Z does not understand where her early drive to become a teacher came from. She did have an uncle who was a teacher but the drive and influence did not, from her memory, come from him. She wanted to be a teacher well before she herself went to school. She had a big blackboard at home and even before she started school she would conduct classes using it. She can only assume that she absorbed the atmosphere and activity of school as she and her mother walked her older sister to school each day – but she has no memory of observing or spending time inside the school.
She does remember that she cried every morning on the way to the school with her mother and sister, because she was not allowed to stay. Her sister was two years older. Eventually her mother could bear it no longer, and added a year to Z’s age so she could start school a year ahead of her 5th birthday. Her attraction to teaching was undiminished. She conducted assemblies at home using a mop handle as a microphone. Throughout primary school she observed what teachers did and incorporated elements into her games – constructing not only roll books, but timetables and lesson plans – based on sneak peeks at the papers teachers left on their desks. She loved school and was sorry when holidays came around – looking forward to the next term time.
In retrospect, she attributes the attraction as a good fit with her “bossy nature”. She never wavered in intention.
Once she reached high school she naturally progressed from wanting to be a primary school teacher to wanting to be a high school teacher. Her first inclination was to be a teacher of Geography and French – her favourite subjects. Then her French teacher started a lunchtime club for girls of Italian background and Z was included. The club nurtured and developed their Italian language skills. This was when Z discovered there was a pathway to becoming a teacher of languages. It was not the direct teaching pathway of Teachers’ College, but Flinders University offered an Arts degree with three languages which could be supplemented by a Dip Ed. Z took this path, using a Commonwealth Scholarship for her degree in Spanish, French and Italian. By accepting a place in the Honours program from her second year of university, she was able to further study Italian dialectology and Portuguese. Her mother argued in vain for her to study Law.
As she finished her degree, her father was terminally ill. She understood he would be more settled if he knew she was working. The Education Department was recruiting Italian teachers so Z applied for a job on the basis of her degree, committing to completing a Dip Ed part time over two years in addition to teaching. She was appointed to Adelaide Boys’ High School.
Her first year was difficult. Her father died and she lost some engagement with her work. With no experience or training in teaching she operated on her gut instinct. At the beginning of her second year she resolved to get on top of her teaching and made significant effort. She was helped by both the Deputy Principal and the Languages Senior and things looked up. Shortly after, Adelaide Boys’ and Adelaide Girls’ High Schools amalgamated and things got even better.
She worked full time at the school for five years and loved it. As she took leave in subsequent years to have children, she saw herself as continuing to do the same job for her working life. She took a year’s leave for each child and returned part-time, intending to stay forever.
There were, however, disruptors on the horizon.
Staffing policies had, for many years, sent new teachers to the country, with a commitment to transfer them to city appointments after 4 years. As population growth slowed and teachers recruited in the previous two decades had many years before retirement, there were insufficient city vacancies to place returning country teachers. Facing a shortage of teachers in the country and a looming surplus in the city, the Education Department of South Australia introduced a “10 Year Rule”. Under this rule, teachers without country service were required, after 10 years in a city school, to transfer to a country school for 4 years – or take 4 years leave without pay. This particularly affected the older, established city schools – such as Adelaide High where Z was drawing close to ten years of service. She had children at school and a husband working in Adelaide.
The second disruptor was the escalation of curriculum development work in the area of languages other than English. Z had been a member of the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia’s Italian Language Advisory Committee from its inception. She volunteered to trial an in-depth study. The Italian Adviser, impressed with this study, consequently invited her to do a term of curriculum writing out of her school. She loved the work and went on to do another year of writing and training and development, giving up her right to return to Adelaide High.
With encouragement from mentors she applied for and won a Coordinator’s position in Languages, Multiculturalism and ESL at Croydon High School. Two years later she was seconded to do more curriculum writing in the emerging South Australian Curriculum Statements and Profiles, followed by a period of conducting training and development in their implementation. This led her into cross-curriculum training and development, curriculum and policy work on the South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability framework from birth to Year 12 – work she loved. She engaged with all learning areas and across the whole education enterprise.
A district superintendent approached her, inviting her to apply for the position of Principal of a secondary school focusing on languages. She applied and won the job – a decision she has never regretted. In her early years at the school she was seconded three times to Central office for languages work, but each time felt her absence set the school back. She settled for participating in broader languages and curriculum work from her position as school leader – the best, she believes, of all possible worlds.
Z sees the encouragement of other people around her, especially leaders, as really important in her development and pathway. She would not have considered applying for jobs had she not been encouraged and pointed in the direction. She now mentors others similarly.
She has never regretted her early commitment to teaching. Her experience with her own children and her capacity to manage her career while meeting their needs only reinforced her decision. She wonders what would have happened had there been no “10 Year Rule” to prompt her to considered seriously the offer to write curriculum. Would she, after all, have served out her working life teaching languages at Adelaide High School?
She thinks, had she heeded her mother’s desire for her to study Law, she would be quite a different person, seeing the world through a different lens. She’s glad she stuck to her obsession.