This year’s graduate teachers launched their teaching careers in unprecedented times, and while they should have been celebrating at their graduation ceremonies, they were instead forced into the biggest learning-from-home experiment the country has ever seen.
St Joseph’s School, Paramatta Park teachers Jeorjie Hawkins and Bree Ludemann are just two of the alumni of graduate teachers who navigated the online learning space during the COVID-19 crisis while finding their feet as graduate teachers.
For Year 1 teacher Jeorjie, her first term of teaching was nothing like she imagined, but it ended up being better than she could’ve thought.
“The students learnt so much from this experience. The skills and knowledge they would have gained throughout the whole year ended up having to be learned in just a couple of months,” tells Jeorjie, who graduated from the Australian Catholic University, Brisbane and moved to Cairns in balmy January to take up her new role at the Parramatta Park school. “The benefits of these skills within the technology curriculum skyrocketed, which was great.”
While university could not have prepared her for this unique experience in history, St Joseph’s Principal Gavin Rick says she became a YouTube and Google Sites whiz as well as a queen of the screen in her daily Zoom meetings with her students.
“Jeorjie is one of the most optimistic, positive and resilient teachers I know and it takes a lot to rattle her,” said Gavin. “She listens, seeks feedback and continually works to improve her craft. She loves her students and was extremely excited when I told her they were returning as she missed them greatly.”
Her team teacher agreed, adding, “I know Jeorjie will look back at her first year of teaching with awe as she reflects on her professional growth. Sometimes the biggest challenges are actually the greatest gift!”
Due to travel restrictions, Jeorjie was unable to fly to Brisbane for her graduation, so her colleagues set up a mock graduation ceremony complete with an academic gown and mortarboard. When she threw her mortarboard into the air, all her students threw their hats in the air too.
Fellow graduate teacher Bree also experienced a unique start to her career, but enjoyed connecting with her students through Zoom and made sure that even online, the lessons were still fun.
“It was great to realise just how independent students could be when we let them. The children have been so self-driven, and it’s had a lot of positives,” said Bree, a graduate of James Cook University, Cairns.
“At times I felt overwhelmed because it was completely new to me, but it made me feel better to know that every teacher was in the same boat – not just us graduate teachers.”
The experience made the Year 2 teacher realise the importance of connection, and that building relationships with her students is the key to regulated learning.
“Her eagerness and willingness to become part of the team and provide the warm and happy teacher the children needed is testament to her high work ethic,” said Gavin, who explained she had been given approval through the Queensland College of Teachers to teach Year 1 in 2019 before she had finished her degree.
“She loved her Year 1 students so much, that she remained their teacher into 2020 in Year 2 and has been a safe and constant person in their lives as they and their parents have navigated online learning during COVID-19.”
The kids love it when Bree gets in among them to bust a move during a dance break or to run around with them for a game. She brings a deep passion and enthusiasm to teaching and just as she used many ingredients in her previous career as a chef, she has the ingredients to be a highly effective teacher.
“She epitomises the three Fs – firm, fair and fun – the perfect mix of those three ingredients,” her team teacher added.
While neither teacher could have anticipated the unprecedented start to their teaching careers, their resilience and fresh approach has seen them rise to the challenge.
“St Joseph’s is truly blessed to have both Bree and Jeorjie as part of the teaching team,” said Gavin. “As graduate teachers, they bring energy, positivity and a fresh perspective to the profession.”