How to Get Started with Tutoring

Whether you’re an education student at university, a beginning teacher or an experienced veteran of classroom, tutoring is a great way to earn some extra money. Let’s be honest, every dollar helps whether it would be towards making ends meet or saving up for that holiday you’ve always dreamed about. My experience on this topic comes from 10 years of primary school teaching in addition to thousands of hours tutoring students ranging from year three to year twelve (based on subjects I felt comfortable with). In this blog post I’m going to talk about: the legal/ethical implications associated with tutoring, how to get started, what to charge, what to bring to your tutoring sessions and any other tips that will help jump start your own private tutoring business. So lets get started shall we?


Legal & Ethical Issues

Let’s not beat around the bush, tutoring is one of the services that make up the ‘cash economy’ in Australia. Pay in cash, spend in cash and no one is none the wiser, aside from the fact that it’s tax evasion. If you are going to start tutoring professionally, then do it the right way. Speak to an accountant about registering for an Australian Business Number (ABN) for taxation purposes. I’ve always declared my tutoring income even though it would be pretty easy to avoid the eye of Sauron *cough*, sorry, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Declaring your income does have its benefits. Any expenses that you incur as a result of your secondary employment are deductable from your taxable income. I have been able to deduct a portion of the costs associated with my: mobile phone, Internet connection, electricity bills and the fuel from my car as a result of driving to students’ houses. I have also been eligible for higher loans thanks to the extra income I was earning. So if you are tutoring make sure you do it right and speak to an accountant!

Next you will need to notify your employer that you are requesting permission to undertake outside employment or secondary employment as it used to be known. In public schools this means informing your principal/line manager and the Department of Education via a form called ‘Outside Employment’. This can be found on the Department’s intranet under resources in the forms section. Declaring outside employment, from both my experience and the experience of others, is more of a formality. Some teachers feel that ‘It’s none of the government’s business what you do outside of school’. This may be true however their motivation for playing ‘big brother’ is simple. It’s basically a declaration that you will put your job first. I’ve heard of teachers being granted permission for: tutoring, army reserves and selling Thermomixes.  Examples of permission for outside employment being denied, that I personally know of, include: pizza delivery work, driving a taxi/Uber and working at TAFE (taking a class) while being fully employed by the Department of Education. So as long as your hours are not too long, you put your job as a teacher first and that you don’t solicit work from your employer, you should be fine. 

Lastly on the topic of ethics, I have never privately tutored a student from my school with the exception of two students at the request of the Department of Child Protection. Let me tell you why. Let’s say you start a tutoring relationship with a student from your class and you - I don’t know - give them a heads up about future programming plans and help them with the work you assign. This extra help in addition to your inside knowledge ‘could’ be seen as providing an unfair advantage to a student that is not equally provided to the rest of your class. Then imagine if your relationship with the student’s parent went sour or another parent caught wind of your tutoring arrangement and complained. I personally would not be comfortable with this situation or any fallout that would eventuate. I don’t know the answer as to whether this situation is ok or not but I will say that it is a professionally grey area, so it’s best to avoid this sort of arrangement just to be safe.


How to get started

I started tutoring in 2008 through a tutoring centre for Indigenous students based in Karratha. When I moved back to Perth in 2009 I then went through a tutoring agency to seek out my first set of students. If you do go through an agency you will have to pay them a ‘finder’s fee’ which is usually worth two hours of tuition. Over time, word of mouth spread and I become fully booked. I no longer required the assistance of an agency for work and my private tutoring business had become self-sustaining. If you are good at what you do, you won’t need to advertise. It also doesn’t hurt to show them that you’re fully qualified on the TRB’s website.


What to charge

If you hold a teaching qualification (Bachelor of Education or a Graduate Diploma of Education), do not charge under $50. Don’t. Do. It. If you do so, you are selling yourself short and it means you lack confidence in your teaching ability. Not only that, you are also under cutting the whole teaching industry regarding pay. There are lawyers who charge over $400/per hour for their work! $400 dollars! Take it from me; parents are willing to pay in excess of $50/per hour. I started out charging $50/per hour in 2009. Presently, I charge $60/per hour to account for taxes & costs. When you factor in the costs of work associated with tutoring like: an iPad, apps, stationery and fuel, $60/per hour is very reasonable. I have come across specialist tutors, like year twelve Physics teachers, who charge $70/per hour. I’ve even heard of someone paying $100/per hour, however I do think that is a bit excessive as such a price does not meet the market’s expectations. So pick your rate and stay firm on it! As the saying goes, ‘if you pay in peanuts, you’ll get monkeys’. You’re a professional and you’re worth it! Oh, always set a timer (thanks J.K.).

What to bring

When I teach and tutor I always bring my carry on luggage bag with me. Inside my bag is: a exercise book for working out, an A4 whiteboard with markers, my daily work pad, a USB stick (for any resources parents might want), some iPad adapters and an iPad. An iPad is a must, it really is. There are so many outstanding apps that can be used for tutoring. You name it, there’s probably an app for that. See my blog about top five Maths apps, and the recommended iPads apps section of my website. One of the benefits of such an approach is that you can massively reduce the amount of paper you are printing off. Not only that but you can pass on these apps to parents for additional work that they can do at home. It’s also good to have a packet of Nurofen and Panadol for when a headache strikes. There is nothing worse than tutoring or teaching with a headache. If you haven’t done so, make the change to a carry on luggage bag, in the long run your back will thank you for it.


