- 1. Please introduce yourself briefly. (your school, subject you teach, where you live, etc.)
My name is Sarah Dempster and I currently teach at Epping Secondary College in the outer Northern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I have been a teacher for 8 years and it is the best job in the world! To know that I am making a difference to even one child’s life is enough motivation for me to keep trying. You just cannot replicate the feeling a teacher has when they see a student succeed and see that feeling of success and pride a student experiences; sometimes for the first time.
I teach English, Drama and Theatre Studies from year 7 through to year 12 or students aged 12 through to 18 years old. I am also a Leading Teacher at the school and my official title is Student Development. My role is to focus on building resilience, motivation and engagement of our students through Leadership opportunities, recognition of students’ effort and academic success and through various different programs we offer to develop our students.
Epping Secondary College is a very multicultural school and he student population has increased significantly over the past three years, as the college’s reputation for firm discipline, challenging learning programs and supportive teachers, has placed it as a school of choice for many families. The Current student population is 900. The size of Epping SC makes it possible for each student to be acknowledged and valued for their individual needs to be supported. There is a strong sense of community and a commitment to building the partnership between parents, teachers and students so that we work as a team to bring out the very best in our young people. The college provides a supportive, safe, harmonious environment which promotes “learning for life” an approach that centers on the “whole” learner. The college focuses on developing students’ academic, social and emotional wellbeing by developing a wide range of skills in all areas including goal setting, building confidence, developing organisational skills, understanding citizenship and exploring career options.
- 2. What was your motivation for participating in this programme?
My motivation for participating in this program is simply because of my passion for the globalization of education. This passion was sparked when I spent my first few years of teaching in Newcastle located in the north of the United Kingdom. I stepped into a coordinating role in a small Middle School and eventually started spending time at the partnering High School within the Performing Arts Department. I was actually mentored through the Newly Qualified Teachers Program in which all first year teachers undertake within the UK system. I also went through an OFSTED in my time in the Middle School and learnt a tremendous about accountability and the importance of data and documentation. I eventually ended up back in Melbourne and I have been at Epping Secondary College for the past 7 years. I believe the experience I had in the UK made me a much more informed, versatile and knowledgeable teacher. I was also able to start making comparisons between different systems, students and cultures. I was able to take what I thought was good teaching and learning from the UK framework and implement it into the framework we use in Victorian schools.
I am also fascinated in the results Korea is achieving on the PISA testing and I wanted to analyse how and why they were achieving these results. The Korean students’ resilience and determination to achieve astonished me. Failing was not an option and it amazed me how students’ goals and focuses were so clear. All students I spoke to were focused on getting into a good university and most already knew the career path they wanted to get pursue. I will present my knowledge and experiences of the Korean system to other teachers and use some of the strategies I discovered, to make me a more effective teacher.
- 3. What are some differences you noticed between Seoul Broadcasting High School in Korea and Australian schools? And how did these differences manifest in the classroom?
The first thing I noticed in the tour I was initially given around the school was the very impressive and state of the art facilities and equipment the Seoul Broadcasting School had. In further conversations I had with Hyeonwoo Park (my exchange partner), the Korean Government puts an enormous amount of funding into schools and particularly specialist schools like the Seoul Broadcasting School. Epping Secondary College is not a specialist school and students do not have to apply to be accepted into the school, nor is it a specialist performance and film school.
I worked with the year 12 students at the Seoul Broadcasting School in their performance of the Aboriginal Dreamtime story ‘The Serpent Snake’. The first thing I observed was the students’ high level of performance skills and engagement/enthusiasm in the lesson. Most students at Epping Secondary College come into my classroom with very little prior knowledge or experience in performance. Therefore, I had to adjust my lesson to make it more challenging for the students at Seoul Broadcasting School.
