ETAQ Beginning Teachers' Day - Liam D. Auliciems from PRAC-E
Thank you so much for having me here today. It's a real honour and a privilege to come and speak to you, especially from someone who's still at Uni. Probably some of you are thinking, "What has this young punk got to say?", but I'll try my best. A lot of what I have to say is from the mentors that I have actually been able to talk to a lot through PRAC-E, which I'll talk about in just a second. It's been a fantastic conference so far, and it's been really good to actually go last because the opinions from some of the previous speakers echo a lot of the sentiments that I want to talk about today.One thing that I'm taking away a lot and a pattern that keeps coming back is how much young teachers are willing to have a go. They want to be ‘that teacher’ that we had in school that changed our academic career from then on.
It reminds me of the very first time I went out on practicum. We were in a tute and we sat in a circle. We went around and said the schools that we were going to for our very first practicum. When it got to me and I said my school, which shall remain nameless, everyone burst out laughing. In fact, that's how I met my girlfriend, because I was like, "why are you laughing?" Then we got into a conversation and it was history. Yeah, good move.Everyone burst out laughing at me because it was Murphy's Law. I call it the Auliciems’ Curse. My dad in the front row passed it on to me. ‘Murphy's Law’, if there's something that can go wrong, it goes wrong within our family. I got the one school that everyone was crossing their fingers they didn't get. Now, I was trying to be a good Uni student and research the school that I was going to, and all I found on Google results was "'School name', school fight!" on YouTube. I was able to find one positive news story. They actually started a program to help the overflow of pregnant students, so that was the one good thing I found about my school.
So, I was gearing myself up about actually going there, and it turned out to be a fantastic learning experience. The kids there actually cried when I left because they built up such a good relationship with a consistent role model, for once. But my first lesson that I took was a completely different story, as I actually wasn't supposed to take the lesson.At QUT we had only two weeks for our first prac and we were only supposed to observe. So, in my mind I was going to rock up, I was going to get my little weird corner and just sit there and watch the class go. My teacher came to me and said, "Yeah, I've got this panel that I'm going to. Is it all right if you go with the sub?" I thought, “Yeah, okay. QUT was saying to not get paired with subs too much, you should be with a mentor.” But I was like, “Yeah, I'll give it a go.”She said, "Yeah, it'll be all right because sometimes you're on the same standing as subs. The students see you as some random in their class as well, so it would be good to actually see them with the sub because then you can kind of know what you're prepared for." So, I said, “Yeah, all right, cool”. It was the first time that I actually went to go see this class, and this was my so-called 'trouble class', they called it. It was very similar to your class you were talking about before, Chelsea, the same time of dynamics.I walked in and the substitute teacher looked about 120 years old. He had a Cosby sweater on, he had a hunch back, he had big hair coming out of his nose and big glasses straight out of the 1960s. I said, "Hi, I'm Liam, I'm a student teacher." He said, "Oh, oh yes, you're teacher here?" I thought, “That's an accent I know. My grandparents have that accent. You're straight out of Europe, aren't you?” There was a massive language gap."You teacher?" I said, "Yeah, I'm a teacher but I'm a student teacher. I'm only here to observe." Now, the only word I think he understood was 'teacher'. So, he went, "Oh, Okay," and he just handed the resources to me and walked out of the room. I'm standing there and I go, “What do I do?” There's kids up on the desks going, "What did you do on the weekend, John?" And just not completely in the frame of mind that they needed to be. It was already 10 to 15 minutes into the lesson. I had no idea where student services were. I had no idea who to ring, so I'm like, “What do I do?”I went into complete fight or flight mode, and I looked down at the resources. It was a worksheet with a small paragraph of writing on it about persuasive speaking, and these kids had never done speaking their entire lives, and I was expected to kind of just… ‘take the lesson’. So, I went, "All right kids, I'm your teacher for today", and I got up and what was supposed to be a five-minute exercise turned into a 45 minute lesson, because I just went sentence by sentence and broke it down. I went, "Let's do it by group. All right, discuss what you think. You teach me." I kind of broke it down like that, and it was a horrible lesson, I will say that. It didn't go very well, but I got through it, and that kind of summarizes this thing I'm talking about, that young teachers are willing to have a go.
