School’s out for the…spring!

I don’t talk about this much, but the truth is, I’m a teacher.

It’s an affliction. I never asked to be a teacher. It just came upon me one day and I couldn’t seem to shake it off.

I learned how to teach in Canada, which didn’t necessarily prepare me for the wild and wonderful world of Australian schools. Below I have compiled some of the major differences between schools here and schools back home for your reading pleasure.

First of all, there are a lot of private schools.

That’s probably a crass generalization, but I have found in rural areas that the private schools, also known as independent schools, also known as non-government schools tend to outnumber the public schools, particularly in High School. They also almost always have religious denominations. In the small town where I live, there are Lutheran, Catholic, and Anglican schools. My town has 13 non-government schools (only 3 high schools) and 10 private schools (two of which do K-12).

Church affiliated private schools are not unheard of in Canada, but don’t seem nearly as common.

I work at a church affiliated school, which is a bit strange as a non-religious person, and especially given that in Canadian public schools it was generally taboo to pray in school or openly associate yourself with one particular religious denomination.

Students all wear uniforms.

Even the public schools! Some are more formal than others. The primary uniforms are adorable, with their little hats:

Some cuties from a primary school in Victoria.

Some cuties from an all girls primary school in Victoria.

And some of the big kid uniforms can look pretty sophisticated:

Students for Climate Action at Killara High School. L-R: Zoe Sitas 17, Evie Leslie 17, Kieran Pain 16 and Lily Giles 16.

Students from a high school in Sydney.

If you want to see a hilarious post on the ups and downs of school uniforms, check out this post from an actual, bonafide private school student.

The school year starts in January.

And it just keeps getting weirder after that. Imagine me, my first year out teaching, trying to wrap my brain around this.

I suppose starting in January makes some sort of sense, but they don’t start at the beginning of January. They start at the end of January, around the 25th (which is Australia Day, by the way!). They basically go for ten weeks at a time for four terms, divided by two-week breaks, and a longer five week break at Christmastime. As someone who has been used to a fat eight week long holiday, this seems a bit more gruelling to me, although the evenly spaced breaks between terms are rather nice.

There also seem to be less public holidays here. This has especially hurt me this year, because my Mondays SUCK.

The schools are laid out like campuses with lots of open air.

I can’t really speak about primary schools as I haven’t been in them, but I was amazed at how OPEN my high school was when I first arrived. The weather is just better here, so the need for schools to look like prisons is extremely reduced.

For comparison, this brick behemoth is where I graduated high school:


Whereas here is an example of a Sydney area high school campus, which is fairly similar to my school’s:

Pfft, I'm only a little jealous.

Pfft, I’m only a little jealous.

We have a year-group meeting each Wednesday at my school, and the students actually just all sit outside under a bit of shelter, all year round. Obviously everyone would be dead of hypothermia and no one would hear any announcements due to the howling wind were we to try that during a Canadian winter.

Students have their lunch and recess outside, sitting on the ground or on benches scattered about the place. The classrooms all face outward, so they leave their bags lined up outside the room. It’s much healthier – at least you get to see the sky numerous times throughout the day!

The kids are all obsessed with handball.

This might only be a thing at my school, as I’ve been informed that the “cool” Sydney kids would not be caught dead playing handball. But every student at my school is completely obsessed with it. I’d never even understood the rules until I moved here. They all carry around a little handball in their pocket, and play it every chance they get – before school, after school, at recess, lunch, in between classes, in class (I have developed a small collection of confiscated handballs already).

A fairly typical day at an Aussie school.

A fairly typical day at an Aussie school.

The only differences from my school and the above image are that my school’s students are much taller and greasier, and we don’t have those fancy handball courts; the students just use the cement tiles of the paved areas around the school as “squares.”

Middle School isn’t a thing.

Admittedly I have come across the odd school with K-12 classes that uses a “Middle School” model, but as a general rule, Middle Schools or Junior High Schools don’t exist. Students are in primary school from grade K-6 and High School from 6-12. Once in high school, they do get generally divided up into “juniors” (grade 7-10) and “seniors” (grade 11-12), but terms like “freshman” and “sophomore” never get used.

You may have also noticed that I have slipped up a few times and used “Year 7” instead of “Grade 7”. It’s a habit I’ve had to get into. If I slip up and say “Grade 7”, people look at me as if I’m spouting a foreign language. They kids have no idea what it means, and the adults tell me I shouldn’t use it in reports.

Getting into Uni seems really complicated.

Disclaimer: I still haven’t figured this stuff out and all of my knowledge is currently based on half-heard conversations between Year 12 students and teachers. Basically, students have to choose which subjects they will do in Years 11 and 12 as “HSC (High School Certificate)” subjects. These subjects require students to meet certain criteria; particularly, they must either sit a final test or create a project that is marked at a state level. These grades are then transferred into an “ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank)”, which ranks students nationally and which universities use to determine who can gain admission to their programs.

My brain just nearly exploded and I had to use Google at least three times to type that. Seriously, Australia?! Why so complicted??

As if that weren’t enough, there are different requirements for early entry into University which sometimes means variation in the mark or rank required (I still don’t quite get how this one works). Because of all this rigmarole, graduating students actually finish school one term early, graduating at the end of third term (which is this week, in fact!) They don’t do a “prom” in the same way we do, but they do have a formal graduation ceremony where everyone dresses up in their finest, followed by a party somewhere (but not at school).

You wouldn't know it wasn't prom.

You wouldn’t know it wasn’t prom.

Australian kids get a lot more choice.

I might be biased here, but when I went through school at least I did not have nearly half the choices these students do. They get to start choosing electives from Year 9 onwards, and they get a bunch of different options to choose from, such as textiles, software development, languages (generally whatever is on offer at the school which can range from Indonesian to French), photography, music and more. They also get to choose from these diverse options for their HSCs.

Overall, I quite like the school system here. I’m not a fan of how complicated things get in Year 11 and 12, and the pressure that puts on students, but in the end the choice and variety of both academic and extra-curricular options far exceeds anything I encountered during my school days.

And to be perfectly honest, I quite like the uniforms. There’s never any question about what anyone should be wearing, the students look neat and professional, and many take pride in what they wear (at least, as long as they aren’t from one of those schools with completely hideous uniforms).

The only real downside is the prospect of getting attacked on campus by evil Plovers during their breeding season.

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