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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, July 26 2021

Achieving Excellence as a Teacher - Staying the Distance.

We are currently in a crisis in public education.  Recent numbers from the Bureau of Statistics suggests 53% of people who hold a teaching degree do not currently work in education.  It is becoming more and more obvious that all the energy and enthusiasm beginning teachers brought to each school is quickly extinguished when the reality of the Department’s obsession with teacher accountability crushes their passion.  It has been estimated that 40% of graduates quit in the first five years, not to mention the growing numbers of experienced teachers walking away from their jobs.


‘In the good old days’ new teachers did get informal mentoring from more experienced colleagues.  They had time to absorb the life in a school. The whole-school relationships, so crucial in connecting to students was extended across all the schools’ personnel.  The school you were appointed to was already a community and you were welcomed in and supported without any ‘documented’ - forced support.  Now, with the advent of Professional Teaching Standards in 2011, all teachers, including those with extensive experience are burdened with administrative tasks that achieve nothing more that satisfy some framework that is supposed to verify their professionalism.  In reality, this is only busy work and the outcome does nothing more meaningful than some official recognition that the has teacher turned up. 


The down-side is that these experienced teachers have no time or energy to really support their beginning colleagues.  To survive those first years requires a personal investment to defeat those artificial obstacles erected by our leaders.  If you can do that you can still find the absolute joy that comes with teaching.


Most teachers have chosen their careers for good reasons, they want to teach but like all skills some possess more natural talent but that does not define anyone’s career.  To become a good teacher requires you to want to become a good teacher, it’s a mindset.


Carol Dweck Psychologist from Stanford University, author of ‘Every Student Has Something to Teach Me’ emphasises the importance of a teacher’s mindset.


For a start, don’t think your present skill set is fixed for all time, too many people think one or all of the following:

  • The type of teacher someone is, is predetermined, it cannot be changed, it is permanent
  • Teachers can change the way they teach in the classroom, but they can’t really change their true teaching ability
  • Some teachers will be ineffective no matter how hard they try to improve


If you have these types of beliefs you will inevitably become discouraged.  Instead of looking for ways to improve you will believe you’re not good enough!  Unfortunately, if this is you, you try to hide this perceived failure by avoiding opportunities to learn from others or observe examples of good practice.  In today’s climate, you will be ignored and destined to fail yourself and the children in your care.


This attitude reflects those of students who experience toxic shame (see Newsletter Toxic Shame - 18 August 2020).  The attitude of these kids is that when things go wrong it’s not that they made a mistake it is because they feel they are a mistake.  This leads them to adopt a series of faulty beliefs that they articulate through their self-talk (see Newsletter Faulty Beliefs – 6 April 2020).  For these teachers who think they are not ‘good enough’ their self-talk will be something like:

  • I’d be able to do this easily if I was a good teacher
  • I’ll never be as good as that teacher
  • I’ll never be able to get these students to learn this
  • If I take a risk and it doesn’t work out, I’ll lose your status/control/respect
  • You see, I took a risk and failed; don’t ever try that again. I’ll stick to what I know
  • Why not face the facts; I’m just cut out for this


Imagine if, in their pretraining and workplace T&D they were taught the following set of beliefs:

  • No matter how much natural ability you will always find ways to improve
  • Every teacher, no matter how good they are can significantly improve
  • The rewards of trying new teaching methods far outweighs the risk of making a mistake
  • It’s good to discuss my difficulties with others so I can learn from them  


We can all become better teachers if we display our humility instead of defending our reputation.  No one’s perfect, no lesson is perfect that’s because teachers and students are people so be honest with yourself!  When the kids see you wanting to learn you are modelling the very behaviour you want them to adopt.


In the last Newsletter (Just Say No – Not So Easy - 19 July 2021) I outlined the difficulty in getting the time to carry-out all the demands placed on teachers and I suggested that you should prioritise the tasks you really do need to complete.  On top of this list is the work you do for your students, in the classroom, preparation, assessment, etc.  After this I would aim for continually improving of my teaching skills.  To do this you need to:

  • Take every opportunity to engage in appropriate T&D, read more professional literature, and constantly be on the lookout for new ideas and teaching techniques.
  • Observe other teachers, in my early career I identified an outstanding teacher, Neil Gower and he became my mentor without knowing it.  I watched him every chance I got. He was always willing to share his knowledge with me and anyone else.  Knowing Neil, he would not have been a fan of the prescribed mentoring that really misses that relational connection, he was a practitioner!
  • Confront your problems head-on and ask for help.  This is a sign of strength not weakness!


As I stated at the beginning of this Newsletter, too many of our young teachers are leaving, driven out by the meaningless bureaucracy and tedious administration demands and I suspect the decision to leave has been made more easily because they don’t understand that teaching is not easy, sure some find it easier than others but ask any experienced teacher about their first years and they will recount the levels of exhaustion they experienced at the end of every day.


So, you have a choice, even when you are overwhelmed remind yourself, if you want to succeed you will have to make an effort.  It’s hard but doable and even though you will never be perfect some days, in some lessons, with some kids you will experience a joy and satisfaction that money can’t buy.  Remember, when this happens, and it will if you keep going, you have earned that moment and no bureaucrat can take that away from you!  And, for a bonus that kid or those kids will share in that victory!

Posted by: AT 08:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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