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  • Sean Dougdale-Martin

Yeesh, that’s a shame

Taught by: Sean Dougdale-Martin (they/he)

There was a time at Wellington High School during Covid where everyone had to wear masks. During my placement at Welly High the restrictions lifted for a bit, and one day I removed my mask. A Year 10 saw the lower half of my face for the first time and immediately remarked “yeesh, that’s a shame.”

At the beginning of teachers training you are recommended to quit any other work you have to focus on the course. I quit two jobs to begin the postgraduate diploma of secondary school teaching and really regretted it. For master’s students who are on placement almost all year round it’s a different story, but I had three placements during the year: one week at Wellington Girls High School, eight weeks at Wellington High School, and eight weeks at Rongotai College. Because the placements are such a deep end, where the lectures once a week are such a kiddy pool, it is make-or-break. The one week placement at the start changes a lot of people's minds. This is generally the week where people realise that teaching as a backup to their arts degree isn’t a great idea. 

Outside of these 17 weeks I was at uni two days out of seven in any given week. I didn’t find it too challenging to keep on top of studying during the other five days, but I was dedicating a lot of time to freelance and contract work just to stay afloat. I ended up being a dogsbody at Circa Theatre helping put up and take down sets, looping cables, organising tools and stuff like that.

Every single person who has gone through teachers training college will have something critical to say about it. To what extent that is a complete indictment of the course vs  a mere illustration of teachers having heaps to say about everything ever, who knows! I will say that the lecturers do their best; they are always coming from a good place, and trying to do better for the kids.

Education can be quite a savage arena. The longer I am in the industry the more I have learned about interpersonal politics between teachers in the classroom, lecturers at teachers training college, and those working at the Ministry of Education. Front-line teachers can be quite critical of lecturers and MoE. Teaching is the trendiest profession, and it’s staggering to recall how much the culture has changed even during my short three years in the job. Because of this, instructors at tertiary teaching courses may not be taken seriously since, after all, when was the last time they actually utilised the strategies they are teaching? 

There is no best way to teach, and part of me thinks the criticism of lecturers comes from a place of resentment for any teacher truly knowing more than any other. The job is hard. Kids will tell you the meanest things for no reason, just because they can. They have to be there and some of them hate that., Yyou are paid to be there and aren’t allowed to be upset. The position of teacher is one where you are always improving, realistically this is just like any other job, however the stakes are quite high when dealing with children—you do always wish you could just get it right. However, it is never so simple.

One time in ‘23 I bleached my hair. It was my second year at Newlands College and I felt confident and stylish. I walked into my form class and the first thing any of the students said was “do you just wake up, look in the mirror, and lie to yourself?” I find stuff like this funny, but this is one of the more comedic times a student has said something challenging. To work through the actually challenging moments it pays to have strong decompression methods. I free-write as one of mine but I also have a strong network of friendly teachers where I work. Both of these have been necessary for getting through the rougher stuff kids put you through. 

I love teaching. It’s gotta be one of the best jobs in the world. I think everyone should teach something at some point in their lives. Not in a high school setting specifically but the act of trying to teach another human, or a group of humans, builds a sense of communication and perspective that I think is necessary for everyone. How can I put this in an accessible way where this person will understand and not try to hit me? The tools that I’ve learned from teaching are tools that I personally use in my day to day life, improving how I interact with other humans.

There was a student at Wellington High School who wrote me a letter during class. When he handed it to me I saw my teacher's name and a love heart on the front. It was the first time I was worried about a student having a crush on me. I didn’t open the letter in the class—students having crushes on teachers definitely happens and you just have to deal with them in due course. I needed to wait until I had my Associate Teacher (AT) present after class to open it, so I kept on teaching. The student who handed me the note was acting up a lot this particular lesson, really giving it all the gas his ADHD could afford him. I was knackered by the end of class and couldn’t help but feel as though his tiring behaviour was linked to what was in the letter. My AT assured me that no matter what is in the letter you can’t control how kids feel, you can only put strategies in place to work with what’s in front of you. So we opened the letter. It simply said “sorry Mr Burns for the rest of the lesson. I’m feeling quite evil today and I’m going to act up quite a bit so I apologise in advance.” The relief that washed over me knowing there wasn’t a kid who had a crush on me in the training year was almost counteracted by my awe at the forethought of this kid writing an apology in advance. 


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