Meet our teachers
Hear from beginning teachers, teacher retrainees who have found a new lease on their careers, teachers who have risen to leadership roles. They all have a fascinating story to tell about their teaching career.
Grant Lloyd believes there are great opportunities for teachers in rural NSW
A decade ago, Grant Lloyd was working in the printing industry in Sydney when he re-evaluated his career options. Grant decided to study to become a teacher through a retraining program offered by the Department.
As part of the program, Grant had to nominate for his final appointment areas of NSW where the need for teachers was high. "I was quite happy about that, because I really wanted a change from the city life style and I was looking at going rural, so it was fine".
Grant finished his degree in mathematics and was appointed to West Wyalong High School.
Grant had family living in rural NSW and spent time with them during his childhood, so country living was familiar to him. Moving from the hustle and bustle of city life to West Wyalong, Grant has embraced living and working in the county. "It's fantastic. Being a country teacher is great. You really get the best of both worlds, you've got the society you live in, the country feel, the community. I guess you can say it's laid back but it's really a great environment."
Working in the country has not only provided Grant with these lifestyle advantages. He has also discovered there are excellent promotional opportunities for teachers. After around five years as a mathematics teacher he gained a promotion to Head Teacher Mathematics. He has had other leadership opportunities as well, including as relieving Deputy Principal. "I think there are definitely more opportunities for promotion as long as you're willing to take that step and move" says Grant.
Grant has a message for young teachers. "The opportunities are out here in the country and it's just a matter of taking them. Come out and experience it for yourself, it's fantastic. It's a great environment to live in and it's a great environment to teach in."
Christopher was inspired by the relationships in a novel studied in Year 7
When he was in Year 7, Christopher Scobie read Tim Winton's Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo. In the novel, the character of Lockie moves to a small coastal town where he has trouble settling in, but builds a connection with the school counsellor through their shared love of surfing.
The book sparked an interest in school counselling for Christopher, ‘who was inspired by the connection they made and the role a school counsellor plays in the welfare of students.'
Although Christopher originally trained as a primary school teacher, qualifying with a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology major) and Diploma of Education (Primary), he considered the role of school counsellor to be his dream job, one he had aspired to for fifteen years. While working at Deniliquin High School, the District Guidance Officer told Christopher about the NSW Department of Education and Communities School Counsellor Retraining Programs. ‘I think because I did undergraduate psychology I have always had counselling in mind,' Christopher says.
His successful application for the retraining program allowed Christopher to pursue his dream role, be paid while he studied and receive a guaranteed job as a school counsellor at the end of his training.
Now in his fourth year as a school counsellor, Christopher is glad he took this career path. ‘As a School Counsellor you are able to build up therapeutic relationships with students and get to know them really well. They become comfortable in your presence, and you get to aid them through difficult times in their lives as well. Feeling that you are being helpful to them and supporting them through difficult situations is a really satisfying feeling. Being able to support teachers and parents through supporting students with specific learning needs can be very satisfying as well.'
A principal who believes in the transformational power of teachers and schools
Jihad Dib is the respected Principal of Punchbowl Boys High School. A firm believer in the power of teachers and schools to transform the lives of their students, he is widely acknowledged for his outstanding contributions to education, particularly in south western Sydney.
Punchbowl Boys High School has a culturally diverse student population and caters for the educational and social needs of boys. It's a vibrant and energetic place, which under Jihad's leadership has firmly established a positive learning environment and built community confidence. The school places an emphasis on the whole person, with academic studies partnered with teaching the students how to be good citizens. This highly successful focus has resulted in many awards, including the achievement of a National Literacy and Numeracy Award and a Director-General's Award.
Even as a teenager, Jihad knew he wanted to work with people. ‘I definitely had a passion to be involved,' he says. ‘I knew that I would be doing something to help people. As a student I had always been involved in the SRC and been involved in the organisation of things.'
Although his parents hoped he would study law at university, Jihad chose a different path. His passion for people led him to teaching, and through his excellent results and clear aptitude he was appointed as a targeted graduate to Ulladulla High School as an English and History teacher. Over his six years there, he took on year advising and relieving head teacher roles and appreciated that he was making a difference. But during his last years there he felt a nagging sense of guilt.
