Now in his second-last year of a Bachelor of Primary Education at the University of Canberra, Hamish Jackson is loving every minute of it.
And he feels lucky to have stumbled upon his passion so early in life.
“I left Year 12 and I had this idea about what I wanted to do. When that didn’t work out, I was a bit lost,” Hamish explains. “So I started a job as a swim teacher, a job that I still have. And I learned that I really loved working with kids. I loved making connections, building relationships with these little people, and then helping them to grow.”
Then he began studying education, mostly for something to do. “I needed something to be engaged in,” he says. “And from there, I fell in love with it – and now I can’t picture anything else.”
As a generalist primary school teacher, he is required to have a knowledge of quite a number of key learning areas.
“I think that daunts a lot of people,” he says. “That’s why you often get people advocating for what they call more ‘siloed education’, where things are split up. But what is lost there is an opportunity to see the connections between all the different subjects [and encourage] transdisciplinary learning.”
Throughout his degree at UC, Hamish explains that his ideas about teaching have broadened in relation to education’s ability to bring about positive change.
“Now, my views about education are much more ‘big picture’,” he says. “Education for social justice, for equity, for inclusion, education as a power to make good change in the world.”
But to do this, he feels teachers need to be supported and trained accordingly, and there is still a disconnect between high-level policy and classroom realities.
“You’ve got your big – often policy-led – ideas about inclusion and justice, but then there are also the little day-to-day things,” he says. “If you have the opportunity to educate those who educate, [and] if teachers are given the right support, financially and time-wise, to get the skills, then the day-to-day things that they do will make sure that children are always included, regardless of their background or who they are.”
Standardised testing also poses ongoing challenges to teachers supporting students on their individual learning journeys.
“In terms of what you can do in the classroom, it's about where we put value and what outcomes we set,” Hamish says. “Do we want to hit these benchmarks? Yes. But ultimately, I think what gets overlooked is: do we want kids to enjoy school?”
“I'm not going to get it right all the time,” he admits. “But my goal is: most of the time, when kids go home and their parents ask them, ‘What did you do in school today?’, they have at least one thing to say.”
Hamish also feels the perpetual change inherent in the education sector is a good thing for both teachers and their students.
“Education is constantly evolving. The day we stop questioning our education practices, is the day we’ve failed. That’s what has kept me going,” he says. “But, a big problem is just how crowded the curriculum can be – there’s a lot to teach.”
Securing a job can also be problematic for pre-service teachers like Hamish, though he is confident he can land a job when he graduates next year.
“Due to the fact that there is a huge shortage of male primary school teachers, I will be relatively hireable,” he says. “[This shortage] is a blessing and a curse because, for me, it means that I'm always able to fill a need.”
But why does this shortage exist?
“It's a shame because there's a larger implication [linked to] some awful patriarchal values that we have around education being a woman's job. And it's just disgusting. It's very old-fashioned, very out-of-date,” Hamish says.
“I also think a lot of men feel that they're not adequately skilled or have the right dispositions for [primary teaching] – but my best primary school teacher was a man. And he's the one that inspired me to come and do this.”
Hamish also says that expectations of teaching versus the reality of it can be a big challenge, especially for pre-service teachers.
“I came into education having no idea of what it was going to be like,” he says. “So when I saw the reality - the good and the bad - I could adapt to that. Some people have really lofty ideas about what the job is going to be and then it’s quite different. And that’s why I think there’s a high burnout rate for new teachers too.”
Universities like UC are definitely doing their bit to support their education students and train them in the practicalities of the teaching profession.
“[Tertiary providers] have got that challenge of balancing the big picture with the practical,” Hamish says.
UC offers its education students two different models for in-school practicums: the teaching block and the Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) structure, which focuses on delivering discipline-specific lessons.
Although lockdown has made pracs impossible for the moment, they are incontrovertibly the most effective way for teachers to learn and improve their skills.
“In my ideal world, I think teaching degrees would only be three years – and the whole last year would be a paid internship at two or three different schools,” Hamish says. “There's only so much theoretical planning or reflecting that you can do until you actually have to get into a classroom and start learning on the job. Because that's where most of it happens.”
When asked about the unpaid nature of the pracs, Hamish smiles and says, “The paid internship would be really, really nice because it would mean that students could throw themselves into that work without just worrying about paying the bills.”
So while paid pracs, higher salaries and other support frameworks for teachers would be pleasant, the teaching industry is powering ahead with new, exciting ways to empower both teachers and their students on their individual learning journeys.
And having passionate, engaged and well-trained educators like Hamish will go a long way to continuing the essential and life-changing work that our teachers perform on a daily basis.
Words by Christina King, photos supplied.