In fact I didn’t want to so much that when in Year 12 the testing program suggested ‘Teacher’ (of various kinds) as the top four of 50 possible jobs I was best suited to, I rejected the entire system as flawed and maintained that cynicism for years!
Imagine my surprise then, when seven years later I found myself in the office of a career advisor and … yup, teaching came up again.
Reflecting on it now, five years into my career, I’ve realised that initially I didn’t want to pursue teaching because I didn’t know what I was teaching for. As a teenager I didn’t have a vision or purpose for my now very much chosen career.
Yet having one, as I do now, it is a constant source of both inspiration and motivation to develop my career path in education into the foreseeable future.
I sat down with a number of young teachers recently, to find out what's making them tick. Interestingly, among those interviewed, having a vision for the future is likewise a common inspiration among the next generation of educators.
This vision stems from a few key factors, namely: a passion for one’s own learning and growth, a desire to change and innovate in a system that seems out of sync with the needs of their students and, underpinning it all, the value placed on quality relationships with both students and colleagues.
For many young teachers (in age and/or experience) the passion for ongoing learning lies not only in terms of their KLA, but also for themselves as individuals (on journey of personal and professional development.)
Oliver Lovell, like most young educators, is fuelled by his own journey of realising that the “really empowering thing to do is help people learn for themselves as there’s just no way that I’m going to have all the answers”.
Many teachers I’ve interviewed expressed a sentiment similar to educators already well established in their career, such as David Cook, a professional of over 25 years expressed, that education was “not just a job”, more so, a vocational calling.
However, overall they were highly cognizant that classroom teaching would continue for them only so long as they felt it also aligned with their personal growth. For Ellana Costa, despite a genuine passion and sense of fulfillment in her career choice, “being a teacher doesn’t fulfill everything” needed in this life.
“I wanted to give kids the opportunity to learn from someone who was passionate about their teaching”, she says.
“What I can at least give them is all of me in the classroom.”
Ultimately though, Costa feels she will grow into a position that integrates her skills and interests in both education and theatre.
For early career teachers, their step in education was thus both a ‘calling’, and also vehicle for them to contribute the best of themselves, their interests and passions, to the world in service of others.
However, while all of them felt their professional journey would in all likelihood evolve beyond the classroom walls, it would always, as for Costa, remain within the realm of education.
To that end, and with surprising consistency, these teachers all share the same dream, to at some point open their own school (and there I was thinking I was the only one!).
Inherent to this ‘dream’ is the common vision of creating a new learning culture for current generations of students.
A culture which Raelene Giffney suggests should step away from “being stuck in a Victorian Era of schooling” and move towards one in which school is a place which emphasises mastery over age/cohort progression, which she feels is a system better suited to the actual learning needs of students.
“In other areas of life”, such as arts or sport, she says, “you’re allowed to be where you’re at, but in school you move along with your cohort regardless of mastery.”
In addition to this, Giffney also echoed the common narrative among young teachers that school was “not just a place for imparting knowledge or being a holder of information”, or even for just developing essential skills such as critical and informed thinking, but something ‘more’ – a place where we learn how to ‘be’ as people.
For Lovell, school is a space in which teachers model “how to be human”.
“If I can represent a peaceful disposition and keep my cool, even if a kid is getting worked up, that in itself is something these kids wouldn’t have seen,” he says.
That in itself can be an eye opener to other possible ways of relating for his students.
Likewise Costa, using her background of theatre and storytelling, weaves a narrative through her history lessons to help students feel “empowered rather than overwhelmed” in contemporary society.
While the idea that school culture shapes students attitudes, behavior and disposition is not a new one, professional conversation about the importance of conscientiously constructing that culture seemingly is.
Largely focused on creating a learning culture for young people, these teachers aim to help students develop as compassionate and globally engaged citizens today, and into the future.
All the more so given the challenges they believe current students will have to face in that future, and the opportunities offered by education to address them.
These include variously the need for greater respect and compassion, particularly given the current social and political climate of our globalised world and the growing need for developing ‘enterprise skills’ necessary for the future of work.
Costa’s implicit and consistent focus for her students is the understanding and experience that “we are all human beings and we need to love, and if not love then at least care”.
It was particularly interesting to see that this sentiment that formal education has grown beyond its role in merely imparting knowledge, stemmed from not only idealism but also their lived experiences.
Giffney entered the profession two years ago after a career in accounting followed by a doctorate in Biology.
Now as a biology and science teacher, she confesses to still “enjoy the process of learning” and having experienced all sectors of formal education from preschool to university, as well as a private college for her accounting diploma, she bases her perception of the changing role of education on the evolution (no pun intended) of her learning experiences in these various institutions over the years.
Seemingly, then, despite possible evidence to the contrary, the ‘system’ is starting to catch on to the understanding that education is a platform for teaching people, not just information.
And teaching people means forming relationships.
Young teachers are highly inspired by the close relationships we form within the profession, both with students and colleagues.
While schools focus on preparing you for the future, Lovell reminds his students “Well no, we’re living right now and these are some of the best years of your life so lets have a great time together and learn as well.”
However, despite these attitudes towards themselves, their students and their career, it is often disheartening for many when these relationships, particularly on the professional level are not fulfilling or even worse, as one teacher stated, “older teachers undermine the enthusiasm and ideas of younger teachers”.
This sentiment further highlighted the need for establishing a strong and meaningful mentoring culture within education.
Sarah Piggott, who is now in her fourth year of teaching, says “that should be the role of the school exec, to lead on a professional not just administrative level”.
Overall, almost all the teachers I spoke with, also acknowledged the importance of having inspiring colleagues (not necessarily senior to them) and colleagial relationships which include meaningful (rather than administrative) professional conversations as something that sustained their inspiration on those days when their vision for education seemed slightly further out of reach.
My guess at this point is that this is nothing new for the passionate educator among us, but it is still perhaps, inspiring to know that younger teachers are entering the profession with a clear vision of the world they wish to create.
They’re inspired to encourage others with their passion for learning, (and true to Millennial values) wanting to engage in meaningful work and preparing students for an unknown future (with the disposition to choose kindheartedness as a genuine response to others), driven by an authentic desire to achieve this through genuine, collaborative relationships they form with colleagues and the students they believe they have the fortune of teaching.
Knowing what we are working ‘for’ is essential to build one’s sense of inspiration in life.
For this teacher, I find it inspiring to be among a cohort of educators working for something so worthwhile.