My Story — Student Voice: Nathan Watts
Nathan Watts is a final year Bachelor of Education (Secondary) and Associates Degree in Adult and Vocational Education student, studying at Queensland University of Technology and Charles Sturt University, respectively. He is the Director of Faculty Magazine: Online Magazine for Australian Educators, a digital publication now in its third year and reaching educators across Australia. Nathan leads a team of volunteers who produce and contribute to the publication, and next year aims to host Faculty’s inaugural conference in Queensland. We spoke to Nathan about his work on Faculty, his journey into higher education and what he plans to do next.
NCSEHE: You first came to our attention when Ann Stewart (University of the Sunshine Coast) announced that you were launching Faculty’s inaugural edition, back in 2014. How did Faculty come to be? What led you to develop your magazine? How did you attract so many volunteer contributors?
Nathan: Faculty was born out of frustration of all things, to be completely honest. I had a keen interest in publishing educational research and faced the problem of having little to no credibility as an undergraduate student. After having some of my work looked over by a unit coordinator at QUT, they suggested that to gain some credibility within the education community I should try to publish work in teachers or family magazines. I came across two issues here: one, where do I apply? And two, I did not have enough ‘practical’ experience. So I came up with an idea to develop a multi-disciplinary journal for all levels and sectors of the education community to contribute and give my undergraduate peers a way to have their voices heard. Faculty was embraced early by many university educators, who passed it on to their students. Our social media presence, along with our personal connections to people like Ann Stewart, helps us attract contributors, particularly given Ann et al. added their mark to our first issue and are ongoing advocates of Faculty‘s mission.
NCSEHE: How did you meet Ann?
Nathan: Ann was assigned to me as my mentor for the Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship; I remember meeting her for the first time back in January 2014 at nice little café in the West End of Brisbane.
The Pinnacle Foundation is an amazing initiative. Pinnacle provides support in the form of scholarships and mentoring programs to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer Youth aged 16-24, who are completing their senior phase of schooling, vocational qualifications or a university degree, and who demonstrate a commitment to social justice, their studies and have the potential to be future leaders in their field. I am fortunate to be among scholars who include the QUT Rhodes Scholar, Harriet Horsfall.
NCSEHE: You’re currently studying Secondary Education as well as Adult and Vocational Education, at two different universities. What was it that initially attracted you to teaching? Do you anticipate going on to do a higher degree at some stage?
Nathan: My passion and interest in teaching began when I was in year five, though, during years 8 and 9, I did consider a career as a movie director.
As my secondary schooling went on, my form teacher, who was my outdoor education teacher and a person whom I consider my very first mentor, inspired me to help the next generation of youth. I also had quite a talent for teaching people new skills from a young age (even if it was teaching people how to beat a boss in a Nintendo 64 game). It’s the aspect of helping others that attracted me to the teaching profession.
Eventually, I want to move into research with a focus on the development of specialist curriculum programs for learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I grew up with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the Spectrum, and if it wasn’t for the support and assistance of teachers who went that extra mile for me, I don’t think I would be the person I am today. I want to give something back to the education community, to pay it forward and help students with ASD. In February, I completed a Diploma of Counselling to help me understand and work with students with additional needs and to pick up some techniques for behaviour management, so I’m making progress on that front.
NCSEHE: As part of your degree, you’ve had to undertake a number of practicums. Have you encountered anything in a classroom or school environment that was of particular surprise to you?
Nathan: All of my pracs were in schools situated in areas deemed low SES, and yes, there were a few surprises. I think one of the core things I learned is not to judge the capabilities of students based on personal background characteristics. I’ve seen students who were pegged as low achievers by many, go above and beyond, achieving amazing things.
When I finish my degree, I’d quite like to work in a low SES school, but in a metropolitan area rather than a regional location. I know Australia needs more teachers in rural, regional and remote areas, but I am a city kid at heart, having been born in Sydney and living there for the first few years of my life, and then in Brisbane after that. I think I have a lot to offer students, and I’m looking forward to that next chapter of my life.
NCSEHE: You are the first person in your family to go to university, which research consistently finds is a challenge for most students. Has your family been supportive of your ambitions? Are they supporting you while you complete your degrees?
Nathan: Yes, I am the first in my immediate family to go to university, although in my extended family, I share the title with my cousin. Having said that, my family does value ongoing education. When I was in primary school, my parents studied at TAFE so that they could start their landscaping business. My sister attained a Diploma before entering the workforce, and my brother has just started university this year studying a Bachelor of Urban and Environmental Planning at Griffith University. They’re all highly supportive of my studies. Mum will sometimes help me proof-read my work, which I appreciate. Dad, on the other hand, usually takes one look at my assessments and says, “I don’t know what you are on about!” 🙂 They are very emotionally supportive; I have taken on the associated financial costs of higher education alone and so also work to cover my costs.
Until recently I was working full time but due to regulatory changes in the Vocational Education and Training sector, my role in curriculum development was made redundant. I think working full time while completing my degree and working with Faculty has taught me amazing time management and leadership skills. A strategy that has worked for me is to use my travel time on the train to study and complete assignments. I also devote at least an hour or two a week that way to working on Faculty, although before the release of a new edition, I must admit I tend to spend my nights finalising everything with my team and not getting much sleep. Thankfully, we have now put processes in place to mitigate some of the last-minute rush issues.
I definitely have a busy schedule; I often get told off for how much time I spend on my laptop! I know that work/life balance is important so to unwind, I resort to music. I have been playing violin for 17 years now and it helps me to relax. I am also quite fond of my Nintendo 64 and playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
NCSEHE: You are currently working within QUT’s Equity Division as a Student Ambassador. What have you learned in your role at QUT? Would you recommend the Ambassador program to other students?
Nathan: I have worked in the Equity Division since starting my degree. The Ambassador program is one of many across Australia funded by the Higher Education Partnerships and Participation Programme and has given me insight into the operations of a university, how to get into further study and has further developed my skills in leadership, class facilitation, public speaking and management – all vital skills for prospective teachers.
I help the QUT team run the Explore Uni program, which is a widening participation initiative. I strongly suggest any student who enters the university via the Educational Access Scheme pathway, apply. I feel so proud of myself at the end of each Explore Uni day, knowing that I have helped nurture the dreams and passions of students who didn’t think they would be able to go to university, but want to.
NCSEHE: You’re planning two editions of Faculty this year. What can we look forward to? Is there any particular theme or aspect of education that you’d like to see further explored by your contributors?
Nathan: Yes, this year the team and I have decided to go back to two issues as 2016 is already proving to be a hectic year! We are actively encouraging the undergraduate members of our community to contribute as I know based on my experience that they have a lot to offer to others.
In our first issue, which will be published in May, we have some great articles already lined up:
- Young people: media violence and social violence
- Fairness in the delivery of on-campus and off-campus learning
- Intervention Planning Report, and
- Retention in Vocational Education.
As always, we will have our regular features, such as the Trends in Education, Great Teaching Tips, Student Perspective and Orry’s Opinion pieces.
We’re still welcoming contributions; it would be great to see others expand on what Vocational Education has to offer in both higher education and secondary school settings. I would also love it if we could have Sir Ken Robinson contribute a piece. I remember a lecture of his that we watched in my first class at university, in which he made the statement, “We are living in one of the most stimulating times and we are boring our students in class.” That hit home with me and continues to inspire me to make my teaching as engaging as possible.