Teacher of the week: Tracy Worthington

Dr Tracy Worthington is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Educational Studies

I was born in North Ryde, so I’m excited that this past July my life and career brought me back full circle to here thanks to my current Postdoctoral Research Fellow position!

I graduated high school in Coffs Harbour, did my BA (hons) and Grad. Dip. Ed at UNE, and then moved to Tasmania, where I taught high school history and humanities for four years. I moved with my husband and infant son to Columbia, Missouri, in 1998. There I taught middle/junior high US history and government for 16 years as well as special education! While living and working there, I did my Masters’ degree in Teaching (Special Education), my Doctorate in Education (in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis), and my initial principal certificate. And it was at the University of Missouri that I got my first real bite of university teaching in a doctoral level course on Educational Leadership.

Generally speaking, my research interests are focused on investigating the under-served area of Middle School student achievement and post-primary school transition. At the same time, I’m also interested in the effective use of digital technology, flipped learning, and simulations and role plays, for teaching and learning in secondary history classrooms. As a Postdoctoral Research fellow at MQ, I am developing a multi-school research study to investigate student and staff perceptions of middle school success. This will entail on-site interviews, observations and survey data from selected Year 7 students in 4-6 secondary schools throughout the Sydney metro area. I am also a member of the newly formed Digital Technology Research Group in the Department of Educational Studies at MQ.

When I’m not busy working on research (and seemingly never-ending literature reviews), or doing equally never-ending yard work at my house, I enjoy sitting outside reading and listening to all the birds (esp. the kookaburras and lorikeets) with my husband, Prof. Ian Worthington (Dept. of Ancient History at MQ), son Oliver, and daughter, Rosie.

What are your main teaching commitments?

I currently teach in TEP 428 (History in the Secondary Classroom II). In this role, I seek to model effective teaching strategies and methodology to prepare MQ TEP students for the diverse and demanding world of teaching in a secondary classroom. This has included workshops on how to develop higher-level assessment tasks for students, and workshops on implementing technology such as the MQs Pedestal project, Edpuzzle, Ted-Ed, and Google Suite for Educators. I have also developed workshops on supporting literacy in history classrooms through the use of strategies such as critical reading, analysing texts, tableaus, and philosophical chair activities to engage and challenge today’s high school students in collaborative, critical, and creative student-centred learning.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a university teacher?

That would be balancing my use of time to pursue my teaching and research interests! I love teaching the TEP students, and especially enjoy seeing how their initial grappling with content or technology gradually results in competency, if not mastery, through a combination of active learning, practice, discussion, problem-solving and a growing sense of confidence in themselves as practicing teachers. However, I also see the research value of investigating middle school students’ perceptions of their learning, and exploring how student voice may impact outcomes for today’s students, schools, and communities.

What has helped you improve your teaching most and why?

Definitely wonderful mentors and colleagues. This has variously ranged from formal panel presentations and informal chats with professors, lecturers, and community leaders in education at the University of Missouri, to formal Q&As and ECR meetings at Macquarie University, and informal hallway conversations and coffee-based chats with my enthusiastic and supportive colleagues here in the department!

What’s been your most memorable moment in teaching?

There have been so many, but one that really stands out takes me back to my second year as a classroom teacher. I taught a charming young man named Sasha, who was a recent Bosnian refugee. He spoke very little English, didn’t know what deodorant was, and had to be taught how to shower by the PE teacher in our school. Yet he had killed people as a child soldier – and now had nothing, except a tremendous desire to learn. One day I was teaching Year 10 Business Studies to a group of Bosnian and Serbian students (in the same ESL classroom, but sitting on different sides of the room as they were all war-traumatised refugees), and as I drew a table on the whiteboard for students to copy, Sasha started to yell out, “STOP! STOP! It is, …!” His voile trailed off as he demonstrated firing a gun at me. What he was trying to communicate, with his broken English, was that the sound of the marker on the whiteboard was like gunfire to him and the lines of the table were like barbed wire. That event changed my teaching style in a second: It made me far more empathetic to the traumas our students, both then and now, bring to the classroom.

What is your favourite book? Why?

I don’t know if there is just one. I have a penchant for classic dystopian literature, so Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, would be towards the top of my list. But I also have a deep-seated desire for strong female characters overcoming physical, mental, social, and economic hardship, so my top three books would have to be Heidi by Johanna Spyri (from when I was about 7 years old), Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (from when I was about 12 years old), and then as an older teen, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

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