D2’s father was a journalist, her mother a nurse. From as long as she could remember she wanted to be a journalist. Her older brother had followed their father into journalism. Her mother thought all female journalists were hussies. No way did she want her daughter to become a journalist.
Her parents separated. The children stayed with their mother, who could not see why a girl needed an education to wash nappies. Her own nursing career was at least a help in what she saw as a woman’s vocation.
On leaving school, D2 applied to one of the Adelaide daily newspapers for a journalism cadetship. The Paper took one male and one female cadet each year. When D2 was told she was in the final 3 after her interview, she went home and told her mother she was in. She knew the other two finalists were both male. Her mother, firm in her views, phoned the Paper and told them her daughter had accepted a place in Nursing and wished to withdraw from the cadetship.
D2 had been a successful primary school student, but never good at tests or exams. She did badly on the IQ test she was given on entry to Christies Beach High School and was assigned to the bottom of the four classes in her first year. Again, at the end of the year, based on exam performance, she was placed in the Commercial, rather than the Academic stream. She by now had it fixed in her head that she was not bright because she failed exams. Nevertheless, she did well in the Commercial stream and was a good writer. Her best friend went into the Academic stream and flew. They remain good friends.
When her journalism cadetship fell through, her back-up was teaching. She had, as a child, played at being a teacher with chalk and a wardrobe door. She had applied to Adelaide Teachers’ College and was accepted into the Commercial Teaching course on the second round of offers. There was, at the time, a shortage of Commercial teachers. She let the journalism ambition go.
At Teachers’ College she joined a drama group, and met a different set of friends. She loved Psychology and the Philosophy of Education. She met her future husband through Drama. She majored in English, with Shorthand and Typing as her second string. At the end of her course the shortage of Commerce teachers had evaporated and there were not enough jobs to employ all the graduates. They were asked if any would consider Primary teaching. She volunteered and was sent to North Adelaide Primary.
The Education Department had just introduced release time for Primary teachers. To D2 fell the task of providing much of that release time to the Primary classroom teachers. It gave her the opportunity to teach all year levels and to experiment with a range of offerings. She discovered that she was really good at teaching.
After three years, as enrolments changed, she contacted the Department to see if there were any opportunities to return to High Schools. She was told the Department had lost her file. After a fruitless search, in a tight staffing situation, she was offered a 0.4 appointment at Woodville High School in Shorthand and Typing. She accepted in the hope it would open up opportunities. She loved Woodville and it did lead to a full-time position at Daws Road, where her classes included students from Bedford Industries – a business that trains and employs people with disabilities. She enjoyed the challenge and expanded her experience and teaching repertoire.
During these years her marriage had been in difficulties and she and her husband had separated. She was offered an opportunity to go to Darwin as part of an Arts program. When her application for a year’s leave without pay was refused she argued her case, got mad, resigned and went to Darwin anyway.
It was an amazing experience. She learned to drive. Some of the performers were difficult, some were fantastic. It was demanding and intense work. At the end of it she was exhausted – and ready to go home.
On her return, she reapplied to the Education Department to teach and was offered a one-year contract at Mount Gambier. She and her husband were still working on their marriage. At the end of her Mount Gambier year, she ignored the advice that “a pretty girl like you could have a future in Mount Gambier”, visited the USA with her husband, restored their marriage and returned to a year of teaching at two city schools on contracts. Again, she loved the work and the following year was appointed to a permanent position at an R-12 School in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.
Here she was supported and mentored, both by the Principal and by a strong Equal Opportunity network. She was encouraged to apply for positions of Senior. She really enjoyed the middle years of schooling and the school offered many opportunities for leadership. She discovered that she wasn’t dumb – and began to shed the long hangover from the tags applied to her at school when she could not perform at exams. A Middle School Deputy position became available. She applied and won.
