• G.Sasha Lytas, Felicity Stark & Stephanie Ludekens are teachers featured on the new observational documentary series Testing Teachers (SBS)Source: SBS
Teachers are overworked, underpaid, and are generally not equipped with the resources needed to educate our kids. We speak to a group of teachers who offer insight on just how great a struggle it can be.
Jenna Martin

22 Mar 2017 - 2:54 PM  UPDATED 10 Apr 2017 - 10:07 AM

If you’ve ever thought teaching was an easy gig, this is the show for you. If you’ve ever thought teachers get too many holidays, whinge too much and strike too often, this is the show for you. 

You probably need your eyes opened.

If you needed convincing that teachers are overworked, underappreciated and - most importantly - underpaid, this is the show that might just inspire you to march upon parliament and demand teachers graduate with starting salaries of $200k minimum, and retire with lifetime pensions, and possibly an OAM.

Testing Teachers follows six recent graduates into the classroom in their first year of teaching. They’re placed in schools in challenging communities badly in need of funding and fresh ideas, and will find their training (and their enthusiasm) tested by the brutal realities of day-to-day life in the classroom. With statistics saying around 40 percent of teachers quit in the first year, there’s no guarantee these six will make it.

Inspired by the show, I spoke to some working teachers, some with more than 20 years’ experience, to see what sort of challenges the group would face. What follows are candid quotes that these teachers offered me. I came away from the conversations stunned.

These days you’re not just their teacher, you’re a parent, friend, and often a social worker

“There’s a boy in my year seven class who lives with his grandparents because his mum is in rehab and his dad tried to commit suicide. He finds it hard to concentrate, which is understandable.”

“A boy in my class lost his mum last year. His dad keeps telling him he’s worthless. The neighbours call me all the time to let me know his dad has been at it again. He rotates between living with his grandparents and with Dad, but there’s no structure or stability. Whenever I try to talk to him, he cries and runs away.”

“There’s a girl in my class who used to be a boy. She’s 13 and gets picked on quite a lot.”

“I have a bunch of kids in the senior classes who are couch hopping while doing their HSC. Their parents have kicked them out - sometimes because they’re hard work but other times they just don’t know how to parent them. But they’re really trying hard to make a life for themselves.”  

On how tough it is being a teacher now versus then

“For a new teacher, you no longer get to learn your trade. You have to complete a portfolio to show you can teach - this takes hours. Plus there’s 100 hours of professional development to complete in the first few years. It’s not as straightforward as it used to be.”

“You have extra meetings and extra commitments like sporting teams and events that take place outside regular school hours. You’re expected to be there to show your support, both for the kids and the other staff. People sort of forget you have your own families - and lives - to go home to at the end of the day.”

“Going on an excursion these days takes weeks of planning to organise because of risk assessments.”

“Some of the newer teachers will get paid $20,000 less than some of their senior colleagues and they’re working twice as hard because they have so many more hoops to jump through to prove their worth.”


On the effect of technology on the lives of kids…

“It’s had a massive impact. [Kids] are so used to instant gratification with their games and devices that they can’t commit to things for extended periods of time. When things aren’t entertaining in the classroom, they get bored. They have their favourite shows and games at their fingertips all the time. It’s getting harder to plan lessons and harder to compete for their attention.”

On social media…

“It’s massive for the girls. They never escape it - the bitching, the images of themselves, the need to like stuff and comment… It lasts well into the night.”

On pushy parents…

“It seems that we as teachers are trusted less and less. When I call parents now I know that half the mums are going to say, “Yeah, he says you pick on him a lot. He doesn’t like writing; he has ADD, you know; he needs a lot of positive reinforcement!” It feels a bit rude to say, ‘Lady, I have 30 kids in the class and they’ve all got something,' but it’s sort of the case these days.”

On why you do it…

“I love being part of their lives and watching the kids from struggling families achieve and grow.”

“I love it when the kids call me Mum or Dad accidentally because I know I’m part of their day-to-day routine. I’d like to take some of them home, but you just do what you can do and try to forget some things when you get home. If you didn’t, you’d go mad.”

“It’s a great job. Without teachers you wouldn’t have any other profession. You wouldn’t have doctors or lawyers or writers or painters or scientists… but good luck buying a house in Sydney on a teacher’s wage!”

Testing Teachers features six teachers and three public schools, all with one aim: to make a difference in young lives. The documentary debuts 19 April on SBS and will be available on SBS On Demand after broadcast. 

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