• 'Testing Teachers' participant Kitty van Cuylenburg at Melton Secondary College (SBS)
As the three-part documentary 'Testing Teachers' airs on SBS TV, SBS Italian catches up with a teacher who went through the same program as the six participants of the series, to get her perspective on the experience.
Magica Fossati

26 Apr 2017 - 11:37 AM  UPDATED 4 May 2017 - 2:47 PM

When she watched the first episode of Testing Teachers, Elizabeth Calder did it with an insider's perspective: like the six protagonists of the SBS series, she also took part in the Teach for Australia program. The not-for-profit organisation offers to graduates and, in some cases, even PhD holders, the possibility of becoming a teacher working in disadvantaged Australian schools for two years.

It is a difficult but formative experience, as Elizabeth tells us.

Listen to Elizabeth Calder's full interview (in English) with SBS Italian below: 

Elizabeth decided to join 'Teach for Australia' straight after graduating in Commerce. Her choice was born out of her desire to give back to society. In the two years she spent working in a school on the outskirts of Melbourne she became so passionate about teaching that she decided to make it her career of choice.

"I wanted to be a banker," Calder tells SBS Italian. "And I thought before entering the world of finance I should do something that benefited society."

"I have been very fortunate in terms of my education and family and I think with that good fortune comes a certain level of responsibility to help others"

Watching the first episode of the SBS program, which follows six Teach for Australia teachers facing their classes for the first time, Elizabeth relived part of her own experience.

"I remember being in the assembly hall and really realising that the ratio of students to teachers was really out of control, there were so many more kids than staff, and all schools are like that.

"I remember being quite scared by that"

Elizabeth admits that working in the most disadvantaged school is not easy, because often students come to class bringing with themselves the difficulties they face in their everyday lives.

In the school where she started off at, she recalls, it was not unusual for students to come to school without having eaten, or with clear signs of traumas that require special care.

In some cases the teacher has to be also a counselor, or a social worker. But despite the challenges Elizabeth realised very soon that teaching was the profession she wanted to pursue.

"I really enjoy it, it's such satisfying, heart warming, affirming work," says Calder. "I never come home wondering whether or not I have made a difference or whether or not what I do matters. And I think that sense of satisfaction can't be underestimated, and that's why I'm still in the classroom"

"I really enjoy it, it's such satisfying, heart warming, affirming work. I never come home wondering whether or not I have made a difference or whether or not what I do matters."

Elizabeth intends to see the rest of the Testing Teachers series, and find out what happens to the six protagonists.

"I really do feel for those six teachers [in the series], your first year is not easy, let alone having a camera in your classroom!" she says.

"And they've done a real service to the program and to the country exposing what it looks to be in the classroom.

"I'm really emotionally involved with them and I have only watched the first episode!"

Testing Teachers airs Wednesday nights at 8:30pm on SBS. The episodes are now streaming at SBS On Demand. Watch below. 

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