It’s a pretty safe bet that, if people actually followed my Twitter, everyone would have assumed I had a bit of a breakdown. And I probably did because I feel really strongly about education and the absolute lack of care it receives. I feel about education much in the same way people care about things like whether or not JJ Abrams ruined two Star Trek movies (which he did), if Moffat really did turn Doctor Who into a horrible series (which he has), or justifying why foods like sauerkraut are particularly disgusting and should be avoided at all costs (which I can’t disagree with; I’m so sorry, German heritage). But I probably wouldn’t argue with anyone on those points. Enjoy them all without me, because I’ll be content with everything else I enjoy over here in this corner.
I would, however, fight against you if you told me that the current structure of tertiary education – at least, education in either the United States or Australia, as I have experiences in both places – is at all fair; it isn’t, and it’s not designed to be. It’s designed to normalise psychological pressures, just as our primary and secondary schools do; it’s okay to be stressed because everyone around you is stressed, and that is a great learning environment.
Said no real educator ever.
But it’s the system that we’re forced to work in, especially in academia. At the darkest ends of the spectrum, we have students who are taking their own lives. This happens for a variety of reasons and may be related to other circumstances, but the one thing I’m sure of is the fact that the university environment does nothing to help that. From my own personal experiences, it does everything to impact those moments into making you feel worse about your abilities, your accomplishments, your intelligence, your self-worth, or your personal identity. In short, it does everything to hurt you, whether that’s the intended goal or not.
Before I continue, I want to take a brief moment to state this: If you’re considering suicide or just don’t know how to process the pressure you’re under, there are a number of services worldwide that you can contact before you make that decision. Some universities do have programs for students to talk to counselors, too. I urge everyone to reach out first. In fact, people are more than welcome to contact me; I will always have a shoulder to lean on.
Here’s a for-instance. When I was undertaking a Masters of Teaching (now Graduate Diploma of Education), I was struggling with one absolutely required class: Professional Experience II. This was the second class, as the roman numeral in the name implies, in a two-part course where student teachers are sent out to provide free work for approximately a month or two in an effort to gain experience at the head of a classroom. This also includes paying Sydney’s ridiculous public transport fees for traveling to destinations that were two-hour one-way trips, which is even more expensive as an international student. Not all students are students, apparently.
During my second round of teaching, I was privileged to have an incredibly rude supervising teacher in possibly one of the worst staff rooms. It was obvious upon meeting everyone where the tensions lay; it was obvious who the head teachers favoured and doted on, and it was glaringly obvious that it would harm anyone to be nice to the people that whole group loathed. Except I was brought up to be cautiously nice, to treat people with some small amount of respect until they had otherwise proven they were unworthy of it. So I treated everyone in friendly tones, I smiled and responded when they greeted me; I tried to just nod and smile when the tensions would flare. This is not a supportive environment; it was hell, and it was an absolute nightmare for me. When my supervisor started harassing me with misogynist and xenophobic comments while “critiquing” my ability as an educator, I struggled to keep nodding and smiling to “just get through it” in hopes that I could move on. It was hard; I spent almost every train ride home either fuming, ranting to my friend, or in tears. In the end, I failed and had to be placed in a new school to complete the course.
I lodged concerns with my university department in regards to the behaviour of my supervisor, asking them to remove me from that school and to place me at a later date. I received no response. I lodged concerns with my university contact and called her multiple times in tears, and she gave them the required lip-service but provided no assistance and told me to “just deal with it.” I lodged concerns with my program coordinator, and he blatantly ignored me until he absolutely had to deal with me and then… did nothing. I lodged concerns with the one whole person I trusted at the time, asking his advice. He could only offer me words of solace: “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t look like there is much else you can do. I wish I could do something to help you, but I’ll be here if you need to talk.”
Clearly, that should never be the system that students are learning in. From the moment a concern is lodged, someone should do their best to address it. From the moment I contacted my department, they should’ve done something, even if that something was to remove me from the school and have me start all over at another placement; it would’ve been in my best interests and saved me from the xenophobic and sexist abuse that I endured during those six weeks from the teachers in my staffroom. Almost everyone I contacted had the exact same mentality; they swore I was overreacting and that I should just tolerate it, and that is not the mentality we need at any level of education. Concerns for safety, concerns about support, all student concerns should be responded to instead of overlooked.
