C, the youngest child in his family, cannot remember a time when he did not want to be a teacher – or an accountant. These were, admittedly, the only jobs he knew outside the family’s sand and gravel business or the suburban streets within which he spent his childhood.
His parents met in 1927 on a ship bringing them both to Australia as assisted immigrants. His father was Irish and his mother, Welsh. His mother travelled with her parents, disembarking in Adelaide. His father, travelling alone, went on to Melbourne. He was Catholic and the woman he courted was Protestant. Her parents did not approve. C’s father, however, was persistent. He came to Adelaide, found work wherever he could, eventually setting up his own successful a sand and metal business and winning the respect of his future parents-in-law.
C’s three siblings, two brothers and a sister, are respectively 18, 12 and 6 years older than him. He went to St Brigid’s, the local Catholic Primary School. He wasn’t school-ready and struggled with reading in the early years of school. His experience of teachers was varied, from Sister Maureen who got him reading with the promise of a marble (which he still has) to Sister Josepha who had been in the convent since she was 16 and managed her class of 74 Year 4 students through fear and coercion.
At Year 5, C transferred to Blackfriars’, where Father Fitzpatrick, his Year 5 teacher, had a Dinky car track set up around the perimeter of a play area to engage students and demonstrate elements of learning. He motivated his students by exploiting their interests and exciting them. He taught his students Heraldry and Scottish dancing. C, who had no experience but had seen illustrations, demonstrated a sword dance for the class. For the first time, C was motivated to learn and understood that there was a point to it – that you could learn things that had significance, that interested you and made a difference. Father Fitzpatrick became a benchmark.
Blackfriars’, and the Dominican order focused on teaching, provided many enriching experiences. C joined the choir, and was good enough to join the school’s Opera group which produced Gilbert and Sullivan Opera’s each year. Boys played female parts until their voices broke, then male parts. They went to chapel every day and Mass once a week, singing the liturgy. Students went to choral performances at the Adelaide Town Hall and could opt in to excursions to the Outback. One of the teaching priests was a Geology medallist and led excursions to places of historical and geological interest, supported by parents.
The majority of teachers were priests or brothers but there were also lay teachers. The school opened in 1952 with between 200 and 300 students, including a small number of boarders from country SA and Wentworth. Many students were first or second generation children of migrants – mostly Italian. Many of these students did not socialise with those boys whose fathers were doctors and public servants.
Students who stayed beyond Year 10 were expected to go to University. Science and Maths were favoured subjects and Latin and French were compulsory in Year 8. C found vocabulary difficult to learn and was regularly caned for not remembering Latin vocabulary. School learning did not come easily to him. He repeated Year 6.
When C was in his Intermediate Certificate year (10) his father was killed in an accident in the Flinders Ranges. His brothers were already working in the family sand and metal business and took over running it. One of his brothers organised work experience for C in a hairdressers but C, with Father Fitzpatrick firmly in mind, just wanted to be a teacher – or, if necessary, an accountant like one of the family’s close friends. Every morning at breakfast his mother would tell him “I want you to study”.
When C sat his Leaving Certificate in the equivalent of Year 11, he failed English but was able to sit a supplementary and passed. His brothers convened a family meeting and decided they would no longer support C to stay at school; he would leave school and take a job at the Enfield Branch of the Commonwealth Bank. C was having none of it. He enrolled himself in Leaving Honours at Enfield High School, applying for and receiving a teaching scholarship to cover his expenses.
His sister-in-law thought he would go to Hell. His brothers thought he had become a Communist. His mother encouraged him.
At Enfield he had one of his best years ever. He took up the scholarship and worked hard. His subjects were limited by his background but he did Maths I and II, History, Geography and Chemistry. A group of Brigidine nuns came to the school to take Religious Instruction and C helped them out.
With Leaving Honours, C had his choice of Primary or Secondary Teaching. He chose Primary and confirmed that choice after three years at Western Teachers’ College on South Road, where he chose to go in order to be close to home. Most of his friends from Enfield High School went too.
C loved Western Teachers’ College. He studied History, Social Sciences, Science, Geography, Arts, Speech and a range of Education subjects. Students were challenged to justify their opinions and conclusion. He knew what was expected of him, focused on a profession, did the work and got the marks. He participated in musical productions and performances. The College was housed in prefabricated buildings – fairly dreary but it was a great environment in which to learn. He got Distinctions and Credits and made many life-long friends.
