R first heard about the option of teacher training on the deck of the SS Troubridge on the way to Kangaroo Island on a holiday in South Australia in 1970. She had grown up and attended school in Queensland. In 1966, her matriculation year, her parents moved to South Australia and she attended Adelaide Girls’ High School where she made friendships that survived her family’s return to Queensland a year later – and eventually resulted in the discussion on the Troubridge.
Back in Queensland, R repeated her matriculation year and, in 1968, went on to Queensland University, where she did a wide range of subjects with no specific goal in mind. In 1970 she visited South Australia again and learned, from one of her Adelaide High School friends, that the South Australian government was looking for teachers. The following Tuesday she visited the South Australian Education Department and on Thursday began teaching at Elizabeth High School.
The deal was she would teach 0.9 and do her qualifying subjects for teaching in the other half day of the working week. The required subjects were theoretical subjects associated with teaching theory, such as Psychology and Philosophy of Education. What she missed was anything practical in the course – particularly in relation to group management and instructional design. Elizabeth High at the time had 1800 students and 120 staff. She felt that first year was a disaster. The most practical thing she learnt was from observing student teachers. The supervising teacher had been called away and she was asked to sit in on the student teacher’s lesson. Observing how the student teacher organised students and, in particular, how she structured questions, was a revelation to R and she was able to apply this to her own work. In her words “Ding! The light went on!”.
The next year she was moved to Craigmore High School, in its second year and with 400 students. She gave herself one term to decide if she would stay teaching. She stayed there for 11 years. It took three years to finish her teaching qualification. In the third year she was given a 0.8 load and had Wednesday off for study. This worked really well for her. By then, classroom management was no longer an issue and she was able to focus on the philosophy of education!
She got a bus driver’s licence and also taught driver education using a car provided to the school for the purpose. These are interests and skills she carried with her wherever she went.
She also undertook a 10-week training course as a student counsellor – work to which she was well suited. She sees herself as an observer, standing back and looking at actions in context. She never saw issues as black and white. Students are at school for 5-6 hours a day and outside school, mostly at home, for 18-19. Those 18-19 hours are influential and important – to what happens inside the school as well as outside.
In 1983 she returned to Queensland University but vowed she would not teach in Queensland. The sense of privilege associated with the Bjelke-Petersen government of the time was too pervasive. She had been shaped and influenced by professional discussions at Craigmore – many conducted at the Old Spot Hotel on Friday afternoons and, wanting to continue in that vein, returned to South Australia, taking up a counselling position at Underdale High School. After six years, she transferred to Roxby Downs. This was a largely positive experience. She enjoyed being part of the community. The Company town, however, was divided between ‘staff’- whose salary packages included private boarding schooling for their children and ‘workers’ whose children attended state schools. Few children staying longer than Year 10 at the local school aspired to university, which made subject offerings difficult. Those who wanted university entrance did much of their learning via Open Access. She also found little bureaucratic support and learned the importance of making things happen locally.
While at Roxby, R helped set up a computer network and the following year, when transferred to Victor Harbor as coordinator, set another up there. Her experience was sought after by the Education Department which was setting up and rolling out administrative software in all schools in the State. Known as EDSAS (Educational Services Administrative Software), this was a major undertaking by the Department and involved networking, internet connectivity, training and data management. R loved it. She remembers the joy of setting up the first report of absentees across the state on a single day. She revelled in the challenge of consistent data collection and loved the interaction with schools and teachers.
R was headhunted by the software company developing the EDSAS software and went over to them but after 12 months was caught in a downsizing exercise. She worked then for Education Network Australia (EdNA) – an enterprise of all governments in Australia and New Zealand to provide reliable educational links to all educational institutions in the country. From here she was drafted back into the South Australian Public Service to work for the growing Department of Administrative and Information Services, managing a range of Technology services across government. She did a stint as a Ministerial liaison officer and worked in the office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
R does not see herself as having a work ethic. Rather, she sees herself as giving assistance – helping people clarify and work out what they want – then enabling them to do it. Her counselling experience at Underdale first alerted her to this. She is a good observer -watching and intervening. She remains aware when someone is holding the floor and can bring people in to the conversation.
She remains impatient of whinging. She sees no point in complaining. Her tactic is always to step back and work out what can be done. There is no point in complaining if you can’t do anything to intervene. She tries to give feedback on services so people can fix problems and improve.
She really enjoyed the EDSAS job – working as part of a team, solving problems, working with schools and teachers, implementing.
Once she left the commercial software company, she feels she drifted into jobs. She was prepared to ‘give it a go’. She had previously enjoyed being sponsored by various people into positions that matched her skills but after having to leave the software company found herself in a position that felt like a dead end. She was capable, but didn’t have the body of knowledge deep enough to be confident enough to take the next steps.
Her bus driver’s licence is a continuing asset and pleasure. She loved being a driving instructor. She continues to drive a bus in the community and feels it is a role and skill that is truly valued.