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Ep13 – Liam Auliciems – Supporting Our New Teachers

We’ve all been there. First day, new school, 30 little faces looking to us for guidance and exciting new lessons. If you can honestly say that this didn’t make you a little nervous, I’d say you’re waaay outnumbered by the rest of us. New teachers and prac teachers (or pre-service teachers) can look to Liam Auliciems, founder of Prac-E, for advice, tips and tricks on how to not just survive being a young teacher, but to thrive.

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Rough Mix EP-001.mp3

Rita: Hello everyone and welcome to teacher chatter. An Australian podcast made by teachers for teachers about teaching. I’m Rita. And I’m Laura. So just to give you all a quick insight into who we are. I’m an Australian born and bred primary school teacher and I’ve got a degree in special Ed. I’ve been working on and off as a teacher in Sydney since the mid 90s mainly in Catholic schools across Sydney. I’ve mainly taught in mainstream primary classrooms but I’ve also taught in segregated or special Ed classes outside the mainstream classroom. I’ve also worked as a reading recovery teacher a teacher librarian and an integrated learning teacher.

Laura:… and I’m an Italian born teacher I’ve got teaching experience in England, Italy and Australia. I started teaching Italian when I was living in England. I was teaching at university and colleges, then I moved back to Italy and started teaching English as a foreign language in high schools. Then I moved to Sydney and now I’m teaching Italian. I also write ESL textbooks for Italian schools.

Rita: This podcast is something Laura and I have put together to allow teachers not only within the Australian community, but potentially overseas as well to talk openly and frankly about their vocation. It’s an honest and hopefully inspiring medium that allows teachers to talk openly, honestly, and without inhibitions about their own experience.

Laura: It’s actually amazing how many teachers from all over the country and with variedexperiences have shown an interest in taking part in this podcast. We had reading intervention teachers, teachers of languages, humanities teachers, special needs teachers, retired and casual teachers, so many different aspects of teaching! It’s incredible I how many want to show their story.

Rita: Well our first guest on Teacher Chatter is Liam Auliciems. He’s a young and passionate teacher from Brisbane who is a co-founder of a really innovative initiative called Prac-E, which as the name suggests is designed to give pre-service and beginning teachers support and some great ideas, and I guess a heads up about the realities of teaching. Welcome Liam!

Liam: Thank you so much for having me.

Laura: Yes Liam hi, and thanks for joining us today. Prac-E sounds like something that all beginning teachers could make great use of. Can you tell our listeners a bit about yourself, what Prac-E does, and what inspired you to create it?

Liam: Definitely.  So Prac-E is made for teachers by teachers, we create digital media and in-person symposium events to support beginning teachers. It all started when I was back at university myself actually as a beginning teacher; when I was out on prac one of my colleagues had a nightmare lesson, and instead of coming to us for support or having his own support networks he dropped out, and then actually turned into quite a familiar story for a lot of my different colleagues. When I was at university every time I came back from prac my cohort seemingly had halved. To put it into perspective, we had a lecture in one of the biggest lecture halls at our university. It was compulsory to turn up and only eight students were there including myself and when I was still in the beginning teachers in the community there does seem to be a lack of support and lack of real world practical advice. So basically I was feeling the strain as well. I had one prac that didn’t go as well as the others and I looked for something like Prac-E out there and it just seemingly didn’t exist, to my surprise. So I teamed up with a bunch of my other colleagues and connected with our mentors and created what we felt needed to be there which was something like personal development for people that might be feeling a little bit alone might be feeling a little bit anxious about their teaching community and maybe even feeling like it’s not they’re not cut out for it, and we created real world practical advice that we think that we actually needed because a lot of the time studies and things go for big macro level problems within education, whereas we wanted to know those little nitty gritty things that might not get covered in a lecture or might not get covered in a unit. For example I have a million resources yet my lessons keep going 15 minutes short for some reason, or what do I do if a student chucks a chair at me, these little questions that probably were causing the most anxiety those nights where you can’t get to sleep in fact I had one night where I woke up at 3:00 in the morning convinced that I was late for prac and I was getting ready but then I was thinking “well if I’m already late why is it pitch black outside?”. And it was a familiar story with a lot of my other colleagues, so basically we got together and made what we needed which turned out to be Prac-E in its current form.

Rita: I love it. I used to dread going to prac, that was probably the worst part of doing my whole teaching degree. I remember clearly I was in second year and the teacher whose class I was on actually said to me “Why are you doing this? There’s no money in teaching, what are you doing it for?” And I thought you know as a beginning teacher or someone who’s trying to learn a bit more and be inspired, what a terrible thing to say to your student.

