K grew up in Sydney and went to a selective boys’ high school. As he remembers it, his choices at the end of high school were to go to Sydney Teachers’ College or talk to a friend of his uncle who worked at the Sydney Morning Herald about a job in journalism. He had qualified for university, but did not have a Commonwealth Scholarship. he had no pathway mapped, so taking the Teachers’ College Scholarship was a no-brainer.
Some of his friends with lower matriculation results than his became solicitors and barristers and academics – their parents paid the fees for them to attend university, which his could not do. A good friend from school worked part-time and attended university part-time and became an early computer wizard, a couple of his friends dropped out.
He thinks he had a choice of Primary Teaching or Secondary Social Sciences. He’d have preferred English, but the option wasn’t available. He chose Social Science. He remembers hoping he’d get offered something in tertiary training that ‘would do’ – and this was it.
He spent two years at Sydney Teachers’ College. He played Rugby, sang in a trio and didn’t take it very seriously. He liked some courses and disliked others. Commerce was part of Social Sciences and he had to do Book-keeping. he didn’t turn up for lectures – it wasn’t on his radar. He did a lot of subjects. Geography he was pretty good at and he loved Ancient History. He was threatened with expulsion but they needed teachers and he eventually passed with a conditional certificate.
He made one life-long friend.
At the end of the two years he put down to go to the West and North West of NSW – as far away from Sydney as he could. He was appointed to Menindee Central School. Teachers’ College was a bit of a preparation, but he doesn’t remember being taught much about how to teach. He does remember the study by Lewin, Lippitt and White comparing democratic, autocratic and laissez-faire leadership styles.
He had done Practice Teaching at JJ Cahill High School, Newtown Boys’ and Maroubra Girls’, all regarded as fairly tough schools. The Pracs were good if you had a good supervisor who helped you to deconstruct your practice. He learned a lot from them.
He enjoyed teaching. He was very involved in the community. He was an honorary Park Ranger and worked in the drilling rig business of the family with whom he boarded. He water-skied, played golf, belonged to the gun club and was a member of a band called the Menindians. He was treasurer of the Water Ski Club and went out with a couple of local girls. At school he was Sports Master, organised the soccer and created, introduced and ran the Wilvandee Sports, between the three Central Schools at Menindee, Wilcannia and Ivanhoe.
The average stay for a teacher at the school was 2-3 years. People often came to be assessed for the next promotion list and move on. He was there for six years. In that time he married a local girl and was the longest serving staff member. His marriage was a factor in his staying so long. He spent a lot of time on the local family property.
He did a bit of performing and appeared on television in Broken Hill and was offered work in the clubs in Sydney by a well-known manager, but decided he wanted to be a teacher.
He had begun an Arts degree at the University of New England in Armidale while there. He really wanted a degree, and saw himself as wanting to continue at University. He travelled regularly to Armidale and wanted to get closer so he could spend more time studying there. He remembers, while visiting Armidale, driving to nearby towns to look at the towns and the schools.
Inverell was one of the towns he had looked at and there was a new school opening there so he applied and was appointed. He finished his Bachelor’s Degree and went straight into a Master’s.
The new school had only Years 7-9 when it opened. These were accommodated for two terms in demountables while the school was finished. He became an English/History teacher and saw it as an exciting, good move. It was challenging, because he was going from a school of 200 kids K-10 to a much bigger secondary school with a wide range of student abilities and demography.
He was there about 5 years. He spent one of those successfully preparing for, and going through, the assessment process for the “Second List” – the eligibility to be appointed English Master. He initiated film study and film making into the school. He was ambitious.
He played soccer, basketball, touch-football and squash several times a week. He was in both the town’s dramatic societies and a serious band (which made money!). He created another band, a successful ‘bush’ band, but still thought of himself as a teacher.
Both Headmasters he had served under at Menindee had made him keep daybooks – a requirement of primary teachers at the time. These recorded the planning of every lesson in detail. This was a key factor in his becoming a good teacher. Preparation was the key to good discipline and keeping the students interested. He kept those daybooks and referred back to them as he prepared lessons in Inverell.
He had been teaching for ten years and was the second most experienced English teacher in the school. His marriage broke up in these years and he was still studying at Armidale. He was finding the idea of an academic career attractive. He was thinking of resigning and looked at Universities in USA, Canada and UK to further his study. His Department Head talked him out of resigning and into taking leave without pay.
