Jim and Jillian Dellit established this website to bring together their various endeavours, to engage with and contribute to the educational community and educational delivery. Jillian is continuing this work both in her own right, and to keep faith with Jim's life, 1947-2014, and their productive partnership 1970-2014.

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Conversations with Baby Boomer Teachers: Profile 14

Posted by Jillian in Biography, History of Education
May 29

Like many of her generation, O was the first of her family to go to university. She came from a family that did not have much money. She attended Walford Girls’ Grammar on a scholarship and knew from an early age she wanted to go to university. She liked school and had, with one exception, good teachers.

In her Intermediate Certificate year she was awarded a Teachers’ College Scholarship to stay at school for a further two years. Walford had an annual trip to Tasmania for senior students, and O wanted to go. Her parents told her that if she used her Teachers’ College Scholarship money – and took upon herself the risk of having to pay it back if she didn’t end up teaching – she could go. She didn’t hesitate.

O thought she might like to do Law – but didn’t know what it involved. At the time, a Law degree involved being Articled; an indenture period in a Law practice after graduation, and O’s parents had no friends with Law practices who would be able to take her on. Her mother was concerned this would prevent her succeeding so Law was ruled out.

Her mother recited poetry, and O was a fanatical reader, so assumed she would teach English. She had a certain confidence about teaching – like her peers, she had played schools as a child with a blackboard and chalk and she was familiar with a school. She doesn’t think she saw her decision in terms of choices. She didn’t expect choice. Her parents had grown up in the Great Depression and survived a War. She grew up with the idea of getting a job with some security and being able to stay in it. Her father was supportive of education, her mother fanatical.

In her Leaving year she discovered she couldn’t matriculate with her subject choice. The school did not counsel or monitor student choices. She had to drop History and pick up Physics – no mean feat when she did not have the pre-requisite Maths.

At Adelaide University she enrolled in Arts – English, History, and French – the choices dictated by the needs of the Teaching Scholarship and the emphasis on teaching subjects. French was compulsory that year, but when the university requirement for French was removed the next year she was able to switch to Philosophy, which she loved, although she was only allowed to do it for one year. By taking a year off she was able to enrol in Psychology, proceeding to English and Psychology in her third year.

She was good at writing essays – and at the sprints to exams at the end of the year, so did well.

During her university years she also attended lectures at Adelaide Teachers’ College and did a Practice Teaching Placement at Mitcham Primary School. She recalls her first lesson – on Peninsulas. Her supervising teacher pointed out she had spelt it three different ways on the blackboard! She didn’t much like Practice Teaching, having an aversion to teaching in front of other teachers.

At the end of her course she was appointed to Streaky Bay. She had a Mini Minor and drove to Streaky Bay to find accommodation and settle in. Five days after arriving she received a telegram telling her to report to Heathfield High School.

She got back in her car and set off back to Adelaide. On the way her fan belt broke and she had to be towed for 90 miles.

After six weeks at Heathfield, she got sick and had 4 weeks off school. On her return she was sent to Woodville High School, where Rubin Goldsworthy was Principal and Miss Stuart Deputy. The staffrooms were still segregated – Male and Female. There was also a separation of smokers and non-smokers, designated by the colour of the tea towels – anomalously now, green for the smokers and red for the non-smokers.

O and another teacher, Grahame Smith (http://artspeacefoundation.org/about-the-foundation/), took a group of students to a Vietnam Moratorium march in the city, infuriating the Principal. Grahame wore his WWII medals. O was also called out of class for wearing a navy blue pants suit. The Principal said he liked it, but Miss Stuart objected. In the end, of course, the pants suit prevailed! Through these incidents, O developed an odd relationship with Rubin Goldsworthy – disagreement on many issues, but mutual respect and argument. This lasted for a couple of decades, throughout the careers of both.

At Woodville O taught English and a bit of Geography. At this time the Education Department was having some difficulty staffing country schools and had introduced a policy that required all teachers to undertake country service. After two years at Woodville, O thought she should get her country service out of the way and applied to teach in Woomera.

She was sent to Whyalla. She loved teaching in Whyalla, but hated living there. A football and drinking culture pervaded the town. Although she made at least one life-long friend there, after a year she looked for an alternative and decided to apply to teach in Fiji. She was successful. Her Principal did not think to tell her she could apply for Leave Without Pay to do this, so she resigned and lost 7 years of Long Service Leave entitlement.

In Fiji she taught in an English-speaking Indian school. She was the only European-background staff-member. There were two Fijian staff and the rest were Indian. The British had just pulled out of Fiji. She was there for a year and loved it.

