A Christmas message

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas – the spirit of giving, spending time with family and friends. I just hate the commercialism attached to it. As a teen I would wrap presents in newspaper. As a parent, I feel for those who don’t celebrate Santa as it’s seemingly inescapable.

Even then, my celebration of Christmas has evolved in the last few years. As a family we’ve started doing secret Santa. I love it. It means less presents for me but that’s ok. Presents are just an excuse to get together. Adulthood is busy and I don’t see my friends as often as I’d like but we ensure we get together every Christmas to give presents to each other’s kids. Anyway, what I like about secret Santa is that everyone gets a gift but the focus is on enjoying the company and not unwrapping the bits and bobs.

I’ve also taken to writing Christmas cards recently. I never used to. I hate the things. Generally people write ‘To’ and ‘From’ with little extra – what’s the point? If that’s all you’re doing you might as well just send a text (and in saying that I’ve possibly offended some people unintentionally). My favourite cards came from a colleague when I first started teaching. Lisa had the same amount of experience as me but she had a sensibility about her that I lacked. Each Christmas in those first few years she would write a detailed observation about my year. I’m trying to recreate that. I’m notoriously bad at complementing people but we’ve had a number of new staff come through our office in the last few years, people that don’t realise just how good they are. So what I do now is use Christmas as an opportunity to let them know just how much they are appreciated.

I think that’s what the holidays boil down to, showing people you appreciate them. I don’t care what religion you follow, all faiths preach tolerance and love.

I teach students with enormous potential, brilliant minds and compassionate hearts but I don’t tell them this as often as I could. I have a family that I love deeply but I don’t tell them as often as I should. I have friends that have shaped who I am more than anything else on this earth but I can’t tell them because we’re all blokes and expressing our feelings to each other is socially awkward.

But it’s Christmas so who cares?

To my students, colleagues, family and friends – you make me. We define ourselves through our interactions with others; you are the people I interact with the most.

Wishing you all the merriest of Christmases and happiest of holidays. May the next few days shine brighter than most.


When ATAR is your Everest

We’re a couple of weeks from this year’s ATAR results being released. This New Year’s Eve teenagers will be drinking the night away but they won’t know until that day if it’s celebratory or in commiseration of a year ‘wasted’.


School systems use ATAR and similar processes because corporal punishment and physical torture are no longer legal. Students put themselves through this because anxiety and self-loathing are hip (but, ironically, the term ‘hip’ isn’t).


Realistically, education departments implement these pathways because they are deemed effective and no one can come up with an alternative that appeases all parties. Meanwhile, students enrol in it because it is the quickest and most obvious way into tertiary education.


It’s hard. Year 12 is full of distractions. Imagine trying to produce your best analytical writing while dealing with the ball, graduation, leavers, work, sporting commitments, hormones, social engagements and family issues. Regardless, every year a great number of students struggle through these courses.


I don’t hide my failures. I underperformed in my TEE exams and couldn’t get into the course I wanted. When I first said I wanted to be an English teacher neither my parents nor the staff where I attended school were very supportive. I was laughed at. When my TEE results came through it would have been easy to throw in the towel and move into a career that didn’t require tertiary education.


But… I am not a number. I am not a statistic.


The best part of this time of year is the number of positive stories about people not letting their results define them. My favourite of these is the spoken word poem by Suli Breaks.


He also has this one.


Common to these stories are people, like me, who didn’t get the score they wanted or needed. That’s not to say all of them are. I recently came across this story about a Victorian student who doesn’t know her result and doesn’t want to know because the actual numbers mean nothing to her.


Here’s what I think.


Whatever you decide to do with your life, whatever you want to be, will be determined more by your attitude than anything else. I’m going to be a cowboy with my idioms here but when life gives you lemons it’s because life is a bitch. The easiest thing you can ever do is make friends with could have and but.


I could have been anything but [insert excuse].


If you are born into a first world country you are already ahead of the curve. An income of $32,400 USD puts you in the top 1% of wage earners worldwide. That’s not the 1% that “Occupy Wall Street” focussed on but it certainly puts things into perspective. So many of our issues can be overcome if we approach them with the right attitude.