He left Australia in December with two friends. They went to Singapore, then overland through Kathmandu to Europe, spending 8 months travelling. When they arrived in London they cleaned apartments to make ends meet. Meanwhile he investigated universities. He looked at Newcastle and decided it was too miserable. He got a train to Aberystwyth. The course offered there by the University of Wales suited him – and he was offered, and took, a job as companion/carer for a student made quadraplegic in a Rugby accident. They had adjoining rooms in the Welsh-speaking College. He studied computing, and K studied American Literature.
He thought of himself as a scholar, although he had 3 singing jobs, two in pubs and one as part of a duet. Mostly he concentrated on his Masters and contemplated a PhD. He was doing well (he ended up with a First in the Masters). He had reached a point of having no fees, being eligible to do a PhD and being able to tutor. He was, however, fed up with living in Britain. The friends he had travelled with from Australia were still in London and feeling cold and miserable. They decided to return to Australia. He had a job waiting for him there and on the spur of the moment decided to return with them. He had not finished his thesis, but could do that from Australia. He had a topic for his PhD and transferred it to the University of New England in Armidale, but eventually walked out on it.
Back in Australia he was appointed to Gunnedah. Within two weeks of being there he was acting head of English. Then the Acting Special Master – a new position created between Master and Deputy – had a heart attack and he was appointed to that position. He did not like the school. He contacted the regional superintendent and asked to be appointed back to Inverell in any available position.
The next year he was appointed to Inverell High School where he picked up on many of the things he had done in his earlier time in the town. He started a Drama department with 1.5 teachers and designed a Drama Curriculum to Year 11. The students wrote a play, created a script, cast, rehearsed and toured the play around the local area. He rejoined the band he had created. They got a recording contract and were being played on national ABC radio. They opened the Gympie Muster and went to Tasmania to perform.
After two years back in Inverell, he got an exchange teaching position to a London Girls’ School. On his return he spent three more years at Inverell. In this time he was doing a lot of song writing, performing and writing. He had a regular slot on local commercial Radio. The band had some success and broke up. He wanted to perform and develop his own work.
At school the HSC assessment system had changed, with a new emphasis on assessment tasks rather than evaluation. He was really skilled at motivating, preparing and leading students into set texts. He found students now began to argue that if activities were ‘not for assessment’ they were not important and he thought the new system hindered good developmental teaching. The English Coordinator began to ask for his repeated programs for filing. It all seemed pointless to him. He doesn’t think he was burnt out but he didn’t care about the formalities any more. There was nowhere for him to go except through promotions and that had no interest. He remembers he felt powerful because he didn’t care about job security anymore – he felt free.
He knew that what he wanted to do was to follow the performance, media, writing pathway but he didn’t know if he was good enough. He took all his leave and moved to Sydney. He worked with ABC Radio and sold Inverell sapphires on commission for a living. Then he did an 8-week stint of teaching at Sydney Boys’ High and finally resigned as a teacher.
He developed a show for Primary Schools – which included poetry writing, singing and making music. It encompassed the History, Geography and English Curricula. He developed a similar program for secondary schools but much preferred primary schools and focused on that. It was very lucrative but took his career nowhere.
As a teacher he was always entertaining kids anyway. He was pretty good at keeping control. At Gunnedah he would keep difficult and unruly kids on track by reading to them and finding amusing poems that they loved and that would get them writing themselves. He built on this in his school shows.
He thinks it might be fair to say he taught the bright kids and entertained the others. He liked to find things the kids liked and work with that. He could find the resources and he enjoyed it. He was disappointed when he went back to schools where he had taught and some of the activities (like film or drama) were still in place, but the rigour and clear purpose had gone. Even Principals who didn’t like him commented in references that he ‘sought the highest standards’.
K has built a successful career and business in writing, songwriting, and performing. He has more than 25 published books, almost as many albums of his songs and humour, a regular slot on Sydney Radio and runs Festivals. He toured and performed for many years successfully and had several minor hit songs.
He wonders if things would have been different had he taken the offer, made to him in Broken Hill in the early 70s, to become a professional entertainer in Sydney. He does not, however, regret turning it down. He was not, he thinks, emotionally mature enough at the time and was, besides, in the process of becoming a good teacher. If it had happened a bit later in his career he may have taken it. As it was he took the opportunity after almost 20 years as a teacher.
Teaching, he thinks, was his ‘great escape’ from a working class background. While at school he had a holiday job at Steadman-Henderson’s sweet factory and he hated it. He saw it as soul-destroying and hellish. Teaching offered a way to learn, use his talent and open up his interests. It also proved a pathway to a satisfying and successful career as a writer and entertainer.