Meet Elisa Di Gregorio

Where are you currently teaching and what subjects/years?

After completing the Graduate Diploma in Education in 2013, I immediately commenced a graduate teaching position at Aquinas College, Ringwood. I am now in my third year at the College, and hold an ongoing position. At present, I teach senior and VCE Psychology at Year 10, 11 and 12. Alongside this, I have had the opportunity to teach junior Humanities at Year 8 and 9. In 2015, I completed the Master of Teaching (Secondary) by research, while maintaining my full-time position at Aquinas College.

What inspired you to enrol in the Master of Teaching (Secondary)

My undergraduate studies in Psychology had stressed the importance of sound cognitive and emotional development in young people. The prospect of facilitating this in students, was what initially drew me to the profession of teaching. More specifically, the Master of Teaching (Secondary) offered subjects and a course structure that reflected similar values and enabled me to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to foster this development in the classroom. Further, I was able to specialise in learning areas and subjects that directly addressed these areas of interest. I was also drawn to the Melbourne Graduate School of Education in consideration of its global reputation. The School is at the forefront of education research and I was excited by the prospect of being amongst, and taught by, the experts at the centre of these advances.

What were your learning areas?

While completing the Master of Teaching (Secondary), I undertook Psychology and Humanities as my specialist learning areas. Both subjects were facilitated by expert teaching staff with a deep understanding of their discipline, as well as a similarly comprehensive expertise in the practical elements of teaching their subject in the classroom on a day to day basis. For instance, the teaching philosophy of the Psychology Learning area was to “learn through practical application and inquiry”. This disposition was embodied in each class which often commenced with a practical activity that was immediately transferable to a Secondary classroom setting. Both learning areas were able to instil both the content knowledge and classroom-based skills necessary for candidates to foster a similarly in-depth knowledge of the curriculum within their students. More than this, however, it ensured that teaching candidates had the capacity to draw out independent and critical thinking in their own students. Both learning areas permitted an academically rigorous and challenging course for the Master of Teaching candidates to engage with and the teaching staff are approachable and consistently willing to offer their ongoing time and attention.

What was it about the course that appealed to you?

For me, the most appealing feature of the Master of Teaching (Secondary) was the opportunity to complete the course through the research pathway. This option allowed me to undertake a substantial research project in an area of particular interest to me, under the supervision of renowned academics in the discipline of education. In doing so, I developed invaluable skills in research processes, and I am now positioned to pursue varied occupational avenues. While this pathway was most suitable for me, the course offers flexibility in offering both coursework and research options in completing the Master of Teaching (Secondary). In doing so, candidates have the capacity to select a pathway that is most suited to their personal circumstances, ambitions and strengths.

How prepared did you feel going into the classroom?

The first year of teaching as a graduate is certainly a challenging one, and is experienced differently by everybody depending on school context, resources and support of colleagues and staff. The Master of Teaching (Secondary) course structure and philosophy, however, ensured that I went into my first classroom feeling confident, informed and ready to implement the teaching strategies and learning interventions that would best suit my students. Specifically, the course offers comprehensive subjects across the core areas of education, ranging from educational theory and pedagogy, to assessment and literacy. Likewise, the course offers a range of elective subjects for teacher candidates to specialise in. In selecting the ‘Student Wellbeing’ subject, I was able to engage with the broader issues that influence a student’s academic outcomes and school engagement alongside the more theoretical focus of the course. This ensured that I brought a holistic approach to the classroom. I found a very sound balance between the educational theory that guided my learning interventions, and the practical skills to implement these effectively as soon as I commenced in my own classroom. This was further facilitated by lectures around behaviour management approaches that were directly applicable to the classroom.

School placement was similarly critical in developing my confidence as a graduate teacher. The Master of Teaching (Secondary) course structure also ensures that you are immersed in the life and culture of a school and classroom with a comprehensive placement program – with 2 days a week dedicated to placement, as well as a 10 day ‘block’ in each semester. I was also fortunate to experience varied school settings as part of the placement program. This ensured that my understanding of various school sectors and their relative processes and contexts was broad.

What was the most challenging part of the course?

The Master of Teaching (Secondary) is a rigorous course. Correspondingly, the level of academic rigour combined with the demands of theoretical coursework and placement requires a high level of commitment from teacher candidates. For me, the management of time was one of the most challenging aspects of the course. Candidates are forced to work steadily, and use their time at the University and at home efficiently. This skill, however, emerged as extremely useful in my first year of teaching and beyond, where the work of a teacher can often be relentless and demanding of expediency. The course ensured that I had the skills to manage the various challenges of the profession. It should also be noted that, as mentioned, the academic standard of the course and fellow teacher candidates ensured that a high quality of work was consistently demanded.

What was the most valuable aspect of the course?

One of the most valuable aspects of the Master of Teaching (Secondary) was being able to see the connection between the research-based teaching models in theory, such as the clinical model, and the way that these are enacted in the classroom. Alongside placement opportunities, I was able to observe and experience this first hand – where the tutorials for each subject at the University are based around clinical teaching principles of ‘diagnosis, differentiation and intervention’. This approach not only provided a useful framework for me to draw on in the classroom, but equipped me with a comprehensive set of strategies to take with me upon graduating from the course.

How did you find the clinical teaching model that the Graduate School uses?

The clinical teaching model has fundamentally shaped my approach to teaching and learning in the classroom. The model is underpinned by the notion of ‘diagnosing’ or determining the learning need of each student in my classroom, and developing learning interventions focused directly on this information. Using the ‘diagnostic’ approach as the starting point in determining each student’s readiness to learn meant that I learned the importance of using student data as a teaching and learning tool. For instance, the clinical model utilises assessment tools not only to review what a student has learned at the end of a topic, but more importantly, as feedback on student progress, my own teaching, and a direction for where to target my next learning intervention or strategy. The clinical teaching model has also ensured that I am consistently reflecting and evaluating my own practice and the subsequent impact that this has on my students. Further, the school that I currently teach at is actively encouraging the use of student data to tailor teaching and learning plans throughout the College. As a result, my ‘clinical’ classroom philosophy was appealing to my own school, as well as other employers.

What would you say to someone who thinking about doing this course?

The course can be challenging in a number of ways. Specifically, in relation to the academic standard, management of time, and the demands of placement, amongst other things. However, the rigour and breadth of the course ensures that candidates will leave with a well-developed knowledge of the educational theory and practical skills to navigate the classroom effectively. Further, Melbourne Graduate School of Education candidates and graduates are certainly of great appeal in the industry and are highly sought after. This is indeed as a result of their knowledge and practice of the ‘clinical teaching model’ as this approach permeates contemporary thinking around education. I would also advise that candidates approach the course with a high level of commitment, as this will be rewarded with rich teaching experiences in the classroom, and the development of close relationships between fellow candidates at the University. This is essential in maintaining a supportive environment as you complete a challenging yet enriching course.