‘At the same time in Sydney,' Jihad says, ‘parts of western Sydney particularly, parts that are heavily populated with students from my cultural background, were really struggling.' He believed he should be there, using his skills, doing something to help. ‘I didn't know if they were missing a positive role model and maybe I wasn't the person who could be it, but I needed to try.'
Jihad quickly realised it was the right move. ‘I knew that I was making a difference, I knew that I was connecting with the kids, I knew that I was connecting with the community and that gave me confidence.'
When he was 33 years old, as the new Principal of Punchbowl Boys High School, Jihad became one of the youngest principals in the state.
He is excited about what has been achieved since that day in 2007, through the support and shared sense of purpose in the school and broader community. Expectations have lifted, and more students are aiming for further education at university. ‘Punchbowl Boys High School, when people speak about that school now, they don't talk about it and look away, they actually talk about it with a sense of pride.'
One of the strengths of the school is its tightly knit community with its focus on supporting each student to achieve his best. ‘We believe in our visions … So what's the biggest difference that we've made? We've made things really consistent, really clear; we follow every single thing up. It's not waffle. We talk it, then we do it and we see the results and we celebrate it, and our morale is testimony to that.'
The results are tangible. NAPLAN results have improved, school pride is high, and of last year's Year 12 cohort, 66% of student went on to further education.
The vision and success of Punchbowl Boys High School has been supported and celebrated by many high profile guests. In recent months, Punchbowl Boys High School has hosted visits by Ita Buttrose, Australian of the Year 2013, and by the Honourable Bob Carr, the Honourable Tony Burke and well-known sporting and media figures.
Unsurprisingly, Jihad is a staunch supporter of public education and its positive impacts. He is passionate about extending opportunities to all students, without regard for their economic or cultural background. ‘It's a very inclusive system … public education stands for those egalitarian values that we as a nation value above and beyond anything else. That sense of a fair go and that sense that everybody will have an opportunity regardless of what they believe in, regardless of their gender, regardless of their financial background.'
As a teacher with the NSW Department of Education and Communities, Jihad says, ‘the great thing about it is that you could be anywhere. You could work in a coeducational setting, you can work in a selective setting, you can work in a special setting, you can work in a single sex setting like I have, you can work in the inner city, the urban areas and then you've got the regions. It's a privilege to work in the public system and certainly to be a teacher is something that not many people get to experience and I take it quite seriously because it is an absolute privilege.'
He encourages teachers who want to inspire students and help lead them to a better future to come to south western Sydney, where the students have ‘the potential to become so wonderful, but what they need is people who believe in them.'
Although Jihad has achieved many successes as Principal of Punchbowl Boys High School, ultimately it's not about him, it's about the students. ‘The reason I went into teaching was so I could make a real, genuine difference and serve, hopefully, to inspire young people to become the best people that they can.'
A school counsellor who works within a dynamic network to support students
After completing a Bachelor of Science with a major in Psychology at Macquarie University, Jemima Shafei-Ongu set her sights on teaching. Jemima completed a Master of Teaching (Primary) through the University of Sydney in 1999 and says, ‘Through this great course, I developed a passion to impart a love of learning to children.'
For a number of years Jemima worked as a temporary and casual teacher in primary schools, during which time she learnt about the NSW Department of Education and Communities School Counsellor Retraining Programs. Jemima's temporary teaching engagements enabled her to provide the required principal and referee reports to confirm her teaching aptitude, and she says ‘everyone was encouraging' during the application process. The first step was the completion of the written application with supporting documentation and this was followed by an interview.
Jemima completed her post-graduate retraining through the University of Wollongong in 2009. Of her role as school counsellor, she says, ‘I find it a very honourable position to be in. I have direct access to students, especially young children, who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society, providing them with access to the support they so desperately need and deserve. I love my role as a school counsellor and working in schools gives me the opportunity to work with schools and families in a way that best meets the needs of the students and the school.'
