teach exactly three of his classes. The last class he saw me teach had to be a fortnight later, because there was just no friggin' way I could get all those lessons done in the 3 weeks.

I contacted him a week in advance, and I emailed him twice asking him to send me information on what his class would be doing so that I could prepare. He did not tell me until the morning of the class I was meant to teach. He then wrote in my report that I was disorganised. This despite the fact that I managed to do 14 days of rounds AND a whole research project... He may as well have just written my report by writing about what the weather was like AT CAMP, that's how relevant it was.

I wasn’t failed, but the mark they gave me was close. The university called me up to speak to me about this, and upon hearing about my experience they had nothing to say except that I should contact them sooner if I have this kind of trouble again.

So, student teachers out there: Do not sit back and put up with horrible treatment from your supervisors. We need you, and your university will help you if you’re being treated unfairly!

Don’t let bitter people who either have an axe to grind or just have no clue destroy your confidence, and do not let them deter you from such an important job. They don’t have the right to treat you unfairly, and you have every right to complain if they do.


  1. I think some people just become terribly short-sighted when they've known nothing but their one job for years and years. Poor you :(

  2. See, I just wonder why they bothered to take me on, if they weren't going to actually offer support. I don't think that they get paid all that much more for having a student teacher on board...