Teacher Spotlight: Tracey Jacobsen
We take the time to shine the spotlight on Tracey Jacobsen
Tracey has been nominated for this spotlight by both parents and peers, for the amazing work Tracey and her colleagues have been doing at this school. At the end of 2021, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk with both Tracey and the Head of School at Indie School Glenorchy, Lauren Watson.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about Tracey. We were contacted by a parent at your school, who told us how Tracey had been a formative influence in their child’s life. This kind of feedback is obviously so valuable, and something that I’m sure would be of inspiration to many.
Inspiring work doesn’t always get the exposure that it deserves, which is why we wanted to take this opportunity to talk with you and Tracey to shine the spotlight on the great work that she has been doing…
Can you please outline Tracey’s role within your school?
Officially, Tracey is the team leader in our Senior Secondary class; overseeing the delivery of all TASC courses to our Senior students.
Unofficially, Tracey is a mother-figure and positive role model to most, if not all, of the students in her class.
What are some of the unique opportunities and joys for you and your team at Indie?
With a high teacher to student ratio, staff have increased capacity to work 1:1 with students; supporting them in an individualised and holistic manner. As a registered Independent, Alternative school, we are privileged with the flexibility to adapt and adjust our pedagogical approaches; continually striving toward re-engagement and successful educational outcomes for our students. Students and caregivers commonly state: we wish we’d found Indie sooner. It is feedback like this; reflecting the genuine positive difference we can make in the lives of our students, alongside the heartfelt gratitude of their caregivers, which makes our roles so rewarding.
What makes the work that Tracey and your team have been doing so valuable?
Students at schools like ours are some of the most marginalised, disadvantaged and vulnerable young people in our community. The value of our work, therefore, is visible in our commitment to servicing the needs of those students for whom the system has failed thus far. Most students enrol at Indie School with the sense that we are their only/last chance at successful educational outcomes. Whilst this sentiment fosters an enormous sense of responsibility, it is also a key driving factor in our team’s vision to provide a safe and supportive environment for all student to learn and grow holistically; facilitating hope and agency in their future pathways.
Tracey embodies the school’s mission to seek creative solutions and remain open to changes which best meet the individual needs of our students; engaging students in relevant and accessible learning experiences which extend their practical, personal and academic skills. She is an experienced educator who is passionate about education for all. But perhaps more importantly, she possess the personal qualities necessary to eliciting successful educational outcomes in our student cohort: emotional intelligence, humility, consistency, patience, perseverance, and a good sense of humour.
What is a key motivation for you and your team for 2022?
As a newly established school, we are focused on developing a specialised model of education which is sustainable, successful in meeting the needs of our target cohort, and reflective of current best practices. This goal is a key motivator of our ongoing engagement in both individual and collective professional development, particularly in relation to: student wellbeing and positive educational psychology; strengths-based, relevant, creative and responsive curriculum programs; trauma-informed practices; and, evidence-based practices. As a team, we are committed to continual innovation; motivated by our collective belief in the right to, and value of, quality education for all young people, regardless of their background and the challenges they face.
Any further comments that you would like to add?
Tracey is truly deserving of this formal recognition: she is a hard-working, highly effective and compassionate professional whose contribution to our school is invaluable.
Thank you for talking with us today… We would love to celebrate some of the great work that you and your team have been doing at Indie and share some of your experiences and insights as a teacher.
So… tell us a little bit about your role and what you do at Indie?
I teach in the senior class at Indie, which consists of our students in Years 11, 12 and 13. Our approach is different in that our students pick what they work on at what time – it is the epitome of a student centred rather than teacher driven approach.
The main part of my role is to support student’s learning and development, based upon what their needs are at the time. I do a lot of one on one teaching, mostly of English, Maths and ICT, I support emotional development and wellbeing and I try to help our students work out what their strengths are and then use that knowledge to shape their learning materials for them. Our learning environment is completely different to a mainstream class and our senior teaching model is different. But, I also do what every other teacher does, I write curriculum, set assessments, write ILPs, do reports and so on. One of my main aims is to support our senior students in gaining their TCE if possible, and for most of them it is, even though many of them never believed they could.
