The Staffroom: Busting the myths about teachers
By Jane Caro
Posted 18 Aug 2017, 6:10amFri 18 Aug 2017, 6:10am
When Jane Caro visited Canley Vale High School in Sydney’s south-western suburbs to film ABC TV’s The Staffroom, one question in particular struck a nerve with the teachers there.
That question was about the common myths about teaching. Here’s what she learned:
‘Teachers only work from nine to three’
The groan that went around the jam-packed Canley Vale staffroom in response came from the gut.
Teachers are involved in face-to-face teaching for five hours a day plus supervision at recess, lunchtime and roll call.
That can mean anything from four to eight classes a day, depending on the length of the period.
But that is only one part of the work they do.
Teachers must prepare every lesson they teach — up to eight a day, remember?
Another myth is that the curriculum provides the lessons. It doesn’t, it simply prescribes what outcomes students must meet within two years. It’s up to teachers how they get there.
They must mark every task they set. Given that most classes contain 30 kids, that is 140-240 pieces of work. They must write reports and keep parents informed, and plan excursions, student performances and presentations.
They must prepare for and attend staff and faculty meetings.
They must research and keep up to date with their subject, not to mention account for everything they do in the classroom to keep the Department of Education satisfied.
Plus, because they care about their students, they often lie awake at night wondering how they can help any that seem to be struggling.
One teacher who features in The Staffoom has gone part-time because she could no longer work until 1:30am while rising at 6:00am.
‘Teachers get 12 weeks holiday a year’
Teachers use most of their holidays on lesson preparation for the coming term.
They write tests and exams, prepare assignment tasks, undertake professional development and catch up with marking and research.
One teacher estimated she spent 75 per cent of her “holidays” working.
Another said he only ever had a break during the Christmas holidays.
Everything is online now, so students can and do contact their teachers any time of the day or night and all through the holidays.
If a teacher has HSC students they often go into the school during the holidays to help them prepare for the exam.
‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’
All but two of the six hero teachers in the series have had other jobs.
One was a research scientist who continues to get emailed job offers.
Another worked in the music industry and mixed with the rich and famous.
A third was an engineer and another a scientist.
All of them came to teaching because they felt dissatisfied with their previous occupations.
All of them are passionate about their work and do their job because they love making a real difference — they actively choose to be teachers.
‘Teachers just deliver content’
Teachers must prepare their own lessons, taking into account 30 different individuals, all with their own different learning styles and levels of achievement — not to mention lives.
They must engage, entertain and inform all the kids they teach and develop a meaningful relationship with each child, including many they do not directly teach.
They must adjust their lessons to work for the real, flesh-and-blood kids they face and sometimes, if something unexpected occurs, they must spin on a dime and improvise a new lesson at a moment’s notice.
‘Teachers are just glorified child-minders’
Classroom management is one of the most challenging parts of a teacher’s job, particularly in the early years of their career.
As one teacher says, it is something that cannot be understood in theory — it can only be learnt in practice.
For useful learning to occur, teachers must create a lively but respectful classroom where children can learn and discover at their own pace and in their own way.
There is nothing easy about this.