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Support network for graduate teachers more important than ever during pandemic

Support network: St Rita’s College deputy principal studies Maree Trims with teacher Ben Babao.

AS if embarking on a new career wasn’t enough of a challenge, graduate teachers were thrown into uncharted territory because of COVID-19, and schools moved to online learning.

During her recent fortnightly meeting with the college’s graduate teachers, St Rita’s College deputy principal studies Maree Trims noticed that professional learning meetings for beginning teachers had been cancelled due to pandemic restrictions.

This created a gap in the networking opportunities they usually rely on.

“I asked our graduate teachers if they would find it beneficial to connect with others in their first year to chat about how they are coping with their first year of teaching and the major change in education, at a time when they are only just finding their feet,” Mrs Trims said.

Mrs Trims, who also launched a Deputy Principal Curriculum Network with two colleagues five years ago as they prepared for the new senior curriculum, said a similar network of graduate teachers from like-minded schools would be a great support for those starting out.

“We’ve formed a really good friendship and network among the deputy principals, and we now share an abundance of resources,” she said.

“There is a lot of support to be gained from reaching out to colleagues in other schools, especially those who teach in the same fields and who are in a similar situation.”

The first meeting was virtually attended by 17 graduate teachers from Catholic girls’ schools via Zoom.

It also featured guest speakers Nicola McCabe and Benjamin Babao (second and third-year St Rita’s College teachers), as well as Jackie Woods from Lourdes Hill College, who shared their own advice and experiences.

Mathematics teacher Mr Babao, also a Head of House at St Rita’s, said he was fortunate enough to go straight from university into a teaching position in 2017.

“Of outstanding importance for me is that after three years in the job, I still love coming to work every day; I’m still happy doing my job,” he said.

Mr Babao’s advice included the importance of not fixating on the “small stuff” and taking advantage of the great work done by support staff.

“One thing I always keep in mind is that there is every chance the teacher aide in your room has been in way more classrooms and has seen a lot more than you have,” he said to the group.

“Ask for ideas and ask for help where needed; they will appreciate this and you will get more out of the interaction.”

Science teacher Ms Woods shared similar advice, emphasising the benefits of recruiting the help of laboratory assistants.

“If you’re really not sure what practical activities you can do, ask them; tell them what you want to do and see if they have any ideas,” she said.

“There is so much in teaching where you feel like you have to cover every single thing; don’t try to do everything at once.”

St Rita’s College graduate teacher Georgia Dogger said she had already reached out to teachers in her subject field following the network’s first meeting.

“Together, we have the opportunity to workshop our approaches to delivering these units in the most engaging and accessible way for our students,” Mrs Dogger said.

“We are striving to be experts in our field, meaning that we can never allow ourselves to stop learning; each of us brings a unique flair which can positively contribute to practical suggestions for lesson planning and content delivery.

“There is a lot to be said for having people around you who can empathise with your situation and offer support when everything is new.”

The group will continue to meet following the conclusion of Learning at Home.

“We are looking forward to meeting as a face-to-face network here at St Rita’s as soon as it is possible to do so,” Mrs Trims said.

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