U believes that her NSW selective high school was a pervasive influence on her pathway to university and teaching. She had a lot of extremely good teachers and her schooling was in the hands of good role models. In the middle years of high school she liked the idea of teaching as a career and thought English and French would be her chosen teaching subjects.
Her English teachers advised her to concentrate on History (at that stage History was paired with English teaching for promotion purposes). She also had careers advice which suggested she should consider either the diplomatic service or journalism. She explored these pathways, but found neither of them were easily open to girls. She was quite happy to take up teacher training – but did so initially on a Commonwealth Scholarship rather than a bonded Teachers’ College Scholarship in order to keep her options open for the other pathways. She switched to a Teachers’ College Scholarship for the last two years of her training.
At university she did French and English, eventually specialising in Early English Literature and Language. This was followed by a Diploma in Education which she found less than useful. It provided little training in classroom realities and management. She did well, but learned most of her craft while teaching.
She had applied to teach in Armidale, Canberra or Cooma but was sent to Beverly Hills Girls’ High School in Sydney. Here there were senior women providing strong leadership. She arrived just as the English syllabus changed to include language studies in Years 11 and 12. Because she had graduated with a strong component of English language studies in her degree she was in a good position to teach the new syllabus units. She and the English staff worked out a scheme whereby she taught the language component to all Year 11 and 12 classes in rotation. It worked well. The teachers were a great bunch and are still friends. She was learning her trade on the job – taking students from what they knew to what they didn’t know.
After three years, having fulfilled her bond requirements, she left to have a child, returning after maternity leave to James Cook Boys’ High School, where she was the fifth English teacher her classes had had that year. They were rebellious – and she didn’t blame them. They were following the SRA Reading Scheme and had worked out ways of stealing and trading the answer cards. The requirement that a teacher return to the classroom after six weeks away from work after giving birth meant U’s child was being minded by his grandmother, who was not coping. U therefore left – without payment for her maternity leave.
After 13 months off work looking after her child, U found an advertisement in the newspaper for someone to work on a dictionary for Jacaranda Press. Unfortunately for her, the job disappeared before the end of her second year. It had been an unrealistic deadline. These difficulties were eventually overcome and the Macquarie Dictionary emerged, but at that point in time, for U, the work disappeared.
She spoke to the Education Department but could not be placed as a teacher until the next year. She therefore looked elsewhere. She applied for a job with TAFE teaching General Studies and was scheduled for an interview. Between the scheduling and the interview day, U’s mother died and her funeral fell on the interview day. U rang to explain and reschedule the interview. As she had been told this would be impossible, she was surprised to receive a phone call at 10pm on the day of the funeral, inviting her to an interview for what turned out to be a different job – in the newly created School of Business and Administrative Studies, working with Accountants, Welfare Workers, Personnel Clerks and Managers.
Several weeks after the rescheduled interview she had a further phone call – this time at 11 pm – to say she had the job – to assist in the setting up of a unit to teach practical English (called Business Communication) within the new School. She worked with a huge variety of student age ranges and nationalities. There were magic moments. She worked odd hours, including three nights a week, and fitted mothering around her hours. She really enjoyed it.
It inspired her to undertake further study by correspondence in Psychology – largely for the benefit of her Welfare Work students.
She was then invited to go into the city to work on a research project. This proved interesting but demanding. Her son started preschool. The travel demands – taking a child to and from school in the suburbs, travelling into the city, working odd hours – took their toll. After eight years she pulled out and took up an adult education job working across the State reorganising the provision of adult education from a model built around the Mechanics’ Institute arrangement – evening classes in local schools providing basic skills to one of Community Colleges with trained and paid adult educators. The small but audacious unit devised new funding models and made them work. It was an exciting time and proved to be a good time to be in adult education.
During this time, U undertook and completed a degree in Labour Relations and Law. Head-hunted by a Deputy Director-General of the Department of Education, U spent a year working with him as the Department implemented the requirements of the Scott Report, involving major changes to the shape and size of the Department’s staff.
However, it was time for a major change. U took up a job with the Broadcasting Tribunal, first as Director of Programs and then Director of Licences. This was a highly political arena in which to work, with changing government regulations and contested ground. U spent a lot of time in Canberra talking with committees. She worked with many good people some of whom she was able to recruit to the Tribunal – people with light in their eyes and keen to learn.
Eventually the politics and job changed and U moved on to a senior role in the Industrial Relations Department of the NSW Government. Here she dealt with the impact of the Federal Government’s Work Choices program on State administration. It was a difficult time and involved continued negotiation with the Federal government, other States, Unions and employer organisations.
U retired from this role as amalgamation of smaller NSW departments into larger departments was underway. Although she had at one point in her career been given, and taken, some poor advice on superannuation, she had been a long-term superannuation contributor and managed to preserve components of both State and Commonwealth superannuation schemes. She had very much enjoyed having led a small, dynamic department and, at retirement age, chose to leave on a high.
U learned a lot teaching both adults and children. The skills that she learnt were good management skills – having good relations with colleagues and students, efficient administration, programming, listening, assessing what students know, stepping from the known to the unknown, being reasonable. In Industrial Relations work, staff are very aware of their needs. If it is reasonable you try to give them what they need. You plan, control what you can and communicate continuously and clearly.
Her work took her into interesting areas. She liked small organisations where team work could be developed, common goals established and communication controlled. She met really interesting people and made many lasting friendships.
She is currently working on a history of the Macquarie Dictionary.