Cancellations of sessions

As you accumulate the hours you will have the odd session that is cancelled at the last possible minute. While this can be annoying it pays to be diplomatic and here’s why. A few years ago I had a parent cancel tutoring suddenly. I knocked on the door and dad/mum said ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot to cancel, Joe Bloggs is sick’. I kept my composure and mentioned that it was all right, this sort of thing happens. People forget from time to time and parents are human too. Most parents will, without prompting, offer a cancellation payment for the inconvenience. This parent did not offer a cancellation payment however your parents will make up for these sorts of things in other ways, most importantly by recommending you to their own network of family, friends and peers. From this family I have mentioned above, I have gained 3 new tutoring families in addition to snacks and countless coffees over the years; as the saying goes ‘goodwill breeds goodwill’. So the inconvenience a sudden cancellation and not requesting a cancellation payment was worth it in the long run.


Late payments

Regarding late/non-payment it’s good to give parents the benefit of the doubt; 99.99% of the time they will pay you back however I strongly recommend that you keep a written record of payments. For example, I had one parent who claimed that I was paid for two weeks when in fact it was one. A string of late payments without dates attached to the electronic transfers was responsible for the misunderstanding. Again, diplomacy pays off. To resolve this respectful disagreement I produced a spreadsheet of all the dates I tutored in addition to screenshots of the payments I received. Long story short, the parent agreed with the evidence I presented and the late payment was received. I have only encountered genuine non-payment twice and to be honest I did not pursue the matter. Both situations were towards the end of the year and occurred because payment was not collected immediately from the parent despite reminders each following session. Although, when one of these parents asked for some advice a while back her message went unanswered. Like I said earlier ‘goodwill breeds goodwill’ thus I’m not prepared to help out parents who abuse this relationship.


Cancellation of contract

There will also come a time where a parent will have to cancel the weekly contract they have made with you. I know I keep saying this, but diplomacy matters. Quite often it will be due to financial pressures the family may be under. A couple of FIFO families cancelled on me last year due to the father being made redundant. When a parent cancels make sure you’re polite and considerate, I can guarantee you that they are feeling just as awful as you are about the cancellation. Sometimes they come back - I once had a family rehire me after a year-long break after their father found a new job. You may also get cancellations because of the child themselves. I previously tutored two unmotivated students whose parents were at their wit’s end. While I was able to help both of them with their organisation and their understanding of concepts, if they’re unmotivated (no actions and all talk) and not really interested in improving despite your best efforts, then there is not much you can do about it. Hence the saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.’ The parents of both students directly cited their child’s attitude when cancelling although in one situation, if I’m being upfront, a parent was pressuring their child to pursue a career pathway that he/she was not interesting in doing at all.


How tutoring helps your teaching

Tutoring has had one of the biggest impacts, aside from classroom experience, on my teaching pedagogy. It really has, so let me fully explain this. I’ve probably tutored about 20-25 students and during this time I have been able to gain insights into 20-25 classrooms and the teaching pedagogy their teachers have used. I have learnt the lattice methods of multiplication from one student, innovative multiplication tricks from another and I’ve ‘stolen’ ideas for how to teach a persuasive text. These sorts of experiences have helped my teaching programmes enormously. It has also helped me refine how I explain concepts to my own students. There is a quote by Albert Einstein that states ‘if you can't explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ This is a quote I aim to teach by.

The inspiration I took from this quote was to teach things: simply, clearly and effectively or as I like to say, take Occam’s razor to how you teach things. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing a technique you have used in tutoring pay off in your own classroom of 25-30 students. Finally on a less positive note, I’ve also had my fair share of students who have been unfairly written off by some of their classroom teachers and the schools that they have attended. I know we hit autopilot with our jobs sometimes but we have an enormous impact on how a student and their family feel towards education. I cannot begin to tell you how angry it makes me feel when a student has been labelled as something they are not!


One final comment that is pretty interesting, about half of my parents are teachers! I used to think that these teachers were bloody lazy. Why would a teacher need another teacher to teach their child? But imagine how you were as a child when your parents tried to teach you something. Did you always listen to your parents? I know I found my mother’s driving lessons to be absolutely infuriating and she’s still a backseat driver to this day. This is when we need to get in someone else to help teach our children. I know my attempt at teaching my oldest daughter how to swim was a complete failure. This was, as with the other situations I described, due to the pre-existing parent-child bond. Charlotte just wanted to play around with me, not to learn how to swim. So don’t pass judgement too quickly when you accept the work, even if one of your parents just happens to be one of the best teachers in the world.

Well I know that this blog post has been a long one but wanted to give all of you a comprehensive understanding of tutoring and what is involved, or as I like to say ‘to reach my point in your education career sooner’. Please let me know what you thought of the blog and thanks for reading.

