M entered teaching almost accidentally. She and her sisters attended Vermont Girls’ Technical High School. M was 4 years behind her sisters. It was a time of change and energy. Her teachers were young, bright and committed. They switched her on to learning and creating change. All things seemed possible. M, for example, was able to convince the Principal to support attendance at Vietnam Moratorium marches.
The school, rather than her family, was the strong and deciding influence. Music and Arts were strong and encouraged at Year 12 and students were asked what they wanted to do. Mr Olssen, her Year 12 class teacher, had a lasting influence as did the model presented by the Headmistress. With 17 girls in her matriculation year there was plenty of attention and personalisation.
M’s elder sister had completed her training as a Home Economics Teacher and was now teaching. Their parents were divorced and money was tight. M accepted a bonded Teachers’ College Scholarship in Home Economics. She and her family took the contractual arrangements very seriously and examined the contract closely before she signed away 3 years of her life to teach for the Education Department and proceeded to Western Teachers’ College.
She loved it. She knew some of the Teachers’ College staff and already had a preparation in single sex education environments – which Home Economics teacher training was at the time. She loved the friendships which grew quickly and are still strong some 40 years later.
By the time she was appointed to teach, M had a child. She had a meeting with Miss Clarke, the Superintendent of Home Economics, who told her she had been placed at Glengowrie High School. It was 1976, and Mr Olssen, her old Year 12 Class teacher from Vermont, was now Mathematics Senior at Glengowrie. M arranged to travel to school with him on the first day. By recess time, she had made the beginnings of her own networks. She got herself to work the next day.
Glengowrie was a large school with well in excess of 1200 students. Its population was multicultural with children of migrants from many countries and there were a lot of young teachers. Her Prac Teaching, apart from training her to be well organised, did not prepare her well for the classroom. She quickly learned that students were caned if she sent them out of class, so found other ways of achieving the behaviour she wanted. Within six months her Home Economics Senior had taken extended sick leave and M took over the management of the Home Economics Centre. It did not take her long to work out the management and she enjoyed the strategising. She remained there for 8 years.
The school had a strong Union branch and she became involved in its governance. Work Experience was growing as a necessary part of the senior school curriculum. M became involved in its organisation and development
In 1985 she moved to Seacombe High for four years where most of her Home Economics teaching was in the upper school. Community Studies was being developed as an assessed and accredited strand of Curriculum for Senior Students heading to the workforce. Many of the most disconnected senior students were being directed to Home Economics and M was able to develop students’ confidence and resilience while teaching and assessing a wide range of applied skills such as problem solving, public speaking and team work to achieve what became SACE accreditation.
After four years, the school was amalgamated with another, forcing redundancies. M was appointed to Reynella East High from where she applied for, and won, a position as a Junior Secondary Adviser in the Southern Area of the Education Department.
In her new support role she set up and trained a regional Student Representative Council, developing leadership skills for students. When the Department reorganised she moved to support the teaching of Languages Other Than English.
The leadership work she had done inspired her and when the opportunity arose she applied for a job as executive officer to the newly formed national body supporting the development of Principals. It was a chance to work with Principals’ Associations all around the country and to shape a collaborative venture in leadership development. She loved the collaboration, the strategy and freedom to look for opportunities and shape programs in response to need. She stayed on, and developed the job, for the best part of two decades. She sourced funding, conceived and developed projects and programs, took up ideas, created partnerships and networks, extended the leadership work to students, teachers and parents, used Sky Channel links in hotels – in her terms, had ‘a fun ride’. She has immense respect for the growing number of Principals who understand that educational leadership is holistic, distributed and involves developing leadership across the entire community.
Above all, M is pleased to have had the opportunity to be exposed to so many people with ‘so many smarts’ – to have been able to grow and learn with such an interesting smorgasbord of people. This has influenced how she looks at the world. She has done a lot of travel, both on her own and with others.
In semi-retirement she has returned to sewing – this time unleashing the creativity she had little time or opportunity for as a student or teacher of Home Economics. Now she can take risks with the skills she acquired and experiment with design, fabric and construction. She still attends educational conferences – often in curriculum areas outside her knowledge base. She revels in the thinking and stimulation.
She has retained and strengthened her interest in and commitment to Social Justice and is heartened by the care and respect for others she observes in her nieces and nephews and the rising generation of young people.