Because I feel my contention here is that the students coming straight out of university at the moment are the ones that will enact change, and I'll say, ‘enact change’ because I'm a bit of a flake. They're the ones that need to change the education sphere, because from what I see, society and education is changing at a rate that we don't give enough credit. It's called the ‘Uber change’, it's a fancy word, basically it's that one change in society that completely derails an entire industry.Now, it happened to Uber. Uber came around and in one fell swoop the taxi industry was destroyed. It happened with iPhones, they came in with a touch screen, Nokia went, "Nah, I like the Nokia brick. I like the numbers and the text, we're all right with touch screens." Nokia is defunct. I think the same thing's happening with education currently, and I think the agents of change that need to go with that change are young, pre-service teachers and teachers in the first few years of their careers, which is why I'm here to talk to you at the moment.See, a child at their very first year of their education will be retiring in 2078, which is near the next century. Makes me feel old. It does make me feel old. I was talking to my grade eights today, I went, "Uh, what year were you guys born?" They went, “2005.” I went, "That's disgusting... I've got tinned fruit in the cupboard older than you guys.” To put it in perspective, that's like a teacher from the 1950s teaching us about the skills that we need for today.So, not only are we supposed to be teaching them skills they need to survive schooling. Not only are we teaching them skills that they need for their jobs when they leave school, but we also have to teach them learning to be able to handle 2078. Now, technology is moving faster than we ever thought about before. In fact, I read an article from the Guardian that stated that technology has actually created more jobs in the past few years than it has supposedly destroyed across the whole of human history. You know? So, it's drastically changing and I think that that really needs to happen.
I think the contention that I want to talk about is, the students that come straight out of school are the ones that need to enact that change, because if we're talking about a teacher in the 1950s, I feel mainstream schools still have elements of schooling from those days. We all know, we all get taught in university that a lot of schooling started in the industrial revolution, yeah? Childhood didn't even really exist before that, but looking at industrial revolution and now, there are still some things about mainstream education that I feel are keeping it behind the change that we actually need to be at.We've still got the bell, we've still got uniforms, we've still got single sex schooling, we've still got "this is the exact subject you're going to be teaching at this exact time, and don't worry about math, don't worry about science, you're doing English now". Very set in its ways, whereas now since the invention of the iPhone, studies have shown that students are more push/pull with the way that they learn, whereas every kind of media invention beforehand was very passive. You just sit there and watch the TV. You just sit there and listen to the radio. Internet's very interactive. I'm sure you can all acknowledge that students these days can't do something for more than probably 10 minutes before getting bored, especially my grade nine boys. They go, "Yeah, Sir this sucks."I say, “Can you just do this for 20 minutes?” “No, this is boring…” It's much more push/pull and kids are a lot less susceptible to just sitting there and taking knowledge, like it was in the industrial revolution. The teachers sat up the front and they were the font of all knowledge. They went, “This is the accepted series of facts that you need to know to be a good worker and to be an acceptable citizen, okay?” A lot of students these days are more into, “Well, what's in it for me?" Knowledge is more diverse, it's more dynamic and more individualized than ever before, and I think the change needs to come from students coming out of universities, but I feel there's a big, gaping void in the middle.
We do pretty good with supporting higher end students and lower end students and differentiation, and I think schools are trying their best to keep up with the speed. I think teachers get a lot of personal development around that fact, but a problem that I saw personally was this gaping hole in the middle between student teachers and early career teachers.Now, it used to happen when I went out on practical experience, and students with me, in my very same cohorts, would just not rock up on Tuesday. I went, "Well where's John?” “Well, he dropped out." And that happened again and again and again. Every time I went back from practical experience, lecture halls like this, cohorts literally halved. Some researchers have said that it's up to 52%, some say up to 60% of teachers within the first five years of their career are dropping out.I think it's this imbalance between what young teachers want to do and the power dynamic that are in mainstream schooling that is the main cause of this. It just kept happening. I went to a lecture theatre like this that sat about 350 to 400 students. It was compulsory to rock up, and eight people rocked up, which was probably this front row, because everyone seemed to be dropping out after these practical experiences. A study actually came out that said one in five education students have diagnosed clinical depression or anxiety. Diagnosed, and that number could be even greater with early career teachers, and undiagnosed cases. From what I've seen, it's this imbalance of power.
Usually, when I go out on practical experiences I relate more to the kids in my classes then some of the teachers in the staff room, because really, I was in grade 12 in 2013, so not that long ago, so I personally think, “Yeah, Jordan in my class, he's a rugby boof head, he probably would rather learn in this way.” Whereas a lot of the time (not all schools, some schools do a fantastic job), but other times I think, “Well maybe we could do it this way.” But because you're a student teacher, you're at the very bottom of the hierarchy, and some horror stories that I've heard is, you dare not say anything about the way the school runs or else you get labelled as arrogant. You get labelled as a young punk coming in and how dare you change anything that we have!So, my contention today is that I think mainstream education needs to change, but you cannot rely on schools to be those changes. They do the best that they can, but you need to be able to find something that makes you passionate about education, and then find something around the edge, all right? That led me to create PRAC-E, which is why I'm here to talk to you today.