Now with a few years of experience, Jemima is happy with her decision to retrain as a school counsellor and has completed her registration to become a psychologist. ‘I enjoy working with dynamic and amazing counsellors who bring a great variety of skills to schools and to the profession we work in. I have a fabulous team of colleagues who I find to be very supportive and resourceful.'
Created new career options by retraining in mathematics
Kylie Carson is a mathematics teacher at Concord High School, a position she gained after retraining through the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities Mathematics Retraining Program.
Initially trained as a HSIE teacher, Kylie was teaching mathematics on a temporary engagement when she learned about the mathematics retraining program. As a high school student Kylie had always liked studying mathematics, and through her casual and temporary teaching experiences she discovered how much she enjoyed teaching mathematics too. ‘I love maths and through my casual teaching and my blocks teaching maths I actually discovered, because I had a passion for it and I liked teaching it, that the kids kind of fell behind me and went "oh we like it too",' Kylie says.
Eligibility requirements for the mathematics retraining program include current full-time approval to teach in NSW government schools, satisfactory completion of Higher School Certificate Mathematics at 2 Unit related level or equivalent, at least two years successful teaching experience and a willingness to work as a mathematics teacher in an area of staffing need. In addition, Kylie says, ‘The application required me to get referees from a principal and two other colleagues who had either seen me teach maths or had seen me teach in other environments.'
Kylie believes that being a good teacher means ‘you have to know your subject content. That's really critical.' She adds that ‘being personable with young people makes a really big difference.'
Kylie asserts that the most effective learning experiences stem from the positive impact of teachers on their students. ‘If you like being there and being in the classroom, they're going to like being there. You want to see them, they'll want to come in and see you. It's just how it is.'
His own mathematics teacher at school noted his aptitude for explaining mathematical concepts
Ali Elzein is a mathematics teacher at Punchbowl Boys High School, a small comprehensive high school in south western Sydney that is experiencing significant improvements in academic outcomes. For Ali, his path to mathematics teaching started with a ‘passion for mathematics from a young age' and turned into an aspiration to teach others about mathematics.
As a high school student Ali was usually ahead of his class in mathematics and in Years 11 and 12 he would often get up and explain mathematical concepts to the rest of the class. His teacher would tell him, ‘You will be a maths teacher one day,' and in many ways this teacher was an inspiration to Ali through his enthusiasm and enjoyment of teaching mathematics.
Ali's tertiary qualifications include a Bachelor of Science (Pharmacology) and a Master of Teaching (Mathematics and Science) from the University of Sydney. ‘When I finished high school and began university, I was still tossing between teaching and pharmacy. I ended up choosing teaching because I wanted to make a difference to people's lives … I made the right choice.'
Ali is currently acting as head teacher mathematics, a role he enjoys. In the future he hopes to be a permanent head teacher of mathematics, as he likes the way the role allows him ‘to teach in class but also be active in the whole school learning environment.'
‘Teaching is a brilliant profession,' Ali concludes. ‘Becoming a teacher means you get the chance to teach future generations and make a difference in people's lives.'
Loved learning mathematics, now loves teaching it
Najah Elhassan teaches mathematics at Punchbowl Boys High School, a comprehensive high school with a culturally diverse student population in south western Sydney. As a student, teaching was always something Najah wanted to do. ‘I was very fortunate throughout high school and throughout my schooling to have really good teachers. I've always enjoyed maths,' Najah says. She holds a combined Bachelor of Education (Secondary Mathematics) and Bachelor of Science from the University of Sydney.
Some of the traits Najah considers necessary to be an effective teacher are ‘empathy, patience, a strong presence, concrete understanding of the subject being delivered, exceptional communication skills and a lot of energy!'
Najah believes that teaching in south western Sydney requires the same skills as anywhere else. ‘The students at other schools have the same needs as the students that we have here. Nothing changes. You still need to scaffold for them, you still need to have that positive reinforcement. Everything needs to be thorough.'
‘Students are students no matter where you are,' Najah says. ‘They love positivity, they love it and they love to see outcomes from it and I find that very rewarding.'
