Mid-career workers retrain as teachers under para-professional program in NSW schools – Michmutters

Mid-career workers retrain as teachers under para-professional program in NSW schools

Jodie Hirst was a professional sports dietitian for 10 years before she felt drawn to the classroom.

Like many people during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2021, Ms Hirst reassessed her career and realized that she loved helping and inspiring people to learn.

Ms Hirst, a mother of two, is currently six months into a Masters of Teaching at Macquarie University.

“The transition from going back to university has been challenging but I am really enjoying it,” she said.

“I would love to inspire people to respect science and continue to want to learn in that field. I am hoping I can bring that into schools.”

Ms Hirst is taking part in New South Wales’ first mid-career teachers program to support people from other areas of the community to transition to teaching.

  Bulli High School is situated 100 meters from the beach which is featured in the background.
Bulli High School has more than 1,000 students and 70 teachers.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

She is working as a para-professional — helping with paperwork, resource development and classroom activities — at Bulli High School, in the northern Illawarra region.

Principal Denise James said she was “a bit in awe” of mid-career teachers such as Ms Hirst.

“I think it’s phenomenal and I hope more people do it,” she said.

“It’s invigorating for students to know teachers’ stories and to know they have had this other life and are experts in other things. It brings a whole lot of possibilities.”

changing the world

Ms James hoped more people would come to look at teaching as a great career.

“I admire someone who is already performing very well in their own field who wants to become a teacher,” she said.

“We know that the better education they [students] get, the better the world is.

“Jodie [Hirst] is here as a para-professional learning from our science faculty, but Bulli High is also learning with Jodie.

A woman wearing green stands in her office
Principal Denise James says the majority of teachers at Bulli High have decades of teaching experience.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

“That is the beauty of this program — we are learning from her how science operates outside of our school, in the real world … and we are also being able to use her skills in classrooms.”

But Ms James did warn that people’s expectations of teaching could sometimes differ from reality.

“You picture yourself in classrooms, you don’t realize that a lot of the work is happening alongside your colleagues in staff rooms in conversations and in meetings,” she said.

“So the paraprofessional role is a really great program.”

Along with 70 permanent teachers, the school relies on a pool of long-term temporary and casual teachers, who Ms James said it could not do without.

“We need the flexibility especially with a lot of illness in the world today,” she said.

Learning how to teach

Ms Hirst said she was looking forward to being able to increase the supply of science and technology teachers across the state.

“I’ll be teaching science, biology, chemistry and junior science … but I am relearning the content which is a part of the degree I am doing now, so learning the syllabus and how to teach that,” she said.

A woman stands in a science classroom at Bulli High School
Jodie Hirst is transitioning from a career as a sports dietitian to being a secondary science teacher.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

“Yes, I have a HECS debt now but with this mid-career transition, they [the Education Department] do provide some funding for the first six months of study, and then being employed three days a week at Bulli High, that’s going to help.”

Delivering group presentations in her former role as a consultant dietician for the Illawarra Academy of Sport helped give her the confidence to be at the front of the classroom.

“People were so motivated and generally interested that it became the favorite part of my job,” Ms Hirst said.

Professionals on the move

More than 4,000 new teachers have entered the workforce this year after gaining accreditation, according to the state’s Education Department, with at least 28 of them transitioning from other careers.

A productivity commission report in NSW recently investigated how to get more people from other careers into teaching.

NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell saluted the program and was “excited to welcome a further 3,000 teachers by the end of the year”.

Sue Bennett smiles in the afternoon sun
Professor Sue Bennett says there are different teaching strategies across different subject areas.(Supplied UOW: Paul Jones)

Professor Sue Bennett from the University of Wollongong said the extra teachers were much-needed.

“We’ve always had a group of people who have got significant experience in other roles… who want to make a change and they seek that pathway into the [teaching] profession,” Ms Bennett said.

“Around Australia there are universities and private providers that offer degrees in teaching with many variations available designed for people to find the right fit for them.”

The next round of applications for the mid-career program is open until September 11, with successful candidates due to commence studies in 2023.


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