In the vacations and evenings he helped his brothers out in the family business. This helped him develop communication skills as he dealt with a wide variety of customers and employees, but he hated it.
The teacher training course was initially a two year certificate course. Students who did well were offered a third year. C took the third year, emerging with a Diploma. He wanted experience of living away from home and chose to go to the country. He was appointed to Clare. His mother was disappointed he was leaving home, but knew he needed to do it. His sister-in-law drove him to Clare and helped him find accommodation with the school’s Chief Assistant and his wife. After a few months one of his brothers found him a new Morris 1500 and he could come home on weekends.
Clare Primary School in 1970 was a shock. Of the staff of 8, one had been out of College for 2 years and one for 4. The rest were in their 50s, had few or no teaching qualifications and had been there for 20-30 years. The reality was very different to what Western Teachers’ College had led C to believe.
C began at Clare with a Grade 3-4 class which he took through the next year to Grade 4-5. In his third year he took the Grade 4s through to Grade 5. This continuity had not been attempted before in the school. C took the kids to the theatre and on excursions and camps. His mother came as cook. He involved parents and taught his class creative dance with mothers joining in.
He set up parent-teacher interviews and individual programs for his students. Some struggled. C got very frustrated with one student’s inability to learn and had the idea that he needed something different. He got the parents involved and set up an individual program which worked. He attended courses in the district and in Adelaide, but much of his momentum came from the reading he had done at Teachers’ College and that he continued to do.
School libraries were being mooted and C volunteered to set one up at Clare. He did a one-term crash course in teacher-librarianship run by Joan Brewer at Adelaide Teachers’ College. It was pressured, requiring essays and extensive writing. In his fourth year at the school he ran the library.
In 1974 he took a year off to travel, losing his right of return to Clare. He taught for a few weeks in London but mostly travelled.
When he returned in 1975 he was appointed to Mansfield Park primary as Teacher Librarian and began to do the full Teacher Librarian course part-time. In 1978 he got a scholarship to finish his degree with a Major in teacher librarianship and a Minor in South Australian History. He visited China.
In 1979 he was appointed as teacher-librarian to Wandana Primary School at Strathmont and remained there for 11 years, except for a year spent exchange teaching in the United States. The Wandana had a high proportion of disadvantaged students, a highly motivated staff and a dynamic Principal. C set up programs with staff, brought in experts and advisers in Language Arts, Information Literacy and reading. He co-taught with teachers and team-taught, introduced reading wheels and mapping, had bright students reading widely and deeply and maintained a constant cycle of innovation based on student needs. As the only single male on the staff he was in demand for school camps. Professionalism kept teachers at the school. He also completed a Graduate Diploma in Computing Studies.
In 1990 he became a Library Advisor in the Adelaide Area, located at Leabrook before going to the Correspondence School as Teacher Librarian. Here he made videos of new books and employed a range of technologies to reach students and teachers. After only 6 months, the technology took him to a job with Dynix – the company that had won the tender to provide automated library management systems to schools. He could see the transforming power of the technology and wanted to learn more. He could see how the technology could be employed to extend student learning. He turned down an offer to become a Dynix employee. His interest was not in sales but in applying the technology to improve learning outcomes for students.
Having turned down the job offer with Dynix, C was appointed to Modbury High School. After six weeks he won a job at The Orphanage Teachers’ Centre running training programs in a range of Information areas, including automated library systems and information literacy. When The Orphanage Teachers’ Centre closed in 1998, C worked in the Education Department in different portfolios until his retirement.
In retirement C continues to work part-time. He has worked for the Seniors Information Service and currently works part-time at the University of South Australia library. He regards these as teaching jobs and applies his skills daily to improving the learning outcomes of the university students who use the library.
Father Fitzpatrick turned a key that opened C to a world of enlightenment, interest and fulfilment. This over-rode the fear factor that was a norm, and, in his view, led to really bad things in his Primary and Middle Schooling.
C believes teaching satisfied his needs and desires. He sums himself up as “I am that helping person”. At 68 he is still choosing to work in libraries and still sees himself as a teacher. He tackles research, tasks, problems and assignments through a teaching framework. He’d like to do research on the impact of teacher-librarians on student skills and NAPLAN results. He gets enormous satisfaction from helping students especially those who have been refugees to navigate the University Library and seeing them become competent, independent learners.