Updating Results

Teach for Australia

  • < 100 employees

Denis O’Donovan

You can’t hope for a perfect entry into a challenging career; and through the scrapes and bumps and bruises, you learn far more than you ever could in a university classroom.

Where did you grow up? What were some of the most important stages of your life?

I grew up in Ireland but my parents made the brave decision to move to Australia when I was seven! University was one of the most important stages of my life. I worked hard and the study was interesting and stimulating, but more importantly I made lifelong friends and started to feel more comfortable in my own skin. 

How did you get to your current job position?

I felt like I wanted more – more challenge, more stimulation and more energy. I had taught undergraduate units while I completed my PhD, so I took the plunge and applied for the Teach for Australia program and I’m glad I did!

How did you choose this field of employment? Were you weighing up any other alternatives prior to this position?

I looked at other options like research positions at NGOs and charities but couldn’t quite get my foot in the door. I was very interested in something that involved an aspect of social responsibility and contributing to people less fortunate than myself. Teaching in a low socio-economic community fits the bill. 

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

The interview process was rigorous but fair. It was pretty close to my idea of the perfect selection process as it was efficient and well organised and by the time I was offered the position I felt I knew a great deal about the organisation and my expectations for coming years. 

Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to focus on? Are there any soft skills it would be beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience? 

It’s a well-worn theme these days but resilience is so important. You can’t hope for a perfect entry into a challenging career; and through the scrapes and bumps and bruises, you learn far more than you ever could in a university classroom. Any work experience that allows you to build empathy and to step outside of yourself is invaluable. Learning how to be a solid support and meaningful presence for others is a vital aspect to teaching.
What school do you teach at?

I teach at Kiara College in Perth.

What are your areas of responsibility?

I teach English, years 7–10, and work with my colleagues to plan, deliver and evaluate teaching programs. 

Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?

On most work days I prepare as well as possible for a number of classes, then spend the rest of the time discussing various issues with colleagues, planning future lessons and units of study and, of course, smashing out copious amounts of marking!

What sort of person succeeds in your career? 

You do need to learn quickly but the profession is very forgiving. Each day is a new day with a set of students and you can always start again. At the same time, organisation is very important both in terms of knowing what you’re doing and why, and organising routines and regular activities for your classes. Finally, you need compassion and patience in spades to give the students the regard they deserve.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes absolutely – teaching is not only about content knowledge. It’s useful to know what you are teaching but more importantly to know how to engage and sustain students so they will work for you.

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

I love marking! Just kidding – I like the moments where you finally get through to a student that you have been struggling to engage. I particularly like it when students try to stifle a smile when you praise them, to maintain their image in front of their peers!

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

Yes, the stress levels are relatively high because you can never do enough to prepare for a lesson and there is always another way to think about something. Work on weekends is a certainty unfortunately, but after ten months I am getting much better at making the out-of-school work manageable and thankfully my work-life balance is steadily improving. 

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

I dread to think about that – the negativity and uncertainty in my previous role was toxic! 

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

  • Never settle for a job you don’t love: Sometimes you have to wait and be patient until an opportunity arises, but when it does you’ve got to go for it! Life is too short and work weeks are too long to settle for something that doesn’t inspire you!
  • Organisation is paramount: In the past, I was not the most organised person and I have had to shape up this year. Poor organisation makes everything harder. 
  • Cultivate your habits: Work-life balance is so important. If you don’t keep doing the things you love – whether it’s a form of exercise, socialising or simply relaxing – you will quickly run out of energy and enthusiasm.