M2 grew up in New Zealand as the second of three girls. Her father, the son of a lawyer and lecturer at Otago University, had been a German Prisoner of War during WWII, who, aided by the Red Cross, completing his B Com while in the POW camp. Her mother, before her first marriage, did not work, and, from family scrap books, spent much time going to the races, balls and other social events. Living was grand and gracious. However, after her first husband was killed in action, she spent the rest of the war sewing items such as christening gowns, table linen, and other articles for sale to support herself and her young daughter.
With her two sisters, M2 attended a private girls’ school – with expectations that they would take a year off at the end of school, “go into nursing and marry a Canterbury farmer”. While her older sister was compliant, M2 thought she would like to be a doctor. Unfortunately this was made difficult by the school’s curriculum, which did not include either Physics or Chemistry. She had an ally, however, in a Maths teacher, who fought (unsuccessfully) for her to gain university accreditation at the end of Form 6. The other teachers would not allow it as her English was not considered to be of a higher enough standard. This meant she was unable to have a year in Form 7, which would have automatically given her access to a bursary with a living away from home allowance. Her family, however,realised she was not going to stay home for a year of socialisation and happily agreed to support her through university for as long as she wished.
She enrolled in Science, picking up Chemistry from scratch and completed a B Sc. She got high marks in English. She did well and was invited to do a Master’s degree. She could not, however, realise her ambition to do Medicine because both Physics and Latin were prerequisites that she did not have.
On the recommendation of her old headmistress, she received a letter from the headmistress of another private girls’ school , inviting her to teach Science. M2 had worked in her school holidays, had played at schools as a child, and had spent much time encouraging her younger sister, who suffered from numerous bouts of rheumatic fever, to read M2’s books. She was attracted to the offer to teach Science, but strongly felt she would be better to go teacher training college before embarking on a teaching career. She therefore enrolled in teacher training college and while there organised the three required teaching practice placements in a boys’ school, a girls’ school and a co-educational school respectively.
The two things she most enjoyed in the course were ‘getting into the filing cabinets’ of the College to rummage in the teaching materials and Mr Brown’s pedagogy classes. Mr Brown had developed a questioning hierarchy that she found really useful. At the end of the course she had offers from a number of schools and chose a large boys’ school.
A few other young female teachers were also appointed to the same school. They were the first female teachers to be appointed to the school. The large shared staff room had a pool table, which proved to be a good socialising mechanism – as was the staff bridge group she joined. She learned how to work around physical punishment regimes and develop her own regime of appropriate consequences and restorative justice. In one instance she made a boy, who had deliberately poured an experimental hay infusion inside another boy’s jumper, phone the boy’s mother and wash the jumper.
She also taught adults at night – and really enjoyed it.
By now M2 was married, having met her husband at university. The couple moved to Adelaide when he was offered post-doctoral work there. M2 had no job and no Adelaide networks – so set about gaining both. She worked briefly as a lab assistant at Underdale High before the Education Department offered her jobs at a number of schools including Woodville High and Nailsworth Girls’ High – then under the principalship of an eccentric, arts-savvy, well-connected woman. M2 got used to the sign-on, sign-off practices unknown to her in New Zealand (also, if her legendary reputation for lateness and remote management was deserved, unknown to the Principal!).
M2 was living close to the tennis courts of an Independent Girls’ school and approached the Headmistress to seek permission to use them out of school hours. The Headmistress revealed that she had taught at St Hilda’s School in Dunedin, a school than M2 had attended early in her school years. She later phoned M2 to offer her a job teaching Biology, which M2 accepted. During her two years at the school, she was asked to teach “Finishing School Maths” and developed a program that involved tasks like measuring a room for wallpaper.
By now M2 had three children. She had no support systems in Adelaide and her husband’s academic work involved significant travel so her mother would come over for 2 months in the winter. At the same time, she continued her adult education interest by tutoring at Adelaide University – conducting many of the experiments she had engaged in while teaching boys in New Zealand.
She was able to fulfil several short-term contracts in non-government schools over the next eight years, before applying for work with the Education Department (she remembers telling the interviewer that every teacher should be a parent!). Teaching, however, proved to be a good profession for a young mother. She worked at Gepps Cross Girls, Underdale High and Adelaide High. She remembers teaching Maths and searching the school for log tables, only to realise they had been replaced by calculators. She was also called for jury duty while at Adelaide High and developed booklets of lessons that could be used by relief teachers at short notice.
Then, through a friend, she learned of a Science teacher job vacancy at a Bible-based Christian College, applied and was appointed. She remained there for 19 years. She liked the students she taught, expanded her teaching repertoire into English as a Second Language and became involved in both marking and moderating Biology for the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia (SSABSA). She successfully negotiated the school through the curriculum requirements around the teaching of Evolution.
M2 believes that the greatest influence on her view of society was going to university. That big step outside her family’s expectations profoundly influenced her outlook. She has few regrets about the choices she made. She still knows and sees the person who took the place she vacated in the Masters’ program in Science in New Zealand. She does not regret her choice to enter teaching instead. She also paved the way for her younger sister, who pursued a double degree in Law and Music, before becoming a Probation Officer, studying Psychotherapy and establishing a practice specialising in trauma counselling.
Teaching gave M2 a career that was portable and adaptable. It enabled her to work and make friends in a new country and to adjust to her varying family commitments. It also proved highly rewarding and a continuous learning curve. She remembers making time after school for a girl to dissect a heart – and the girl going on to graduate and work in Science. Actions, attitude and effort in teaching have far reaching consequences.
She recalls too, how much she learned from her students – particularly immigrant children, those on the Asperger’s’ scale and the many Aboriginal students (her last school had, at one point, the highest percentage of Aboriginal students of any private school in the State). Marking exams for SSABSA was good professional development and she never refused a request to have a teaching student work in her class. Even filling in for absent teachers in other subjects – such as Home Economics – presented opportunities to have fun with students and apply her skills in different contexts. Her commitment to Science came with a commitment to experimentation and hands-on, practical methodologies.
Now retired from formal school teaching, she has put her skills to work in other contexts, including organising both adult and young people’s embroidery classes in public libraries for the Embroiderers’ Guild.
Her migration experience was influential. She is very aware of not having friends around from her childhood and university years and has worked hard to make and maintain new friends – including many who were students. She also visits New Zealand regularly and maintains those friendships over distance.
There is a strong sense of weft and warp in the fabric of her life – the personal and professional, Australia and New Zealand, the past and present woven into a consistent, vibrant and productive life.