Recently Najah was gratified to see one of her Year 9 students, who had struggled with mathematics in the past, ‘light up when I told him his mark for his exam. This was the first exam that I had this year and he passed with flying colours ... he was overjoyed.'
For Najah, the best part of her job is interacting with her students. ‘Each student has something to offer and in many ways my students teach me as much as I teach them. I love seeing them mature and really learn to value all aspects of their education.'
Enjoys the career rewards of teaching science in Sydney's south west
Wendy Chan is an enthusiastic science teacher at Punchbowl Boys High School, a small comprehensive high school in south western Sydney. Her strong belief in the value of public education stems from her positive experiences as a student and now extends to the significant rewards she enjoys as a teacher.
After completing a Bachelor of Science and Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary) at the University of New South Wales, Wendy gained her teaching approval and sought casual work at a number of schools, including the school where she completed her practicum experience. ‘Every school has its own community and by doing casual at different schools it gives you that opportunity to see what the community is like.'
She also recommends casual and temporary teaching as beneficial for any new teacher ‘to put into perspective what it is you've learnt, the knowledge side of things … and see what your strengths and weaknesses are. You begin that reflective journey where every day you'll be learning something new, you'll be experiencing something very different.'
Wendy enjoys teaching science because it has relevance to every aspect of students' lives and helps them learn about their world and how things work. She believes it's also a very practical subject which ‘helps enhance the learning experience for the students because it's hands on and they can figure things out and do things that they usually wouldn't be able to do.'
A strong advocate for her profession, Wendy says, ‘I don't think there's any other career where you can actually help the people of the future, the children of our community become successful, confident individuals who will one day contribute well back into the community.'
Changed direction to teach mathematics – and hasn't looked back
Matthew Dawson believes teachers ‘must firstly and most importantly genuinely care about their students', and his enthusiasm made him eager to get into the classroom and start teaching.
When Matthew received his teaching approval, he immediately approached schools and secured work as a casual teacher at Kellyville High School, in western Sydney. ‘Going out and actually teaching and being given a class, being left alone in the class and having to apply those skills … I found it really beneficial for my teaching ability. That's how I got my first temporary job.'
Initially Matthew hoped to become a PDHPE teacher, but after realising it was tough to find a PDHPE position, he decided to pursue his other love, mathematics. When he learned that mathematics was an area of staffing need it cemented his decision.
Matthew recommends getting into the classroom as soon as possible to extend the skills learnt at university, to build up experience and to forge relationships with schools, all of which are valuable when looking for temporary or permanent positions.
Matthew completed his Master of Educational Studies (Mathematics) over one year, studying externally through the University of Newcastle while teaching in a temporary position during the day. He now has a permanent position as a mathematics teacher at Model Farms High School, and he enjoys it immensely.
'I love maths and I love doing it. I prefer it over PE now. I will take a maths class any day over a PE class. I just love the structure and love how the answer is right or wrong and a student's face when you explain something and they say "Oh, I get it now" … seeing that light just shine is just fantastic. I really enjoy it.'
Sport hasn't been neglected, with Matthew able to pursue his interests by regularly coaching both a grade team and a knock-out team at school.
Matthew's advice to anyone thinking about teaching mathematics is to ‘realise that it's a really good subject to teach. It's a very structured classroom … I highly recommend it.'
Found a rewarding new career path in special education
Boshko Maksimovic is passionate about the education of students with a disability. Originally a teacher of English and history, Boshko discovered his love of teaching special education when he undertook a temporary engagement as a support teacher.
‘The day to day challenges or rewards that came up during my first year in 2006 as a support teacher, there's just too many to name every single one, but by the end of 2006 I knew this is what I wanted to do.'
In 2007, over one year while working three days a week, Boshko completed a Master of Education in Special Education at the University of Sydney. ‘The wealth of knowledge I learned by doing that course I felt prepared me to become the best support teacher I could be.'
