Louise Whittle

Inspiring teacher Louise Whittle shares valuable advice from her diverse background in education. Plus, her experience doing coaching with Beyond the Classroom Australia.

“You won’t know everything, so take it easy on yourself. University does not prepare you for much of what you will encounter.”

Tell us about your childhood…

 I was born in North Wales U.K. I am an only child and grew up with two supportive and protective parents who wanted the best for me. As such they decided to immigrate to Australia when I was almost 4 years old, leaving extended family behind. Reflecting back, I miss not growing up around my cousins, but then would I have had the same life and have become a teacher?

I don’t remember much about my childhood, I always had a pet dog, I spent much of my time by myself playing in the backyard. Occasionally after school I would visit a friend’s house, or they would visit mine. I did have a close group of friends who I would go bike riding with on weekends. Every Sunday morning, my Dad and I would go for a walk on the beach, collect shells and end up at the pub where I would have a lemonade and a packet of crisps. Every Sunday I would help Mum with the dinner while The Wonderful World of Disney played on the T.V. It was the 1980s, life seemed simple; no social media, cell-phones, we would go bike riding and check back in every-now-and-then, when we were hungry or needed the bathroom. Primary school was fun, life was fun.

 

Tell us about why you became a teacher? Did anyone in particular inspire you to become a teacher? What was it about them that inspired you?

 It was 1980, I was 5 years old and in preps. The prep classes were always dismissed 15 minutes earlier than the rest of the school. I would walk home with a neighbour who was in Grade 4 at the time, so I had to wait by her classroom. Her teacher saw me waiting outside one day and invited me to sit in the back, which then became a regular thing; I would quietly just enter and sit in the back row. As I sat there, I watched the teacher (Mr G.) make learning fun. His students were always happy, there was laughter, and the lessons were interesting. It would always be a history or geography class that I would be sitting in. This is when my love of history and travel also started (there was a moment where I wanted to be an archaeologist). But at the end of preps, I came home and told my parents that when I grow up, I wanted to be a teacher, just like Mr G. I wanted to engage students in learning, the same way he engaged his students. I wanted to learn things and then share my knowledge with others.

As primary school gave me the happiest years in my schooling life, I knew it was in the area I wanted to teach, this is where I would make the biggest impact. All of my primary school teachers left a positive memory on my schooling experience as a student. It’s within the primary school where you could balance fun with learning and incorporate the two.

 

 

What is your funniest teaching story?

There are many funny stories, I wish I had written them down. I have been fortunate to work in three countries, so would like to share one from each.

  • In America, we had ‘Reading First time’. Two-hour designated reading block and in this time, you were not allowed to do anything else or leave the classroom. It was winter and it started snowing outside. I had never seen snow. My classroom was on the ground floor, we could not concentrate, so my students and I climbed out through the classroom window to go play in the snow. No-one said anything, so it is safe to say, we got away with it.

  • In the U.A.E, it was a sports day and one of the activities was a class vs class tug-of-war. My students and I got so competitive, that we had parents and other teachers join in to help us. We won!!

  • In Australia, not a funny story, but a heart-felt one. I was ready to leave teaching, but a school who had me as an ongoing CRT employed me on a 6-month contract. It wasn’t easy stepping into a classroom where the previous teacher has left such a big mark. Parents and students were unsure of me. But at the end of semester, I realised I had left my own mark when I was gifted with a painting of a Tatty Teddy (my favourite soft toy), created by a parent and signed by each student. I still have it on my wall today after 6 years.

 

What are your tips for first year teachers?

I was lucky to have an amazing mentor when I started. I learned a lot from him. So, my tips for a first year teacher;

·      You won’t know everything, so take it easy on yourself. University does not prepare you for much of what you will encounter.

·      Ask for help and support, it is not a sign of weakness.

·      Have a person to talk to – a close friend, a family member. There will be days you will just need to ‘vent’. But also share the fun stories with this person.

