Career Insight: High School Teacher (Maths/Science)
In a nutshell, what do you do?
I teach maths and science. Easy.
Why did you decide to become a High School Maths / Science Teacher?
I didn’t initially. I was originally studying Biomedical Engineering, with the hope to go into that field and do some great research and create some cool stuff, but then when I started uni, I realised I hated the idea of being stuck in an environment where I would be mostly on my own. So I started thinking what my strengths were, and realised I was really good working with young people. I combined my love of science with the enjoyment of working with young people to become a maths/science teacher.
What path did you take into it?
Straight from school into university, then I changed courses in my 2nd year of uni. Fortunately a lot of subjects I had studied in first year counted as electives for my Major, so I only had to do a couple of semesters with an extra subject (studying 5 at a time instead of 4) to finish in the normal time frame of 4 years.
What, in your opinion, is the best bit of being a High School Maths / Science Teacher?
Most people say the holidays, but I actually don’t like those so much. I enjoy that every day is a different challenge. Each day I am working with anywhere up to 150 students, working out what they work well with, what they struggle with, and also managing 20 to 30 personalities in a room, all competing for the spotlight.
I love the challenge of making my subject areas (which traditionally aren’t too many people’s favourite areas) into something everyone can cope with, as well as challenging those who need a bit more push.
Every job has its downsides. What do you think are the worst bits?
The first 5 years were definitely tough. In that time I struggled to be myself as a teacher, but instead based what I did on what I thought a teacher should be. In the last few years I have been able to settle in to more of a groove and just get on with the teaching.
Day to day, the politics are probably the worst thing. Every school has them – I have taught Private and State, as well as overseas, and every single school and system has its own unique set of politics.
Is it what you expected when you first started out – and what’s different?
Mostly yes, we all went to school and have a fair idea of what goes on. I knew from other things I had been involved in that there would be a decent amount of prep work to do, and that’s probably the biggest shock to most people. It’s worth it though.
What do the public least understand – or mistake – about what you do?
TEACHING IS NOT A 9-3 JOB!!!! I do not know any teacher who can do the job properly in that time frame. Most people at my work arrive by 7:30 and leave after 4. That’s a good day. Add in sport training, after school tutoring, meetings, parent interviews…. It’s easy to have long days.
What kind of people tend to do well?
Organisation is hugely important. In high schools there are a whole range of personalities which make the different areas work. In Maths and Science, you really need to be able to stick to a plan – there is so much to get through with National Curriculum now that there really is not time for much deviation.
Also, you need to be able to relate to your students. No good being a teacher if you hate kids! Also no good being a teacher if you can’t take a joke, or 100! And finally, no good being a teacher if you can’t stand it when someone doesn’t get what you are talking about… sometimes you’re going to have to explain some things in 15 different ways, and then direct them to someone else (or YouTube)
Finally, any advice you’d offer to people looking to get into this line of work?
Talk to someone you know who is a teacher – or talk to your own teachers. Get an idea of what they do in a day. Don’t be put off by the fact you think school is boring – I hated school and my teachers really did not like me, but I think that makes it better because I know what I didn’t want school to be, and can help make it a little bit more interesting for those who are like I was.