After working as a permanent support teacher for three years, during which time he also undertook the role of Year 7 Adviser, Boshko successfully applied for Head Teacher Special Education at Model Farms High School. The support unit consists of two specialist classes for students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger's Syndrome and one specialist class for students who have a moderate intellectual disability. Boshko leads a team of classroom teachers and School Learning Support Officers who provide academic programs and help develop skills and strategies to support the emotional wellbeing of the students. ‘I've got a great team that I work with … and we are all on the same page in terms of our expectations for the students and it's the best job you could ask for.'
‘The rewards I gain every day from my job cannot be quantified. I feel immense job satisfaction and passion, and feel like I have the ability to make a positive difference in making these young people as independent and socially conversant as is possible before they leave at the end of Year 12.'
‘Do it!' is Boshko's advice for those seeking a career in special education. ‘It's the best twelve months you'll spend because you'll be rewarded for the rest of your career.'
Boshko concludes that ‘knowing I'm making a positive difference to the life of a student, who is not defined by their disability (or ability), is ultimately the most rewarding aspect of my job.'
Works in a juvenile justice setting in the country
A passion for science from a young age led Amy Batho to complete a science degree, but it was while completing her degree that she found her love of teaching, through helping others to understand their science units. ‘The look on a student's face when something difficult makes sense is an amazing thing to see, and to know that this realisation is due to you makes teaching worthwhile.'
Amy enjoys teaching at Lincoln School, located in the Orana Juvenile Justice Centre at Dubbo. She started working there as a casual, and then successfully applied for the full time position. ‘I would never have imagined that I would be working in a Juvenile Justice centre in my first year of teaching and that I would enjoy it as much as I do.' Through her teaching role at Lincoln School, Amy has been involved in the platypus program at Western Plains Zoo, and she has travelled to coastal schools to present information on how the juvenile detainees approach school and the legal processes involved.
Working in a rural area of New South Wales holds many benefits for Amy, who loves the sense of community and friendship in the town. ‘The country areas are big enough to get the necessities but small enough that there is still the sense of friendship. You can walk down the street and recognise people.'
Ultimately, Amy wants to head farther west and teach in a small country town with a K-12 school. She believes this will give her the right balance in her life. ‘The technologies in most of the smaller schools out west allow for video conferences, meaning you can have the small community that cares but don't have to miss out on opportunities that other urban schools have available.'
Changed careers from test labs to science teaching
Rosemary Daubney began her career in environmental chemistry after completing a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in the 1990s. Her work was largely lab-based, testing soil samples, water samples and foods for pesticide content.
While her work was interesting, at times even exciting, aspects of it also eventually became routine. Over time she found herself wishing for a career that provided `something different every single day'. In addition, she found the hours she was working `horrendous' and not conducive to her family life with a young child.
Rosemary also liked the idea of a career where she could share her scientific knowledge with others.
Given these influences, a career in teaching seemed a logical choice.
Rosemary decided to undertake further study to train as a science teacher through the University of Western Sydney, gaining approval in NSW to teach science (including physics and chemistry) and mathematics, and took up a teaching opportunity at Plumpton High School in Sydney's west, where she worked for five years.
At Plumpton, Rosemary discovered a range of career opportunities that she had not fully realised even existed before she started teaching, such as becoming a Year Adviser and relieving as Head Teacher.
Rosemary applied for a Head Teacher Science position at Doonside Technology High School, again in Sydney's west. She was successful in that application and is currently relieving as Deputy Principal.
So, has her career change enabled her to meet her original goals?
As she had hoped, she has successfully moved to a career where `…every single day is different, every single day there's something new. I love that… Things change, so you adapt and it leads to a new skill set.'
Of course, the hours of preparation are demanding but, unlike in her previous career, Rosemary finds she can do a large amount of the work at home and still be with her family.
For Rosemary, teaching is full of inspirational moments of student discovery. `When that light goes off, it is really inspiring and that's when you think "Wow, they've learnt it themselves, I've just facilitated". I find that really inspiring.'
Rosemary particularly appreciates the relationships she develops with her students. `I love the rapport. My year 12s are about to sit their HSC - we're on-line constantly chatting. I'm really going to miss them. The rapport that you build with these classes is amazing.'