Liam: Yeah it’s something that we’ve heard the same. One question we got at our last event was “What do I do if I’m excited to have my class, finally excited to have my students set my mentor teacher has some negativity or there’s a negative staff?”  and I think it is a problem within the teaching community, it’s a very rewarding profession. I’d dabbled with journalism and other things before I finally decided on education and when as soon as I stepped into the class I knew that it was for me. I had that teaching bug that I think a lot of people finally have when they try something but they finally get that that bug when they have in front of students teaching content that they really enjoy. It’s a very rewarding profession. I know when I was at school my one teacher was quite disenfranchised with mainstream schooling and one teacher that I had completely changed my life really changed my entire perspective on what schooling could be or where my life could go. So my dream is to do that for another student. And when you finally see that that change that you can embark on someone else or even when you give them that ‘aha moment’ with a fantastic lesson or a great resource it’s infectious. It really is. So it’s a very rewarding profession yet for some reason there seems to be this negative stereotype around teaching that there’s no good pay or that we’re in it just for the holiday. Is there any other stereotype you want to chuck out there, but for people that are in it every day, I think they’ve finally found their calling. I think teaching is a calling and it needs a bit more positive reputation in Australia especially.

Laura: Yeah everywhere, not just Australia, I mean like I’ve been teaching as I told you earlier on in Italy, and in England, and I think it’s everywhere the same, the same feeling you know, people think that teachers teach because of the holidays or you know, yeah you have it easy but actually it is not like that. But yeah being in class can be very rewarding. So yeah well done on you. I visited your website a few times and I’ve got to say the content and the things you’re providing to the teachers who are starting teaching is great and I really love the ‘teacher hack challenges’. To be fair, these hacks are not only great for beginning teachers but also for the more experienced ones. You latest one, ‘classroom nightmare’, is gold. I love the idea of randomly choosing a scenario, getting three seconds to think about it, then coming up with a way to survive it. For anyone who hasn’t seen that yet, go to the Prac-E website, and take a look. Do you have any other challenges up your sleeve that you would like to talk about?

Liam: Thank you for those kind words. Yeah it is a fantastic video to finally create. Prac-E has gone through a massive change from where we started to where we are now. When we first started we were just basically doing what you would receive from a PD. But when we started talking and collaborating with the actual community it was very apparent to us that they’re sick of people just lecturing to them in a real static style. I think they get enough of that in the other mediums that they’re engaged with so that teacher hack challenge that you mentioned just there was kind of birthed from that. We wanted something quite unique something quite light hearted and fun to kind of bring a bit of enjoyment to the profession again. So we had, so there’s a bunch of different challenges that we’d like to do with senior teachers and we’re getting a lot of great content from there. So that one you just mentioned was the classroom nightmare challenge where basically it came from the need for beginning teachers to understand that sometimes schools have things that happen that are completely out of your control and they’re going to disrupt your lesson. What happens if an assembly cuts 20 minutes and you’ve got this really strict lesson plan that you have you know, you have to change that off on the fly. What if a whole bunch of your kids are away sick or on camp or on an excursion or what happens if some kid comes in and something has happened at lunch and he has an aggressive outburst? There are those things that are gonna happen on prac they’re going to happen when you’re a beginning teacher and a key skill that people need to understand is that as a teacher you need to be able to roll with the punches as we say in the video, and I think that way was a really great way of getting that across. Another challenge that we had up was the ability to find resources as a beginning teacher is also very important. So what we had was we had two teachers go into their local Kmart or you know decent cheap dollar store and they’ve got 15 minutes and a budget of 20 dollars to find as many classroom resources that they could possibly find. And that was really fun to create as well, and we’ve got a really great response from these kind of more light hearted reactions, so all of that stuff on our website and I think a lot of people will get a lot of value from those types of videos.

Rita: Yeah I think those real life challenges are interesting and there’s no way I can only spend 15 minutes in K-mart. You mentioned earlier about these symposiums that you are doing. Can you talk to us a bit more about that, like what exactly are they what are the reasons behind them and what can someone expect if they were to go to one?

