This feature was created in partnership with Charles Sturt University, which has supported the launch of our new section, Women’s Health News, and has a huge range of study options available for those interesting in exploring new careers and opportunities.
Teachers experienced their most transformative year in 2020 as they fought to hold together the country’s education system during the international pandemic.
While the challenges impacting both teachers and students were immense, the opportunities emerging from those hurdles will benefit the education system in the long-term. Some unexpected opportunities arising from 2020, such as broadening the teaching workforce and working “smarter, not harder” have already changed the way teachers work.
The value of teachers was also brought into the spotlight. The Victorian Government, for example, has employed approximately 4100 teaching proffessionals as tutors in 2021 to support students in catching up on learning they may have missed during the pandemic. The $250 million initiative has seen many older teachers taking a break from the workforce, part-time or CRT teachers other teaching support staff take up the new roles. You can read more about the scheme here.
Women’s Agenda spoke to three teachers from primary and secondary schools, about their personal experiences: from how they managed remote learning, the challenges of 2020 and the unforeseen opportunities that have improved the way they work and that students’ learn.
On early childhood education, which also experienced a transformative year (albeit in different ways), we also spoke to Tamara Cummings from Charles Sturt University’s School of Teacher Education. She shared how 2020 finally saw early childhood educators recognised as the “essential workers” that they are – but noted how much more now needs to be done to support the overall health and wellbeing of those in this sector, particularly as we need an additional 10,000 early childhood educators over the next three years.
Eloise Meyer, a performing arts and religion teacher in a Catholic school in Victoria describes 2020 as “one of the most exhausting experiences” of her life. During the year, Victorian schools were in lock down twice, accounting for months of home learning.
Like many teachers, Meyer juggled the challenging of teaching while supervising her own children in home learning. She is also studying her Masters in education leadership and is secretary of the Victorian Wood Chopping Association.
“I would say 2020 was all about constantly reinventing yourself … you would get used to the idea of doing something, then it would change. It was exhausting and challenging, but it certainly made everyone think outside the box.”
As a specialist teacher, it was particularly difficult to connect with students and parents without face-to-face contact and setting a timetable that all students could complete with limited resources at home.
“As teachers, we have expectations and ways of doing things…that was completely thrown out the window. We needed to constantly reinvent ourselves and what we were doing,” she said.
She said in her experience, teachers had one of two different mindsets: there were those who accepted the challenge of being creative and doing things differently and those who “put it all in the too hard basket”. Eloise, for example, was forced to re-think her entire approach on return to classroom teaching when students returned to school. Rather than teaching in her purpose-built performing arts room, student needed to remain at their desks in their homerooms. There was very limited use of equipment and instruments and singing was “out of the question.”
Lockdown also forced teachers to work together more closely and develop models for home learning, which improved communication among staff, Eloise says. It led them to consider different approaches to learning that might not have been otherwise considered.
“Teachers had to be very clear about their expectations – the teaching had to be very targeted towards an individual child’s needs,” she says. “Home learning also gave many parents a better understanding of where their child was at with their learning – something they might not have not really known before the pandemic.”
“2021 will have a focus of reconnecting the school community. Hopefully we can also solidify all the new things we have learned too.”
Jodie Warner a secondary school teacher and teacher librarian from Victoria says while the first lockdown was seen as “somewhat of a novelty” and manageable, the second lockdown was much more arduous, especially when it came to motivation. 2020 was also a juggle personally for Jodie, who managed the home learning of three young children while she and her husband “tag teamed” parenting and worked from home.
Jodie admits she quite liked remote teaching. As a librarian she is well-versed in electronic resources and many of her students coped well with remote learning. She said, like most teachers, she needed to get creative in the activities she set for students. “There were no behaviour management issues either, as kids were working from home, so they could focus on their learning.”
While there were some benefits to home learning, the social element of teaching, which is “critical to the role”, was hugely missed by teachers and students alike, Jodie says. “In many ways people craved things to go back to normal,” she says. “Checking in with each other, face-to-face, is still important.”
She believes many schools learned a lot throughout the challenges of 2020. For example, technologies like Zoom are now commonly used by both teachers and students. Jodie’s school will now permanently use Zoom for parent teacher interviews, which were previously a logistical nightmare for both the school and parents. It’s a less complicated option for working parents and separated families, she says, while parents who prefer face-to-face will still have an option to meet in person.
Hannah Trewartha, a teacher and instrumental music specialist, experienced of teaching in the new “COVID normal” environment in more ways than one. She not only maintained her role of a music teacher during Melbourne’s Stage 4 lockdown, but she managed the school’s daily organisation for emergency teachers and led a “call around” wellbeing program to check-in regularly with other teachers.
In January Hannah moved from Melbourne to Broome, Western Australia to set up a new school music program. When she spoke to Women’s Agenda she was undertaking 14 days of hotel quarantine.
“The first week was fine, but I feel the last few days have been terrible. It’s not a great thing isolation…but it’s worth it for the role.”
Hannah has spent the fortnight learning to play the guitar, getting ahead with her school planning for the coming year and reflecting on 2020.
“I think many teachers felt the burden of preparing work. As teachers, a lot of our knowledge is in and mind – we see a child working on something and we suggest things – we don’t necessarily right it all down, you just do it. With homeschooling it was a case of teachers needing to problem solve and think ahead before a problem had even occurred.”
Hannah says while incredibly tiring and daunting, the learning curve for technology personal development was huge. “I learnt things about creating content and editing in four days that would have usually taken two years.” For Hannah, that included creating regular engaging videps and songs – mostly in archepella style – for her students, and many hours sitting in front of her computer.
The pandemic also meant that professional development opportunities for teachers expanded immensely, according to Hannah. “All of a sudden all of these overseas PDs were available at quite affordable prices thanks to platforms like Zoom.”
Melbourne’s lockdowns, Hannah says, had nothing to do with her choice to pursue a new role in Western Australia, however her new confidence in talking to people on platforms like Zoom certainly helped with the interview process.
“I think most teachers who have been through this are far more comfortable with using this technology now,” she says. “I just hope we can ensure that these skills are maintained and built on. There is a risk that teachers could fall back into comfort zones and that would be a shame.”
If you’re rethinking your career and considering further study, you can check out Charles Sturt University’s post graduate options here.