Religion played an enormous role in how J ended up teaching. J was born into a Seventh Day Adventist Family. His father was a thinking man within a narrow framework. His mother was intuitive, warm but no academic. His elder brother was bright and excelled at school. He saw himself as the also-ran.
His primary schooling at Aldgate Primary School was something he endured rather than enjoyed. As a result, he was graded with very average scores, confirming his self view as academically unremarkable. After Aldgate Primary he was sent to an Adventist school in Prospect, commuting from the Hills. He repeated Year 7 because his mother thought he was too young. He remembers whilst there, reading Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy and similar books and liking them but being told these were not appropriate for him to read. He can’t remember any replacement except the Bible.
At the end of Year 9 he transferred to Heathfield High School and had a fabulous time. He remembers talking about books and poetry. He did quite well. At Heathfield one of his teachers was particularly inspiring, prompting an interest in following the same career path.
His parents were from England. His father had been converted to Seventh Day Adventism and really liked the clear framework. J didn’t do Saturday sport. He felt quite different to other kids and knew it had something to do with Adventism. His logical mind said that the chances of being born into this framework of salvation were unlikely. He asked if it were true and wanted to explore the theology – to find a way of exploring Adventism. He needed more education.
He got a Commonwealth Scholarship at Year 10 to finish school. There were only three at Heathfield who got one and it gave him a bit of confidence.
When he got a Teachers’ College Scholarship to university, teaching became a pathway to the education he needed. He chose Philosophy, English and History.
His parents were keen for both he and his brother to leave school and earn money. His brother had a harder time than J did. His brother had to resist the pressure. He got a job at AMP but was then able, with J’s urging, to get a scholarship to return to study. He became an Adventist school teacher.
Ethics was the most important topic for J. These were the days of Marxist influenced university teachers. They had no answers that satisfied J. He was still an Adventist when sent to teach at Orroroo.
When completing his teacher placement form, he indicated a preference for anywhere in the State South of Adelaide. However, in his university holidays he had driven trucks for Sanatarium – in order to do this he had sat for and passed an ‘A Class’ heavy vehicle licence. (The truck driving routine suited him. He would drive to the delivery point, wait for up to three hours while the truck was unloaded then drive it back. Those three hours were reading time.) Since he had an A Class Drivers’ Licence he ticked the box on the teacher placement form to say he would drive a school bus. That put him at Orroroo. He was there for four years and drove home each weekend for the first two of those years. At Orroroo he learned the craft of teaching but he struggled to find a sense of belonging in a country town. He became more settled in the third year after marrying in January 1975. J became a foundation member of the new Orroroo St John Ambulance Brigade. He also enjoyed a district table-tennis competition on Wednesday nights.
In his fourth year at Orroroo he applied for assessment as a ‘Senior Master’ and Garth Boomer came to assess him. Garth provided some confirming feedback but told him it would take a few years to get an offer. Three weeks later he was offered several positions. He accepted Wudinna Area School.
The Principal at Wudinna was Dean Rohlach. J learned a lot from him – in particular that you can never listen too much.
Although there were no Adventists there, the community values were similar. J was accepted. He found St John’s to be a way of becoming part of the community. The experience at Wudinna proved formative. When he left people said good things about him. He also learned about capacity for leadership.
His two eldest children were born in Wudinna.
Towards the end of his time there he was reading different theologies and this continued when he moved to Mount Gambier. He sees it a bit like a Rubik’s Cube – as he read and thought the structure of his framework began to fall apart – or to change and was not going to go back as it had been.
As he was going through this process to leave Adventism, education was moving towards ‘softer skills’. He was learning about the importance of self esteem in learning which contrasted with his upbringing when he had been taught he was by nature sinful. He came to understand he could make his own choices rather than waiting passively for God to lead. What he was learning in order to teach kids was enlightening for himself. He was doing things with kids that changed the way he saw his own relationships and himself. Over the Christmas break in 1988 whilst still in Mount Gambier he read a book about having a positive view of yourself, then in 1989 he had a chance to apply to be an Adviser in Social Learning and School Development Planning. Prompted by the positive messages of that book, J applied and was accepted. It was the best year of his life.
He learned so much about interpersonal skills and conflict resolution. It was a high growth year. What he was learning replaced the religious construct on which his life previously had been based and filled the void left behind after he had left Adventism a few years prior. He was able to learn planning and problem solving skills in addition to interpersonal, social skills.
Technology was improving. At Allendale East Area School, the Principal had led a process about restructuring school where students could work on 10 week units instead of full year programs. It was promising but hard to manage. As spreadsheets and databases came along in the late 1980s, J could see how these made such restructures more manageable. He could develop unique programs that were really successful. There was a buy-in from all the teachers in the secondary part of the school and technology was a critical enabler of the new approach.
The local District Office was interested. Others were interested. J applied for a job in a District Office in Adelaide and got it. There he set up a database to help manage Year 8 enrolments across the city. His conflict resolution skills also came in handy. This work led him to other Units of the Education Department – to the Education Review Unit and the DECSTech project. The work he did in these led to him working on National Projects in both the Schooling and the Vocational Education and Training sectors setting up National databases and services in both educational content and careers.
He enjoyed his time in schools – but thinks it would have been a long time to 65! He believes he was fortunate to have other opportunities.
J believes it all comes back to how one thinks about oneself and the connection between the world of education and the world of ideas. He had no examples of leadership in his family. His father never spoke in Church – was a follower rather than a leader. He adopted a service role behind the scenes. His father was very comfortable in the Adventist construct.
J brought his own kids up to think about careers and to problem solve.
He really enjoyed his work with St John’s. He liked the combination of logic and problem solving required alongside the interpersonal. He enjoyed the long country ambulance trips, communicating with clients on the way to hospital, as well as the assessment of their issues and what needed to be done medically. He would have enjoyed a career in medicine or as a training officer.
He keeps in touch with lots of teachers he worked with and ex-colleagues from the post school worlds he enjoyed. He has enjoyed a people-rich career. Critically, he discovered, though his learning as a teacher, that he had choices – that he did not have to follow the rules. He learnt that self belief mixed with a bit of risk taking can lead to very rewarding outcomes.