I wanted to focus on the following things within my lesson:
1. Learning Intentions and Success Criteria.
2. Good Questioning
3. Student centered/facilitated learning
4. What engagement in learning looks like
5. Student analysis and evaluation
6. Using Plenaries at the end of a lesson to consolidate and test students’ knowledge
In Victoria and through my work in the United Kingdom these are the six key strategies I focus on within each of my lessons. I had not seen this used within the lessons I had observed in Korea and felt that the classrooms were more teacher centered rather than student centered. In Victoria we focus on Inquiry learning and a type of learning in which students help to build the journey of their own learning. I wanted the lesson to be exciting and I wanted students to take control of the lesson with lots of movement, noise and brainstorming. I also focused on questioning and in pushing students to evaluate, analyse and to form an opinion.
- 4. We heard that you applied an Australian native’s tale to the drama class. What was your reason for doing so? Do you usually do similar activities in your Australian classes?
Yes, I applied the Aboriginal Dreamtime story ‘The Serpent Snake’ to the drama class. I did this for a few reasons, the main one being that I wanted to mirror what Hyeonwoo Park had undertaken with my students at Epping Secondary College. She taught my year 8 and 9 drama students about ‘Talchum’ and Traditional Korean Performing Arts. I wanted to link what she had started at Epping Secondary College with my work at her school. I wanted the students in the drama class to walk away with the knowledge of something they hadn’t had before.
In preparing for this lesson I, myself learnt a tremendous amount about tradition Aboriginal Performance and Dreamtime storytelling through the use of dance and traditional instruments. I also discovered that Aboriginal Performance is the oldest style of Performing Arts in history. This astounded me, how did I not know this? In the month leading up to the lesson I underwent extensive research into the Aboriginal culture and Performance. I wanted the students at Seoul Broadcasting School to get some knowledge and understanding of this ancient performance style and why the Aborigines told Dreamtime Stories.
We do not have a unit of work based on Traditional Aboriginal Performing Arts at Epping Secondary College and I am embarrassed to admit we cover every other style of ancient performance, like Greek Theatre. Since being back in the classroom at Epping Secondary College I have introduced this a permanent part of our ‘Theatre Through History’ unit of work. I believe it is vital that Australian students have an understanding of our history and culture.
I wanted there to be a clear link in what Hyeonwoo and I were doing at each other’s schools and in our respective classrooms. I believe the experience both the Seoul Broadcasting and Epping Secondary College students have received through this exchange was invaluable and all the students involved have walked away with a cultural knowledge they would not have had before and also knowledge of different performing arts styles they probably never would have been exposed to.
Through your participation in this programme, how do you expect this experience to affect your career as a teacher? What methodologies might you adopt when return to your country?
The exchange has ignited my interest in becoming a more global teacher and citizen. I am hungry to learn more from other cultures and other societies and to bring this knowledge back to other teachers, my own classroom and students. I feel I am ready to take on another challenge. On the final report day of the program at the APCEIU the UK, USA and Australian teachers were given the opportunity to report back findings from the two week stay within the placement schools. We were in mixed groups with all the different countries. As I had already worked in the UK system I was able to relate to what the UK teachers were saying in their comparisons with their own system and the Korean system. I was also able to compare how much the UK system has changed in the past 7 years since I have been back in Melbourne. The change in the accountability processes that the UK, USA and Australian Education systems have and where they are moving to is concerning. The agenda of the Korean Government with education seems to be quite different from our own countries agendas. Through the participation within the program I was able to sort through, evaluate and analyse the different structures and priorities of our education systems. I believe there is still much to be learnt and feel that my interest in this area has grown considerably, to the point where I think I may even like to go on and study the gloablisation of education at university.
The program has demonstrated to me that we need to be educating our future generations about other cultures and societies because without understanding there is ignorance. I believe now more than ever this is vital to the next generation of world leaders. The future leaders of the world are being educated right at this moment. How can we do this effectively if we do not have this understanding as educators ourselves? I want to make a bigger impact than I know I am currently making and I feel that education is the key to making a change and to start dealing with world issues. The Republic of Korea went through this process of change after the war in the early 1950’s. They saw Education as a means to move forward and the story of The Republic of Korea’s rise from poverty and devastation after the war; to a well-educated and wealthy country was purely achieved through hard work and determination. This story is inspiring to me, and something I want to take back to the teachers and students at Epping Secondary College. Nelson Mandela said it best, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The world needs to focus on making education and the proper funding and structuring of education a priority for all.