D’s mother was 100% determined D should go to university. She didn’t focus on a career – but she knew D needed a career, and teaching presented a pathway via a teaching scholarship commencing in the second-last year of school and continuing through university and teachers’ college. Her mother had had to leave school at 15. During the War she worked in a munitions factory and when that closed she scrounged for a job. So for D teaching was about a university education – the only pathway that presented itself. She had no idea what careers were available. None of her family members had careers and there was no trained career counsellor available. Her parents had no way of paying university fees.
Teaching was never her passion. Her elder sister went nursing and did ongoing training and education.
D went to Thebarton Girls’ Technical School. Her parents’ workplace determined that choice. Her parents ran a business and needed the girls’ schooling to be close by for after-school management. Students transferred to Adelaide Girls’ High School for the Leaving Honours Certificate. The downside of this arrangement was that subject choice was limited. German was the only language offered at Thebarton and science was limited to Biology. D was frustrated by her limited choices, but took the pathway offered.
Two other girls went with her from Thebarton Girls’ Technical High School to Adelaide High. There were a lot of girls from different places in the cohort. About three of those she got to know went on to Adelaide University. Some friends dropped out. Most got married and didn’t go on to a career.
At university D took German, History, Geography and Zoology. She did not have a maths, physics or chemistry background that would enable wider choices.
At Adelaide Teachers’ College D did Health, PE and Speech, along with the Practice Teaching organised through the Dip Ed. She joined the netball club and made friends through netball. She did not enjoy Teachers’ College. There was no warmth in the teaching – and no practical help. Helping students seemed to be a bother. She worked really hard, spending most of her time in the library in order to understand and decipher the lectures and curriculum.
She was offered Honours Geography but could not afford to take it up.
On graduation she applied for an appointment in the city or close country. She was sent to South Australia’s Copper Triangle. The move was quite frightening. Although she was ready to leave home, her parents were still protective. They drove her North to look around the area. When she made the move, her boyfriend of the time drove her. Since she was a single woman, direct from the city, the Principal had found her accommodation. It was not a choice but “This is where you are going to stay.”
When she broke up with her boyfriend, her father bought her a second-hand car. She had had her licence, and driven her mother’s car since she was 16. For the first six months she came home every second weekend, driving to and fro with a couple of other teachers.
Mostly she just worked hard – the hardest, she believes, she has every worked. Every class had 30 students and there were tests and essays to be marked for all of them. She recalls working 7 nights a week to keep up. She taught History, Geography , Social Science and PE as well as a Second Year Science Class that she was staying ahead of in preparation and learning.
The staff were mostly established. The men were involved in local sporting teams. The Deputy Principal had been there a long time and had his favourite ways of doing things – and favourite people to do them.
After a few months of boarding she moved into a share house with another teacher. She was in the Copper Triangle for two years, and the end of which time she married another teacher. They applied for the Riverland, but were offered work in the burgeoning new schools in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.
D was appointed to a High School in Elizabeth. Here teaching was different. D was part of a faculty in an innovative school. The Principal looked for new ways to do things, and looked at the delivery of education in different ways. He sent D and others to look at schools in Victoria to see how things were done there. D saw things she had no idea were possible. The facilities at her school were good. There was a good library and the Principal worked hard at getting good equipment and ensuring the best learning possible for students. The staff worked on behaviour management and methodology. D had no experience in the Copper Triangle of such focused work on improving educational opportunity and learning experiences.
These were years of learning for D. She was a member of the History and Geography Teachers’ Associations and the Union. Her Senior was an office-holder in the Geography Teachers’ Association and kept meetings and conferences in front of staff as did the History Senior. For the last two years she was at the Elizabeth school she was the Geography Senior.
The growth in the northern suburbs continued and, when a new school opened in the Salisbury area in the late 70s, D was asked by her principal to go. It was an exciting opportunity – helping to set up a new school. She was looking for a change and an educational challenge, so she took the chance.
In her first year at this school she was involved in making decisions about floor plans, resources and school policy. She found this really interesting.
The school opened with several year levels. There were over 1000 students when she left four years later. The open plan nature of the school and school leadership style meant staff had less whole school identification and clear purpose than D had experienced at her Elizabeth school . You could go for some time without seeing all staff, whereas at the Elizabeth school there was a large staffroom and structures that meant most staff members met regularly. The school leadership did not manage to create the morale and team spirit that would have built a cohesive school culture.
Deputy and Principal
By now D was aware that her interest lay in school administration and she applied for Deputy Principal positions. She had been assessed eligible to be appointed Deputy and was offered the position of Deputy at a large Metropolitan R-12 school, which she took.
This was just the challenge she needed. D worked with teams of teachers across the R-12 range and learned a lot from having a wide range of ages on the same campus. She worked with Early Childhood educators and enjoyed the experience. She had to put herself in a position of considerable change – an experience that stood her in good stead in later years. She enjoyed going to work.
After two years, D’s husband was offered a Deputy Principal position in the Iron Triangle. When he agreed to go, the Education Department was also able to offer D a Deputy position in the region.
It was here that D first encountered sexual harassment on a significant scale. She hated the experience. The school was unused to a female deputy and the school leadership made no attempt to understand the opportunity, responding with misogyny. She received some support and mentoring from a female principal of another school – but none from her own school, whose leadership she found wanting. She encountered Aboriginal Education issues for the first time, and learned from some staff who were trying to make a difference in that area and find pathways for students. She learned about generational poverty. She researched and worked in curriculum in order to design programs and improve outcomes.
The local female principal raised the issue of D becoming a principal. Directly and indirectly she encouraged D. When the opportunity arose, D applied for and won the Principal’s job at another local High School. Another candidate appealed the decision but D won the position again. This experience toughened her up.
The high schools in the town were undergoing reorganisation along the lines of junior and senior colleges. D did not enjoy the arguments around these changes. The difficulties in getting, accommodating and holding staff led to her being asked to move into the roll of staffing officer for a period of time. It lasted for two years and she really enjoyed it. She put in long hours – still at work at 11pm one Christmas Eve, making calls to try to staff schools. She enjoyed seeing the big picture and the challenge of matching people to vacancies – or just filling the vacancies! It gave her a new perspective on education and brought her into contact with a wide range of people with differing viewpoints.
When she was appointed to an outer northern metropolitan school as Principal she was able to apply a lot of what she had learned in staffing and meeting the needs of both curriculum and individuals.
All of this came together when D’s husband accepted the position of Director of a large global Indonesian school. D followed by accepting a similar position in a different Indonesian city. Here she had to recruit, train and manage both Indonesian and ex-patriot teachers as well as finding and implementing suitable international curricula. There were significant community challenges. She found ways to negotiate and reconcile the conflicting demands of owners, parents, teachers and students.
D retired and returned to Adelaide in 2011.
The high points of her career she sees as the students themselves. She really enjoyed working with a wide range of students – in terms of ages, abilities and socio-economic background. Some parents were also rewarding to work with. She is full of admiration for many of the young teachers she has worked with. She never enjoyed working at a political level.
She enjoyed the role of Principal with the exception of a couple of required roles, such as dealing with police and negotiating with the Union.
She found her pathway in learning by asking how she could use her strengths and experience. She quickly learned to work with people and their strengths. She never hated what she was doing. She realised early that there were a lot of things she didn’t know, but that she could get experience and learn. The places in which she taught influenced her political and social development and gave her more bravery to effect change and follow a social conscience.
She sees a big contrast from how she began as a teacher – without much knowledge, following her mother’s drive for a career and security to where she is now with capability, achievement, opinion, knowledge and experience.