·      Give yourself ‘me time’, do not let work swamp you. There are plenty of websites out there to help you create resources, or have resources you can use – you do not have to reinvent the wheel (so to speak)

·      Remember why you are there, do not let the bad moments or days control you, focus on the good.

·      If you can, work as a CRT first. I worked as a CRT for the first three years after university. I learned a lot about classroom management, lesson planning, how to be adaptable and flexible. I learned about the different schools in the area, which helped me determine which schools were the right fit for me, which were supportive, friendly, organised and much more. I additionally was offered short-term contracts which got my ‘foot in the door’ and led to my first job in a school I wanted to work in.

·      Beyond the first year… I once worked for a principal who told me never to stay longer than 5 years in a school. The best professional development I have had is from working in multiple schools, and from teaching overseas. With each school, you get to reinvent yourself and try a new approach.

 

 

Where do you find support when things get a little crazy in your life?

I have tended to keep to myself when things get a little crazy in my life. Reaching out to people, I have found that people are busy, not interested, or have moved on. I have my family who support me, but sometimes they do not fully understand the complexities of a teacher’s life. I go for walks at the beach or somewhere in nature, or I work out at the gym. Most recently, I discovered journalling, thanks to my coaching with Peta through Beyond the Classroom program.

What strategies have you learnt to work smarter not harder in the classroom and your personal life to make life a little easier?

Finding Beyond the Classroom at the Education Show this year and then working with Peta, has provided me with the strategies to help me to work smarter, not harder and be smarted about the choices I make and time I have. Time blocking has had the most impact. Since I have started blocking time for the important activities in my day, I find that I have extra time for me, especially in the evenings. I have entered Term 4 this year feeling relaxed and organised and this is usually the time I feel overwhelmed and stressed due to upcoming reports and making plans for the following school year. I am not cancelling out personal activities to give myself more time to complete school work, and I am not being hard on myself if I change my plans and decide to do something else. What is important, is that each day I allocate some time for just me.

How do you approach the morning before the students arrive to class?

My morning routine is quite simple. I try to get to work 60-90 minutes before the school day starts. I check my schedule and make sure I have everything organised for the day and depending on the day, will set up for the first class, even if it does not start until 10am. I usually do no have any set plans. I will check my to-do list, or I may decide to do a bit or tidying or organising. I actually enjoy the quiet of the classroom, as this time will be the only piece of quiet that I will have all day.

How do you approach your (assumingly never-ending) daily to-do list?

My goal is to cross off at least one item a day. I keep it on sticky notes, to make it easier to move in my teacher diary. I used to have it written in the diary, but had to keep rewriting it each week, so it felt never-ending. Some days I may prioritise the big tasks, but then some days I will look at the little tasks to complete, as they are easily achievable. There are also times when I complete a task not on the list, so I write it down to be able to cross it off. 

What do you do to unwind and relax? Is there a favourite place to go to unwind?

The beach is my favourite place to go, even on the coldest of days. It is just peaceful and refreshing; watching the waves or the sunset rejuvenates the spirit. My favourite times of the day is sunrise and sunset, I love taking photos and capturing the colours of each. The gym is also one of my favourite places to go, especially spending time in the infrared sauna. Other ways I unwind and relax is by spending time with my dog, taking photos of nature and completing craft activities such as scrapbooking and cross-stitches.

 

 

What does a typical day look for you at school?

 Really depends on the day. I only work Monday to Thursday and Fridays off. I teach a specialist subject (Cultural Studies) and I also work with E.A.L students in small English-focused groups. My days are primarily in the classroom teaching, completing yard duty, planning for the upcoming week or completing tasks on my to-do list and attending meetings after school (only on two afternoons). I arrive at work around 7.30am (students start at 8.50am) and except for meeting days, I try to leave around 4pm, unless there are some tasks I really want to complete.

What motivates you?

