We can all recall, from our many years of schooling, that one unique teacher who inspired us to learn and made homework seem less of a chore. Hollywood has captured these mentors in countless movies, from Dead Poets Society to Dangerous Minds and even The Karate Kid, films about teachers who know that gaining an education is more than just memorising facts and figures.
Becoming a teacher is one of the most rewarding career choices, with more intangible rewards than any other job. With so many different subject areas and levels of education, the opportunities to work in the education and training sector are vast and exciting. In addition to regular teaching, there are also opportunities outside of schools with positions in museums, community services and health organisations.
You can also specialise your skills and experience by becoming a special needs teacher, librarian teacher or an English as a second language (ESL) teacher. And with skills shortages already plaguing the industry and more predicted with the ageing population, job vacancies – permanent, temporary and contractual – are opening up across the board.
The role of primary school teacher is as dynamic as primary school itself. Teachers can find themselves switching between the roles of educator, carer, supervisor and guide. Unlike other teachers, the primary school teacher is required to have a very broad knowledge base in many subjects.
For Amy Bywater, it was this variety that convinced her to pursue a career as a primary teacher. ‘I’ve always thought that teaching, and education in general, is one of the most important foundations of any society, so I like the idea of working in such a meaningful pursuit,’ says Bywater. ‘Additionally, it’s very rewarding to see the great strides children make when they are just beginning their school careers.’
While watching and supporting this learning curve is an extremely rewarding feeling, primary school teaching can also be a stressful career. Providing a stimulating learning environment as well as gaining the trust and respect of young children, all with different needs and skill levels, requires hard work, creativity, an acute awareness and strong communication skills.
To become a primary school teacher you will need formal qualifications – either a degree or graduate diploma in education. In some states and territories you will also need to undergo police checks or a Working With Children check before you begin working as a teacher. Currently, there are greater job prospects in rural and remote areas than in metropolitan or coastal cities.
The teenage years can be a turbulent and emotional ride, and high school teachers play a crucial part in the development of young people. Secondary level teachers take on many roles from educator, to counsellor, friend and guide.
Teaching at this level means you have a lot more flexibility and variety in your teaching style and lesson plans. However, high school teachers are required to do some out-of-hours work, including marking assignments, attending staff meetings and undertaking professional training and development programs. Ben Kozel is a contract maths and science teacher who believes that while the workload in the first year of teaching may be overwhelming, the rewards outweigh the negatives.
‘The overriding thing is seeing that spark, that light of understanding that you see go on in kids’ heads. When you see the end result, it makes the strain of some of the difficulties you face worthwhile,’ says Kozel.
High school teachers also require qualifications in the form of a Bachelor of Education (Secondary), which covers teaching techniques as well as the subjects you will specialise in, or a graduate diploma of education. You may also require a police check or a Working with Children Check, depending on the state you are planning to work in. There is a shortage of teachers with specialist skills, such as maths, science and technology, in both metropolitan as well as rural areas. There are also job opportunities to become a head of department, deputy principal or principal.
If your aspirations are leading you to the world of tertiary education, then this world is undeniably your oyster when it comes to what you can teach and how you teach it. As a lecturer or a tutor, you will be required to capture the attention of large groups of students from a range of backgrounds and ages. While this may be a more difficult task than engaging the minds of school children, the increase in student intellectual maturity means you have the chance to engage in intellectually stimulating debate.
The hours for tertiary education teachers can extend to nights and weekends, but there are also opportunities to travel both nationally and internationally for conferences and fieldwork. It is this ability to be able to conduct research in your field of expertise that university lecturer Peter de Vries enjoys the most.
‘I really enjoy the research and having the freedom to pursue research within an area that really interests me. And I also enjoy knowing that the research we’re undertaking is beneficial for the community,’ says de Vries. ‘To be a lecturer, you really need dual skills in teaching and research.’
To qualify for a position in tertiary education, further study, such as a graduate or master’s degree, is required on top of your bachelor degree. If you want to teach in Vocational Education and Training, such as at a TAFE, you will also need to have industry experience in your specialist field. Job prospects for tertiary-level work depend on public funding as well as the demand for the course.
Another option is to study a TESOL qualification and teach English to foreign students. Teaching is one of the best careers to take around the world, and in fact a major reason for Australia’s teacher shortage is due to teachers leaving to work abroad. Australian teachers are valued overseas for their expertise in the English language as well as their ability to handle difficult classes, and many countries offer higher pay and lucrative tax breaks.
For Jayde Walker, it was the opportunity to travel overseas that attracted her to get a TESOL qualification and move to China. ‘Teaching English overseas allowed me the opportunity to get the best possible experience out of living in a foreign country while providing the security of an income and somewhere to live, and also giving something back,’ says Walker.
There are also opportunities to teach English in Australia to students who hail from different linguistic backgrounds. Whether you are working in Australia or overseas, teaching English as a second language (ESL) does not require you to be multilingual and lessons are conducted in English. This requires different skills and techniques to teaching in a normal classroom. Teachers require cultural sensitivity as well as empathy. Teaching ESL in Australia, your role also includes introducing students to cultural and social norms and providing support and counselling.
To be able to teach ESL overseas you will need ESL, TOEFL or TESOL certification. To teach ESL in Australia you may also require a bachelor degree in primary or secondary education. There are many job opportunities in Australia to work at all levels of education, not only in schools but also in adult migration centres, intensive language centres, TAFE Colleges and universities.
If you’re looking to move into the education sector, you could consider gaining your qualifications online or by correspondence. This is a great alternative to on-campus study if you work full time, have family commitments or live far away from a university or college.
Studying by distance means you receive all your study materials in the post or online and communicate with your lecturers, tutors and classmates over discussion boards and other distance forums.
Browen Westley is studying a Bachelor of Education (Primary) through Open Universities Australia and enjoys interacting with her classmates despite the distance.
‘I have made a “study buddy” that I will always count as a friend – we phone, email, text and share assessment problems.’
Studying online gives Westley the flexibility to study where and when she wants and gain access to support around the clock.
‘I enjoy having the materials online, especially tutorials and lectures. This means I can look at them as many times as I need to. I love being in contact with so many people with such a wide variety of backgrounds.’