10 Lessons from a VCE Teacher by Avigail Wonder – Head of Secondary School

10 Lessons from a VCE Teacher by Avigail Wonder – Head of Secondary School

I started my VCE career teaching Religion and Society. I loved it and it’s the most amazing subject. I’m indebted to my mentor Dr Michael Cohen who supported me in my first year and who then became my replacement when my son Chanina was born in 2019. Yavneh is so fortunate to have him on staff since then. 

After a hiatus from VCE teaching, this year I’ve had the unexpected but welcome challenge of teaching VCE Business Management. It’s a new area of study for me, but I am thoroughly enjoying the stretch it is giving me. My students are motivated and we have a great time learning the content and sharing some banter.

Many students believe in the fallacy of ‘things only matter in VCE’. But our study habits, our motivation and our skills don’t just kick in in Year 11 or 12. We need to nurture them throughout the prior years of learning. Here are 10 lessons I think any student can learn from a VCE teacher ahead of their VCE. There are many more, but these are the first ones I cam up with:

  1. You can’t remember what you weren’t there for

Attendance is central to learning. Students won’t learn if they are absent or late. Teachers and direct instruction are central to student learning. Teachers explain content, model skills and provide feedback to students. If your child is often absent from school or late to class, they are not receiving the instruction they need to succeed.

  1. Writing is one of the best ways to learn

While much can be said about the VCE system, it puts writing as the key mode of assessment for most subjects. Language and writing are one of the most important gifts we have and one of the most important skills required for work and life. Our students will need to know how to convey their learnings, opinions, and feelings throughout their adult lives. In school and academic life, a student needs to be able to convey their learnings, respond to questions and explain complex ideas.

  1. Knowledge and understanding takes hard work and student buy-in

There is no silver bullet to acquiring knowledge and developing deep understanding. It takes hours of hard work, persistence and attention. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are strong academic results. Students need to put in time in and out of school to revise, practice and deepen their learning. And the classroom should be a place that is protected from distraction and disruption.

  1. Trust your teacher and stay in contact

Teachers are professionals who have engaged in extensive tertiary study to give them the knowledge of the subject content and the expertise of pedagogical instruction so that students can learn. Teachers understand not only what to teach, but how students learn.  The more teachers know about their students, the better they are able to cater to their learning and needs. When parents trust teachers to share information with them, reach out to clarify situations or incidents, they build and nurture a working relationship that bests supports the child.

  1. Feedback is central to growth

You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. Teachers invest huge amounts of effort to provide students with feedback about their learning, their writing, their work or their engagement. This feedback is there to help students improve their engagement or output. It should be encouraging but also honest and clear. The student can then reflect on that feedback and hopefully shift they actions or efforts in a way that will lead to better outcomes.

  1. Read your work out loud to yourself before submitting

Have you ever looked at one of those optical illusion texts where there are missing or scrambled letters in words or sentences and yet when you read them, they read well? That’s because our brains do the work of recognising patterns and making sense of the confusion. Often when we write and proofread silently, that very phenomenon occurs. By reading your work out loud, you will be more likely to detect errors but also to hear whether your writing makes sense, includes enough context or answers the very question you seek to respond to.

  1. Keep your eye on a goal – and stick to it every day

It’s good to start off a term or year with a goal of what you’d like to learn or achieve. Perhaps it is a behavioural goal – ‘I’d like to be more consistent in taking notes in class’ or an academic achievement goal – ‘I’d like to get at least a ‘High’ on every SAC’. Then work towards that goal every day. One of our teachers, Ms Li, says, ‘you can’t eat 21 meals for the week on a Sunday’. You can’t cram for exams or assessments and expect brilliant outcomes. The effort to learn in the classroom, day-in, day-out with consistent follow-up, is what can help you achieve your goals.

  1. Know your limitations and your challenges and cater for them

Some of us have learning challenges or difficulties. They may be more general – perhaps social, emotional, attention and focus or physical. Others may be specific learning difficulties around writing, reading comprehension or fluency. If you feel you have difficulties in a particular area, discuss it with your parents or teacher or doctor and see how that concern can be explored. Sometimes we get used to having a particular challenge, but by taking the time to address it, you can put in place measures to support you with that challenge.

The same goes for knowing how you work best. If you are someone who needs sleep for your mental health and brain function (spoiler: we all need sleep!), then you should plan your evenings and study so that you have enough down-time before bedtime so that you can get to sleep on time. Or perhaps you can plan your weekend so that Sunday morning is dedicated to homework which gives you the afternoon and evening for relaxing and spending time with family. If you are someone who is very social and learns best by speaking about the concepts or ideas you’ve learned – don’t isolate yourself in your bedroom to learn. Make a time to sit with a classmate and talk through the material and answer questions verbally with each other. This will prime you for the written work you will need to do.

  1. Value all areas of learning – don’t pick and choose

The most successful and productive role models we have, didn’t pick and choose where to excel in their lives. They try their best in everything. Often the most renowned surgeons, lawyers, CEOs and Rabbis excelled in all areas of their schooling. They didn’t choose to focus only on Maths and Sciences, but rather invest their energy into everything they did. See your job in life right now as reaching your full potential at school.

  1. Hashem has a place in your success

As Jews, we believe that while we must put in the hishtadlut – the efforts – into our successes – they are all ultimately in Hashem’s hands. Our health, our vitality, our abilities and our achievements are all given to us through Hashem’s lovingkindness. Davening for His help, guidance and graciousness is a key part of our partnership with Hashem. Of course, we also daven to thank Him for what He has bestowed on us – perhaps the strength we had to push through a challenge, a positive outcome, or the amazing support network around us that help us achieve our goals.