Over the last six months or so I have been working on a new project for this blog. This has arisen because of my interest in the History of Education, my involvement with the Australian College of Educators’ Archives Group and my commitment to telling stories.
My generation of teachers entered the profession under quite specific circumstances – the need for more schools to meet population growth and increased demand for skilled and educated workers to grow the post-war economy and ensure prosperity.
We were, one might argue, very fortunate. We rode the wave of government support and demand for an increased teaching force. On the other hand, as the stories will show, we accepted restrictions, commitments and conditions that would not be widely tolerated today. We took Caesar’s coin, and expected to render unto Caesar that which was his – going where we were sent and teaching what we were asked to teach.
I have to date had conversations with 20 Baby Boomer teachers – that is, those who entered teaching after leaving high school between 1961 and 1976. I have asked them how they got into teaching, where it took them and how they think it shaped both their life and who they became. I have written each on up as a story, or profile. I have made them anonymous both for consistency and to focus on the story rather than on the network of relationships and interactions which is inevitable in the relatively small world of Australian schooling.
Although the experiences and pathways are widely divergent, there are some notable similarities in the stories. the requirement to teach in the country was a hardship for some and a God-send for others. Of the 20 stories currently compiled, everyone belongs to the first of a family to go to University or tertiary training.
Almost all the women have a story of missed superannuation opportunity. Many were forced to resign at marriage and/or the birth of children. They fought for promotion opportunities and were sometimes harassed and bullied.
South Australia was unique in offering bonded teaching scholarships to students for their last two years of schooling. In other states, bonded scholarships were offered at the end of schooling. Many South Australian teachers would have left school at 15 had they, and their parents, not been persuaded to remain at school with the incentive of a scholarship and a teaching career.
While most stories move away from the classroom, the picture suggests the governments got good value for their investments. Most continued to educate themselves and were versatile, productive and resilient in the workforce. They have made major contributions in their communities and worked in a wide range of industries.
Also worth noting is the number of stories in which an individual teacher made a big difference in the life of these Baby Boomers. Several stories would have been very different but for the persistence of a teacher who recognised potential, went out of his or her way to talk to parents and student about pathways, opportunities and scholarships. Career counsellors were rare in the 50s and 60s. Without an individual teacher interfering – taking it upon themselves to mentor, argue and advise, social and economic circumstances would have terminated schooling at 15.
I plan to publish the stories one at a time, about a week apart. I have 20 ready to publish and more in the pipeline. I hope to continue to have the conversations and document them. I think there is much to be gained by telling the stories. The circumstances in which we entered teaching will never be repeated, but there is much of interest in each individual story – and a lot that could be learned about the value of educational investment as well as how to mobilise a generation to serve the needs of both the nation and local communities.
The stories will begin with the next post in a few days’ time.