And, as previously mentioned, I dropped down to a lower level degree because I couldn’t stand the treatment I endured. I just wanted to be able to teach; I didn’t care if I had a Graduate Diploma or a Masters-level degree. I couldn’t stand the program and the people running it because they refused to provide the necessary support that their students need. It made me sick that they told me that was my job as an educator (which I will never disagree with), but it was something they never wanted to do. The stress of it was why I decided against continuing; it was even part of the reason I switched fields before even entering my original one in what was to be my new home.
Here’s another for instance. The class I stressed out and ranted about on Twitter only has two assignments. The class ran for 5 days, each of which were 8 hours long; there were eleven units to be covered, and he managed to cover three-and-a-half. Rather than discuss the fundamentals of environmental law, he’d get side-tracked and discuss his antique business or life in England. If we were lucky, his distractions led him to talk for hours about the peculiarities of a specific case that took place in the 1990s. He’s known for grading people for not meeting the writing standards held by lawyers, despite the fact that the class is geared toward non-lawyers; his commentary is unhelpful, telling students to “get updated sources” rather than giving a single example of something he’d find acceptable. I failed that paper, and that is the only class that would prevent me from finishing my Masters of Environmental Management.
When I went to my program coordinator to discuss what could be done, he was at least supportive and offered to externally mark my essay. But he also made some comments regarding that lecturer that made me quite uncomfortable. “Is he being mean this semester, too?” “More than a few students have already contacted me regarding his grading practices.” “People are more likely to fail because he only has the two assignments.” When I asked him how often this happened with this particular lecturer, he told me that it happened all the time. People acknowledge that this man has questionable practices that are consistently brought up every semester that he teaches, but no one is replacing him. Students are going out of their way to make this known, and he’s not changing or adapting to the groups he’s teaching; there is an extreme mismatch here, and it needs to be rectified.
There needs to be a change in education. I will argue tooth and nail with anyone who tries to deny it. Students need to be put first, and they need to be the priority. If they’re voicing concerns, if they’re terrified of failure, if they’re considering going to the darkest answers first, there’s a real problem that needs to be addressed. And educators and academics, you can’t keep ignoring it. Student welfare is paramount to your profession. You’re not doing your job if you keep ignoring it.
“What separates you and me from the great unwashed,” he started, “is that we both have the potential and the desire to be better people.”
But that was a phrase that, as he would later come to understand, annoyed and hurt me. It was an awkward place to find uncomfortable classist remarks. In a letter that detailed his feelings for me and why he felt I was so special, he tried to raise us above everyone else as if we were somehow more willing to change than everyone else.
But it was a phrase that I grew up hearing because of [...] Continue Reading…
“I know provoking isn’t productive,” he told me after I explained that it would do nothing to help his case, “and I don’t want to. Sometimes I get frustrated and do it on impulse. I try not to.”
But that isn’t the case. Just prior, he’d openly told me that the whole reason he’d said provoking things is so that I would yell at him; it was apparently the only way that he could confirm any feelings I had because they seem to be so non-existent.
Except you can’t have it both ways. You don’t get to say you try to [...] Continue Reading…
It is with great pleasure that I can announce my completion in my practicum! I’m turning in all of my paperwork today, which means that I’ll have my teaching degree finished. This makes me so incredibly excited, especially as I had been waiting for over a year to do this. I’m still sort of dancing about it!
I had an absolutely wonderful placement at a beautiful school with the most absurdly well-behaved students, and I had a brilliant supervising teacher and very welcoming department of co-teachers. This placement was exceptionally valuable, especially as these people – whether they did it [...] Continue Reading…
“I just said it to piss you off,” he told me as I was seething with anger at him. “And obviously it worked.”
Perhaps it was his age, I started thinking. Perhaps being 24, he’s too immature to know you shouldn’t incite your partner. But no, age is never a good indicator of maturity; I should know better than anyone how much I hate when people make that connection. He’s immature because he’s inexperienced and unwilling to learn; he’s immature because he doesn’t want to listen to someone else’s feelings or understand their dreams. He’s immature because things that don’t [...] Continue Reading…