Jim and Jillian Dellit established this website to bring together their various endeavours, to engage with and contribute to the educational community and educational delivery. Jillian is continuing this work both in her own right, and to keep faith with Jim's life, 1947-2014, and their productive partnership 1970-2014.

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Conversations with Baby Boomer Teachers: Profile 26

Posted by Jillian in Biography, History of Education, technology in education
September 25

A2 grew up in England where his older sister had disappointed the local Grammar School by leaving aged 16 to become a hairdresser. Because of this the school would not accept another member of the family and A2 went to the local Secondary Modern School. He was good at Science and, at 16, transferred to the Grammar School for the last two years of High School to get his A levels and matriculate. Ironically, his sister later returned to study and complete both Bachelor and Master degrees.

His Science took him, aged 18, to a job in scientific research at a naval research station 80 miles from the sea. Living in a nearby town and travelling to work by motorised bicycle, he had the status of a Sub-lieutenant and reported to a Rear Admiral. The classified research arose from the nuclear weapons program but directed toward radiation treatment of cancer. His main job involved working mostly on his own to build glass vacuum systems. He was not, he found, very good at building glass vacuum systems – many of his systems leaked! His image of himself as a scientist was dented. He was also bored. 

It dawned on him that what he really liked was working with people. Throughout high school he had taught other children – and enjoyed it. He rang a teacher at his old Grammar School and asked her advice. She suggested he enrol in a teacher training program at Borough College London and helped him to gain entry. He trained in Physics and Science, graduating with a London Institute of Education Certificate in 1968 and becoming a Physics and Science teacher at Nobel Grammar School in Stevenage just as the school was moving to become Comprehensive.

In addition to teaching O and A Level Physics he was pulled into developing an appropriate whole school Science curriculum for a Comprehensive school. After 4 years he accepted a job as Head of Physics at a school in Bedfordshire. He was, by this time, married and bought a 1900 farm worker’s cottage and a red MG sports car. His sports car was longer than the house was wide! Enjoying the scent of the fields of Brussel sprouts, he would walk to the local pub where the publican would pour his beer as he walked in the door.

Some years before, his sister had migrated to Adelaide, Australia and A2 had always intended to join her. Now, in Bedfordshire, he discovered that South Australia had announced an end to its program of recruiting teachers from England. This forced his hand. The only question he remembers being asked by the official who saw him on his visit to Australia House was whether he would like to buy the second-hand Torana the official’s son was selling. Eight months later, in August of a sweltering 36C English Summer, he and his family flew out to Adelaide on a 747 via Bahrain and Singapore.

In Adelaide, at the Woodville Migrant Hostel they were cold. A2 was appointed as a Science teacher to Campbelltown High School. Finding a house in the neighboring suburb, he was soon able to write home that they were living next to the pub in Paradise (an Adelaide suburb!).

At Campbelltown A2 taught Physics, Science and, occasionally, Geography. He found that students in his matriculation Physics class had difficulty writing essays. He diagnosed that they had no understanding of basic essay structure so set about researching how to teach them. He had access to a Commodore 64 computer and had come across Basic computing language. He thought if he could teach his students to program in Basic, they could use the structure to write essays. However, in the course of researching Basic, he came across word processing programs and decided these had more applicability.

This discovery gained support from two directions. The Education Department’s Principal Education Officer for Science was exploring and writing about the curriculum applications of computers and the recently appointed Principal of Campbelltown High was implementing a major school reform program. The school became one of 3 South Australian IBM Focus Schools with 2 rooms of computers and significant computer applications across the curriculum. At a World Conference of Computers in Education in Sydney the Campbelltown contingent realized they were doing many things most others were only talking about and that at that point in time South Australia was amongst the world leaders in computers in schools.

A2 was invited to apply for one of the newly established advisory positions in Computing, Science and Physics. He chose Computing. This kept him busy for about five years, during which time he was also the Chief Moderator in Computing Studies. After that he moved to The Orphanage Teachers’ Centre to train teachers in computing applications. Eventually he worked in the Education Department head office on ways to commercialise the Department’s Intellectual Property in Computing applications in education.

While in the last position, he was approached by an Adelaide Psychologist who had done a lot of work developing resilience in workplaces. He believed it would be possible to develop a computer program that would develop resilience in school students.  A2 designed a game based on the psychologist’s work but there was no funding to develop it. Recently, at a medical conference he saw a game demonstrated that did precisely what he had been working on 20 years ago.

Once again, A2 realised he was bored. His final task for the Education Department was to deliver training to help staff manage the ‘millennium bug’.

Meanwhile, he approached Flinders University and was awarded a place in Law for the year 2000. His partner at the time was a physiotherapist working in the area of pain. She was exploring the Flinders University post-graduate medical degree. They took an interest in each other’s courses and plans. A2 decided that the medical degree fitted his interests in Science and people. He took six weeks long service leave and worked 9 to 5 to study for the entry exam. The exam took all day – all morning writing essays, all afternoon doing multiple choice.

He was offered a place. He accepted it. His partner applied for and accepted a place in Law.

He loved the course. It was structured around problem-based learning in groups. He believes it is one of the best models for adult learning imaginable – with a guide, take a problem, solve it, share your work, challenge, argue, debate. It was, he declares, marvellous. At the end of the university program, students were given a choice of 2 year placements in one of three regional hospitals. A2’s group chose to go together to a major interstate hospital. Again A2 loved it. Because he had struggled to understand psychiatry within his course, he chose to spend time in that area within his placement. The specialists who were supervising him encouraged him and gave him very positive feedback.  He continued to pursue it. During his training he accepted the position of Director of Clinical Training in the hospital for a period. He is still at the same hospital, now Director of Training in the Psychiatry Service and a Consulting Psychiatrist within the Service.

Reflection

A2 believes that his original decision to train as a teacher reflected two things: his insight, gained from his first job, that he liked working with people and his realization that he enjoyed the challenge of communicating ideas and concepts. He was challenged by the questions ‘Why can’t this person see what I see?” and “How can I get them to see?”. He found himself energised by people. He instinctively responded and really enjoyed it. He was paid to do what he liked doing.

It was only when he didn’t work with people that he realized he was bored. He did not like solitary writing and tasks that required him to work on his own.

He believes he would have hated Law. He may, he thinks, have made a good barrister, but would have hating getting to that point. He’d have made, he thinks, a good advocate but would have hated the suspension of judgement required of a lawyer. 99% of medical practice is about the relationship with the patient. Psychiatry, like teaching, is largely about seeing what is inside someone’s head. Much of his practice is about teaching people how to manage.

He still teaches medical students and Junior Medical Officers and regularly gives talks to the Law Society – and learns from them. He uses all his teaching skills. He is, he says, on his third career, but still doing his first.

He sees himself as privileged to be paid for what he loves doing. Putting it another way, he has never, he says, done a day’s work in his life and is paid to enjoy himself.

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