Geography Teacher — Jane Sykes

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It was natural for me to study Geography at university, as it had been my favourite subject at school. I began my Arts degree with no particular career in mind. I was interested in teaching and social work and dabbled in various subjects. However, Geography was always my focus, and I graduated with it as a major, and sub-majors in History and Psychology. I then enrolled in a Diploma of Education, with Geography and History as my teaching methods.

My first teaching position was at Billanook College, a new co-educational school in the north-east of Melbourne. I was fortunate to have a brilliant coordinator as my mentor for my first few years of teaching. Her wisdom and experience, combined with my enthusiasm and interest in the subject, made for good progress in the development of my teaching skills.

I taught Geography, History and Australian Studies in those years, but particularly loved the opportunities Geography offered. The field trips, environmental awareness, camps with the students, and the opportunity to relate to the world around us, all enthused me. I was also enjoying the way teaching involved developing a wide range of relationships with the students too. It was challenging and rewarding to work with adolescents with varying needs and personalities.

My teaching progressed from year to year. In my third year, I was given the responsibility of Year 9 Coordination. A year later, the opportunity arose to become Geography Coordinator.

All in all, I spent five rewarding years at Billanook before accepting a position as Head of Geography at Firbank, a girls college in Melbourne. With seniority other responsibilities came too. The school was gradually introducing laptops for all year levels. This presented administrative and teaching challenges, as did new curriculum (coursework) plans.

I often saw my role as a facilitator of learning—helping students by giving them good settings within which to learn. We established an Environmental Club (which still continues) and interested students met at lunchtimes, and planned activities within the school (native garden) and off-campus (Clean-up Australia). Young people were benefiting because their interests were being met and, while following these, they were able to develop good friendships others of similar disposition.

After five years at Firbank I moved on again, this time to have my first child. Now, with two young children, I am working part-time only. This works well for me.

I am a member of the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria (GTAV), and help this organisation with conference planning. I have done sessional (casual) work for various groups, often on issues to do with the environment. I correct VCE Geography papers, and I've done a small amount of writing for a Geography teaching kit. My current regular work is with the Trinity Foundation Studies Programme, teaching overseas students at the University of Melbourne. For the time being, these commitments keep me involved. I'm keeping in touch with geographers, and the regular contact with students is enjoyable.

Geography has been a common thread through all this, but where it will take me next I'm not sure. I'm just happy to enjoy the journey.