From Bitter to Better – How Critical Strangers Helped Me Learn From Failure

From Bitter to Better – How Critical Strangers Helped Me Learn From Failure

In my last blog post I published my unsuccessful Level Three Classroom Teacher (L3CT) portfolio for the entire Internet to see along with a blog about why the result I received was questionable. In this blog post I was still quite defensive about my portfolio but I did leave the door open to be proven wrong, and proven wrong I was. So now I’m writing about how good (or bitter) this big, fat slice of humble pie tastes.

After publishing my L3CT portfolio I was contacted by two Level Three assessors who volunteered to read through my portfolio from top to bottom. Without going into the specifics of what these two wonderful people told me, they basically confirmed that the original judgements of the two assessors were correct. There might have been some variation with a couple of indicators however my L3CT portfolio didn’t meet the standard, its just that simple. It wasn’t good enough.

Failing like this reminded me of two other situations in my life where I spectacularly failed. Firstly, failing the officer selection board interview for the position of a Specialist Service Officer (Psychologist) in the Australian Army back in 2006. Secondly, failing the merit select process for an extension of my 1-year contract at Oombulgurri Remote Community School by one sentence of one subsection of one paragraph based from my application letter back in 2007. To add insult to injury, I still remember hearing a conversion from a remote teacher at the Kununurra hotel who told the group about how they copied their mate’s letter and got in. FYI, I still hate you, you plagiarising fraud and I hope you get hit with a notice for substandard performance. A pox on your house! I guess I still might be a little bitter about this.

What these two crushing defeats, along with my most recent defeat, have taught me is that there are two choices when it comes to failure. You can stay bitter or get better. For both of my previous defeats I remained extremely bitter for 1-2 years. I had convinced myself that I was wronged and that the selection processes for these two positions were absolutely terrible, blah, blah, blah we all know what bitter people sound like. Eventually I gained important insight into why I failed these interviews/applications and learnt from my failures. The good news is that my period of bitterness over my unsuccessful L3CT portfolio is much shorter and far less vitriolic on the ears of those who will listen to me.

There is another point I also wanted to address from my blog and it’s this. I wasn’t let down by the six Level Three teachers who helped me with my portfolio. They were great for bouncing ideas off of and they helped me formulate great examples but they were not assessors. The most recent assessors who looked over my portfolio said that there were some good examples that just need tweaking. However, I was let down by the assessor which my school paid $650 (one day’s relief) to. The fact that I scored a 1 for Indicator 3.2, ‘Plans and implements personal and professional growth through a range of activities and opportunities’ is a pretty poor return of investment for the cost of the coaching, and goes to show that paid services don’t always produce results. This result should have been picked up during coaching not afterwards. I’m not going to drone on about this point other than saying I won’t be using them again in the future. If anything the fault is mine for not enlisting another assessor to look over my L3CT portfolio.

If there is anything I have learnt from my failed L3CT portfolio it’s this, everything you write down must match the assessment rubric. The examples I used for competency four were absolutely, positively, awesome but they didn’t meet the rubric and I didn’t properly show HOW they benefited the students because I didn’t write that down. Just like I didn’t write down that extra sentence for that one subsection of one paragraph in my application to extend my remote teaching service contract.

I also want to leave you with one final point. Own your failures and talk about them openly and without shame (when you are ready of course). To illustrate this point, there is an important quote by Tyrion Lannister, which he said to Jon Snow at the start of ‘Game of Thrones’ in the fantasy series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’.

“Let me give you some counsel, bastard,” Lannister said. “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

If I didn’t open up my L3CT portfolio to the world I would not be in the position I am in now and I would not have gained the critical feedback I require. So on that note it's time to start re-rewriting my portfolio for the millionth time. Wish me luck!

Why the Result I Received for My Level 3 Portfolio is Questionable

Why the Result I Received for My Level 3 Portfolio is Questionable

During this calendar year I submitted my Level 3 Classroom Teacher (L3CT) portfolio for assessment to the Department of Education. Not many people submit a L3CT portfolio so actually planning, draft and publishing one is a huge achievement in itself. However around August I received the news that my L3CT portfolio was unsuccessful. I was of the belief that I would be able to bank a couple of competencies at least. I had prepared myself for failure however the amount by which I failed truly shocked me. 

Here is a breakdown of my L3CT portfolio scores. 

•    Competency 1 = 2.6
•    Competency 2 = 2.4
•    Competency 3 = 2.0
•    Competency 4 = 2.25
•    Competency 5 = 2.4

A lot of people reading this blog entry will be saying ‘Matt, that’s the L3CT process’ and ‘Matt, you need to have a look at what you didn’t do’. Well after reading about the sheer amount of work I did put into publishing my portfolio you might reconsider those comments. 

I’ve been writing this portfolio on and off for 3 years (since 2013). Prior to publishing, I had six Level 3 teachers and one Level 3 assessor critique my portfolio. These seven people, some of whom were from the L3CT Association, were critical friends who did not hold back with their feedback about my portfolio. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have rewritten my portfolio based on their feedback. 

