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Alumni Stories

Five decades of education: Unexpected first year out

After spending three years studying and preparing for his dream job, University of Canberra alumni Tim Walshe's first year in the professional world did not go exactly to plan. He shares how his first year after university played out under challenging circumstances.

BEFORE COVID-19

Tim’s first year as a graduate teacher ended up being very different to what he expected, and COVID-19 wasn’t entirely to blame. In fact, it all started in Hong Kong.

In mid-2019, Tim received the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s New Colombo Plan Scholarship where he was offered a year-long exchange at the Education University of Hong Kong to complete his Bachelor of Primary Education (Creative Arts).

However, political unrest and violent protests in the city meant that Tim had to cut his exchange short and head home early.

Instead of spending the first half of 2020 in Hong Kong as originally planned, Tim landed a job as a Year Three teacher at Arawang Primary School in Waramanga, Canberra, and completed his teacher induction paperwork in time for the start of the school year.

DURING THE CANBERRA LOCKDOWN

The period between March and June 2020 proved to be a very challenging time for Tim and his fellow teachers, as they shifted everything they knew about teaching online for the first time.

In the early stages, they planned week by week, as health advice was changing every day. Then came the decision to go pupil-free, so teachers could shift to remote learning.

“Everything moved very quickly once we went pupil-free,” says Tim. “All of a sudden, kids were having their last day of Term One which brought about a lot of anxiety. There were a lot of questions about our role as teachers, the role of parents, were they going to be homeschooling or was it remote learning, which are two different things.”

Tim’s school used Google Classroom to deliver its remote learning. It was a smooth transition, as most kids had access to Chromebooks.

The ACT Education Directorate stepped in and helped to provide students who didn’t have Chromebooks or Internet access with the tools necessary to continue their learning online.

Lessons were pre-recorded and posted in each class’s virtual classroom, where students could easily access the work. Teachers would check in with the class once a day, and they would play games to encourage engagement.

The rest of the day was spent planning future lessons and checking in with individual students and their families.

“We weren’t just teachers anymore,” says Tim. “We were tech support, therapists — anything the kids needed to ensure their wellbeing in a challenging time.”

“We had a lot of support from the ACT Education Directorate. We followed their advice and the big focus was on wellbeing for everyone — for the teachers and staff, but mostly for the kids and their families.”

Teachers, students and families settled into the routine of remote learning, but then came the message that it was time to head back to the classroom.

“We prepared for Term Two to be delivered online, but at the end of Week Two, were told of the staggered return to face-to-face learning,” says Tim.

“I then had two weeks to shift everything from online back to teaching in the classroom. There was another cycle of change — and change is huge for students. They need routine and reassurance, and when we couldn’t provide answers to their questions, there was a lot of anxiety.”

In the end, students experienced seven weeks of remote learning across Terms One and Two, and with the holidays, the kids were away from school for a total of nine weeks.

LOOKING AHEAD

With students returning to classrooms halfway through Term Two, things went back to relatively normal for Tim and his students.

However, he has learnt some valuable lessons from the challenging experience.

“Even though we are flexible and adaptable to a certain degree, we need to be able to continue to adapt even better as teachers, shift things quicker and be even more flexible,” he says.

“Our teaching shouldn’t just include traditional methods, or just be online, or just using Chromebooks. It needs to include different pedagogies. We can’t be set to any given way; we need to be prepared to shift to anything seamlessly.”

Tim’s message to education students is to always be passionate about being a learner yourself.

“You need to love what you do and be okay with the fact that you might not have it all together, all of the time,” he says. “If you go into this profession thinking that it is just a job and you don’t have the passion for it, you won’t make it. “If you just impact one child, that is all that matters.”

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