Matt Esterman is currently a Professional Officer with the Independent Education Union of Australia (NSW/ACT branch). Prior to this he taught history is secondary schools in Sydney for 10 years. Matt was one of the early organisers of TeachMeets back in 2011. Here, Matt shares the highs and lows of his career in education thus far. This is one of a series of posts featuring careers after teaching.
How do you describe what you currently do?
By day, I help teachers understand and master the NSW/ACT accreditation processes, work on government policy regarding education, teaching and schools, develop media communication and run professional learning on a range of non-curriculum specific topics (like accreditation, voice care, social media, child protection etc). I’m also involved in a range of educational activities, networks and events such as TeachMeet and professional associations.
How did you get to where you are now?
I began training as an archaeologist. I wanted to be Indiana Jones. Then someone I respect highly suggested that I look at adding teaching to my qualification and so I moved into the amazing world of education. Having several family members as teachers may have helped! I completed a BADipED at Macquarie University in Sydney, and after a few temporary teaching gigs and a very short stint overseas, I returned to a part-time job at a wonderful school in the northern suburbs of Sydney as a History teacher. This turned into a full time position and during my time there I studied a Master of Learning Science and Technology degree, built the TeachMeet movement and further engaged in professional learning within and beyond my school.
Why do you do what you do?
A solid education for all is simply the only way for us to be the best society we can be. If I can play a small part in that, I’m in. I’m also addicted to seeing kids achieve their dreams – even if it happens long after they leave my classroom.
What has been one of the highlights of your career?
There are many but I suppose one of the highlights was having the opportunity to travel to the UK to investigate how they run TeachMeets. Having won a scholarship to do so, it was a thrill to meet teachers of a similar mindset and be able to bring back the learnings to Australia. Happily the biggest lesson was that we were doing a great job already!
What were some of the problems you faced?
The ever present pressure of time and expectation. It’s difficult to navigate sometimes but I’ve been extremely lucky to have a supportive network and family to get me through. Personal trial and tragedy also played their part, losing a father during university and a step-father more recently. Some jobs may be able to easily compartmentalise the human from the professional but teaching is certainly not one of those.
What has been the most difficult thing in your career?
The tension between what is possible now and what could be done tomorrow. The balance between resources and aspiration. There are so many problems that could be solved but, as a colleague once said, anything is possible with time and money. Teachers and schools often don’t have much of either.
If there was one thing you could change in education what would it be?
Give teachers 20% of their current workload as professional engagement and learning. This should not be done through increasing class sizes (which many will stipulate is the only way, but evidence is based on countries and cultures where there is little difference teaching 40 kids compared to 28 – in Australia in 2016 that is not the case.)
What would be the top three things someone should know if they are considering doing what you have done?
- Be yourself. Don’t compromise your dreams, your personality or your sense of humour.
- Respect the views of others. You will disagree (sometimes violently) with others but be a professional.
- Disconnect with family and friends. Don’t let work – no matter how busy it is – get in the way of living a good life.
What would you suggest as the best way to get started?
Join a professional association or network in your area. Connect with people and have great conversations. There are plenty of FaceBook groups and Twitter chats to get started.
If you had one secret to tell others what would it be?
It’s OK to be human. What you see on social media is often just a slice of the truth – good or bad – and not all of us will or should be superheroes. Kids just need you to be there, for them, when they need you.