Schools Don’t smile till Easter

L-R: Cranbourne Secondary College induction support team Kate Miles and Catherine Savery help new teacher Sarah Wood. run an art class

Ever heard the saying: ‘Don’t smile till Easter’? This was the advice once routinely given to graduate teachers by their more experienced colleagues, meaning: show your students that you mean business. Dromana College principal Alan Marr certainly agrees that one of the biggest lessons for new grads is that “14-year-old kids don’t want 24-year-old friends; they want teachers”. 

Managing the vast range in ability within a single class is the other major challenge, he adds. “A whole demographic can sit in that group of 25, and it varies from classroom to classroom because everyone’s life experience is different.”

Alan is one of many principals who recognise the importance of graduate programs and a proper staff induction process to ease the way and help keep teachers in the profession. “Schools recognise, far more now, the challenges – and put far more supports around grads than they did 30 years ago,” he says.

Stepping into the classroom for the first time can be an unnerving experience – and most graduate teachers rely on the advice of colleagues to find their feet. The Victorian government’s Career Start program reduces face-to-face teaching hours for first-year teachers and their mentors – something the AEU has campaigned for to support members. 

At Dromana College, meeting times for graduate teachers, classroom observations and fortnightly conversations with mentors are all built into the schedule. They also have buddies to answer practical questions such as how to operate the photocopier. And grads are encouraged to do plenty of PD and self-reflection. “There are so many daunting aspects of teaching that you forget once you’ve been in the role for a while,” says Alan. “We role-play parent–teacher interviews, for example.” 

“The whole school has an expectation around supporting each other. It would be very isolating otherwise.”

Alan Marr

The school employs the help of retired Rosebud Secondary College principal John Miller to oversee some of these processes and provide feedback to graduate teachers, with two other staff members involved in induction and professional learning.

“We’ve had a lot of grads on staff recently, so we have been able to run a very collegiate program for them, which helps them develop their practice,” says Alan.

David Caughey is principal of Cranbourne Secondary College, which currently employs eight graduate teachers. “We are lucky to have a large staff filled with people who want to help and support those new to the profession,” he says.

“There is so much expertise to be shared and a large range of people with rich experience in their field. If we’re not careful, all that intellectual capital could walk out the gates when people retire.”

The graduate support team includes assistant principal Mila Milenkovich, leader of professional learning Kate Miles, and Catherine Savery as staff induction support for grad teachers or new staff.

“Often it can be emotional support,” Catherine says. “Talking through the realities of being a teacher, and strategies to help them feel more confident.”

Mila gives new staff “grounding in the school’s student engagement and wellbeing practices, and then ongoing sessions every few weeks where we cover key areas such as: how our school operates, how to manage their classroom, and our behaviour management processes.”

Catherine will observe a class that a grad is finding difficult. “I can make suggestions that will enhance what they’re doing. Often, it’s just basic classroom procedures like getting students quiet when they mark the roll that really help.”

Ongoing sessions help build the school’s common language. “To support early career teachers, we do whatever we can to improve their connection to the profession and the school,” David says.

Like David, Alan emphasises the team approach. “The whole school has an expectation around supporting each other. It would be very isolating otherwise. You need those caring colleagues around you, who are supported by a structure of induction and mentoring. The most important element, always, is the staff.”

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