A Teacher’s Story

In this guest post, Michael Graffin , a young Australian teacher, shares his story…

A life journey begins …

About seven years ago, I was the Year 12 Academic Dux of my school, and I had no idea about what I wanted to do with my life. My teachers wanted me to become an engineer. My parents thought I’d make a good teacher.

My journey began as a work-experience student at my local primary school, where an encounter with one particular child would change the course of my life. This child wasn’t the nicest, brightest or most well-behaved kid in the class. He was small, academically weak, and not particularly well-behaved. Unfortunately, his teacher’s management approach consisted of yelling and sending him to time-out in the storage alcove at the back of the class, his “second home”.

Even then, this struck a nerve; and I made a point of working with this kid in his little time-out space. To this day, I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as I helped him with his maths. At that point, I knew: I was going into teaching to help those troubled children who other teachers had given up on.

I was only 17, and I was going to be a teacher. Little did I know …

I excelled in my university studies, yet I entered teaching ill-equipped to cope with the practical realities of teaching. While I took steps to rectify my glaring weaknesses, more than anyone will ever know, I spent my first year and a half of teaching feeling disillusioned, bitter, incompetent and isolated.

Things got better …

I was a relief  teacher – free to learn from my mistakes, develop my classroom management skills, and take risks in my teaching. It wasn’t an easy road – I got knocked around on many occasions, but I came to appreciate the opportunity to observe and reflect on experienced teachers’ practice in different schools.

But they haven’t always gone to plan …

I was appointed to my very first class – without warning, on the first day of the 2011 school year. Sadly, the position lasted a mere six days. There was a staffing reallocation, and my class, ‘Room 11’, was no more. My students were split up, and I was moved into a temporary, eclectic teaching and support role.

It took me a long time to recover from this crushing disappointment, but I became a stronger, more mature teacher for the experience. I may not have had my ‘own’ class, but for the first time in my life, I felt like a teacher. I had my staff badge, my own keys, and the freedom to quietly experiment with ICT. I wasn’t an outsider. I was part of a community.

I’ve learnt and been through so much, and I’m moving on …

My journey wasn’t meant to be easy. It’s been one wild ride. Yet, with the grace of God, I’m still here. I’m not quitting. Why should I?  My experiences have helped me better appreciate my family and my PLN (Personal Learning Network).

Now, after rediscovering my passion for teaching, I take a great deal of comfort from @coolcatteacher’s recent reflections:  

The greatest teachers often have the greatest obstacles to overcome. The greatest shames … You don’t really see the pain. You don’t [see] the heartache …. as they experience their own humiliation and failure. They are there.  

I know.  I see it.  I feel it.  I refuse to believe it is all for nothing.

One day, I will teach a class of my own. For now, it’s time to move on.

Perhaps, one day, I will become a great teacher.  I certainly hope so.

Michael blogs at A Relief Teacher’s Journey.

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14 thoughts on “A Teacher’s Story

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I have had one of the worst weeks this week, but it was just one week. I am at the end of my teacher training while already working part-time. So much of what you wrote resonated. I am in the middle of that first year and a half “feeling disillusioned, bitter, incompetent and isolated”.

    I am in the classroom on a Saturday trying to juggle priorities, but not willing to do any of the things that need doing because I feel so lousy. But now I will pick up a pen and do thing #1. Then thing #2. And by the end of the day, I am hoping that I feel a bit better than I do right now. This is not all for nothing. I will get there.

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  2. I am so sorry to hear that your first few years are not what you had anticipated. A few years ago a politician friend of mine once remarked that a bad day in government is worth 1000 good ones in opposition. I think that the same rings through for teaching, you might have a bad day, many bad days but they sure as heck beat good days doing something else.

    Kia Kaha Michael

    I hope things get better soon.

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  3. I just wanted to respond to some of the comments feeding through here and on Twitter over the past few hours.

    Yes, my journey hasn’t been an easy one … but it has helped form me into the passionate, globally connected educator I am today.

    We have our low points … yet, in the end, things DO get better. It may take a while to find the silver lining in our experiences, particularly as an early career teacher, but it is there.

    Perhaps, by sharing our stories, our successes and our failures we can help new teachers understand that they are not alone in their struggles.

    Perhaps by raising awareness of our experiences, teacher-trainers and mentors can better prepare new teachers entering the profession. Many new classroom teachers are mentored and supported – but the new relief teachers tend to be forgotten – they need the support too.

    Beginning teaching isn’t a smooth road, but the journey becomes a lot smoother when you have a supportive PLN, who are happy to share their insights, expertise, and experience with you. Please, if you’re a new teacher … try joining the Twitter education community. We are here to help.

    So as I wrote in this post, one day I hope to find my niche.

    Until then, I’m happy to learn, teach & reflect on the journey.

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  4. well done, well said, it does get better I know, been in the somewhat same place but 10 years later I have my own classroom and you will too!

    Besides, who else keeps me on my toes? :0)

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  5. Really interesting to learn a little more about you and understand some of your motivations. It would be good to hear some of the defining moments of your teaching career so far. Those moments that have made you the teacher you are today.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Sharon and Pooky, thankyou so much for your support.

    I know that one day, perhaps in a few years time, I will have my own class.

    Yet, I believe it is important for me, in particular, to understand that the bumpy road I’ve travelled has had an incredibly positive influence on my teaching. While it felt like my world was ending at times, these experiences have helped me become a stronger, more resilient teacher.

    My experiences are hardly unique, and I think part of the motivation for writing this was to emphasise that new teachers are not alone in their struggles – they are a rite of passage, but the pain can be alleviated when you can draw upon the support of a PLN.

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  7. Michael~
    I would have to say your “one day” is already here. With your support I have learned so much about PLN’s, #globalclassrom, the beauty global conversation, and dare I say…participating in Wiki!this may not have been your intended plan for your career, but it is a powerful “side step” ! Thanx for side-stepping!
    ~deb

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  8. Hello Michael
    As a relief teacher of many years experience I believe that when you do hold the keys to your own classroom again you will be better equipped than you ever dreamed to manage, mentor, motivate, mend, mediate and massage the egos of the students who are lucky enough to come your way. Every day you spend in someone else’s classroom is shaping the teacher you will become.
    Keep up the good work. Guess what, unbeknown to you, others are learning from you as well.

    What’s that chasey game called?

    mystery teacher

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    1. Oh dear, I’m in trouble now! My dear “mystery” colleague has been reading my blog again!

      Yes, my little journey may be a ‘side-step’ in the greater scheme of things, but it has helped make me a more caring, innovative teacher. I’m glad that others’ are learning from me, and one day I hope to see my work reflected in my students.

      In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy those special moments – like the time two close friends, on opposite sides of the world, find and comment on my story.

      And Di, it’s called “LIne Chasey” … I’ll dig a few other games out of my journal for you as well.

      Thankyou for the feedback.

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  9. It’s ironic. I’d forgotten about writing this ….

    As I re-read my story, I am reminded and comforted by the knowledge that it HAS NOT been all for nothing …

    In the year and a half since I wrote this post, I’ve finally started to find my space, my calling in the global education field.

    Isn’t it ironic … that I was literally starting on my global education journey as I was writing this post, and never knew what I was getting into …

    Life’s like that.

    Once again, thank you Edna, for the support and encouragement over the years; and particularly, thank you for the inspiration for this post.

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