Teaching as the greatest of the arts

Louise Wallace-Richards – Assistant Principal, Teaching and Learning

ISTAA 'Experienced Teachers' Alison Steven, Stuart Mitchell, Jessica Nelson, Michelle Wild, Vicki Goss and Jane Lilley

ISTAA 'Experienced Teachers' Alison Steven, Stuart Mitchell, Jessica Nelson, Michelle Wild, Vicki Goss and Jane Lilley


Louise Wallace-Richards, Assistant Principal Teaching & Learning

By Louise Wallace-Richards – Assistant Principal, Teaching and Learning

I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist...It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.
     John Steinbeck, “Like Fireflies”,
     California Teachers Association Journal, November, 1955. 

As a member of the teaching profession, I am hardly likely to disagree with Steinbeck’s statement that, in effect, teaching is an art. I also tend to agree with his description of a “great” teacher in the same article: 

 …all loved what they were doing. They did not tell – they cataly[s]ed a burning desire to know. Under their influence, the horizons sprung wide and fear went away and the unknown became knowable. But most important of all, the truth, that dangerous stuff, became beautiful and very precious.

What Steinbeck has not captured in these comments is that, like in any profession, the teaching practice is not an art of perfection, it is an art that needs to be practised. Whether we are graduate teachers or highly experienced, we all need to self-reflect and continue to learn. This is a key mantra of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership or AITSL, the organisation that sets the national standards for teachers. 

Our Radford College graduate teachers are coming to the end of their first six months of teaching. I am sure that, like all new professionals, they have stories to tell about their experiences. I may be in my 33rd year of teaching, but I can still remember my first year as a teacher in a government school in Sydney. I recall, for example, that on my second day, while on playground duty on the school oval, I heard the sound of a spluttering helicopter engine and then to my horror, the helicopter plunged into a home just on the other side of the oval fence. The students ran towards the burning helicopter and though my instincts told me to run the other way, I sprinted after them. Yes, I could run fast in those days! When I caught them up, I ordered them away from the fence and off the oval. To my surprise, they listened and did as they were told. To this day, I think they did as I said because I acted as if I had dealt with something like this before. Little did they know I was praying they would not call my bluff. 

Teaching is a profession of practise: we never stop practising and learning. Though in my career I haven’t had any other incidents of helicopters crashing, I have had other times that I needed to act and learn quickly, reflect later. 

Throughout a career, all teachers have experiences that lead to learning, either by choice or necessity. Graduate teachers, for example, come into schools with much learning about their teaching subjects and knowledge about how to teach from their practicum experiences or “on-the-job training”. They bring new ideas, enthusiasm and energy, and are supported in their new careers by their colleagues, who also remember what it was like to join one of the noblest of professions. I still get excited when I hear that one of my Year 12 students is going to study to become a teacher or, better yet, have the chance to interview a Collegian who has graduated as a teacher and wants to return to teach at their alma mater, Radford College. Graduates are the life blood of our education systems! They keep the profession alive, and add life to a profession that always must keep learning. 

Jen Bateman, Radford's Teacher MentorLike our graduate teachers, six of our more experienced teachers have been engaged in learning about how to improve their teaching practice. Over the past year they have been engaged in a process run by the Independent Schools Teacher Accreditation Authority (ISTAA) to move to the level of Experienced Teacher. They have been supported in this process by Jen Bateman, our College Teacher Mentor (pictured left). Throughout the process, Jen has helped the candidate teachers understand how to demonstrate that they can design and evaluate, for example, programs of study that help their students to learn. Jen’s support has been invaluable in assisting Jessica Nelson, Alison Steven, Stuart Mitchell, Michelle Wild, Vicki Goss and Jane Lilley to attain the Experienced Teacher accreditation. 

Teaching is a profession that asks and requires so much of its members. Anyone who reads through the Radford College Teacher Development Continuum based on the AITSL standards and ISTAA’s Experienced Teacher descriptors that Jen Bateman and I put together a few years ago, can easily grasp what a journey it is to move from being a Graduate teacher to a Highly Accomplished Teacher. At the end of semester one 2021, congratulations go to our Graduate and newly recognised Experienced Teachers. Well done on surviving your first semester, graduates, and to our experienced teachers, congrats for gaining recognition of how far you have come to date on your professional journey as a teacher!

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