“A” chose teaching because it was what she knew. The female role models she had were nurses, teachers or office workers. Her parents had only primary school education. She had cousins living in Italy in the 1950s, one of whom had technical college education and another of whom was a teacher. Teaching seemed a good aspiration.
“A”’s high school had 17 year 8 classes. She went into the Commercial stream and, with no knowledge of the range of possibilities, took a test for the top Commercial group. This group was all girls. They took one language (French) but otherwise the Commercial and General streams followed the same courses. Her parents encouraged her to go as far as she could. She did well and at the end of Year 8 changed from the Commercial to the General stream. Her mother went to the school to argue for “A” picking up a second language. One of the teachers at the school took Italian after school for about 3 interested students. “A” successfully sat the Italian exam in Year 11, which allowed her to matriculate without needing to pass Mathematics.
At the end if Year 11, “A” received a teaching scholarship. In SA the State Government provided indentured scholarships at Year 11 to draw students into teaching. When, however, “A” won a Commonwealth Scholarship to university at the end of Year 12 she took it and paid back her teaching scholarship bond, using the Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a teaching career. Her father was 60 years old the year she finished Year 12. He had cardiac asthma and had to retire at the end of that year. Though her parents coped well with English, she was an only child, and her parents had no family in Australia. The possibility – indeed likely outcome of a State Teachers’ College Scholarship – that she might be sent to the country, was therefore of considerable concern.
“A” made her university subject choice in consultation with her High School English teacher, who advised her to take English, History, French and Psychology, which she did. She took a teaching job one month after she finished her Arts degree and did her Dip. Ed. part-time over 2 years, attending lectures on Saturday mornings while teaching. A Catholic Girls’ High School was looking for a teacher of Italian to replace someone taking leave. With her knowledge and broader degree, she met the needs of the school.
For the 6-7 years she was at the school, A would have liked to have taught History, but was kept busy teaching Italian, which was compulsory at the school in Years 8 and 9. The school was supportive and flexible. It was the 1970s and migrants and the children of migrants were finding their identity in Australia. The school was open and understood the children, families, their needs and aspirations. There were families of Yugoslav, Polish and Irish background as well as Italian. The administration encouraged creativity and experimentation. They also supported staff in obtaining teacher registration as it was introduced over the next few years.
In 1978, “A” had married and her first child was born in 1979. Her father died unexpectedly 2 weeks before the birth. It was a difficult and traumatic time. She had intended to continue working, but found that impossible in the circumstances. She left the school, which meant resigning.
In 1980, again through the circumstance of an acquaintance taking leave, she took a job 2 days a week writing Italian Curriculum for the Education Department. She had a second child in 1982, and did not work in 1983. She did some short-term work for Flinders University and a Catholic Girls’ School in relation to Italian,
In 1985 she was successful in her application for a full time job teaching Italian and French at a Catholic Boys’ School. The school was re-introducing French after a 10-12 year break. Italian was taught throughout the school and there were two part-time Italian teachers in addition to “A”.
She remained at this school for 20 years. She introduced French and tried to introduce Indonesian. She got to teach History, and once, a Year 8 English class. She served as Head of Department, was a founding member of the Italian Teachers’ Association and at times a member of the Modern Languages Teachers’ Association. She served on the Public Examination Board and was a SACE moderator, marker and examiner (including, for a time, Chief Examiner).
Eventually she ‘ran out of steam’. There were not many varied jobs for Italian teachers and the job was feeling a bit ‘samey’. She resigned and took a job at the University of South Australia as part of a team of teachers employed under project funding. The project funding lasted three years.
“A” reflected that the time spend at UniSA working on the projects made her appreciate how creative a job teaching is. There is a lot of give and take being with kids. She felt responsible and could be creative. This made her the person she is. She developed great pragmatism. It also kept her fit – moving around, talking to the kids and engaging with them. She observed this is not always understood nor appreciated by academics, some of whom are inclined to disregard the experience and observations of practising teachers.
She wished she had had the time while in schools to find and read many to the articles she read while working at the University. There was no subject space or structure for reading, or keeping up with academic developments. Teachers do not get sabbaticals as academics do – she was jealous of that. There were many things she read while at the University that she wished she had read while teaching.
Her parents were happy with her choice of career and with the way it turned out. Her father worked on the GMH production line and saw her earning more than he did even in the very early years. Her Italian cousin who was a teacher hated it. Her own children didn’t consider teaching. They saw how hard their teacher-parents worked at home and saw that as a burden. She thinks that is a pity.
“A” believes teaching was the right place for her. This year she did not register as a teacher. She still catches up regularly with her teaching friends. She is learning Latin at WEA. Teaching influenced more than her work – it brought a culture of learning, problem solving, exploration – as well as a life-long interest in things historical and a sense of history. Studying and teaching Italian confirmed her identity strongly as an Italo-Australian, and a birthright to two cultures.