H was living in a small far north town in South Australia when she did her Leaving Certificate. She wanted to leave home and be independent. She also wanted to be a doctor, but, with 2 younger brothers and her parents’ modest income, she knew that was out of reach. A teaching scholarship for her Leaving year provided the means for her to achieve her goal of independence.
Unlike the other two girls in her year who had Teaching Scholarships, she did not do Leaving Honours. Instead, she took her Teachers’ College Scholarship and left home at 16, taking up her place in the Infant Teacher training institution on Currie Street in Adelaide and boarding at Miethke House on Dequetteville Terrace. Because she had not done Leaving Honours she was required to do an IQ test to confirm entry to University.
Her practice teaching was at Magill Primary School, where the Infant Mistress as a matter of routine, wore a hat and gloves. H was sent home one day to change because she had a ladder (which she had artistically enhanced) in her stocking. A bit rebellious, she had been in trouble at the boarding house for smoking and rolling Coca Cola bottles down the stairs. At the end of a year she transferred, without difficulty, to Wattle Park Teachers’ College.
Colin Thiele was principal at Wattle Park and the culture was very different to Currie Street. She had credit for all her work at Currie Street but had to catch up on Music. The Wattle Park music teacher seemed to be comfortable teaching boys and made it very easy for girls to pass if they cried or organised someone else to play in their place.
She moved out of hostel accommodation to board with her grandmother at Brighton.
There was, as far as H remembers, no process for applying for placement as a teacher at the end of the course. There was a meeting of the graduates in the hall at Wattle Park at which names and appointments were read out. She was given a country appointment – to Crafers – before being moved at the end of Term 1, to Para Hills Primary.
At Para Hills she had a Year 5 class, initially 30 students. As migrant ships arrived (they could be seen arriving up the Gulf from the top of the school grounds) and their largely English cargo was settled in the North of the city, the class grew to 60. When it reached 60 a new teacher was appointed and the class split. This was repeated as the method of dealing with New Arrivals. The classroom had desks added to the front until there was barely room for the teacher to stand in front of the blackboard.
Classroom management was of necessity authoritarian. This created some conflicts with students who, in many cases, came from anti-authoritarian households. There was great camaraderie amongst staff and friendships that have lasted.
After 3 years at Para Hills, H was tapped to become a demonstration teacher at Burnside. This took her back to teaching Year 2. The Demonstration Room accommodated student teachers in rows 3 deep around the teaching space.
H always loved the job. She quickly learned how to meet the requirements of handing in weekly lesson plans and prepare a case study on one student. She found short-cuts for the plans that she passed on to teaching students, but she also found the weekly case study a useful lens through which to view her work and her students’ progress. Seeing her work through the development of an individual child made her, she believes, a mindful, as well as t an intuitive teacher.
While at Burnside she went overseas for a year and then married. Marriage at that time meant resignation. She had no superannuation. At Teachers’ College, when State Superannuation sent staff to talk to students, the women were told they need not attend since it would be to their disadvantage to take out superannuation; they would need to resign when they married and would have their superannuation contributions returned to them less an administration fee.
On her return from overseas H followed her husband to the country and was employed there herself. When, however, she became pregnant, she was once again required to resign. In fact, maternity leave had been introduced by then, but news of it had not penetrated to her country principal! In her final weeks of pregnancy she went into early labour and was admitted to hospital. To support her through to end of term, one of the local relief teachers, without being paid, sat in H’s classroom each day to ensure she was OK and to stand in if the need arose.
On their return to Adelaide, H obtained a position at Blair Athol. One afternoon she left school to attend a Vietnam Moratorium rally. Three days later she had a visit from a school inspector who told her she was not a fit person to teach. Before there were any repercussions from this visit she was appointed to Allenby Gardens Primary School as a Primary Demonstration Teacher, again with Year 5. Here she was asked to take charge of developing an Open Space Unit conversion in the Infant area of the school. This resulted in a delegation of parents demanding to know why H was being ‘demoted’ (the Infant area being seen as a sign of lesser importance).
Being recognised as capable of undertaking the transformation to Open Space Unit did not prevent her being sent home to change for wearing a pants suit to school. Nor did it prevent her from falling pregnant – this time with twins. Her subsequent maternity leave meant loss of her position at Allenby Gardens. When she visited the Department to talk about returning to work, she was approached by Jim Giles, then Curriculum Director, to work on a new Department initiative on Sexism in Education. This resulted in the offer from Barbara Denman, Early Childhood Superintendent, of a job in the SIREM Project – Sexism in Early Reading and Materials – working on materials through the analysis of reading programs. H enrolled in and completed a Diploma in Language and Literature R-7, specialising in Children’s Literature.
She fully expected to go back into a school to implement this project. She was tired of working at the base level of the Advisory service(Level 1 with limited pay and conditions) and took an appointment to Stirling East Primary where she quickly found herself moving from Year 2 to Year 7 because the Year 7 teacher took leave. However, the Equal Opportunity Unit soon had a vacancy for a Level 3 Affirmative Action Coordinator which she applied for and won.
In this role she developed the first Education of Girls policy for the SA Education Department and worked in partnership with the Union to develop the first Departmental Sexual Harassment Policy. This led eventually to her successful application for a position in the Northern Area of Adelaide where the Area Director wanted a Superintendent for a range of selected schools with an Equal Opportunity focus. H supervised a range of Special Education Schools and facilities, a Girls’ School and both Primary and High Schools implementing a range of affirmative action policies. This was a special measure that lasted for a few years after which the initiative, and H, were ‘mainstreamed’.
Her next superintendent job was in the Adelaide Hills Schools. When she took up this job, only one principal in the Hills Schools was female. When she left 50% were female.
From here she worked as part of a regional team in the North Eastern Area before moving to Central Office as Superintendent of Metropolitan Schools and then Director of Special Projects, Director Policy and Planning and A/Executive Director of Early Childhood.
H had wanted to be a doctor. From time to time she did think about Medicine as a career but by then she was caught up in the excitement of the times and a career trajectory within Education. She was among the first women to be doing these things and there was momentum to take other women forward. It was exciting and rewarding to be developing the mechanisms to change the future for other women. They were heady times and she could see the results of her work in concrete ways. Her view of the world and her actualisation of social justice would have been very different had she done Medicine.
Education, she believes, helped to shape her mind, to open it up to new ways of seeing and doing. She and her colleagues influenced children in deep ways – showing them possibilities and options outside their families.
She has never regretted becoming a teacher. Firstly, she loved it. Secondly, it allowed her to find out who she was. The only other thing that shaped her as profoundly was motherhood. Through teaching, you are forever learning. It sets a pattern for how you approach the rest of your life. She still wants to do things that matter – to continue to be shaped by so many people in so many small ways.
She has a collective sense – having worked with so many good people. She still lines them up in her head at times of problem-solving to ask “What would you say about this?” It seems to operate for her a bit like the Communion of Saints – a continuing network and community of ideas, support and creativity that is not limited in time or place.