Members Spotlight: Carolyn Newall founder of We Teach Well
The teaching industry has changed over the past two decades, and it isn't what it used to be. The high-stakes environment of extreme testing and the need to meet school-wide and national achievement benchmarks – is becoming too much for most. Teachers have one of the most important roles in society; they are responsible for the minds of tomorrow and the education of the next generation, so why are nearly 50% of teachers quitting their professions within the first five years?
As a woman who has been teaching for nearly 30 years herself, Carolyn Newall knows it's because the industry has dramatically changed – and it continues to do so daily.
The pursuit of academic outcomes and radical rules and regulations mean that teachers rarely have the opportunity to exercise their own judgement or express the very things that landed them in their role in the first place – their passion and their drive to nurture. Children as young as five are sitting aptitude tests in Australian schools, and the pressure to perform is transferred to those responsible for the classroom.
Increased performance expectations mean increased workloads, and while the 'nine-to-three' workday may be a thing of the past for most teachers, Carolyn is passionate about improving the wellbeing of educators nation-wide and changing the stats.
Support, empathy and adequate resources are the foundations for her newly launched business, We Teach Well. Carolyn operates We Teach Well from her business-base in One Roof, Melbourne, and teacher by teacher, she is changing the industry for the better…
What was life like before launching your business, We Teach Well?
Not good. I had returned from teaching overseas and interstate, and I couldn't get a job locally. I had also been ill, and that had used up any available funds. I was over 60 and had spent the previous 28 years raising my twin boys and working as a teacher at the same time.
How did you recognise a gap in the market? Was it an 'AH-HA' moment or a few years of thinking?
I was flicking through my laptop one day and I came across my folder of teaching resources which was filled with gigabytes of proven English teaching resources that I had built up over the years. It struck me at that moment that I was probably not the only older woman who had this much valuable material that was not being used. I was very aware of the exodus of experienced teachers from the classroom and the strain it was putting on new, inexperienced teachers. The internet was removing the physical barriers to sharing material, and it seemed like the right time to do something about it.
How has the response been to We Teach Well?
It is actually hard to say. When we speak to people, we get a good response and people who have used the resources speak highly of the quality, but because business and marketing is new to us, we haven't worked out how to get the products into the market on a bigger scale.
What challenges did you face in your first year of business?
The biggest challenge, which we still have in some ways, is not knowing any of the business and marketing 'stuff'. I watched a lot of webinars and training videos and went to a lot of events to learn. There was no financial backing, so I needed to do everything myself, that was a significant challenge. I loved the learning process, but it was not moving forward financially.
How has co-working helped with your personal and business growth?
It is not possible to overestimate the extent of moving into One Roof. I had wanted to for a while but couldn't afford it, but last year, I picked up some content research and writing work that enabled me to move in and pay several months in advance. The difference has been extraordinary. When I was working from my home, a tiny space, I could go for a couple of weeks without speaking to another human. Also, I could get lost on the computer and forget to stop to eat. I have both ADHD and a little OCD, so that made it difficult to manage as well. When I came to One Roof, I became much more focused and productive, and I like the idea of 'going out' to work. The input of other members at One Roof has taught me a lot, and not only in business. Being surrounded by a large group of amazing young women has a positive impact in so many ways, right down to changing my eating habits to a healthier diet.
Are we facing an education crisis?
Yes, we certainly are. The continuing demand for 'accountability' based on a series of unhelpful 'metrics' has made being a teacher untenable. Experienced teachers are leaving early, and new teachers are lost with no support. At the moment, more than 50% of new teachers leave within the first five years. That means that for each of the four years it takes to get the qualification, there is only one year of teaching. This is unsustainable economically.
What support and resources do you provide to help teachers better understand and help their students?
The constant testing and recording are leaving teachers with no time to improve their subject knowledge, and no time to do the research and work that would allow them to go confidently into any class. No matter how well planned you may be, you are entering a room with 20-30 young humans with different moods, different home situations and different developmental levels. Only teachers with sound subject knowledge can pivot and change direction when students don't want to follow the plan. We Teach Well aims to provide the resources that teachers can use in their classroom while building a community of practice that provides the subject knowledge and support that teachers need.
Why is investing in teachers so important?
Apart from homeschooling, teachers are responsible for the future of all professions. Teachers can create a love of learning that will allow their students to grow later in life. Most of all, teachers care passionately about their students. If we invest in and take care of teachers, they will take care of our children.
What one superpower would you have and why?
According to my students, my superpowers included exceptional hearing and an eye in the back of my head. If I could have a superpower, it would be the ability to make every child believe that they made the world a better place; that they are worthy, just as they are.
How has being a teacher changed in the last decade?
To be a teacher is to be in a state of constant change. While teachers are working hard to increase their knowledge and expertise, external forces are working against them. The rising demand for reporting and data gathering undermines teachers' professional standing, and it is driving teachers out of the profession.
What would you go back and tell your 15-year-old self?
Well, that was 50 years ago! But I would tell my 15-year-old self, that the battles we women were fighting for the right to education, choice, to financial autonomy, and to hear our own voices - were not going to be over any time soon. I'd say that the blowback from white male privilege was going to be loud and unpleasant. I would tell her that, unlikely as it may seem, groups of women would band together to support and encourage each other, and that it was imperative that she build an income stream that was not dependant on someone else.
What immediate changes would you love to see in the Australian education system?
This one is easy; I want to see more funding for public schools, not private schools. I want to see an appreciation of the qualifications and professional standing of teachers. I want to see the removal of standardised testing - because children are not standard. Lastly, I want to see support networks and professional development that is informed by teachers rather than bureaucrats.
To learn more about the teaching support available, head to weteachwell.com for details, resources and teaching guides.
This blog was written by the incredible and talented Claire Goldsworthy, Founder of The Fashion Advocate.
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