As a child, F vaguely wanted to be a mathematician. His mother wanted her children to go to university. She had been thwarted in her ambition to go herself. F’s brother, 14 years older than him, had gone to Teachers’ College, then back to university later.
F was a smart boy and got a teaching scholarship in the equivalent of Year 11 at Gawler High School. His parents were weirdly affluent. His father had worked hard as a builder for 8 years, accumulated property on which the family then lived.
There was no available advice on subject choice. F dropped French – later regretting the decision. No-one suggested to him there were consequences from this choice. He did Art and loved it – but it was regarded as a second-rate choice. He did Maths I and II without being good at it. His experience of Maths varied with the teacher. He moved to Elizabeth High School for Leaving Honours, doing Maths I and II, History and English. From there he went to Adelaide University and Teachers College, doing English, Psychology Maths and History. He dropped out of Maths lectures and failed the subject, picking up German in his second year, along with Honours English and History.
He did not attend the lectures he should have at Teachers’ College, attending only to sign on each week. He passed Speech, Drama and PE without attending. He did enough to keep his scholarship – and no-one appeared to notice his non-attendance.
He finished his degree but did not do a Dip Ed. Although he did not apply for a teaching position, he was sent to a High School in the Elizabeth area as an English teacher, with some History. He did not get on with the Principal, who objected to the way F dressed. F also had a severe asthma attack at school. After the Principal had reprimanded him for talking during a staff meeting, F rang the Department and requested a transfer. He was sent to a nearby High School, where his asthma got worse, so much worse, in fact, that he resigned.
In hindsight he realises he should have sought help from the school but he did not talk to anyone about his illness. No-one suggested sick leave. He went on Unemployment Benefits, thinking he would never teach again. He saw an asthma specialist and was ill for the best part of a year. He was not required to pay back his bond.
F then responded to an advertisement for a teacher at a Catholic Boy’s School. He went to the interview wearing sandals and jeans and talked about Keats. He was hired on the spot and fired two months later. The reason given was that he was not teaching Year 12 in the way the school wanted – but no other feedback was given. He was popular with students but the school wanted a lecturing methodology and there was also a Jesuit brother returning from leave.
F went back to the Education Department and requested a job at Elizabeth High School – and got it. He was there for four years and had a great time. He was very strict. In spite of long hair and earrings he cultivated the role of a “benign fascist’. He regards this as the best teaching of his career.
At this time F’s marriage broke up. He threw himself into teaching, incorporating film and drama, puppets and rock opera into his program and taking students to the theatre. Students did lots of writing and read a wide range of children’s literature. He introduced the wide range and students made their own choices. The school offered a lot of professional development to staff and opportunities to attend conferences. On the last day of the school year, teaching a Year 11 Class, he was inspected for promotion and offered an English Senior’s position at The Parks School, which he acceptedy. He also, however, enrolled in a Post Graduate Diploma in Curriculum Studies. He remains grateful to Elizabeth High School for his experience.
His initial reaction to The Parks was negative. By the end of Term 1 he decided he liked it, but was by then committed to taking the second half of the year off to attain the Graduate Diploma.
Part of the work for the Graduate Diploma involved writing a curriculum for the Fort Largs Police Academy. F felt that the course was experimental – using students as subjects dishonestly.
The next year he was appointed to Parafield Gardens High School. He was not expected at the school and eventually offered the role of Special Needs Senior. He had no experience of knowledge in this area other than one week on in-service training. He threw himself into the role and applied many of the techniques from Elizabeth High School – but at the end of the year, a government policy of requiring city-based teachers to move to the country for 4 years or take 4 years leave without pay led to him taking the leave option.
Initially he did some relief teaching but then went overseas and discovered London. He taught English and Drama for three years in London and Cambridge, making some really good friends.
On his return to Adelaide he was appointed to Gilles Plains High School, where he made changes to the comfortable patterns of class allocation, pushing teachers to teach out of their comfort zone. He had strong management support and improved student results, with significant numbers of students getting A’s in English matriculation. Some teachers, however, found it difficult.
By now F was torn – between better teaching conditions and pay in Australia, and the friends and cultural life he had developed in London. After three years he returned to London. He had no difficulty getting work and found himself loving teaching. He coached tennis and had strong management support for curriculum change and redesign. Positions, however, were not permanent and over the next decade F taught in a range of schools for varying lengths of time, including 3 years in the East End and several at North Westminster. He was briefly the highest paid Head of English in England. He eventually taught for 6 years, and became a governor at a troubled three-campus school, teaching on all three sites before the school closed. He went on to be Head Teacher at a very good school, from which he retired after a severe bout of pneumonia.
F now lives in London and visits Australia annually.
He sees his move, as a young Senior Master, at the school’s request, into Adaptive Education, as being retrograde. He would now argue for the provision of in-class support rather than withdrawal. He worked creatively with the system the school wanted, but was not trained or experienced at the time. He now believes the emotional strength that a child develops from working with peers is more fundamental than the skills gained from withdrawal.
Throughout his career, F taught in 17 schools. Had the Country Service policy not been in force in South Australia he would have “pottered along” in outer metropolitan high schools in South Australia. He believes the decision to take four years leave rather than go to the far West of the State was the right decision for him at the time. His decision to use that time to travel led to a tension and conflict that has characterised his subsequent career. When he returned to London for the second time, salaries had improved and curriculum was changing. Although many of the schools in which he taught in London were difficult and he disliked much about the schooling system, he liked the students and was good at teaching them – and enjoyed it.
When he decided to become a teacher, he had little knowledge of other careers. In retrospect, he would like to have pursued a career in the Arts but had no idea of pathways like Graphic Design. He may have been good at Law, but had no knowledge or experience to suggest that.
He experienced a sense of identity loss when he retired from teaching. Teaching helped him to be flexible and develop skills in dealing with people. His experience has made him prone to finding solutions and providing guidance to friends and acquaintances. He believes he was a better teacher than he was an administrator. He still follows education news.
F sees what he did as important. He worked hard, opened up brains, got students thinking and developed minds.