I’m not selling The Secret but I’m a firm believer of these statements:

  • Positivity breeds positivity
  • Fake it ’til you make it
  • Confidence conquers all


If you don’t get the exam results you need for the course you want you have two choices. You can bury your head in the sand, blame external factors and (later) reminisce about what could have been OR you can research your options and knuckle down.


If you get the exam results you need for the course you want, congratulations – don’t let it get to your head.


What I want:

I want people to seek knowledge because it is good for their brain. The question, “are we getting marks for this?” is one of my most hated utterances. Imagine if every action was dependent on getting some form of reward. Oh, you’ve had an accident and need me to call an ambulance. Why should I? What’s in it for me?

I want people to be humble in victory and determined in defeat.

I want to make a difference. It’s why I teach. If I improve just one life I will consider myself a success. If we all made an effort to improve a life (not our own nor an immediate family member or friend where we may reap the benefits) then the world would be a better place. In writing this, and spreading a similar message in my classrooms, I might improve the resilience of a student who will overcome failure to change the world. I might have already done this, only time will tell. For now, I’ll keep doing what I do.



Radio, it’s as easy as ABC

Excursions are a pain to organise. The sheer volume of paperwork makes you question whether or not it is essential to leave school premises so when someone asks you to tag along on their trip you leap at the opportunity. Why? Because the worst behaved kids are generally unrecognisable once you get them out of the classroom because it is that environment that brings out their worst – put them in public and they often perform at their best. Today I was out with some of our best kids… it was hilarious.

Today’s students were part of my school’s gifted and talented program and they were out learning about how radio works under the guidance of a fantastic English/media teacher whose ability masks her inexperience. My primary role was bus driver but I think I brought more to the table thanks to my excursion-within-an-excursion. More on that later.

We boarded the bus and the initial leg was filled with an energy built on anticipation and excitement. The kids were tasked with an impromptu research assignment while we traversed the freeway which they soon completed and reported back to their peers – I told you they were our better students.

The ABC studios was our first stop. The national broadcaster houses facilities for radio, TV, and film and we got to see everything. We were greeted at the door by Sarah, the manager, and Mike, the security officer and fire warden. Sarah walked us through the building. We started in the radio broadcast room where we saw the producers hard at work behind the scenes, the presenter talking into the microphone in the adjacent soundproof booth. It was likened to a duck on water; the presenter was the surface level calm but beneath that was a flurry of activity.  It was fascinating to see the producers having hurried phone conversations while surfing the net and watching TV. All the while they engaged our students and answered their questions, no doubt a difficult task.

We then got to see the front and back end of a recording studio followed by a sound stage. In this space we saw remnants of film and television projects including the movie, Blue Dog, and the classic to show, Countdown.


The students were mostly fascinated by a unreachable door that opened onto the second floor but could only be accessed by crane (and wasn’t an architectural joke like they hoped it was). This was the first of many things that excited the kids. The tardis booth was a high point for some but the drama room (used to record radio theatre/drama) was loved by all, including me. I relished the opportunity to use coconut shells to mimic the sound of horse hooves and was intrigued by a set of stairs which had three different textures per step so that it could be used to suggest a variety of settings when you hear them being stepped on during a broadcast.

I think the kids dropped ten years at this point of the tour – they were as excited as toddlers at Christmas.

Sarah bid us farewell at this point and we hit up a cafe for lunch before moving on to our next venue. We arrived at RTR earlier than expected so I suggested we hit up Planet Books before continuing along the initial program. We ended up just browsing at this point but we popped back in afterwards for people to buy things they’d previously eyed off – this included a student spending in excess of $100.

RTR was amazing. Chris, presenter and operations/volunteer manager, had his knowledge of their segments tested by students who felt as if they’d found a new home – in fact, one asked if he could stay indefinitely and many will look to do work experience there in the future.

The opportunity to see a community radio station after the bells and whistles of the ABC was an eye opener. It’s amazing to think of what Chris and his colleagues produce when you know they lack decent funding.



