I’m a primary school teacher at St Ives North Public School in Sydney, Australia. St Ives is a suburb on Sydney’s upper north shore. My school is government funded and educates about 900 pupils from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over 60 per cent speak a language other than English at home. We have two full-time teachers of English as an additional language or dialect, who work with children who arrive with little English.
Our school also has a unique unit called the Ku-ring-gai unit, which provides full-time educational enrichment for gifted students in Years 3, 4, 5 and 6. The unit is run very differently to opportunity classes offered at other public schools. It aims to meet the socioemotional needs of gifted students over a four-year programme. The focus is on teaching students to see learning as a lifelong endeavour, and emphasises creative thinking and collaboration. Working alongside staff who have specialised in gifted education has been a wonderful opportunity for me, and has helped me to effectively differentiate for my higher-ability pupils who aren’t in the unit.
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No typical days
Rarely is there a typical day for me at school. I get to work at about 8am and I’m on the go until the school bell rings at 3pm. In the morning, I like to organise my lessons or catch up on marking if I don’t have a meeting to attend. We have a staff meeting every Tuesday morning and I conduct the senior choir on a Wednesday.
For the majority of the day, I focus on teaching English and maths. I also teach history, geography, personal development, health and physical education, and creative arts. We teach science and Italian, too, but have specialised teachers to deliver these subjects at St Ives North, which is helpful, as I don’t speak a word of Italian.
Most days I have either a break or lunch duty, which can be challenging during 40°C summer days. St Ives North backs onto the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and this summer we had an influx of red-bellied black snakes staying cool in our water tanks. I was relieved not to bump into one while on duty.
I love to have a creative outlet and one of my favourite things to teach is dance. This year I am taking the senior dance group to the Sydney North Dance Festival, which showcases the talent of students from schools across northern Sydney. It is a big commitment for both the students and myself. We rehearse twice a week during break or lunchtime and will be performing at the end of this term.
During my time at St Ives North, the school population has been steadily increasing, as more families have moved into the area. Some have even come from other suburbs to be in reach of our gifted-and-talented unit. This means that the school is at full capacity. Classes are growing – last year I had 32 students – and portable classrooms have been brought in. The children don’t have a lot of room to run around and play as a result of this expansion.
If I could change one thing about my job, it would be to cut down on the amount of time I spend on administration. Keeping track of notes, emails, contacting parents, completing online teacher professional training, tracking teacher accreditation documentation and inputting pupil data takes hours of precious time. If anyone knows of a good secretary, I’m hiring!
Vivienne Traynor is a Year 3 teacher at St Ives North Public School in Sydney
This piece first appeared in Tes magazine on 14 July 2017.