Why this teacher left the classroom…

A long time ago (it feels like a life-time) I finished school and began university. I had done well in school and immediately began providing private tuition to students who needed help with their studies. I was good at it and quickly built up a strong little business to put myself through university – I was training to be an engineer.

The problem was, that while I enjoyed engineering, I found that it wasn’t really my passion… I really wanted to help people, to TEACH people. So I re-trained and became a fully qualified teacher. When I left university, for the second time, I was prepared to teach in my chosen field – Junior Primary (prep-year 2), Primary (year 3-7 in SA) and Special Education.

I was really hoping for something in Special Education but I was ready to support students with special needs wherever I ended up. As it turned out I spent the vast majority of my career teaching mainstream high school Maths and Science.

During my time teaching within various school systems I have taught close to 1000 students. Each student has their own unique talents and abilities and also their own unique difficulties and challenges. As a passionate teacher I believe whole-heartedly in teaching to the whole child and uplifting their strengths while supporting them through challenges. This I tried to do, for all my students. And yet I know I failed.

Not because of a lack of effort, nor for a lack of commitment or ability. In fact I’ve had many students and parents tell me that they’ve done better and progressed more in my class than they ever have before or since! I worked from 7:30am to 5:30-6pm most weekdays; I worked weekends and at least half of every ‘school holiday’…but there was never enough time to plan detailed and effective lessons that would meet the needs of ALL my students in the time I had available.

When I taught in a primary school environment I saw students for an average of 24.5 hours per week. In an average class of 25 students that means that, had I worked 1:1 with each child, in a primary school I only had enough time to spend one hour per week per child.

In high school you only have your students for approximately four hours (actually it’s a bit less) if you’re teaching them one subject. In an average high school class each student gets less than 8 minutes a week of individual teacher attention.

This is not a judgement on any teacher, this is simply a fact. Time is scarce and teachers can only spread themselves so thin. As a result of this dilemma many lessons are presented to groups – they HAVE to be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as lots of great learning happens in groups.

Classroom teaching sometimes happens in small groups, sometimes large groups and sometimes individually. How much of each depends on the teacher and the cohort of students. For lots of kids this is perfectly fine…they match their peers in ability or they are able to persevere when they have difficulty and wait for assistance.

But what about the child who is so far behind that they have no idea what the teacher is talking about or what they are supposed to do? What about the child with ADHD who struggles to pay attention to the teacher? The autistic student who is obsessed by Pokemon and can’t think of anything else? How is the child with auditory or visual processing issues to keep up with the aural and visual noise of the classroom? None of these children will thrive in a mainstream classroom without intervention – intervention that is often not available.

HE:LP allows me to continue working in my area of passion, teaching, while simultaneously ensuring that I have the time and resources to dedicate to my students.

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