Now, PRAC-E is trying to fill in that void, where student teachers needed more support. What happened was, I went out in my practical experiences and so often my mentor said, "Oh, yeah, you know all that stuff you learned at Uni? Chuck all that out. This is the real world. This is the real deal. This is the way I do things”, and a lot of my colleagues were hearing the exact same things. The difference between what we were getting and what we were learning, and sometimes the career ending mistakes that we were forced to make in the classroom was just simply too much.So, what I decided to do was change that. I thought, well why does that have to be the case? Why do we have to be chucked into the deep end and have our first few years of our career or our student practical experiences be so hard? Why is there that disjoint between what we're getting and what the reality is? So, I created PRAC-E. PRAC-E is two things, first of all it's a YouTube channel. Now, we create YouTube videos where we get experienced teachers to literally come in and say this is what the real world is. This is how I run my classroom.Now, we do #ASKPRACEANYTHING, where the audience can literally send in questions that don't get covered in a lecture, like “What do I do when a student chucks a chair at me? Why do my lessons keep going 15 minutes short even though I have a million resources?” All those tiny little questions that probably don't get covered in a unit, we get to ask in real time.The other series is Prac Teacher 101 where myself and some experienced teachers just list out the things that we think you need to know, and we just go through them, kind of in a documentary style. Now, the main thing we do are symposiums, which the host talked about just before, yes. Now, what we do is we actually get teachers to come out and we sit in the panel, like this, and the audience can just ask away. Now, the first one we did at QUT to about 350 people, the second one we just did in September, and that's up in its entirety on our YouTube channel, and you can watch it completely for free, okay?
So, that's what I personally have done. Now, what I'm saying is you don't have to do that, okay. You don't have to create a PRAC-E. But what I'm imploring you to do is find something that you're passionate about in education that you feel needs changing. Now, I said before you cannot rely on working 9:00 till 3:00 teaching grade nines Hamlet to make that change. You have to think a bit more macro, so it doesn't have to be PRAC-E, it doesn't have to be even a YouTube channel, but find something outside of education that will make that change for you. Change the game.Now, Eddy Woo, he was a maths teacher that didn't like the way the curriculum was structuring his maths lesson. He created a YouTube channel called the “Maths teacher you wished you had”, now he's got tens of thousands of YouTube subscribers. He was on the ABC on Q&A just the other week. Now, some of the teachers I've talked to through the symposiums, Louis Bradfield and Brett Wood, they didn't like mainstream education. They left and actually started their own independent schools.Now, it can be something as grand as that. It can be something as small as that. It can be something like Simon was talking about before with the drama program. I haven't heard of a school that had something like that before, but that's something that Simon was passionate about, that he thought needed changing and he's created, and look how much it's blossoming now.
So, I implore you to find something like that, but I'll end on this story that some things… I'm talking about change in education and what needs to happen, some things never change. I was in the boarding house once, and I was working as a residential tutor, so I opened my bedroom literally onto 14 grade nine boys, and my job was to make sure they did homework, make sure they brushed their teeth, make sure they had shower, which was probably the hardest job.I was walking up and like a pack of monkeys they just all started running and screaming. I'm going, "What the hell is going on here?" I grabbed one of them and I go, "Lachlan, what's happening?" He said, "Oscar's got a possum in his bag." I went, "What do you mean Oscar's got a possum in his bag?" "He's up in his room, he stole it." So, I went up the stairs and I could just hear this cacophony of noise coming down the hallway, and then all I heard was echoing down the hall, "It's bit him, it bit him, it bit him."I looked outside, I saw this possum running down the stairs. I go to the bathroom and there's all these boys standing in front of the bathroom door like this, guarding it. I go, "Boys, is Oscar in there?" They go, "No." "Let me ask this again. I can see the blood trail going into the bathroom, is Oscar in there?" They silently just went like this, and let me through. I open the door, Oscar was in there, but he had Max's head in the sink shaving it with a razor, and I just stood there with blood pouring down his arm from the possum bite. He looked up at me and Max looked up at me with half a shaved head, and all I could say was, "Oscar, have you been bitten by a possum?" He went, "Maybe."So, I'll leave you with that. Some things about students, and some things especially about adolescent boys, never change, but we need to be the ones to enact those changes to support them, not now but for 2078 as well. So, thank you so much for having me today.