Some people just seem to know exactly where they are supposed to be. Taylor Donnelly, a 25-year-old primary school teacher working in the south-east corner of Queensland, Australia, is one of those people. Having been fortunate enough to meet Taylor at one of our Brisbane Teacher Events earlier this year, I can say that her enthusiasm for teaching is genuine and it’s infectious!
That First, Single-Term Contract…
As a Year 11 student, Taylor volunteered a few mornings a week in the Year 1 classroom at her own school. At the time, this cemented what had been a long-term desire to work as a teacher. Like many beginning teachers trying to find their way into the workforce, Taylor took a single-term contract straight out of university, which she describes as “an insanely challenging and rewarding experience”. It’s an experience that I’m sure most of us can relate to.
“I was fresh meat and the kids knew it! I was tired for 10 weeks. I could never turn my brain off at night time, because my mind was always running with ideas on how to handle behaviour, build resources and juggle curriculum requirements.
The first four weeks were TOUGH and I was definitely challenged in every aspect, but then I began developing a good rhythm for it. The experience really shaped me as a teacher and allowed me to show a brand new school that I was capable and confident.”
Having a group of 5th-grade students for only the last term of the school year was bittersweet for this young teacher.
“My favourite thing (about teaching) is comparing (students’) work from the start of the year to the end of the year and seeing that progress… Having your own class is amazing. That’s the biggest thing I noticed after graduating from university.”
Beginning teaching is a whirlwind for most, but for Taylor, whose passion is fueled by witnessing the growth of her students, settling into her own classroom and teaching the Year 3 curriculum for the last two years has been the grounding experience she needed. It has been in this time that Taylor has been able to experience what she feels is the best part of the job.
“(Witnessing student) progress! Whether it is academic, social, values, behaviour… seeing students grow and learn is just the most heart-warming thing imaginable.”
Upon reflection, Taylor says she feels that the curriculum can be a little fast-paced at times. However, she quickly moves beyond thinking about this external pressure as an unconquerable force, instead articulating what she herself can do to improve her students’ learning within the expectations of the current curriculum.
“Something I am working on is being able to better identify the needs of my students so that I can get through everything on the curriculum, but also be able to spend time practising and having fun with concepts. I hate rushing through things and I love to be able to promote inquiry and ‘hands on’ learning.”
Opening the Door to Taylor’s Classroom
Taylor takes great pride in creating a classroom space that is not only colourful, creative and welcoming but one that makes student work the star attraction. A part of this is to ensure students feel a sense of ownership of the space and that the room illustrates their hard work. Showing parents, visitors and other community members all that her students are capable of is something she is proud of and wishes that she sometimes had more if an opportunity to do.
I asked Taylor what three things she would change about the expectations that are placed on teachers, carers and students in the current climate of education. Her response illustrated the immense value in communication between schools and their communities and the benefits that can come from breaking down some of the invisible walls that can sometimes exist between home-life and school-life.
“I wish more people were aware of the time we, as teachers, spend thinking about our students, making resources for our students, marking assessment or book work, and designing and reflecting on our curriculum structures.
I wish more parents visited the classroom to see all of our awesome learning and the amazing things these little people are capable of.”
The “Daily Board”
One teaching strategy that Taylor has found extremely effective has been to set up a “Daily Board” in her classroom. Each day a different question is written on the board for students to respond to. The question topics rotate between Maths, English and Kindness.
- “The answer is 30, what is the question?” (15 + 15, 6 x 5, etc.)
- Make as many words as you can using these letters: _______
- What is one way you could make someone smile today?
Taylor says the Daily Board keeps her students engaged first thing in the morning, as she found many wanted to hand around her desk area for a chat while she was talking to parents or preparing for the day. Not only that, but it has been a great way to keep her students thinking about concepts that are currently being explored in class.
Sprinkling Kindness Around Like Confetti
Inspired by some of the great teachers that taught her in primary and high school, Taylor adores her work and is in a school with staff that she describes as her second family. Kindness is a recurrent theme in her work, both in the classroom and around the school. Taylor says she wishes more people would promote “that being kind is the new cool!” It’s a sentiment that quite obviously informs all that she does as well as strongly influencing the values that she promotes and teaches in her classroom.
While the retention stats for beginning teachers are frightening (it is reported that more than 50% of graduates leave the profession within the first five years), Taylor appears to be drawn to education by a force that cannot be articulated. She describes having taken a year off from her Bachelor of Primary Education after “a poor prac(ticum) experience” in her second year of study, though it seems that short time spent moving away from education only strengthened her resolve to not only finish her degree but to become an amazing beginning teacher.
“I know that I’ll be in the teaching profession for as long as possible, in some capacity. I hope to gain more classroom experience for the next five years and then hopefully transition into a special education or enhancement role.”
Taylor has been a great supporter of Teach Starter and while researching for this piece it became a little clearer to me why that might be. When asked what three things she would like every single one of her students to leave her classroom with, she answered:
“Kindness, resilience and a hunger to learn.”
Now, if I were to ask the founders of Teach Starter what they would like to achieve through the work that we do, they would answer:
“To inspire every child to build a purposeful and happy life through learning.”
For us to know that passionate, enthusiastic and caring teachers like Taylor are using our resources to help achieve their own vision for student learning is pretty much the circle made full. As much as we hope to inspire, support and encourage teachers, we are equally as inspired by you!
Taylor’s Top 3 Teach Starter Resources
With that in mind, I asked Taylor for a list of her three most favourite Teach Starter resources.
Some examples of our editing checklists include:
Now your students can make sure that they check everything when they are editing their work... no mistake gets left behind!
Now your students can make sure that they have everything they need in their informational text.
Now your students can make sure that they have everything they need in their exposition text.
A comprehensive resource pack helping students to learn how to find the main idea.
Some examples of these comprehension strategy bundles include:
An extensive resource pack helping students to learn how to make predictions.
A comprehensive resource pack to help students understand the concept of sequencing.
A comprehensive resource pack helping students to learn how to find the main idea.
A comprehensive resource pack to help students distinguish between real and make-believe.
Huge thanks to Taylor for sharing her thoughts and experiences with us for this Teacher Spotlight. You can connect with Taylor on Instagram at www.instagram.com/teachinginqld