A day in the life of Lizzie Friendship

This teacher in Australia feels privileged to share the immaculate grounds of her school with kangaroos and exotic birds, but finds that low aspirations can leave students struggling to engage

I am a high school English teacher, living on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. I emigrated from the UK three years ago and have been teaching at the same school for two years.

The college is an hour west of my home, so I leave at about 7am. My commute tends to be hassle-free, although massive mining vehicles do cause minor tailbacks. Kangaroos emerging from the bush are an issue at dawn and dusk. Flooding is also a significant problem here in Queensland, closing main roads for days at a time during the wet months.

The school I teach at is a tiny private Christian college, located in what was previously a prosperous gold-mining town. Kangaroos freely wander across the fastidiously groomed school grounds and kookaburras greet staff raucously in the morning. Vibrantly coloured lorikeets are everywhere and flocks of boisterous galahs swoop over the tin roofs. It is a stunning location that I never take for granted.

At 8am, I meet up with the principal and all the other staff for prayer in the school's chapel. Notices are read out and then we grab a coffee and prepare for work. The school day runs from 9am to 3pm, with two semesters per year split into four terms. Many of the students live in rural areas and spend a couple of hours on the bus every day. When the rainy season starts, students often can't get to school as the buses are frequently delayed or even cancelled.

The first break of the day is at 11am and is quaintly called "morning tea". The students eat their main meal then and we teachers start our duty breaks. "Hats, please" is the war cry - it can take just five minutes to become sunburned at certain times of the year, so wearing a hat outside is compulsory. Students also have to report any snakes that they see to the duty teacher.

The children are lively. Class sizes in my school are at the 25-30 mark and are all mixed ability. There are no teacher aides in high school so differentiated planning needs to be thorough. Also, there is no standardised testing here in Australia (yet) and schools plan and mark all their own assessments and assignments - adding to the already weighty workload of an English teacher. Furthermore, as each state has its own education system, students arriving from outside Queensland occasionally struggle to adjust to the different teaching structure.

Students work diligently once they have established a rapport with their teacher. If there is no rapport, little or no work gets done. They constantly question the curriculum and want to relate what they learn to their "real world", making the idea of reading for pleasure, for example, an issue. Students' goals and aspirations here tend to follow those of their parents, who work primarily in farming or mining. University is an option for a few but is certainly not the norm.

When the school day ends at 3pm, the students are herded on to their respective buses, after being reminded (again) to put on their hats. Staff then attend meetings or participate in after-school clubs and groups, before we wend our weary way home, ready to do it all again the next day.

Your day

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