Goodbye to Mr Clugston
As he finishes up 37 years of teaching, we asked John to reflect on his career at CCGS, the teaching profession and share some of the lessons he's learned and advice he has for new teachers.
You’ve been at CCGS since 1986, and teaching since 1981, in your opinion what has changed the most in teaching and what remains the same?
The biggest change would be the use of technology. Having ready access to the internet as well as a host of educational software has been a massive change. Students engage quickly with technology but it does mean the teacher needs to be constantly monitoring the usefulness of the programs used. There will always be time for face to face teaching, the old “chalk and talk” if you like, and depending on how engaging and interesting both the topic and teacher are, students will always react positively. Teaching and learning is a partnership. The role of the teacher is to find what the students are keen to learn about and then tie those interests to the outcomes you are trying to achieve.
The thing that has always remained the same is the need to form a trusting relationship with your students – a community of respect. Teachers need to respect students, students need to respect teachers and students need to respect students. If students don’t trust you, then having that learning relationship, where both student and teacher learn, will not only cause resentment, but will damage the natural desire to be a life long learner.
What has been the highlight of your CCGS days?
Without doubt the people you get to interact with along the journey. Students, teachers and parents form that great triangle of collaborative interaction that builds the relationships for good learning and a desire to achieve. The camaraderie of the staff at CCGS and the fact that we are all working towards the same goals makes day to day administrative tasks much easier. We all have the best interest of our students at heart, and work together to inspire our students in a collaborative way. It is wrong to assume that you are the best teacher because you are the funniest, or most knowledgeable, or most caring. We all play a role in the day to day teaching and learning scenario and any growth and achievement is a team effort, right through Kindergarten to Year 12.
You implemented the Philosophy for Children Program at CCGS to stimulate student curiosity and encourage them to think more deeply about issues and ideas, what has been the most inspiring moment for you from running this program?
There have been so many great insightful moments, but the greatest one I believe is that children from a very early age can understand the importance of critical and creative thinking, they can discuss themes such as what is right and wrong, they can think about the world around them and show empathy to those less fortunate, or come up with workable solutions to serious world problems.
Teaching philosophy should be mainstream curriculum as it teaches students to be less focused on self. One recent activity involved finding your own space, sitting down and being an observer. Students came back to write some beautiful poetry about what they saw, heard, smelt or felt. I was so proud of the students for taking the simple task so seriously.
What’s one lesson you’ve learnt from your students?
One lesson? I have learnt many lessons, but I guess the most valuable for a teacher is that we need to be humble. We don’t need to be the one with all the answers, and we should be willing to admit when we don’t know something or have made a mistake. I love the fact that students are open books. They naturally love to learn new things so long as they see the relevance to their lives. Students need to be challenged, otherwise motivation wanes and behaviour issues can arise. I think if we as teachers start to see a pattern of misbehaviour or “tuning out”, we need to look at why that is happening and be able to self-critique our own teaching practices.
What do you think is the most important subject students learn today and why?
If philosophy was mainstream, I would say Philosophy. incorporating both critical and creative thinking skills. But as it isn’t, I would have to say Mathematics. Mathematics is part of everyday functioning in our society – it teaches you to be creative and critical, even just working out a problem that initially appears too difficult to master. It teaches perseverance, and certainly it teaches that collaborating with others can be very beneficial. No wonder so many historic Mathematicians were also great philosophers.
What advice do you have for new teachers?
Be patient, you don’t need to get through everything by a due date. Ask for help, the importance of a good mentor in the early years is vital. Model yourself on the habits of your favourite mentors, but also be yourself. Be honest and truthful and kind towards your students. Get to know the parents early and set goals with them. Don’t be afraid to ring parents when things aren’t going right, they honestly want to know all about their child. Do a post graduate course on gifted education through UNSW – it was the best thing I ever did and helps answer so many questions about your students, your teaching skills and the many and varied needs of students.
What will you miss most about CCGS?
Easy – the staff and the students I have taught. It’s been my second family for so many years that it will be difficult to adjust to life without them.
What does the ‘next chapter’ hold for you?
More family time, travel within Australia – still haven’t been to most iconic Aussie destinations, particularly outback, and just more me time – gardening, coffee, camping and cycling. Oh, and probably some casual days teaching back at CCGS!