Earlier this term, I worked alongside Alexandria as they completed a three-week internship as part of the Union Summer program. An English language teacher and volunteer at the Migrant Workers Centre, Alexandria is passionate about helping people overcome cultural, economic and educational barriers.
At the end of the third week, Alexandria presented a research project that examined the causes, consequences and commonalities of the barriers faced by young workers in education, and the responsibilities we all share in breaking them down. While the central thesis of Alexandria’s work was clear – young workers face significant challenges that can negatively affect their working conditions and quality of life – the solution was, of course, much more complex.
We identified barriers that ranged from practical challenges – e.g. LANTITE, workload, the financial strain of placements – through to the broad, almost intangible, feelings of uncertainty or bewilderment typical of the first years of teaching.
Despite the list being vast, there was a prevailing similarity. These barriers were the result of (or resulted in) a lack of belonging. Fostering a sense of belonging will not solve structural problems on its own but it is a fundamental first step.
In the classroom, we create a safe, inclusive space for our students – they need to feel connected to their classmates, their school and their teachers in order to overcome learning barriers. After a time, the responsibility for maintaining a positive environment no longer falls solely to you but is shared by all. The same applies to workplaces and school communities.
Alexandria’s presentation outlined three shared responsibilities: Educator – share knowledge, have conversations; Comrade – listen and learn about the challenges others face; Activist – advocate on behalf of your colleagues.
If you’re an experienced teacher, find an early-career colleague. If you’re an early-career teacher, find a pre-service colleague. Talk, listen, support and advocate for them, as they will for you in time.
This is the core work of the New Educators Network – a group comprising early-career and pre-service teachers that meets once a month. It’s a place where you belong, a place where you can find support, and a place where you can make change. Our next meeting will outline some of the important work being done this year by and for pre-service and early-career teachers, and ways that you can be involved.
Get in touch with me at [email protected] for details.