She was living south of the city and working well to the north. When she had two young children the travel proved too difficult. She did not give up working, but requested a transfer to a school closer to home and gave up her Deputy position to get it. She was delighted to be appointed to a relatively new R-10 school much closer to home. This preserved her interest in Middle Schooling and was a similarly dynamic school with an emphasis on the growth of the child from early childhood through to secondary. She was again supported by the three principals under whom she worked, formed close friendships and worked in a team. When a Middle School Assistant Principal’s job became available she applied and won, and loved her work.
When the Principal’s job advertised in an Area School in the Fleurieu Peninsula, South of Adelaide, she worked out the travel route and time, applied and won it. Her experience in an R-12 and an R-10 school stood her in good stead and made the job attractive to her. The school, and the times, held many challenges. There was a lot of engagement with the relatively small mixed farming and alternative lifestyle communities. During this time the Education Department introduced mandatory Basic Skills Testing. Naturally, given her own experience as a child at school, D2 opposed the introduction. She became active in the Education Union campaign against its introduction. She was, however, able to work her way through these issues with the help of others, including talking it through with Dr Glenice Hancock who was, at the time, Executive Director of Schools in South Australia.
When the Principal’s job at a Girls’ High School was advertised, D2 thought “Could I be so bold?”. She was and, of course, she won it. She really loved it. She missed boys – but she loved working with the girls. She was there for six years. In this time she continued her involvement with professional organisations, including the South Australian Secondary Principals’ Association.
Throughout her career she has had a view that she should ‘move on’ at the end of her tenure, rather than seeking renewal of her contract. She applied this again and moved on, accepting a position as Education Adviser to the Education Minister of the time. Her job was to keep the Minister informed of issues and views in the field. It was fascinating but frustrating work as educational need struggled for a foothold with political necessity. She moved on to policy work in relation to both Social Inclusion and School Retention across the schooling and tertiary sectors. During these years she had also undertaken two short term principal appointments in metropolitan schools. Eventually she worked as Education Adviser to the Chief Executive of Education, serving two successive Chief Executives, before moving to the SA Centre for Leaders in Education and then the Ethical Standards Unit of the Department.
She looked to return to school leadership and was offered the Principal’s job with a one year tenure at an Eyre Peninsula Area School– and took it. Her husband went with her and she spent a fulfilling year there before taking on the role of Organiser: Leaders with the South Australian Branch of the Australian Education Union.
She was able to support and influence many teachers, particularly through the Women in Leadership Development program of the AEU, running workshops, establishing and strengthening networks and shaping policy. An observer cannot miss the irony – and appropriateness – of one whose schooling so neglected her needs following a trajectory that emphasises the needs of students and teachers, culminating in a job designed to improve the system by bettering the chances of success for individual teachers.
Her own schooling experience left her with a passion for fairness – and for avoiding labelling students. She still remembers her Year 10 Maths teacher losing patience with her as she struggled to grasp a concept and saying to her in frustration, “You stupid, stupid girl”. She vowed she would never resort to such behaviour as a teacher and has striven for fairness, avoiding backing kids into corners. We all have moments of frustration as teachers – but we need reserves and strategies to deal with our own feelings without compromising our responsibility to and professional relationships with our students. It comes back, in the end, she believes, to our students’ learning needs.
She works now on a casual basis with final year Education Students at university and is at pains to tell them that teaching is a magnificent profession and teachers really do make a difference. She reiterates that you make a difference as a teacher – and students remember: make sure you are remembered for better rather than for worse.
She would, she believes, have made a good journalist. She’d have been, she thinks more competitive as a journalist than she was as an educator. She would have wanted to have been at the top of her game and to have influence. Michelle Grattan is her image of where she would have aimed. She has, however, no regrets at all. The most important thing to her as an educator is that she was a very good classroom teacher. She has had an interesting career and interesting jobs. What most pleases and satisfies her is that, whether as a principal, deputy or teacher, she got the classroom right. Whatever job she did, and even now, working with teachers-in-training, she is most at home in schools – and it’s there she makes a difference.