Life motivates me. Having hope motivates me. Wanting experience more, hoping for things to get better, for experiences to happen. There I times I feel as though I have missed out on experiences that other have had, that I am running out of time, wasting opportunities. But I have had experiences that many others may not or will never have. I focus on me, my achievable wants and needs and this becomes the basis of what motivates me. To be kind, supportive  and giving to myself, as well as others.

Do you make time for self-care?

Each day I allocate “me time”, this is my version of self-care. Me time is usually working out, focusing on my health and fitness or just doing nothing but watching T.V. If the weather is nice, self-care can involve going for a walk or drive somewhere, which ends up in a walk. If I am bothered by something, or my head is full of thoughts, I will sit down and write in my journal, which I will look back on later and reflect on.

Do you have any favourite Blog, Instagram Facebook accounts, that you follow that inspires you in your professional life and personal life?

I don’t really have a favourite social media account that I follow. Happily Adapting is one I do support, it is run by a friend and much of what he shares does relate to my past travel experiences. I’m only on Instagram and Facebook to connect with friends and family overseas. I do use Pintrest for teaching ideas, otherwise I like to randomly just search through Instagram to see what I can find. For example; funny memes on fitness, inspirational quotes or recipe ideas.

 

What is on your list of loves (teaching resources, a book, skin products, Netflix/TV show, a particular clothing designer, a song, an activity, a magazine)

 My list of loves…

  • Travel but not sitting on a beach and relaxing, I make each minute count. I love different cultures, so I enjoy visiting places that have culture, history, beautiful nature and of course amazing food and shopping experiences.

  • Photography – ties into my travel, but I also love taking photos of sunsets and sunrises.

  • Going for a drive with my favourite music playing on the sound system.

  • Walking in nature, especially down at the beach even on the coldest of days.

  • I love watching action movies, as well as thrillers and horrors. I enjoy watching the Marvel movies, Lord of the Rings, Fast and Furious franchise.

  • I haven’t read a book for enjoyment lately, but my favourites are Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee and The Power of One.

  • Working out at the gym (followed by an hour in the InfraRed Sauna – uninterrupted quiet with 80s Ballads on the I-Pod – Bliss) or working out at home.

 

 

What is it like being part of Beyond the Classroom Australia? What have you learnt? How is it impacted your life?

It was early in my career and I remember sitting in a staffroom with experienced teachers who would joke about ‘getting out now’ and through there conversations I got the sense that the magic they once had was disappearing. I did not want to become that teacher, and vowed if I did, I would quit. Yet 24 years later I started to feel that way, however, I felt this way in all aspects of my life. I was not ready to quit.

Putting my mental health first, I found Beyond the Classroom Australia, I took the chance and it paid off. Being a part of Beyond the Classroom has made me feel validated; my emotions are valid, my thoughts valid, my actions are valid. I started with the goal of wanting balance in my life, to find my voice and to no longer be defined by my job but by me. I have learned how to unpack important events that happen and look at them from a different perspective, to block out time for myself and to use a journal to write down my thoughts and reflect on them gradually. To be honest, I’ve learned a lot but the most important lesson I have learned is to not be hard on myself.

As a result, my mindset has changed, I feel lighter in energy as I don’t dwell on the negative as use to, I have given myself time to do with as I choose and I as I said earlier, I’m not so hard on myself.

Finally, what is next for you? It is sounds very exciting and I can’t wait to hear…..

Professionally, I am where I want to be. I have had six years developing an EAL program within my current school and next year my focus will shift to developing and implementing a Cultural Studies specialist program. I am excited to see what next year will bring, as I continue focusing on my constant passion of EAL education and my new passion of Cultural Studies.

Personally, I want to enjoy life more and not let me job take over or define me, so within this area, I’m excited to see what happens. I couldn’t really tell you what is next for me in this area. I have craft projects to complete, but I also want to travel more. I already have Dubai booked for the New Year celebrations and I am excited to return to a country I considered home for six years. Then there is Hawaii mid-year to celebrate my 50th birthday and decide where to next.