Liam: I think millennials get chucked under the bus a lot. I know there’s always those videos that say that millennials can’t find relationships or mentors or network that we can’t communicate in the modern day workplace. But something that I personally believe is that it’s not that we can’t it’s just that the way that that happens is different from what it might have been in the 70s 80s or 90s, when our mentor teachers were first becoming teachers themselves. So what we wanted to do was really take advantage of that and be the one true voice for beginning teachers in terms of their professional development, and actually give them something practical to sink their teeth into before they go out on prac, or before they go out into their early career schools when they finally landed a job. So what that turned out to be was Prac-E symposiums where a varied panel of expert teachers actually go into a university, they go into a classroom or sometimes we just pop up and do a pop up venue ourselves and the audience can ask any question they want. They come in with a live link and that goes to a forum that’s linked to the host and they can ask anonymous questions through this online forum for the entirety of the event, because a lot of the times what we found with other type of panel events or workshops was that they were either selling a product or they were selling an agenda, whereas we are censorship an agenda free and we actually don’t give any type of content ourselves. That’s all based off the audience and their needs. We didn’t come in pitching them anything we actually listen to them. So people can come in and we’ve got a whole bunch of questions that even I was surprised with the reaction that we got with our first event. We got over 200 questions into this forum and an event that went for an hour and a half. The response has been absolutely amazing from questions as small as you know “I’ve got a Grade 7 class, I’m teaching them Hamlet for the first time period 2 on a Thursday, what should I do?” to big hard hitting questions like “Should I disclose that I have a mental illness in the job interview seeking process?” big questions is that, and little questions like the ones I stated before, and something that I personally learned is that they need something like that, beginning teachers need an open forum like this, where they can just hit out all those questions like I said before that might be causing them nitty gritty anxieties before prac or before they start their job fully. So they can come to our symposium and it’s different. I can assure you that when you come in we’ve got lots going we’ve got music, we’ve got a big countdown clock. You know we’re a bit punk rock I suppose, a bit of a disrupter, and it’s a unique experience and it’s something that I think is really valuable, and it’s been evidenced by the response that we’ve gotten so far, and the questions that we’ve received, and I think it’s a really valuable thing for beginning teachers to come in and just knock out all those anxieties for an hour and a half in two hours and be so much of a better practice student or a better early career teacher from that.

Rita: And that is that something that you think you will go with nationally or is it at the moment just in Brisbane?

Liam: Well the real strength of Prac-E is that we communicate in 21st century methods and by that I mean that we record everything. So. Even if God forbid three people rock up you know we can record that and it might go viral depending on what the panelists say. So there’s infinite scalability to that. I think one thing that makes Prac-E unique is the way that we communicate. You know we do, like I said we did YouTube videos, we do little Instagram snapshots, we tweet out advice all the time and we record everything that we do. We document rather than create and I think that becomes a symptom of that is that we are really a true authentic voice that I think is quite unique and cuts through the rhetoric in the landscape quite harshly. And I think it’s a breath of fresh air. So I think yeah I mean we’ve got responses completely out of the blue the other way from Melbourne saying “We saw your videos and I’ve actually shared it around my department and we want you down for another symposium”, so I think the need is there. People are crying out for something practical and real, like we offer. So I would love for it to go national for sure. I think it’s like you said it’s not even just a Queensland issue or Brisbane issue it’s or even in Australian issue beginning teacher and the teacher drought so to speak is a real global issue.

Laura: You’re doing a great job and it really like we wish we had Prac-E we started teaching.

Rita: Absolutely, it would have made such a difference.

Liam: That’s why I created it. I wanted something that talked in my language, that responded, that communicated in the way that I wanted to communicate. And there just wasn’t anything out there and it was, I was genuinely surprised that someone hadn’t done something like this before. So that’s why there was this massive gap in the market, and I think that’s why the response has been so great so far that people are surprised that didn’t exist before. So it’s something that I personally wished I had, I come from a family where if something doesn’t exist than you create it yourself. That’s what I did and I’m so glad that I embarked on this journey for sure.

Rita: Well I really admire what you’re doing for the next generation of teachers and I really think we need more teachers like you. What you’re doing is inspiring, it’s exciting, and to be honest as Laura said I really wish there was something like that when I was going through my learning of teaching in my university years. Thank you so much for being a guest on Teacher Chatter. But before we go we’ve got two questions for you. Kind of similar I suppose in a way with your teacher hack challenge that you did. I’m going to give you a question and then I’m gonna give you three seconds to think about your answer.

Liam: Sure. Yeah sounds great.

Rita: All right. Okay. If you could go back in time and tell your young Prac-E self one piece of advice about teaching what would it be?

Liam: I would tell myself to really understand who you are as a teacher. My very first prac teacher was an awesome teacher but she had pedagogy that just wasn’t applicable to me whatsoever. She had a grade seven class and she was almost like a mother duck the way they used to follow her. They used to love her and she had that real maternal vibe with her class. Obviously being a young man I wouldn’t be able to use that. And I think a lot of my early career as I was trying to change who I was as a teacher to the school I was at, with the mentor teacher I was at, and obviously that’s a part of growing. And you never got to know who you are when you first embark. But I would say that one thing that beginning teachers really need to know about themselves is who they are, how they like to teach, and what type of school culture that would really grow in. I think a big mistake for a lot of beginning teachers is not researching a school or finding a school that can really match their culture the way that they like to teach, and neglecting school culture is a factor in finding a job. I think it’s probably a big reason for the teacher drought. So if I was able to tell myself something I’d be really embarking and researching on pedagogy and the way that teachers like to teach and finding something that works for myself and then building my repertoire around that.