Even before completing the final draft, the feedback I got from the teachers from the L3CT association was that it ‘could’ pass. Prior to the submission date I worked extensively with a L3CT and a L3CT assessor to get my portfolio ready for submission. While there was no guarantee of passing I was left with the distinct impression that I would at least bank some competencies and that I was submitting a ‘strong’ portfolio. It appears that all of the advice I received about my portfolio went against the opinions of the two assessors who assessed it. 

So here is my dilemma. I am left in a situation where I literally do not know what to do next. The lack of thorough and accurate feedback post-assessment has left me rudderless. 

So this is what I need from the L3CT support group. I need you to tell me whether or not my portfolio was a pass and the only way to do this is to publish it in its entirety. Here are the three outcomes I envisage from this exercise . . . 

1.    The original decision by the assessors was correct. If so I’ll eat that slab of humble pie. 
2.    The original decision by the assessors was incorrect or . . . 
3.    There are areas of improvement however this competency x,y or z should have been a pass. 

I believe the most likely outcome is number three. 

Before you read my portfolio I want to leave you with one more thing to think about. In competency four I wrote about my website of educational resources which I created from scratch, and I run on a not-for-profit basis (which has now been visited by over 10,000 people). I also wrote about the professional learning course which I created about using the iPad that is run at the SSTUWA. I have run this workshop 13 times now and have had around about over 300 course participants. Sounds pretty awesome right? Well WRONG!


Seriously, however many other teachers are doing what I’m doing when it comes to teaching teachers? Yet this competency got the second lowest score!

Ok, rant over. Damn that felt good!

So just like I told my critical friends, please be ruthless with your feedback. Rip my ‘still beating educational heart’ out of my chest, show it to me and I will thank you for it. 

Top 5 Maths iPad Apps for Primary School Teachers

Knowing which apps are worth using in the classroom can be difficult. When browsing the app store you can’t guarantee that the most popular apps or even the most highly rated ones will be exactly what you are looking for. I can guarantee the following Maths apps will help you enormously in the classroom. Why the guarantee? Well I’ve been a classroom teacher for eight years and I’ve accumulated thousands of hours of private tuition. I’ve used these apps over and over again as part of my teaching pedagogy. So here are my ‘Top Five Maths Apps for Primary School Teachers’.

1. BEST MEASURING APP: Jungle Geometry by Andrew Short

Recommended for middle and upper primary

I used to think that the majority of the measurement and geometry apps on the App Store were of a poor quality. A lot of these measurement and geometry apps were: poorly designed, taught only one concept and came under the ‘edutainment’ genre of iPad apps. This all changed when I downloaded Jungle Geometry (JG). The ‘Jungle’ series of iPad apps have always been of a high quality and JG would have to be the best of them. Here is what JG will help you to teach.

·      Measuring straight lines

·      Recognising the different types of line

·      Recognising the different pairs of lines (perpendicular, intersecting and parallel)

·      Names of 2D shapes (square, rectangle, circle & triangle)

·      Measuring the features of 2D shapes (radius, diameter, perimeter etc)

·      Naming 3D shapes (sphere, prisms and pyramids)

·      Measuring angles using a digital protractor

·      Recognising the different angle types (acute, right, obtuse, straight, reflex & revolution)

·      Working out the supplementary and complementary angles of a straight line

The three dot points highlighted in bold are the features of JG that I use the most. As a year 5/6 primary school teacher, I occasionally come across students who struggle to use a protractor e.g. they have trouble reading the numbers or knowing whether to measure an angle from left to right or right to left. Using a protractor can be tricky. How many times have you been unsure whether an angle is 130 degrees or 131 degrees using those tiny 180-degree protractors?

JG’s measuring angles feature uses a much larger digital protractor to measure angles with. This large protractor helps students to quickly and easily read the angle that is presented to the viewer. In my teaching experience I’ve found this feature serves as a useful scaffold for the weaker students before they move onto using a real protractor. This app well and truly deserves a spot on your iPad’s hard drive.

2. BEST 3D SHAPES APP: Shapes – 3D Geometry Learning

Recommended for middle and upper primary

Just like JG, I found that a lot of the 3D shapes apps on the App Store were pretty terrible and suffered from the same design flaws. Then I came across Shapes – 3D Geometry Learning. Shapes is beautifully designed. So much effort has gone into making this app it would be wrong of me not to mention the sheer amount of craftsmanship that went into its development. So what does Shapes do?

·      Displays the different variations of 3D shapes such as pyramids, prisms, solids of revolution (cylinders/spheres) and platonic solids (dodecahedrons etc).

·      Shows you the edges, faces and vertices of each 3D shape

·      Shows you all the different net variations of each 3D shape

·      Allows you to print off the various nets from a wireless printer

Not only has Shapes been incredibly useful for all of the reasons above but its also been useful as a ‘dictionary’ for questions like ‘how many faces does a dodecahedron have?’ Whether it would be for lessons in which you are modelling the features of 3D shapes or an app that students use to investigate 3D shapes with, Shapes comes highly recommend!

