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Young Gay Man Wins WA Beginning Teacher of the Year Award

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The LGBTI community has come a long way in recent years in terms of acceptance. Even so, we still hear stories of inequality worldwide which makes stories like this one all that more important to tell.

Scott Sullivan is a young teacher originally from Perth, Western Australia. He’s passionate about his work, he’s committed to his students and because of this was awarded WA Beginning Teacher of the Year Award 2011. He also identifies as an openly gay man.

I asked Scott some questions about his teaching career, his experiences and winning this award in the hope of inspiring not just LGBTI youth, but all youth worldwide.

How do you identify yourself to the people around you in terms of your sexual orientation?

I consider myself as gay. I came out to my family when I was 16 and have been quite comfortable in acknowledging my sexual orientation since then. In terms of school, I am out to all of my co-workers, however my students do not know.

Are there any learning experiences you had growing up you’ve remembered and used in your own teaching? Was there a teacher you looked up to?

The amount of inspirational people that I came across as a young child is abundant. As a child I was bullied and picked on being called fatty, buck tooth and four eyes. My teachers were always there sending me loving support and kindness. It is the reason why I am a teacher today so I can support those students who have it tough. My mother also ran a family day care centre at home, so we always had children in our house since I was four. The way that my mother inspired these children also inspired me.

When did you first have an interest for teaching and how long have you been teaching for?

I remember as a child always role-playing teachers where I would be the teacher and set up timetables and activities and get my brother and sister to do them. As I grew up I found myself naturally attracted to the profession through coaching softball teams. My subject specification has changed over time. I originally wanted to be a physical education specialist, however the jobs were scarce so I decided to do a Bachelor of Education in Primary School. Since then I have discovered a keen passion and interest in the Arts and so am steering myself into that position.

What kind of teaching style do you bring to the classroom to make the kids interested in learning?

I believe I bring a holistic structure into my classroom. I firmly believe that if students do not feel comfortable and safe in an environment then they will not learn academically. My strategies include having jokes with the students, doing funny voices and generally having a good time. The students don’t even notice that they are learning and they feel wanted and valued. That, I feel is the true essence of teaching.

What areas of teaching do you specialise in?

Traditionally I was a classroom teacher teaching Upper Primary School students. In the last couple of years I have changed into a specialist role. Last year I was a physical education specialist and now am a music specialist. I feel that changing roles each year has given me an eclectic approach to education.

Do you think it’s important to be a friend as well as a teacher to your students so they know they can come to you for help outside of school learning?

I feel that it is important to be friendly but not their friend. Students need to understand the boundaries and relationships between teachers and students. I will always have a friendly approach to my students as I firmly believe that is the reason why I have been so successful up to date. There have been times when a child is in desperate need of attention but you need to be so careful these days and professionalism always comes first.

What were your initial thoughts after hearing you’d won the WA Beginning Teacher of the Year Award? Has it encouraged you to strive for bigger and better results from all aspects in the classroom?

When I heard that I had won Beginner Teacher of the Year, it was a surreal feeling, it was like “Did that just happen?”. The process took several months, so every single day was a bit of a stressful time wondering whether or not you had made it through the stages. Winning this award has definitely inspired me to become a better teacher. At the end of my second year I quit my teaching position due to the way I was being treated and thought I would never step back into a classroom, it has been quite a turn around in 18 months.

When did the awards ceremony take place and how many winners and categories were there? Who nominated you for the award and who presented you with the award?

The award ceremony took place in December. All of the Western Australian dignitries were there such as the Minister of Education and the Premier of Western Australia. The awards took place at the Perth Convention Center. My award was announced by Tina Alteri who is a prominant news reporter. My award was given to me by the CEO of the Teachers Health Fund who was sponsering the award. In my category there were 10 winners, however I was the only male and the most remote country winner. My principal nominated me for the award. There were also categories in Teacher of the Year, School of the Year, Principal of the Year and Assistant of the Year.

Do you plan to stay working at Tom Price Primary School?

I definately plan on staying on working here in Tom Price. It is a lovely country town, the students are lovely and so are the people in general. There are lots of sports to play and activities to do.

What advice would you give to those who maybe haven’t started their teaching degree, or haven’t started teaching in a classroom yet?

The advice I would give future teachers is not to sweat the small things. Yes you are going to have bad lessons, upset teachers, get into trouble. It is your resilience that will make you a successful teacher. Teaching is a hard job, inspiring children 5 days a week for 6 hours a day is a mental challenge so take time for yourself as well, don’t let teaching rule your life as it can easily do….HAVE FUN.

By Stephanie Lane

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