Here it is. My First Blog!
A little background information about Sonia Ashford.
One of the most vivid memories I have as a young child is role playing a teacher. After placing my teddies and dolls on the floor in front of me, I read them stories from my library books. I gave each ‘student’ a piece of paper and pencil then carefully demonstrated on a painting easel how to correctly form the letters of the alphabet. I ‘taught’ my ‘students’ poems, times tables, addition and subtraction to 10, as well as spelling three letter words. For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a teacher. I thought everyone grew up knowing what path they would take post school and it was only as a young adult that I realised this was not always the case.
I went straight from my public high school to university to study teaching. My early childhood training initiated 31 years of classroom teaching from Prep to Year 4. I have taught in schools in Queensland and Victoria; small and large school, public and private schools, outback country and city schools. My students came from low socio-economic areas with high unemployment to affluent families, and everything in between. Life lessons came from seeing families and students affected by alcohol/drug abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and self-harm.
As a teacher I was afforded the opportunity of participating in some excellent professional development. The most notable learning included Philosophy in the Classroom, Cultures of Thinking, educational coaching, childhood mental health, and difficulties/differences that impact on a child’s learning in a classroom environment. I led Literacy, Assessment and mental health initiatives, and presented workshops on Reading, Writing, Spelling and early years Mathematics with colleagues, parents and children. These experiences grew my knowledge and widened my skills in many areas as an educator and a person.
Fast forward to 2018 and I was teaching Year 4 at a school in Melbourne. It was the 18th April when I received a phone call from my youngest sister telling me that our elder sister had died suddenly of a heart attack. She was 54 years of age. The death of my sister, the eldest of seven children, turned my life upside down. I was just coming to terms with the sudden death of my father in January 2017. He died of a heart attack at the age of 83. He had lived without our mother for 18 years after she died of a heart attack at the age of 59. The shock news from my younger sister led me to question my life, my work and my future.
There is no doubt that teaching is a stressful lifestyle and can be all-consuming if you are committed and passionate enough. The To Do List is never-ending and you usually take your work home with you, either physically, to plan, mark work, read and respond to emails, etc. or mentally, because you are constantly thinking about students and how best to teach them. Teachers have a constant battle balancing work and life. I wondered if I wanted to spend the rest of my teaching career in this way. This self-reflection led me to the realisation that although I loved being a teacher, there had to be more in my life.
This was a turning point for me, the juncture in the journey of my life. After 31 years of teaching, leading and mentoring, I decided to step away from the classroom and begin my own tutoring business (Ashford Education), helping children from Kindergarten to Year 7. In the Australian education system today, I believe tutoring has almost become a necessity to support students in reaching academic benchmarks and succeed at primary school. I found teaching curriculum concepts, procedures, skills and behaviours with any depth and flexibility of understanding is difficult when teachers have an overladen curriculum, within which an individualised learning methodology is expected, and rigorous assessment and reporting protocols are undertaken in a tight time frame, with little give. I have worked with many marvellous teachers, including Special Education staff, over the years, but we cannot perform magic and lengthen the school day to make time for every child to learn every planned curriculum outcome. Put simply, teachers face a lack of time to cover the expected curriculum content in depth and clarity. Tutoring is a helpful step in filling the gaps students have in their learning.
Tutoring, for me, feels like a natural progression from classroom teaching. It allows me to give personalised attention to individual student needs so that they enjoy a boost of self-confidence and have the best opportunities to reach their learning potential. I focus on growing essential literacy skills (namely reading comprehension, oral language, and spelling), as well as building a strong foundation in Mathematics. With an interest in Thinking, I aim to develop weekend and holiday programs to engage children in fun learning experiences based on Science and Technology, developing analytical, critical and creative thinking skills.
Hand in hand with academic progression, is ensuring students have the mindset for learning (Carol Dweck). What children believe about challenges, effort and constructive criticism impacts on their achievement. Building up a bank of language for positive thinking and self-talk enhances a student’s motivation and desire for life-long learning. I believe it is important to teach students they can achieve wonderful things with effort and suitable learning strategies. I am sure that every parent and teacher wants to hear their child/student saying things such as, “I haven’t worked it out yet”, rather than “I can’t do it”.
Now you know a little about me and my motivation to begin Ashford Education and tutoring. I will sum up with this quote from Donna Johnson that I totally relate to. “I teach because…no other job gives me the challenges, joys, headaches, triumphs, love, creativity and inspiration like teaching does. No two days are the same and the positives always outweigh the negatives. I always wanted to be a teacher and I can’t see myself doing anything else.”