Rita: That’s an excellent advice because I think to a lot of young teachers we’ll just take what is offered. So if they see a job advertised they’ll just go for it regardless of where it’s at. The reputation of the school or anything that they might know about the school.

Liam: Yes for sure. And one thing I’ve found out about myself is that I really value teacher autonomy and there are have been studies released that tie teacher autonomy directly to their performance as a teacher and therefore their student performance as well. Teachers need to be valued as professionals. I think that’s the big gap between Australia and these leading nations in education that always get pushed as the gold standard like Singapore or Finland or the Scandinavian countries, it’s just the reputation of Australia and the way that their workforces change and value them as professionals. I mean you wouldn’t go into a doctor and teach him how to do brain surgery. And I think in Australia we’re very keen to go in and start telling teachers how to teach, and then that turns into basically robot regurgitation. I don’t think anyone values anything from that. So my personal philosophy is that teachers should be valued as professionals and that they should have autonomy to make professional decisions as they arise. And that’s something I learned about myself so I probably wouldn’t do well in a big school with thousands of students because they usually have, might be a generalization but sometimes these schools have a broad level kind of pedagogy in the way that they like to do things that get all the different classrooms, so I kind of like smaller class sizes maybe a bit of an alternative education method to kind of really explore things with my students because no one knows the students better than the teachers that they have on a day to day basis.

Laura: You’re very right. I have another question for you; on your website you mentioned teachers’ wellbeing. Can you give us some tips about that?

Liam: I think the beginning teachers, and I’m going through this myself, when they go out into the workforce, they want to impress so much. And schools I learned always want to solve things in-house than try and get someone outside to solve problems. And this might be another generalization but a lot of the time the beginning teachers are the ones that cop it I say cop it some of the some of these things are fantastic to build your presence within a school but when you’re trying to survive day to day with lesson plans when you don’t have that bank of resources from 20-30 years teaching experience it can be hard even coming up with tomorrow’s lesson. I know when I was out on prac I literally spent over three days every waking moment creating resources from the moment I got up to the moment I went to sleep at midnight was creating resources and lesson plans and I think it’s a familiar story for many beginning teachers. And then you chuck into that may be co-curricular activities or camp things of that nature that require even more effort on the role of the teacher when they’re just trying to find their footing and you are trying to impress so that can lead to beginning teachers overworking themselves within a school and actually not finding time to do their core responsibilities which leads to them thinking that maybe it’s just all their fault, maybe they’re not cut out to be a teacher, when in fact I think for beginning teachers it’s very important to put in boundaries to improve your work life balance. I know a lot of senior teachers talk about in fact you know creating rules on their email list or even having office hours where you don’t actually engage with your school outside 9 to 5. Now that may work for you it may not work for you but one thing that we talk about with our teacher wellbeing videos is that you have to find who you are as a teacher and then working on ways that you can structure your life and your organization to really make yourself the best teacher that you can be and sometimes that means dropping out of school altogether and just working on yourself for a day having a bit of a sabbatical period. But that’s something that we talk about that sometimes the stress of trying to put your best foot forward and your first few careers can actually be a detriment.

Rita: Email and phones, being constantly accessible. It’s not always a good thing. Yeah. Right and my last question to you is, as a teacher if you could take on a on the persona of any superhero or if you could have one superpower what would it be and why?

Liam: Oh man I think the one super power that I’d have would be mind-reading. I think  that would be the best way to be a teacher in class, because there’s so many things that happen to teach to students outside of class that impacts them in your lesson that are completely out of control. You know I think one thing I learned very quickly about students is that they never misbehave for completely no reason or maybe a teenage boy might do that. But sometimes you know they may not have had breakfast that morning or their parents might have had a fight that evening or something worse. And that can quickly affect their behaviour and your lesson, and an inexperienced teacher might treat that as just a kid misbehaving and really go off at that kid. And that’s probably the last thing that they need. So if a student is not engaging in my class I’d love to be a mind reader to actually find out that reason sometimes that maybe my delivery and that can change my pedagogy and the way that I’ve delivered the content, but sometimes you know I think the best way to get behavior management is to understand the students and have that rapport and that empathy. So to be able to have some mind reading abilities I think that to be a fantastic thing to have in a class to be able to really understand why the students are behaving in a certain way.

Rita: Absolutely it could be a bit of a scary thing to have access to as well.

Liam: Yeah it might be for sure.

Laura: Well that brings us to the end of today’s podcast. Thanks again to edQuire for sponsoring us, and to Liam thank you so much for chatting with us anytime. We’ll see you all again next week.

Liam: Anytime. Thank you so much for having me on.

Teacher Chatter is proudly sponsored by edQuire – AI for teachers.

Liam Auliciems
Liam is the founder of Prac-E and works to support our new teachers in all aspects of teaching.

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Ep13 – Liam Auliciems – Supporting Our New Teachers