3. BEST MULTIPLICATION APP: Multiflow Times Tables Reimagined

Recommended for lower, middle and upper primary

There are a lot of times tables apps in the App Store. Simply type in times tables or multiplication and you will be flooded with hundreds of unappealing, generic apps that look awful! Among the dirt there is a diamond, and this diamond’s name is Multiflow. So what sets Multiflow apart from the other multiplication app clones available on the App Store? Well its in Multiflow’s customisability and diversity. Multiflow’s educational features include.

·      Enter the Flow (a challenging game that doesn’t stop until the questions get too hard for you to answer e.g. ten seconds to answer 56 x 79)

·      Mad Minute (answer as many questions as you can in a minute)

·      Reversals (find the correct question from an answer already provided)

·      And mostly importantly ‘Pick ‘Em’ (pick any timetables list that you want to appear in your questions).

Pick ‘Em is the feature I use the most. The ability to customise which times tables a student practises is incredibly useful. I also use Pick ‘Em for some students as part of their Individual Education Programme (IEP). I like the fact that the student has to enter in the correct answer instead of picking from a list of multiple-choice answers. All too often students simply guess the answer instead of having to remember it. Even after a number of years using Multiflow I still haven’t found a better multiplication app.


Recommended for lower, middle and upper primary

The Quick Maths (QM) series are some of the best educational apps to help students brush up and sharpen those basic number facts. Just like Multiflow, JG and Shapes there is a glut of apps that claim to help students with their understanding of the four operations (add, take, times & divide). QM stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to practising and extending a student’s knowledge of the four operations. QM's educational features include the following.

·      A levelled difficulty system for each operation (beginner, intermediate, advanced and extreme)

·      Students write in their answers with their finger (no data input e.g. calculators or multiple choice answers)

·      Records times and allows for multiple user accounts

·      FYI Quick Maths+ has questions that require the use of <, > and = if you are looking for something more challenging

I’ve have found this app to be incredibly addictive to play. It’s a real thrill to progressively beat your own personal best time. The difficulty of questions ranges from easy (5+4=9) to hard (x+67=157). You can’t go wrong with using Quick Maths in the classroom.

5.  BEST FRACTIONS APP: OhNoFractions!

Recommended for middle to upper primary

Learning about fractions can be challenging especially when it comes to correctly comparing fractions to determine if one is greater than, less than or equal to another fraction. All too often students implicitly think that a larger denominator implies a larger fraction.

OhNo Fractions! does a great job of showing students WHY a fraction is either greater than, less than or equal too another. OhNo Fractions! actually shows you! Literally, it shows you. After pressing the ‘show me’ button OhNo Fractions! brings up a picture of both fractions. It then asks you to correctly put in the right numerator in each of the fractions. This then allows the student to clearly see how the numerator and denominator can change the size of a fraction. Oh No Fractions! also has several features that help students to add, take, multiply and divide fractions.

I’m sure there will be a million different opinions about the top five iPad Maths apps for Primary School Teachers however there is no disputing the awesomeness of these apps. So download them now and try them out for yourself!

How to Get Work as a Relief Teacher

So you’ve just finished your Bachelor/Diploma of Education or even (heaven forbid) your six-week ‘Teach for Australia’ course - congratulations! So its time to go get a job . . . wait . . . how should you go about this? Well, not everyone is in the position to go remote or to the country particularly if you have children or other commitments. You might have even applied for a few jobs but were unsuccessful. So the next best option is to look for relief work. What experience do I have in this matter? Well, I’ve worked remote, in the country, at the SSTUWA, as a sessional academic, as a relief teacher and in the Perth metropolitan area. So let me share with you some of my recommendations and experiences on how to secure work as a relief teacher.

Before I start, I want to dispel a common myth that I’ve come across. Some teachers like to have a whinge and say ‘there are no jobs out there’. Well that’s rubbish! There are ALWAYS teaching jobs available. I’ve found the teachers who don’t get work aren’t willing to teach in lower SEI schools or limit themselves to a narrow selection of schools. In addition to this, the majority of teachers in the profession are women and women are always going on maternity leave. Teachers also have long service leave that they need to get rid of and teachers do get seriously ill which requires long-term treatment. If you are looking for full time work, getting relief work is first step you can take towards achieving this goal. Most principals I know of would rather fill an empty teaching position with a reliable relief teacher who is well known.

At the end of the day, if you truly want relief work you will be prepared to take any class and go anywhere in order to gain the necessary teaching experience to make yourself competitive in today’s job market.


Preparation, preparation, preparation

So lets start, how do you get relief work? Well first you’ll need a professional looking CV (no greater than 3 to 4 pages long) and a generic covering letter. Assuming you’re straight out of university, I’d get the teacher who signed off on your final practical placement as a reference. If you’re a complete novice at the whole CV writing business then enrol in a CV writing course with the SSTUWA or your state’s teaching union. I’ve heard from participants that it’s well worth the investment.

Next, print out a map and locate all of the schools around your local area. Don’t be afraid to travel upwards of 45 minutes from your location. When I did relief teaching back in 2009 I handed out my CV to well over 15 schools. I got limited work in my local area but the schools that were within a 30-minute drive booked me up weeks in advance.