Did she make the right move? `I love it, I wouldn't change it and I won't be leaving it.'
Building a teaching career in rural NSW
Ashlee Starr completed a Bachelor of Technology Education at Southern Cross University in Coffs Harbour. Teaching in a rural area of the state was attractive to her as she saw that it offered great opportunities. It also presented the chance for Ashlee and her future husband, also a graduate teacher from Southern Cross University, to find employment close to one another.
In her final year of teacher education Ashlee successfully applied for teaching approval through the Graduate Recruitment Program, and in 2010 she was offered a permanent appointment at Dubbo College South Campus, part of the multi-campus Dubbo College. Her husband secured a temporary appointment shortly after in the same area, and has now received a permanent appointment.
At Dubbo College, Ashlee teaches Food Technology, Textiles Technology and Design and Technology at South Campus and at Senior Campus. She loves being able to share her passion for these subjects with her students, and finds it particularly rewarding to see them achieve success in unfamiliar areas.‘Seeing students succeed in tasks and understand content is what makes this job,' Ashlee says.
While Ashlee continues to build on her experience and confidence in the classroom, she has also become part of the welfare team through her acceptance of a year adviser role at her school. In a few years' time Ashlee believes she will be ready to take the next step in her career, that of Head Teacher.
And Ashley's advice to future teachers? Choose a teaching subject for which you have a passion and consider teaching in a regional area, where ‘there are so many job opportunities and great people'.
Maximising employment opportunities in rural NSW
After training as a dancer for fifteen years, and while studying dance for the HSC, Elise Dessmann realised that her true passion was teaching others to dance.
Her ambition led her to complete a double degree at ACPE, graduating with a Bachelor of Education in Dance and PDHPE. Realising that there was a greater demand for teachers in her subject area outside metropolitan areas, she decided to explore rural opportunities.
Elise was offered a temporary block teaching PDHPE, science and food technology at Wade High School in Griffith. After a year of successful teaching, Elisa was offered another year long engagement, this time also including teaching dance.
Elise says that the most rewarding aspect of teaching is "building up a trusting and working relationship with students and seeing their self-confidence and motivation improve".
While she certainly doesn't regret the path she has chosen, Elise says she would advise education students, particularly those studying PDHPE, to include a diverse range of subjects to increase their opportunities for employment."I encourage people to be open to moving to rural areas as there are more opportunities for beginning teachers to take on leadership and organisation roles within the school."
Life as a deputy principal in the country
Helen commenced her career teaching at Hay War Memorial High School in the South West of NSW after completing a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Education through Macquarie University. Helen says, ‘I always enjoyed maths at school and have a passion for it. Having started an economics/law degree I decided it wasn't for me and picked up a Dip Ed. I have had a great career and love sharing my love of maths with the kids I teach.'
From Hay, Helen moved to Mudgee and was then successful in merit selection as Head Teacher Mathematics at Leeton High School where she spent a number of years. ‘As a beginning teacher in a small rural high school, I was given opportunities to grow and develop very early in my career. In my second year of teaching I was the Year 7 Advisor, Computer Coordinator and teacher in charge of the school reporting system. Moving to a larger rural high school I had similar opportunities to develop because of the experiences I had gained in these early years.'
Helen is currently the Deputy Principal at Finley High School, a position she thoroughly enjoys. ‘I enjoy being a part of a small rural community. Having relationships with parents, organisations and community groups is enjoyable. I enjoy the opportunities to develop the culture of the school by initiating systems or projects. I also enjoy the experience and opportunity to relieve as Principal. Working closely with the Principal on whole school issues is fantastic professional development.'
Helen is currently considering promotion to a principal position. She is keen to remain in a rural area as she enjoys interacting in the community as the students are friendly and positive and acknowledge you at the football or in the supermarket. Helen has been involved in many school programs as well as working with regional teams on School Reviews and being elected President of the Riverina Secondary Deputy Principals Association. Helen reports that she will soon be trained as a Deputy Mentor for new Deputy Principals across the state. Helen says that being asked to contribute to Riverina in-services each year is always exciting as you get to interact and meet new teachers to the region.'