Bernadette Bailey had completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts with an eye on a career in graphic design, when she accidently stumbled into teaching. ‘A few of my uni friends had gone on to start a Dip Ed, and I thought why not? Another year of partying’ she says with a laugh.
But seriously, the first time Bernadette stood in front of a classroom of students, she knew she was in the right place.
An art teacher originally, a work injury saw her return to work for 3 days a week in a careers position. She liked it so much that she changed her transfer preference and has been a careers teacher since 2003.
She began at her current school in the careers classroom, teaching all students in Years 9 and 10. (That’s a lot of individual report writing!) and is now working with all years through various programs.
She is well known and respected in the school community (you could say a part of the cultural furniture), having been there long enough to see brothers, cousins, and uncles pass through her classroom.
Bernadette is teaching at a government-funded boys high school, located in a lower socioeconomic area of western Sydney. It’s a sociable school; a ‘challenging’ school, with a great teacher network as she describes. The students are predominantly from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The school is well placed for engagement and initiative through a range of VET and virtual EVET courses. They’re known for the barbershop program which has been featured on all social media platforms, the school café manned by the students, and the industrial kitchen and trade skills centre. The school’s dedicated robotics lab has been featured in the media, and it attracts students into the school on a selective program.
‘It’s a totally different way of teaching. Students know that they can approach me, they come in for a chat and they know that I am open to questions. I can focus my support on each student. One thing I won’t tolerate though is disrespect.’
Students will often tell her that she is their favourite teacher, but Bernadette doesn’t fall for such platitudes. ‘That’s because I am useful’, she tells them, ‘but so is your classroom teacher’. More often than not they agree.
Wanting better for their sons
Even with such diverse offerings on the school curriculum, there are still challenges in careers education.
It’s understandable that parents want better for their sons and they work hard to provide that opportunity for them. They encourage their sons to look outside of the family norm and to focus on their education to get them there. Whether that be a university, TAFE or working pathway.
With parents in trades, owning their own businesses and working in various other professions getting work experience placements for students shouldn’t be a problem. ‘Yes and no’ says Bernadette. ‘Some of our boys know what they want to do and some don’t, so it can be a ‘hit and miss’ for various reasons until they find their niche. With the right guidance and support they flourish.
There are cultural challenges that affect some of the aims of work experience placements. Two being traveling on public transport and not working close to home. This is changing with the understanding and reassurance to parents that their sons are safe and are learning about the world of work.
Parents understand the struggles their sons face and will offer any support to get them over the line whether that is academically or through work. “
You can’t do it all for them
‘There are students that just don’t know what they want to do; and it doesn’t matter what tools you give them to work with, they just aren’t sure. They have to really want to be part of that decision making process. They need to be the ones taking responsibility. You can’t do it all for them.’
Literacy and numeracy
‘If you can’t communicate well, you have a problem! Some boys can be at the lower end academically, but are great with their hands or really good at doing practical things. When they go into the TAFE classroom, or if they have to sit a pre-apprenticeship test they struggle. I tell all my students, those looking to transition out or focused on staying at school, exactly where they will fail if they don’t have at least a basic level of math and English. It’s something they need to understand and take into life. ‘
Bernadette has seen many changes in careers education over the years, from the boom in online resources (some great, some not so), to the increase of the school leaving age to 17. She has seen the consequences of what happens when funding to assist with disengaged students has been taken away, and the frustrations of programs that are hit and miss for all students. She does concede however, that with all of those kids to accommodate, ‘all different, all with their own choices’ it’s a difficult road.
‘I love my job. It’s one of the best jobs out there and every day is different. I treat the kids like my own. It’s not just about putting them where they should go it’s about wanting the best for them, and I want what is best for every single kid.’
Best advice to students
Have more confidence and belief in yourself.
Try different things, you might surprise yourself. If you don’t try, you won’t know what you can do.
It’s ok to fail.
Best advice to new careers teachers
Don’t take anything personally. Go with the flow and ask for help if you need it, you’re not alone.