Clothing . . . dress to impress

As much as people don’t like to admit it, people certainly judge you on what you wear. I might come across sounding like Emily Post but you really need to make a positive first impression upon your future employer. Let me share with you one of my personal experiences from a job interview at a primary school (which is now my current school) back in 2009. I arrived 20 minutes early for the interview and I was in the middle of doing up my tie when I saw a group of professional looking bureaucrats talking. A week after my successful interview the principal (at that time) told me that he and the local District Directors (now Regional Directors) observed me doing up my tie and were impressed. What this taught me was that its better to overdress than underdress for your first meeting with a school. Keep this in mind when approaching prospective schools.


Introducing yourself to the school

Don’t send your CV by email - seriously don’t do it. Walking into the school and personally handing in your CV looks much better. Admin is more likely to remember a name with a face as opposed to remembering a name via email. Which brings me to my next point, don’t underestimate the power of a good introduction. Whenever I meet someone new I use the ‘John Green’ method of saying hello. Watch the imbedded YouTube video to see what I mean.

The way John Green says ‘Hi, I’m John Green’ makes him come across as warm and friendly. I’d go as far to say its one of the reasons he is so popular amongst the education community. Whenever I introduce myself to someone new I use the exact same tone and mannerisms. Use this method of introducing yourself to your school’s administration (registrars, deputy principals and principals). After introducing yourself to the registrar/secretary ask to speak with the deputy principal and principal if they’re available. Don’t be afraid to wait a few minutes if required. If you don’t get a chance to meet with the deputy or the principal at least you’ve made a positive impression on the registrar.  If you do get a chance to meet with them you’ll need a ‘sales pitch’.


Your sales pitch

You need a sales pitch, you really do! I’d practice writing down some notes on a series of palm cards and rehearse them and rehearse them and rehearse them until you know them off by heart. Its important to know a bit of information about the schools you intend on getting relief work at. Most schools will display information about themselves on their website. I suggest that you read through your prospective school’s annual report and their behaviour management procedures/policy. Understanding how the administration runs the school will leave a position impression. Oh, and leaving the admin with a business card is great idea. At a TeachMeet I organised for my school a graduate teacher left me with one of her business cards. It certainly left a positive impression for me and my principal.

During your sales pitch I suggest that you specifically mention . . .

·      That you’ll take any class (rain, hail or shine)

·      That you are able to take a class, even if no work has been left for you

·      That you don’t mind accepting work at late notice e.g. when a teacher’s child has just vomited everywhere at 8:00am and they can’t come into work today

·      That you don’t mind taking on additional duties

·      And finally that you wouldn’t mind joining up with a school for professional development to get your TRB hours up.


The waiting game

Now don’t expect work right away, particularly at the start of term one. It usually takes a few weeks before all those germs start spreading their way from the hands and mouths of children into the immune systems of teachers. Schools also have a list of preferred relief teachers. So when you think about it, you are trying to muscle in on someone else’s turf. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks before you get work. I remember a school that rang me up three months after I handed in my CV!

In the meantime it pays to be prepared. I suggest that you invest in a small carry on luggage bag with wheels. You’ll need to pack your emergency teaching toolkit with a variety of activities, games and worksheets for those ‘six step lessons’. FYI six step lessons are the lessons you think of six steps before you enter the classroom. You’ll need to wake up early and have your phone nearby at all times. Having all of your work clothes ready to wear and a pre-made lunch box helps as well. You’ll be surprised at how many calls you will get from desperate deputy principals scrambling for a relief teacher. I guarantee you’ll leave a great impression with admin if you can arrive at school ASAP.

Ah…germs and the sick children of teachers, they really are a relief teacher’s best friend.


Social networking

One of the best ways to get relief work in the age of smartphones is to join a variety of teaching based social networking forums on Facebook. I suggest you join the following . . .

·      New Educator Network – WA (you’ll need to be a union member)

·      Perth WA Teachers Buy, Swap, Sell, Share or Borrow

·      TeachMeet WA

·      ECU K-7 and Early Childhood Relief Teaching

Make sure you check these groups throughout the day, particularly in the morning.


Final points

When you arrive at school, particularly if it’s your first time there, make sure you introduce yourself to the teaching staff. There is nothing more awkward than a relief teacher who walks into the staffroom and sits down without having properly introduced themselves. Take the initiative and be proactive with your first time in a new staffroom. Lastly, make sure you leave a note for the teacher’s class that you took. I’ve always appreciated the notes left behind by relief teachers regarding what has happened throughout the day and if there is anything else that I need to follow up on.


So there you have it, these are my recommendations for getting relief work. Don’t take my recommendations as an exhaustive list of what to do. I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten to mention. You might disagree with some of the stuff mentioned here, but you can’t dispute the results. These recommendations have helped me get a constant stream of relief work, which eventually led to full time employment.

Happy job hunting and I hope this blog helps you secure more relief work!

The Apple Watch and Teaching

So my wife and I both succumbed to the marketing geniuses at Apple last month and bought Apple Watches. I’ve been using my Apple Watch for about three weeks now and I’ve come across a number of handy features that educators will find useful. It’s not ground breaking stuff but it is convenient. So here are my thoughts about Apple’s latest device.