On her return to Adelaide she re-applied to work for the Education Department and was appointed to Seacombe High School. From there she was appointed as Acting English Senior to Nuriootpa High School. She was assessed as a Senior in the job.

After a year she was moved to Kidman Park High School, a former Girls’ Technical High School turned Comprehensive and Co-educational.  She really liked teaching here. Nevertheless, she took some leave and went overseas, returning to an appointment as English Senior at Port Adelaide Girls’ High School. She worked with a range of students and enjoyed the experience. The Principal sent her to a Senior Women in Education Conference organised by Denise Bradley, then Women’s Adviser. This exposed her to networks and ideas that she began to integrate into her work. After two years, she discovered the availability of jobs developing new pathways for the expanding number of students staying at school beyond the age of compulsion for whom University education held no appeal. She was looking for something different and applied, and got, a job in the Commonwealth funded Transition Education Unit.

Here she had to learn new skill sets. Her school world was still very much an ordered hierarchy with defined spheres of influence. As a Project Officer in a Commonwealth Project she was reliant on her ability to persuade (and the carrot of tied funding). She discovered the difficulty of conducting research in schools and the limitations of a role with no intrinsic authority. It put her in contact with a wide range of people and she learned to bring these together to generate energy and ideas. Bob Walters was in charge of the Transition Education Unit and managed it in an egalitarian, open manner. It was a different view of the world and she quickly adapted.

O was by now keen to travel overseas again, but could not fund a trip. She therefore applied for, and was awarded, a year’s exchange teaching in the UK. This experience gave her rather more than she bargained for.  Her Yorkshire school was different in every aspect to her Australian experience. Staff, Principal and parents had very different expectations. Teachers, she found, had no expectation that they could intervene or influence how the school or the curriculum operated. There were no programs addressing inclusion – no consideration of gender, race or class. The stark contrast with this and her work in South Australia helped her clarify what it was she wanted to do when she returned to Adelaide.

When she did return, it was to another appointment at Port Adelaide Girls’ High School, by now feeling the winds of change in relation to new directions in girls’ education, but managed by a Principal who was towards the end of a career that had been mainly in traditional Girls Technical High Schools. Her old Principal and sparring partner, Rubin Goldsworthy, was now Regional Director and recruited her to a committee looking at the future of the school. With concerted effort, this became an effective mechanism for changing the direction of the school.

These experiences set the pattern for the remaining decades of her career. She took her school experience into a job within the Education bureaucracy, working across government departments to achieve better service integration. She then went back into schools as a Deputy Principal and applied the lessons she had learned from attempting to get inter-agency cooperation. She then won the position of foundation principal of a new R-10 School,  a job she found both exhilarating and exhausting. She then leveraged this school experience to obtain a job in the Education Review Unit, reviewing schools across the State. This is the job she feels taught her the most. She really enjoyed working with individual school principals to get improvements in their school. The combination of in-school experience, local knowledge, inter-agency, national program experience and international knowledge was powerful in creating and managing change. Principals who were brave, fair, democratic and accumulated evidence had a chance of really improving student outcomes. It took, however, real intellectual work. Change did not come from popular opinion or vote – and majority opinion was not always right. Being part of the Education Review Unit, she feels, is the job she was best at – and which made the most difference.

The problem, however, with the structure of the Education Review Unit, was that it could not adapt quickly enough. The learning from each round of reviews needed to be instantly incorporated and implemented in the next round – and the Unit could not work that fast. The processes lagged behind the learning. The government changed, and the policy commitment changed with it.  O returned to a school for several years then once again took on a bureaucratic job trying to provide improved student support services through, amongst other things, better integrated inter-agency services. It was challenging and difficult work, involving a range of very difficult areas, such as mental health, welfare, domestic violence, disability and remoteness. She learned from a range of senior public servants, some who understood Education, some who didn’t. She admired and benefitted from their intellect. She also learned from those she considered inadequate.


O believes that, had she pursued her original intention to do Law, her world would have been different, but she suspects she would have ended up saying many of the same things she is now saying. She feels she has a certain set of abilities that involve analysis, observation, intellect, reflection and connection. These would have been exercised in whatever profession she undertook. She meets people now, in social settings in her retirement, who are from worlds she has not experienced and knows nothing about. She sees through a lens of education, in particular the lens of school principalship. That world is large, diverse and broad – but also limited and narrow.

She couldn’t, for example, she adds, sell things. Reflecting on the numerous changes she has worked on, in a myriad of schools, communities and support services, the writer suspects this statement is true only in a world of commerce. In the world of education, O and her fellow successful Principals, teachers and administrators, had to be, in addition to all else (and to borrow from Vance Packard), both Hidden and the exposed Persuaders.

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