The bus ride home was a lot more sedate. The students had been excited and eager for the whole day so it was not surprising that they crashed. I’ll probably crash soon too but for now I’m still buzzing.

I Need a Man

A young boy is crying. He seeks out his favourite teacher and, when he finds her, she embraces him and tells him everything is going to be alright.

Most people hearing that scenario would have no issues with it; until you swap their gender.

A young girl is crying. She seeks out her favourite teacher and, when she finds him, he embraces her and tells her everything is going to be alright.

All of a sudden there are some concerns, some sideways glances and raised eyebrows.

I am a teacher. I identify as male. In my career I have been put in a position where I have to ignore human nature because of the perception my actions could incur. I don’t know about you but when someone is crying my natural reaction is to want to comfort them. I can’t do this in my profession for fear of losing my career.

As a part of their training, teachers are told to avoid private dialogue with students. We are encouraged to not be in a room alone with students, to ensure there is always a crowd, to keep all doors open, to remain visible. We are told to be firm and fair but not friendly. We have a governing body called Standards and Integrity that assesses our conduct and investigates allegations against us.

There is something about this whole process that doesn’t sit right. In a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty but in the classroom it feels like that guilt is already assumed. It’s a real shame that we constantly have to think about perception and protecting ourselves because I absolutely love my job.

I’ve encouraged others into teaching too. 7 of my year 12s in the last 2 years are exploring teaching as future careers. Disappointingly, they are all female.

In WA women outnumber men in teaching roles by more than 1 to 5. This is particularly evident in our primary schools where only 17.2% of teachers are men.

We’re actually fortunate at CBC where, in our English department, we have 4 males in an office that houses 16 teachers and 3 EAs. Fortunate! We’re lucky to have similar representation in science, mathematics and S&E.

It is a profession dominated by women because it is a nurturing role and western society has traditionally associated this with the feminine. When the public see men in these roles they are quick to label them as deviants – I know, I’ve done it myself. I felt the unease when a male started working at the daycare centre my kids attended despite the fact I work in education myself. We jump to these conclusions because the media sensationalises reports about child pornography, popular media glamorises student-teacher relationships and the “sexy” school girl look is a common archetype in adult and mainstream media.

It’s hard because as long as these portrayals and reports continue to flood our media we will never shed this stigma. And we need to. The longer this stereotype or stigma exists, the harder it will be to entice males into teaching.

I worry about today’s youth. There has been so much social change in my lifetime alone.

Divorce and broken families appear common place.

Many children are being raised without male role models. Where, then, are they expected to learn how to act around each other, around the opposite sex, around people of different ethnicities or age or sexuality?

And this is with a traditional mindset towards gender. How scary and uncertain must the world be for anyone who doesn’t conform to the principles of male/female, masculine/feminine? Gender fluidity is real and we will never acknowledge this in our school systems if we can’t even get past the idea of men in the classroom.

We live in such fear of each other.

You only need to look at the terrorist witch hunts or the suppression of gay rights or women’s rights or black rights to see this on a global scale but it happens at local level too.

Recently a charity drive for the education of African girls was shut down in my school because a small handful of conservative staff members were offended by the notion of men wearing dresses for a day. Among their complaints was the suggestion that they “didn’t want to have to explain what being gay was”. This is despite the fact that the males who had confirmed their interest in taking part, myself included, were happily married heterosexuals. This narrow-mindedness is proof of the need for more diversity in our schools. This pig-headedness is proof of the need for more staff members with a modern mindset.

Not all of my students are heterosexual. Not all of my students identify as the gender that matches the sex they were born as. Not all of my students identify as male or female.

I want them to know that’s okay.

Not all of my students have parents that take an active interest in their lifestyle. Not all of my students have male role models at home.

I want them to know that’s okay too.

Not all of my students have had male role models at school.

I want you to know that’s not okay.

I want you to know that your child can be cared for, encouraged and supported without there being some deviant agenda. I want you to know that teachers want to see your child succeed not just in their classroom but in life.

And if you’re male, I want you to teach.