N2 began high school at Port Augusta High School and completed Year 12 at Christies Beach High School in Adelaide. There was an expectation from both his parents that he would go on to higher education. Both his parents were well educated for their time. His mother’s family had a history of education and his father’s family did not. N2, having been slow to speak as an infant,was regarded as the slowest of their children. By the time he was in Year 12 he had a close group of “switched on” friends from different schools – into bands, dope, flower-power and the idea of Nimbin. They discussed at length what they would do and where they would go post-school. The social context was of great importance in their decision making.
The group consensus was to go to Flinders University.
His parents were delighted when he got into Flinders University and was awarded a Teaching Scholarship. This provided enough money to live on – but involved a bond, requiring him to teach for four years after graduating. He accepted the scholarship, but there was no way he was going to join the Middle Class by teaching. He disliked the tired family discussions about education and learning, the arguments and analysis. The consensus in his group of friends was that no way were they going to be Middle Class. It was an idyllic, fun time.
He majored in Psychology, which interested him, but he resented the requirement to stay in the good books of lecturers and tutors by participating in their experiments. His Honours thesis was focused on Rumour Transmission.
He bought a block of land in Nimbin.
After his Dip Ed year, Nimbin called, but, naïve about money, he decided to teach for a couple of years to raise money to enable him to build on his Nimbin property. His father, a child of the Depression ,worried about money. N2 didn’t.
He had no allegiance to place. He told the Education Department he would go anywhere in the State. Teaching was a means to an end, not an end in itself. He was appointed to Marree Aboriginal School.
He loved it. He liked being on the outer – both as an ‘incomer’ to the town, and as part of a town on the fringe. The students were a delight. Much of their curriculum was provided from the Correspondence School – but each term N2 would swap from correspondence lessons to teaching the subjects himself. He liked the variety and change. He didn’t mind adapting his teaching to the context of the kids – slipping outside the prescribed curriculum.
The Marree community was stable. Marree had a history as a railway town with steady work and expectations. It hung together around booze, the railway and the importance of kids. The Aboriginal community had adapted to transitioning between cultures, keeping much of their culture secret. The descendants of the Afghan cameleers who had serviced the centre of the continent from the 1860s to the 1930s, maintained traditions whose origins they did not know, while participating fully in the life of the town and community. The Station people, while upholding protocols, routines and values brought from Europe, respected and valued the skills and viewpoints of other groups. It was a dynamic and attractive context for a psychology graduate with a block of land in Nimbin – a community in which there were conflicting and merging viewpoints, acceptance and the valuing of skills.
He stayed for six years. Twice he almost gave up teaching to set-up or join a business. He was a social creature, enjoying the mix of people, the respect afforded both to himself and to individuals across the communities– and the disrespect that cut all down to size. His fear that teaching would suck him into the Middle Class was allayed. He formed the view that, as long as you don’t hurt anyone, the further you go from the GPO the more weird you can be.
Nevertheless, he felt pressure to move. A couple of significant relationships had put pressure on him to ‘settle down’ but he realised that living in such isolation was not going to work. Both his parents were ill in Adelaide and he was the only one of their children living in South Australia. He was also tired.
Taking a map and a compass, he drew a circle 250 km around Adelaide and applied for schools on the edge of the circle so that he was within striking distance of Adelaide and family, but not too close.
He was appointed to a school in a small agricultural town in the Murray Mallee area of South Australia. The principal had a strong belief that the kids in the school could achieve, and pushed to make it happen. N2 watched many young teachers apply to be assessed to lead tiny primary schools as a promotion path. He saw many examples of what he recognised as mediocre leadership. Instead he chose to be assessed as a General High School Senior. He continued drinking – but only on the weekends. At the end of his second year he had a phone call from the Western Area of the State – nearly 660 km away- offering him a Senior’s position in a High School.
At this stage of his life he was a confirmed bachelor, with he says, a fear of commitment and caught in a dilemma of wanting to belong and not wanting to belong. He drove the 660 km to the Western Area Office, visited the school on offer, and fell in love with it. He accepted the position of Adaptive Education Senior – and set about adapting the educational offering to meet the needs of students with a wide range of needs.
The Principal of the school was adept at finding resources, solving problems and removing barriers. N2 had six staff, with limited knowledge of adaptive education, to support the program. To avoid entrenching techniques and assumptions that were less than ideal, they filmed each other teaching, then analysed and critiqued each other. N2 thoroughly enjoyed it. He felt really powerful and appreciated.
When the Principal moved on, the new Principal encouraged continuation of the work. It was a supportive and cooperative environment in which N2 could satisfy his need for company, friendship and investigation. He had largely avoided what he saw as the competitiveness of his parents’ educational culture, finding a role and purpose that resonated with the work of his grandfather, who had been instrumental in developing the Pathfinder series of books for Australian schools. He also married a fellow teacher
With encouragement from colleagues, including the Principal, he applied for Deputy Principal positions. When he was offered a Deputy position in a school in the Northern suburbs of Adelaide he took it and he and his wife moved to the city.
He got on well with his new Principal and those who succeeded her. It was a time when new courses were being developed, new ways of delivering learning were being devised and new frameworks developed. There were disagreements and arguments, but pathways were being opened up for students to succeed.
After several years, N2 accepted a position at a school in the North Eastern suburbs of Adelaide. He clocked up some years there as Principal and at another large Northern suburbs school. His curriculum and change management experience led to a secondment to work on Vocational Education and Training pathways for students, improving trade pathways through the South Australian Certificate of Education and improving teachers’ methodologies and instruction as many more students stayed at school to complete Year 12. His experience in Adaptive Education in the Western Area of the State, and as a Deputy and Principal in expanding high schools enabled him to contribute significantly to a project focusing on how you get teachers to improve their teaching. His team lifted the engagement of students in learning through VET and, working with Principals, increased the number of students completing SACE by 1,300 students. He looked at best practice – such as that achieved by Finland – and how South Australia could get to that point. He found that success often eluded schools and the Department, not through failure of effort but through lack of alignment of effort, lack of understanding of process and a low sense of identity. Having left the Department he found himself working with a peak body of Professional Teacher Associations – still making connections and creating synergies to improve educational delivery.
N2’s decision to take a teaching scholarship to be with his mates and to teach for a couple of years to finance his move from Adelaide to Nimbin certainly took him where he had tried to avoid going. His mother and grandfather had been writers but without the confidence to ‘kick it along’. N2 has been able to write curriculum and professional development material – and enjoy doing it.
He has mixed with people of diverse and broad outlooks, gained experience across a wide range of places, needs and demands and applied his training in psychology in all of them. He understands his own need for people to bounce ideas off, to build collective intelligence. He would not have had the breadth of outlook that he now has, had he gone from university to Nimbin to build on that block of land. He certainly escaped the narrow confines of the education industry as his parents, and grandparents, knew it. Teaching captured him – but also enabled him, perhaps, to achieve some of the transformation and change he and his mates were seeking in pursuing their Nimbin dream.