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Teach for Australia

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Christiana Lees

I love planning awesome lessons that can make maths accessible and fun for all of my students (my class rarely says, ‘I just hate maths’ anymore!).

What's your name and job title? What did you study?

My name is Christiana Lees and I am a mathematics teacher in the Northern Territory. I was in the inaugural cohort of the Bachelor of Science Advanced Global Challenges. I majored in Applied Mathematics and graduated with first class honours in 2017.

Where did you grow up? Talk us through your education and any work experience or employment you’ve held.

I grew up in Mount Eliza, Victoria. I studied all the maths and science subjects at school, as well as theatre studies to give me some breadth. At Monash University, I was involved in a few clubs: I was events director for Financial Management Association of Australia (Monash) and volunteered with Global Consulting Group (Monash). I did an internship in Melbourne as an assistant researcher for a local consulting firm and one in Colombia in science communication. I also received a scholarship to do intensive study abroad in Indonesia. Whilst studying, I was tutoring high school students, umpiring football and worked in a few different restaurants and cafes. I also played Big V basketball for two seasons.

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

I successfully applied to Teach for Australia the first time in 2016 and chose to wait a year so I could complete my honours project with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I reapplied in 2017 and was offered a position as a mathematics teacher in the Northern Territory. The application process was very involved, with three stages. The process helped me clarify why this really was the job that I wanted to do, which was excellent! I have held this job in the Northern Territory since January 2018.

Where do you work? What school?

I work at Taminmin College in the Northern Territory.

What are your areas of responsibility?

I teach three mathematics classes, so much of my day involves planning those lessons, teaching them, following students up, ringing parents, marking and collaborating with my peers to make sure we are all on the same page.

Can you describe a typical work day?

I arrive at work at 7.30 am and spend 30 minutes making sure I have all of my handouts, PowerPoints and administration sorted for the day. I usually teach two or three hour-long classes, sometimes one more if I receive a relief lesson. I try to make sure I take a 20-minute break either at recess or lunch with other staff so we can eat and catch up, but sometimes detentions, meetings or students wanting extra help takes priority. I am pretty lucky at my school and am out of the office by 4.00 pm or 4.30 pm each day. Usually I do an hour or two at home each night when it is a busy marking period. As I am also studying my Master of Teaching, I have a lot of university work to catch up on after hours and on weekends!

Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?

I came into teaching through a different route with Teach for Australia, so for me it came down to studying something I knew I could never learn on my own, and I was lucky that I loved it! As a teacher, you are at your best when you are teaching something you are knowledgeable and passionate about, so make sure you study something that ticks those boxes! Also, Australia is experiencing a shortage in trained maths and science teachers, so consider majoring in those. If you do a more traditional teaching degree, you are required to do placement. However, finding work experience through babysitting, tutoring, working in school-holiday programs, or coaching sport for kids are all great ways to learn some of the skills of a teacher whilst earning a casual income.

What sort of person succeeds in your career?

Someone who is resilient, can treat people with unconditional positive regard and has a love of learning that they want to transfer to their students. You can’t fake a passion for your job, particularly on those really, really tough days. So far though, the little wins are having a greater impact on me than those tough moments, so it is worth it.

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?

I love being surrounded by maths and learning all day every day. I love planning awesome lessons that can make maths accessible and fun for all of my students (my class rarely says, ‘I just hate maths’ anymore!). That lightbulb moment where a student understands something they didn’t before – that is awesome.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends?

The biggest limitation is that outside your classroom or school, what happens in students’ lives is outside your control. Sometimes a student will have a massive thing happen in their life that you don’t know about, or they go home to a really challenging life and sometimes I feel really helpless and sad about that. You can’t help but take on a feeling of responsibility for their success and happiness and when they have those upsets in their lives, it affects you too.

In terms of responsibility, it is quite dependent on you. I love designing assessments and programs and lessons, so I have been taking that on recently. There is definitely weekend work, but it is quite flexible as long as you are doing your job well.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I think I would be looking in either policy or working for a not-for-profit in their data and research area. I am not certain though, as this was the job I most wanted to do.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • Enjoy your university lifestyle and freedoms – particularly the sleep-ins and being able to go out dancing on a weeknight.
  • Starting full-time work has meant a lot more cash flow than I ever had as a student. Learn how to manage your money so you don’t blow it all.
  • For mathematics students: I found it really difficult to find jobs that would utilise my degree and didn’t even know what to search online in order to find jobs I was qualified for. Try engaging with maths qualified people and finding out what their roles are – chances are they will be happy to provide some advice.