F2 always loved the school environment. She was happy and successful at school and always had good teachers who encouraged and looked after her. At 15 she had the option of leaving school and attending a secretarial college. The alternative choices were nursing or teaching. In her senior school years she really wanted to attend university and her teachers encouraged her.
It was the understanding in her family that she would need to get a scholarship or join the workforce. Her initial hope was to attend the University of New England in Armidale but her scholarship stipulated she must study English and History at Sydney University.
Her scholarship included a living-away-from-home allowance and, although she relished the thought of living away from home, she found it tougher than expected. She had had a very sheltered childhood, so she eventually opted to board with friends of her parents.
It never occurred to her to do anything other than teach. She applied for the country and was offered a Sydney appointment. In the end she settled for an appointment to a high school in the NSW Southern Highlands as English/History teacher at the end of which time she married another teacher. He was offered a promotion position at a high school in the Riverina. When he accepted, F2 was offered an English/History teaching position there and accepted it. They were there for four years, for three of which she taught. She chose to resign to look after her children.
She did casual work in a range of areas when the family followed work to the Blue Mountains West of Sydney and then to Broken Hill. Broken Hill schools found it difficult to find relief and contract teachers so she was in demand – for all sorts of subjects as well as primary teaching.
When her husband accepted a further promotion back to the Riverina she took a permanent position at the same school. In addition to teaching English and History, she was a Year Adviser and really loved it. She was the administrator for a group of students and liaised with other teachers and support staff to ensure the students’ interests and needs were met. She is still in touch with many of these students.
The area had a high Indigenous population, most of whom left at the end of Year 9. By the time she left the school the proportion completing Year 12 was very high. Her husband had set up a school-community liaison group with an Aboriginal Research Officer to examine why the retention rate was so low and what could be done to improve it. Many staff got involved and worked with the community and the curriculum in a range of ways. It took a number of years but the rate improved and the school was awarded a Director General’s Award for Aboriginal Education.
F2 contributed by introducing Aboriginal Studies – one of six classes in the State at the time. She joined the syllabus committee, became an exam supervisor, wrote support documents and identified resources. This has been a major focus of her whole career, continuing well beyond her retirement from full time teaching decades later. She is still in touch with many of her students from this time.
When the family moved to the NSW south coast she accepted a position at a nearby high school teaching Aboriginal Studies, English and History.
F2 never regretted her decision to teach. She loved it. She feels that teaching exposes you to so many things that your family don’t expose you to and gives you a broader, deeper perspective. In particular, the treatment of Aboriginal student and other “outsiders” – those not regarded as ‘mainstream’ by many in our society – is totally shaped by what you see and experience as a teacher.
There is a social justice dimension to teaching that you can’t avoid. When you are responsible for the learning of individual students and cohorts you must address the barriers and inequalities and find ways for all kids to learn.