Firstly, the Apple Watch model I bought is called Watch Sport (Space Grey, 38mm). The Watch Sport is the cheapest model and it will set you back $499.00 (Australian Dollars). This price also included a black sport band. The black sport band is comfortable to wear, more comfortable than wearing a FitBit.

Apple Watch, Space Grey (38mm)

Apple Watch, Space Grey (38mm)

So how can the Apple Watch be used in the classroom? Well, let me put it this way. Getting a classroom of 30 students to look at a large whiteboard is difficult enough. Imagine getting these same students to focus on a 38mm by 38mm screen! The simple fact is, you don’t teach with the Apple Watch but it is useful for teachers. Let me explain what I mean by this. Apple Watch’s strength is in its selection of watch faces and how you customise them. The watch face that I use the most is called ‘modular’. The modular watch face is the most useful because it can display a lot of information, the most of all the watch faces. Mickey Mouse telling the time might be great but he can’t display: a timer, a stopwatch, your calendar, your battery life and the date. Fun fact, if you have a couple of Apple Watches with the Mickey Mouse watch face displayed, Mickey’s tapping with be synchronised across all the watch faces. 

My Apple Watch with the modular watch face.

My Apple Watch with the modular watch face.

In the picture above you can see the modular watch face I’ve customised. In the bottom left hand corner there is a watch icon with the word ‘set’. This is called the timer app, the exact same timer you have on your iPhone. At my school we use ‘buddy class’ as a form of time out for students that keep misbehaving. Prior to Apple Watch, whenever I would receive a student for buddy class I would have to go over to my satchel or my desk, unlock my phone, find & open up the clock app and set the timer. This simple procedure takes even longer if you cannot find your phone. On a side note you can find your phone with Apple Watch instead of logging onto Find My iPhone. With Apple Watch, all I have to do is this: look at my watch, press the timer app and set it for 15 minutes. No looking around for my phone, no unlocking gadgets and no searching for apps.

Find my phone button. 

Find my phone button. 

To the right of the timer app I have included the alarm app. I rarely miss important meetings but it’s an awful experience when you’re late that one time. On the days I have been late it’s due to the fact that I’ve left my phone in my bag or I’ve had my phone on silent. To eliminate this problem, I’ve moved all of my important alarm reminders to the Apple Watch, reminders like: Wednesday’s communication meeting, reminders for student councillors to do their announcements and when to take back the classroom’s library books.

On the bottom right hand side of the modular watch face I have the stopwatch app displayed. For the past few months the students in my classroom have been running our school’s cross-country course every day. To help motivate my students to become faster at their 2.4km runs I have been timing them with my iPhone. The down side to using the iPhone to time my students’ cross-country times is that I need to keep my phone unlocked. Occasionally the phone locks and I’ve got a student rushing to the finishing line expecting their time. All of a sudden I’ve got to unlock my phone and open up the timer app. Meanwhile the student has crossed the line and I cannot give him/her an accurate time. This doesn’t happen often but when it does its frustrating. With the Apple Watch, all I have to do is look at my watch and I can quickly tell a student their time. It’s that simple.

Additionally, Apple watch acts as a filter/notification device for your phone. Since I’ve always got my phone on silent I regularly miss calls and messages because I’ve been focused on teaching. The benefit of Apple Watch is that I’ll discreetly get a tap from my watch (if its on silent) that will tell me of a call/message. I’ll usually ignore these things but I’ll know that I need to get back to someone if it’s important. Regarding phone calls, I’ve been able to easily hold a conversation using the Apple Watch. I only wish the inbuilt speaker was a fraction louder. I would go so far as to say that missed calls and messages are a thing of the past when wearing an Apple Watch because it’s impossible to miss them. Something worth considering if you chronically miss phone calls and messages.

At this point of the blog you’re probably asking yourself, “So can you teach anything using the Apple Watch?” The only thing I’ve used Apple Watch for teaching would be the ‘Astronomy’ watch face. I was able to guide a student that I tutor through the cycles of the moon. I would say ‘watch’ this space. Given enough ‘time’ there might be some uses for the Apple Watch in education that haven’t been considered. In the meantime the iPad is the best device to teach students with.

One last thing to mention, the battery life on the Apple Watch is quite good. I originally thought the Apple Watch’s battery life would be atrocious. On this matter I’m glad that I’m wrong. On the days I have solely used Apple Watch for telling the time, I’ve had about 60% battery life left over. On days where I have heavily used it, I’ve had about 35% battery life.

So there you have it, the Apple Watch isn’t something you would teach. Apple Watch is more like a teaching companion to improve your productivity in the classroom. It’s a convenient device that makes those simple tasks even easier. It’s like choosing to ride the escalator instead of taking the stairs. So if you own an iPhone 5 or iPhone 6, I recommend that you buy an Apple Watch. After all, riding the escalator is more fun! 

So You Wanna Learn a Language? And Keep Your New Years Resolution Too?