What motivates you on a daily basis?
It’s corny, but making a difference. At Indie, we work with young people who have found mainstream education has not worked for them, have fallen through the gaps of the system or have struggled to find their place. Our students generally have complex needs based on diagnostics, family background or trauma, and sometimes a combination of all three. I believe that education is power, and that gaining an education is the thing that can make a difference to the lives of young people who never thought they had any control, opportunities or options. There is nothing like the feeling of making a difference in a young person’s life.
What have you found to be the most inspiring aspect of being an educator?
It’s corny again, but I find the young people I work with inspiring. No matter the school I have worked in, whether it was public or private, secular or religious, mainstream or alternative, the students are (in the most part) amazing. As adults, we can learn a lot from young people, almost as much as they can learn from us. My favourite moments with students are always those moments where they realise, they can understand it, learn it, move past it, or overcome it; whatever IT is. The moments where they see their own value, intelligence and worth.
What are you currently looking forward to for 2022?
In 2022, we will see the graduation of students who started with us as Year 9s in our first year of operation in 2019. I am very excited to watch these young people, who started with us very unsure of themselves and their futures, graduate and gain their TCE, which for many of them was the last thing they thought they might do.
What would you say has been a defining moment (or moments) for you as an educator?
This question is tougher than it seems. I think for me, the moments that have defined being an educator are the end of every year. I’ve just sat with my colleagues this afternoon to discuss the end of year awards for the senior class, which had us reflecting on the growth and learning of our students. This reflection happens every year, whether you are working with younger year groups or older (I’ve worked with all year groups from Year 7 through to Year 13) and for me it is the most defining moment of every year because it is an acknowledgement of the reason we are here. I do this job to help young people, at the end of the year I can reflect on their growth and see how they have grown, whether I’ve helped and maybe what I need to adjust for next time. (Of course, I don’t just look at their growth at the end of the year, it is constant, but the end of the year offers an overall opportunity for reflection). I love it when we struggle to narrow down award recipients, as it demonstrates how well our students are doing, and that in itself is a defining moment because it highlights the reason we do the job we do.
How has the unique circumstances of the world in 2020 and 2021 shaped your day-to-day approach to education? Has there been anything in particular that surprised you?
I think we have been incredibly lucky in Tasmania, in that we had minimal disruption due to lockdowns in comparison to many other places. If anything, I’d say it has highlighted the need for adaptability in schools and workplaces. This fits pretty well with our approach at Indie, as adaptability and a flexible approach are at the core of what we do.
If you could summarise in 5 (or less) points, what advice would you offer to teachers starting off in their career?
- Don’t take yourself too seriously, no-one knows everything. In fact, the best teachers are always learning themselves. Being humble and reflective will be your greatest strengths.
- Respond to the child NOT the behaviour. Sometimes, what is happening in their lives is more important or life changing than what is happening in your classroom.
- Be real if you want to make real connections and remember that real connections lead to better outcomes for the child. Get to know your students as people not just as learners.
- Remember that it is their education not yours, and they have a right to make decisions. Just because we think it is important for them, doesn’t mean it is, and even if it is, it’s our job to help them understand why.
- Be open to learning from your students, they know way more than we give them credit for, and our positive responses to what they can teach us can have the biggest impact on their self-worth.
Any further comments that you would like to add?
I am so lucky to do the job I do in the place I do it. I work with the most amazing young people. It’s not easy, in fact, sometimes it’s heartbreaking. Even though there are tough times, we have so much fun in our classroom. Getting the balance right between the nurturing and downtime and the learning and focus is no easy task, but it’s worth the headache to get it right. The hardest thing about being a teacher is wondering what happened to that kid that you worked with, but putting in the effort to be there for them and help them work toward their goals is such a privilege.