Why Teach? Why Lead? Part 1

I have been working with our school’s Technology for Learning teacher for over 2 years. She has now become a mentor to me to help me develop my leadership skills. Although I have been a Domain Technology Leader for 2 years, my understanding on what it means to be a leader has been a little hazy. It has also been a slow progress as I’ve tried to ensure that I know everything about technology (my 1st mistake) and create all the Technology resources by myself (my 2nd mistake). This has resulted in me learning about all these great ideas and ways to implement technology in my subject areas but the knowledge has not been passed on. I have not empowered the other teachers in my domain technology team to build their own capacity and knowledge. So to rectify this I have approached leaders within my school to help me change my practice. I’m also trying to engage in Twitter conversations on what it means to be a leader.

A recent conversation with my mentor opened up the questions of “Why I became a teacher?” and “Why I wanted to be a leader?” This was the result of me writing down the 3 goals I wanted to achieve as a leader. To break down the goals I had to ask “why I wanted to achieve those goals”. To answer that, I had to look at my past. What made me want to become a teacher? What made me want to be a Leader? What type of Teacher/Leader did I want to become?

To start of with why I chose teaching as my career, it’s a bit embarrassing to admit it. In high school I decided I wanted to be a teacher because of the “short” hours. Yes, all you teachers can laugh here but this was my view of teachers as a student (I wonder how many of my students have the same opinion of teaching these days?). In Pakistan (where I grew up), our classes started about 8.30 am and finished around 1.30pm (1pm for primary classes). This was in my school specifically. Each lesson was half an hour per subject and we had 8 subjects. Sometimes we had a double lesson which was an hour long. We also sat in allocated seating and weren’t allowed to move (there wasn’t much space to move anyway). The lessons were teacher directed. At the end of the day teachers and students went home. So it created an image in my mind that it would be an ideal career. I didn’t want to study medicine (I felt queasy every time we studied Science) and I didn’t want to work in an office (my parents did and I saw this as long working hours). I had no idea of the long hours teachers put in correct work and planning for lessons. I thought they did this all within the time they were at school. So when I finally realised how many unseen hours are added to a teacher’s day, it was a shock and for a while it put a halt on my wish to become a teacher. I was unsure of what I wanted to do as I entered university soon after moving to Australia and therefore decided to do a Bachelor of Arts degree to see what other options I had (Science, Commerce, Business and other like degrees I ignored because I wasn’t interested in them). Doing a B.A seemed to suit me because it had subjects I was interested in- namely English, History, Sociology and European Studies. I had 3 years to re-think my options and I hoped that at the end of it I could decide what I wanted to become.

I struggled to get through university because I wasn’t motivated and had no clear sense of where I was headed. My mother pushed me (and at times forced me) to continue with my studies because she knew that once I stopped it would be hard to go back. Whilst I reluctantly plodded through my course, I started to question my original wish to be a teacher. I knew that I had been a student who had lost motivation to study in high school. My critical examination of my schooling experience and some of my teachers’ inability to motivate me, made me realise that there was a blame on both sides. I did not ask for help and try to hide behind others when questioned in class. My teachers didn’t know that I was more a kinesthetic learner and would be more engaged in class if we had hands-on learning. Book work bored me and I just did it because I was expected to and that was the tradition. Our learning involved the “sit down, be quiet and listen” method. University helped me become a more independent learner but I struggled as that was not the way I was taught. I was “spoon fed” and so thinking for myself was hard. I had to learn how to question what I was learning and why. I had to self-motivate in order to get through my units. Tutorials were especially hard because I had to voice my own opinions and had to be able to support my arguments with evidence.

At the end of my Arts/Honours degree I realised that I still wanted to be a teacher. I changed my mind about being a primary school teacher and enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary). The reason for this was initially because Australian primary schools were very different to the school I went to and I thought that I’d be able to cope in a secondary school. Another reason for this was that in Secondary school I had lost my confidence to speak and became a reluctant learner. I didn’t want this to happen to other students. Despite being a relatively mediocre student and having disliked going to school, I knew that I was headed back to school life but this time as a teacher. I wanted to change the way students learnt in the classroom. I wanted to be the one to encourage them and support them. I wanted them to realise that’s it ok to not be the top student in class and that they could achieve anything they wanted if they worked for it and received the support. I wanted them to find joy in learning and to support them if they struggled. I wanted to be a champion for the quiet ones- the ones who blend into the background and are overlooked. The ones who ask for acceptance with their eyes and expressions but not their mouths. The ones who struggle to make themselves heard or even to be noticed. I wanted to help them realise their strengths and to accept themselves. I wanted to be the teacher I never had.

I also had another reason for wanting to be a teacher. I felt that I was one of the lucky ones (especially a lucky girl) to receive an education in Pakistan. I was also lucky that my parents made sacrifices to give me a good education- to pay my fees so that I could complete my O and A levels (we sat exams that were sent to us from Britain and our papers were posted to British examiners). I received a quality education which many in my country weren’t privileged to receive. Receiving an education was a privilege for those who could afford it- it wasn’t a right as it is in many Western countries. There were also vast differences between the types of education received. To complete your O and A levels, you had to sit an entrance test and you needed money to pay for the cost of posting exams papers to and from Britain. I am grateful that my parents could afford to pay for them. Whilst I struggled at school, I was still thankful and privileged to receive a good education. I wanted to repay it by teaching. It was my way of saying thank you. It wasn’t the high paying job that was expected of me, but it was my choice. It was the only way I could see of giving back to the community.

I vowed to be a teacher who could help all the students in my class (very ambitious I know but hey, I need to aim high). I wanted to be one who could work with them and encourage them to be what they wanted to me. I wanted my students to know that they need to be true to themselves and there was no limit to what they could achieve. I wanted them to not be afraid of the world outside the classroom and to see each challenge as a way to achieving their dreams. Whilst I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make a difference in every child’s life, I would try my best. If I succeeded with even a few, it would make a difference in their lives.

-Image courtesy of fotographic1980- (1)

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