L was the son of hard-working Italian migrants with a very successful market garden business. He attended St Joseph’s Primary School and St Michael’s College in Adelaide and cannot remember a time when he did not want to be a teacher. He credits this to the Josephite nuns and the environment they created at the school. His parents, neither of whom were literate, encouraged their children to progress as far as they could in both education and business. His mother, in particular, wanted education for her children. L obliged by taking up teaching. His brothers continued in the family business and then set up successful businesses of their own. One sister began in banking and moved to Public Service management. Another trained and worked as a teacher after a start as a teacher-aide.
When L was in Year 11 someone came to the school to promote Teaching Scholarships for the last two years of schooling. L was awarded one. He was, therefore, from Year 11, bonded to teach – and was paid, he remembers, $12 per week. His mother banked this money and he used it to go overseas at the end of his university course – a funded gap year!
L had done well in his Year 11 and the school reported his achievements, and those of other students, in the Messenger Press. Career and subject counselling was simple at the College. One of the Brothers suggested L specialise in the areas he was good at. In Year 11 he did well in Mathematics and History, so he matriculated in Maths I, Maths II, Modern History, Ancient History and Geography.
At the end of Year 12, when he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship, he turned that down in favour of the Teaching Scholarship. He was bonded for four years.
He did an Arts degree at Adelaide University: Geography, History, Mathematics and Politics. He chose Politics as a new start – something to widen his experience and break with his school studies. He did a Practicum in his first year at University at Lockleys North Primary School and loved it.
At the end of his degree he took the gap year in Europe, returning to do his Diploma in Education. At the same time he enrolled in a Masters in Town Planning – another bid to step outside the predictable pattern. He had Practice Teaching placements at Blackfriars and Nailsworth Boys Tech – both of which he enjoyed. He taught History and Social Science, having by now moved away from Mathematics teaching.
He did not want a country placement at the end of his training and spoke to staffing personnel in the Education Department about how to maximise his chances of staying in the city. This was a period that accommodated the needs of the migrants from the Mediterranean in the 50’s and 60’s,and the Education Department introduced policies to support the teaching of languages. The teaching of Italian was being introduced into the high schools and there was a growing demand for Italian teachers. L was able to offer an additional skill – to teach Italian to Year 10.
This strategy secured him an appointment at Marden High School, where he taught for 10 years. In his first year at the school, while teaching Years 10-12 History and Years 8-10 Italian, he put himself through Year 12 Italian, then went on to do three years of Italian at Flinders University.
Marden High School had a strong – and growing – cohort of Italian-speaking students, as did other surrounding schools. L helped to found the Italian Teachers’ Association, and threw himself into the challenge of engaging the students in learning, using their background.
With other teachers of Italian he created Cabaret evenings to which parents came. The students wrote and workshopped plays – about their own lives, experiences and aspirations. The language of the plays was a mixture of Italian, dialect and English. They would take 4-5 months to rehearse. Drama teachers collaborated. Parents came along and loved it. It engaged the students and the whole school in exciting ways. A Ukrainian woman taught Italian folk dancing! L’s involvement in the Italian Teachers’ Association and the Subject Advisory Committee for Italian ensured that the phenomenon spread to other schools, both government and non-government and lasted for a number of years.
In this way, L and his fellow teachers helped to redefine the teaching of Italian – and with it teaching methodology in general , developing approaches that were specifically targeted at individual students and groups of students, reaching into communities and redefining curriculum. L has come to see this as a sociological phenomenon. His generation of Italian-speaking teachers became readers of Italian, heavily involved in curriculum setting and eventually, assessment and the running of examinations. Their version of curriculum was heavily influenced by reflection on migration, the Diaspora and resulting cultural adaptation.
The broadening of language teaching options was a trend across the country, and L and his fellow teachers were soon caught up in national language curriculum development, particularly through the ALL (Australian Language Learning) Project. By the 1990s, L felt that Italian teaching in Australia was at the ‘grandparent’ stage – the second generation of migrants teaching the third generation.
L was appointed to a Senior position in Languages at Norwood High School. For the school’s 75th Anniversary language teachers put on another Show with the backing of the Drama faculty. It was a huge success. He was teaching Year 12 History and Year 12 Italian, getting involved in Year 12 curriculum writing, assessment and examining. He was seconded to the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia for six months, sketching languages curriculum across Australia. He returned to Norwood but was soon seconded again to develop frameworks for 19 languages. In December 1988, as Project Officer for the NAFLaSSL (National Assessment Framework for Languages at Senior Secondary level) Project, agreement was reached for a National Languages Framework, a turning point in languages curriculum.
Soon after, L was appointed as coordinator of curriculum at SSABSA. One of his early tasks was the coordination of the Indigenous Languages Framework – in his view, the nicest thing he has ever done. He has continued to work in curriculum development, assessment and examining at both State and National Level – cerebral and communicative work which has obviously challenged and sustained him.
When L received his scholarship in Year 11, he had no vision for his future. Teaching was what he knew and thought he would like. He has, from time to time, wondered what life would have been like had he used his Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a different pathway. His only knowledge of Law was through Perry Mason – and that held little appeal. His brief flirtation with Town Planning, was, he believes, an attempt to gain a tangible skill and he did dream of a career in landscaping. He does, at times, compare himself to his siblings, particularly his brothers who are very successful businessmen. He wonders if he’d have been inventive and entrepreneurial, and whether he’d have found it liberating. He also visits cousins in Italy and wonders what his life would have been had his parents not migrated. Would he be, like his cousins, a successful farmer in Italy, or would he be developing curriculum in Verona? He feels he has spent his career doing something he is good at. It seems each step was a natural one – perhaps he would have done it anyway.
He does see the world differently to his brothers and sisters. He can’t judge whether this is the result of his career in education, or whether his career in education is the result of a different approach from childhood. He believes he saw things differently to his brothers, and to a lesser extent to his sisters, from the beginning, and suspects that it was this difference, rather than his training, that shaped his growth. He uses the metaphors of the gardener in explaining it – a tilt in the direction of the family business that nurtured both him and his siblings.