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Why I'm a teacher.

After becoming disillusioned in working for the ‘man’, Anthony Collins took a long & rewarding career journey.

Oct 3, 2018

Words: Anthony Collins

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In 1997, Anthony Collins finally scraped his way through high school. Initially, Anthony sought to become a qualified tradesman, then a personal trainer, before (after a dedicated slog) becoming a primary school teacher.

This is when things really started to get interesting…

The following is a glimpse of Anthony’s adventure through education, a career that’s provided him with the intrinsic rewards he needed, as told to Gippslandia.

After barely getting through Year 12, I just wanted to work and earn some money. So after six months of completing various labouring jobs, I applied for an apprenticeship. I felt proud to be accepted and went on to complete my Certificate III in Engineering with Gippsland Group Training (now Apprenticeships Group Australia).

However, after becoming a qualified tradesman and working as a fitter and turner, chasing work across Victoria and working for the ‘man’, I became disillusioned with my career choice. Little did I know that my road to changing careers would be long and extremely challenging.

Leaving the Latrobe Valley for Melbourne, I continued working as a tradesman while also attending night school at Swinburne University for six months to gain my Certificate III in Fitness. The Cert III was to support my application for mature-age entry into university and provide an income when studying. However, I wasn’t accepted into university for two years, so I decided I’d guarantee my pathway there by quitting my job and repeating Year 12 through TAFE. I’d be assured a place in a university as long as my new ENTER (now ATAR) was at the required level. I threw everything into that year and was finally told that I was ‘clearly in’ to a double degree at Monash University, a Bachelor of Education and Sport and Outdoor Recreation. Honest, from that point on I’ve never looked back.

In hindsight, throughout my childhood, I had great role models to help me see the value of a teaching career. My mindset after school was that I could spend a lifetime doing something that’d pay the bills, but ultimately if I wasn’t happy I needed to take control and seek an alternative career. While undertaking a personal training position, along with coaching senior soccer, I was actually enjoying something very similar to teaching.

When I started my teaching rounds at our local Latrobe Valley schools I knew there was a need, almost a niche, for young, male primary school teachers, as some of the children I was meeting had no positive male role models in their life. Teaching at schools, such as Morwell Park Primary School, made me feel like I’d chosen the right career and would receive the intrinsic rewards I was after.

I distinctly remember at university when I realised that, by questioning things, seeking further information and reading broader opinions, you create an educated perspective on topics. For me, this was a powerful moment as I had grown up quite narrow-minded on many affairs. As an apprentice, you’re told that things are done a certain way, so I was to do it and never question. University was a place where creativity and questioning were celebrated, not stifled. I loved that.

As a mature-age student, it was a challenge to write assignments again, and I needed support. The dedicated university staff offered great services. I was adamant that I’d succeed, and their initial support helped me to finish my degree with a ‘distinction’ average across both of my disciplines.

After five years of working as a gym instructor and personal trainer, combined with early starts and late nights to support my study routine, I was extremely excited to graduate and begin full-time work again. It’s uncanny that my preparation came from the place where it all began; Morwell Park Primary School was the first school that employed me and I still hold the school in extremely high regard.

I’ve been fortunate to meet some great educators, and I’ve learnt that if you stay in one spot, you’ll miss the opportunities that are out there.

I’ve worked for government, independent, disadvantaged and privately-run alternative schools in a range of roles and settings. The commonality is that strong relationships between the teacher and the students are critical.

For two years, my wife and I lived in the Kimberley, Western Australia. My first position was within a small Aboriginal community, 600 kilometres inland from Broome and 120 kilometres away from the nearest town, called Yiyili. What we became a part of was something that I’m truly honoured to have as a memory. The Aboriginal community was incredibly welcoming and supportive. The insights we gained into the oldest living culture on Earth was absolutely breathtaking. The stories, customs, knowledge and respect for country taught me so many lessons. This has allowed me to understand how fascinating this culture is and why we must do all we can to preserve what remains of it so that others can have a better understanding as well.

My second placement was in Broome, a postcard-perfect place. But to live there was another great insight into multicultural Australia in its earliest form. The stories of the families who call this place ‘home’ are deeply rooted in the post-war period and the area’s rich pearling history. The school was so connected to its Aboriginal roots that I felt sad in some ways that in Gippsland we have little to no representation within schools as I witnessed in Broome.

I began to long for home. Aboriginal people know their country so intimately that I almost became jealous, and I wanted to return to do more with my own community and learn more about my own backyard.

After a short stint in the Latrobe Valley, I moved to South Gippsland and became the principal of a small independent primary school on Phillip Island. This community was incredibly tight and the school’s families were incredibly supportive of the alternative model we were implementing. Being on five acres of land in Ventnor, it felt like we were ‘off the grid’ and in many ways I was connecting with this school as I had up north. The relationships were strong and the respect was mutual. I thoroughly enjoyed this two-year adventure.

I’m now very happy with my current role at Mirboo North Primary. I’m looking forward to the long road ahead, connecting with my Latrobe Valley roots and cementing my role within the current crop of teachers.

How society values teachers varies. Some people are quick to remark about our holidays and short working hours. Others, that are typically connected to a teacher in some way, realise it’s not a fairy tale. That it actually involves a myriad of professions tied into one and extends beyond the typical ‘nine to five’.

There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a student struggle, then come through the other side with that ‘Ah-ha!’ moment. It’s what learning is all about and seeing it never gets old. Also, when you walk down the street and see a past student that’s willing to stop and say ‘hello’, as not all students will—it’s a nice reminder that you may have had an impact on a child’s life.

I’m grateful to have so many positive experiences with children every day, as I feel they’re the most honest humans in the world. They’ll frequently tell you what they’re thinking, they regularly have amazing ideas and they’ll frequently make you laugh. These qualities remind me of what it is to be human and if we, teachers, stifle that, we’re definitely not doing our job. They keep me honest, happy and, most importantly, curious as to what we should do next with our own learning journeys.

It’s too hard to convey what makes a great teacher, but I believe we need to be showing students that we’re fallible too, and not some superhuman organism that can’t fail or become upset. We must promote curiosity and be good listeners to all of our students. We must not let our own prejudices get in the way of our thinking and we must allow ourselves to like the unlikeable student. To get the best out of them, we must have high expectations. Finally, I must add that laughing is the best medicine that anyone can prescribe, so let’s laugh every day with our kids and show them the joy of good humour.

Great things are currently happening across Gippsland schools, but too often the curriculum feels so crammed that we punch through the weeks looking to ticking boxes and suddenly another year has passed. Teachers should visit other schools more often and spend time seeing high performing classrooms in action, highlight our great teachers and allow others to meet with them to ask for support or gather ideas. Mentoring is common in many professions, why not teaching as well? Especially early in their career, as the statistics state, this is when most graduates make it or break from the profession.

A career in education is an incredibly rewarding, stable job, with good conditions and reasonable remuneration and the goal to better our next generation, our communities and, ultimately, our world.

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