E wanted to be a teacher from the age of about 11 or 12. As he remembers it, this was not planted in his mind by his parents or any particular teacher. He had, for a while, wanted to be a vet or an accountant but his father talked him out of those. There were no veterinary courses available in Adelaide and students travelled to either Sydney or Melbourne to enrol. There was no provision for career counselling at his school. There were no teachers in his family, no university educated people. His parents were ambitious for him. He always knew he would go to university. His father wanted him to be a lawyer.
He was a bit of a loner at school. He applied for, and got, a teaching scholarship for the last two years of his schooling. In addition to academic results, teaching scholars needed the recommendation of their teachers, who had to write a report on their suitability. E had a clash with his Chemistry teacher who threatened to give him a bad report. He got into trouble several times. On the other hand, he liked and got on well with John Mayfield, his Maths/Physics (and sometimes Chemistry) teacher. Unley High was a competitive school with a Maths/Science priority and E went with the flow to study, in the early years, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Latin, French and English – where he was streamed with others on the basis of IQ tests. He dropped French in year 11, matriculating in Maths I and II, Physics, Chemistry, Latin and English.
He applied for, and got, a Commonwealth Scholarship to university, but turned it down in favour of the teaching scholarship he already had. This took him to Adelaide University and Adelaide Teachers’ College, where he worked towards a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma in Secondary Education.
He was happy at university, except for a realisation that he was not a good science student. His options for other pathways, however, were limited by his schooling and he was not unsuccessful in the path chosen. His friends were others training to be teachers. He was on the Adelaide Teachers’ College SRC in his last year where he took up the position of Comptroller of Stores.
E ’s parents were by now living in Woomera, and he boarded with an aunt in the city. He worked for a florist on Saturdays and also got his Bronze medal for swimming and taught in the summer Learn to Swim classes to give himself pocket money.
In his first teaching practice he got amazing reports, which confirmed his conviction that teaching was what he wanted to do. He remembers the lesson – walking into the classroom with a thoroughly prepared lesson, teaching a lock-step lesson in geometry, getting the students to sharpen their pencils, walking around the room to inspect them, demonstrating how to draw a perfectly straight line, then walking around the room to inspect them. This was followed by demonstrating and inspecting 30 degree angles. He came out feeling on top of the world.
The very first lesson he ever taught was a dictation, which took him 5 hours to prepare! He also remembers the lesson, team-taught with a PE student teacher, in which they lost control of a Year 6/7 class, largely due, he believes, to the PE student teacher trying to befriend and joke with the students. It was, for F , a horrible experience – but he learned from it. He knew what it was like to lose control of a class and have no hope of getting it back. He understood how hard the road back was from such a position and never repeated the mistake.
On graduation he applied for a city appointment and almost pulled it off. At the last minute, a fellow student, appointed to a High School in South Australia’s Copper Triangle, pulled out to get married. E was moved to replace her.
E knew he could teach. He believes he did not work as hard as some colleagues because he had confidence in his innate skills. He was, he thinks, complacent about the work and would have challenged students more had he had to struggle more himself. He worked long hours. He achieved advanced ‘skill marks’ from inspectors, had strong professional relationships with students and the respect of his colleagues. He made good friends and was where he wanted to be.
Northern Area of Adelaide
From the Copper Triangle, E had applied for a move to the Riverland, but responded to the Education Department request that he accept a promotion to Senior Master at one of the newly opened schools in Adelaide’s North where metropolitan housing was expanding. Here he discovered that he had a flair for school administration. He recognised that he was interesting in the concept of schooling, rather than that of science teaching. He became very involved in school life – camps, ski trips, year level coordination, unit management and timetabling. He did a post-graduate diploma in educational administration and really enjoyed it. He was there for twelve years and it shaped his career.
E ’s appointment as Deputy Principal to a High School in the Iron Triangle brought him into direct contact with a powerful, confident and sometimes contradictory female principal. E learned a great deal from her – the importance of arguing, knowing and standing by what you believe in, holding your ground. They had many differences in approach but shared an unwavering commitment to the best possible education for kids in the local area. E also learned from her what it is to mentor those who report to you. From the beginning she encouraged E to take courses, gain experiences and prepare for a move to Principal. She encouraged him to apply for jobs and to see himself as on a trajectory. He found interviews difficult and had to work this through.
In the mid-80s, he was successful in gaining a Principal’s job in the district and was there for four years before winning a position in the Metropolitan Area as Principal of what was then the largest High School in the State.
E describes these years as “my glory years”. He was very successful. He was respected by students, teachers, the community and Education Department officers. Here he came to a full realisation of what he could do. He could manage people. He felt he was not born to be a teacher, but born to manage people. He was a good delegator – could give people clear goals and room to move but intervene if things weren’t working. Many deputy principals over the years thanked him for this and learned from him. He had a lot of respect from other principals. He knew how to get on with people and make it better for kids. He could focus people on the task and direction, get teamwork happening and build a strong learning environment.
After six years there, however, he was feeling exhausted – and close to burn-out. He discussed early retirement and knew he would not apply for another term at the school. Instead, he took an opportunity to run a private, Global School in Indonesia.
This was the first job E had stepped into knowing he could do it. He was moving from a school with a high poverty index to one with a high privilege status. Nevertheless, his people management skills matched. He built relationships with the parents, the students, the school owners and the teachers. He recruited and trained teachers, linking their work to appropriate international curricula. He built structures of independence and judgement for both staff and students and provided many of the mentoring techniques he had learned over the years. He set up partnerships with less privileged Indonesian schools and strengthened the educational credentials of the school. He could, above all, create a consistent culture in the school’s quite extensive community.
After eight years he recognised he needed to change jobs. The logical step for E from here was into teacher development and he was offered a position at a private foundation, to improve the quality of teachers’ work across Indonesia. Working with a team of committed young educators, local and international Universities and the Indonesian Ministry of Education he was able to improve the culture of teaching and learning in many provinces of Indonesia. He did this for four years, supporting, encouraging and guiding teachers from all over the Indonesian archipelago.
Since returning to retirement in Australia, E has continued to provide consultancy services in Indonesia.
In considering career highlights, E keeps returning to the large Adelaide high school. He feels he changed the culture – in particular the way kids were treated. Early on at the school he knew where he had to get to and the path he needed to travel to achieve this. It was very tough work – especially the constant work with parents and with employers, but he was able to create networks that could be mobilised to support the school and its kids. For example, some racist comments from a small group of parents reached the press, but the community rallied to call the media, contradicting and overriding those comments. There was strong community culture of integrity, pride and care that supported, sustained and defended the school.
In terms of satisfaction this was the best of his jobs. He discovered he could change the way the school operated – although it is clouded by also being the hardest of his jobs. At the beginning a percentage of students and parents behaved very badly in the school, making it a difficult environment in which to learn. This was dramatically better when he left. What hadn’t improved enough was the academic results. He now believes he should have found a way to make this a focus too. Social Justice is a long hard road. E ’s journey on that road, however, has been a good one – satisfying and rewarding.