I apologise for taking inspiration from Frozen’s ‘Do You Wanna Build a Snowman’ when creating the title for this blog entry :)

At about this time two years ago, I made a new years resolution to learn another language. I don’t know about you but during my primary and secondary education I found learning a new language incredibly difficult. My difficulty in learning another language might have came from the fact that my parents do not fluently speak another language at home, maybe it was the skill of my LOTE (Languages Other Than English) teachers, maybe it was the fact that I was not interested in learning another language because I found it challenging or maybe it was a combination of all of the above. Despite my previous difficulty learning another language, I’m here to tell you that it has never been easier! Why has it become easier to learn another language you might ask? Technology, that’s right technology. So how has technology broken down the perceived difficultly of learning another language? Well let me explain it for you.

The rise of smart phones and computer tablets as devices that we use on a daily basis has lead to an explosion of highly creative apps that can help you learn another language. The first app I can recommend is Duolingo. Duolingo - which is free by the way - offers courses in German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish and Danish. It was the Duolingo app that first showed me that learning another language isn’t necessarily difficult; it just takes practice. Duolingo works so well because it caters for users of a beginner, intermediate and advanced level. The Duolingo German course has a total of 73 lessons, of which I have completed 39 lessons over the 1.75 years I have been using it for. Within each lesson, there are stages and within each stage there are about 10-25 questions. Duolingo makes the process of learning another language a user-friendly experience in the following ways. When answering each stage’s questions a user will need to: decipher from English to German; decipher from German to English; pick the right picture for a new word; write down text in German or English that might be spoken in the opposite language. Duolingo takes a lot of concepts from video games to help you stay engaged with learning. In each lesson you have three hearts, which allows you to make three mistakes. You can earn ‘lingots’ (a kind of in game currency) for certain achievements and the app tracks your progress through a points system. Duolingo also allows a certain amount of social networking. You can link up with your friends to see how many points they have scored in a week which helps add an element of healthy competition. My recommendation for Duolingo would be to use it as a starting point and use it as an app to understand the syntax of a new language. As outstanding as Duolingo is, you will need other apps to help you on your journey of learning another language - which brings me to my next recommended app.

The next app I recommend is called Mindsnacks. Mindsnacks offers courses in: German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese and Mandarin. Each individual app costs just under $7.00 (AUD). There is an in-app purchase available which allows you to buy the entire series for under $26.00 (AUD). I chose the latter option because it represents excellent value for money. So why did I splash out $26.00 for these apps? Well Mindsnacks is engaging and entertaining. Mindsnacks uses a lot of gaming features found in Duolingo such as earning experience points, achieving new levels and seeing your avatar ‘grow’.  The strength of Mindsnacks as an app for learning a new language comes from the nine awesome games users can play. For the German course there are 50 lessons that cover a wide range of concepts such as: body parts, greetings, dates and colours. The great thing about Mindsnacks is that it keeps you interested and playing. For example, if you get sick of a particular game you can move on to another one. Personally, I found Mindsnacks useful because it helped me recall the vocabulary of German faster than Duolingo required me to. In order to keep up with the games (most of which are timed and get progressively harder) I really had to think quickly. An area that Mindsnacks does much better than Duolingo is the fact they have courses in Japanese and Mandarin. Both the Japanese and Mandarin apps allow the user to switch between the characters of Japanese/Mandarin and English. Using Japanese as an example, you can learn one lesson using the Katakana (one of the Japanese alphabets) and then switch to Japanese (spelt using English) later for the same lesson. Another strength of Mindsnacks – Mandarin is that it helps teach the tonal aspect of Mandarin which can change the meaning of certain words.

In addition to these apps, there are a couple of other ICT resources worth mentioning that I have used. Firstly, an interactive website called ‘Ba Ba Dum’ (google it). Ba Ba Dum mainly focuses on the vocabulary and spelling of a language, of which there are 1,500 words to master. ‘Ba Ba Dum’ offers courses, which are free, in 13 different languages such as: German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Russian, Japanese and Polish. For understanding the speaking and listening component of German, I downloaded a series of podcasts from iTunes called ‘Slow German’. I listen to these CDs in the car on my way to work. I’m sure if you go searching on iTunes you could find podcasts in other languages. You can also use Pinterest to get access to heaps of picture boards to help learn another language. I have a couple of boards dedicated to German called ‘German Learning Resources’ and ‘Funny German Texts’. I also regularly use Google Translate to help me with a word I might have forgotten when I read German newspapers and magazines.

So that’s how I currently got to where I am with learning another language. Having gone through this learning experience I can definitely say that anyone can do it. For me the only remaining hurdle facing a person who wants to learn another language is that of discipline. And by discipline, I mean daily practice and making the time. Some people might challenge me with that statement and that’s fine. But I would say to my detractors that nearly everyone now owns a smart phone or a computer with Internet access. With the rise of free and cheap apps learning a new language doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. With the barriers of accessibility and cost no longer being an issue, now has never been a better time to learn another language.


Duolingo - mind

Mindsnacks –

Ba Ba Dum –

Slow German –

Google Translate -

My Pinterest Account -