At a Catholic Girls’ College in Adelaide, which she attended from the age of 4, H2 engaged with a lot of handcrafting, regarded as an appropriate thing for young ladies. She loved doing things with her hands, including cooking. Her grandmother, and to a lesser extent her mother, knitted, crocheted and embroidered. Her ambition was to grow up, become a nun and teach young children to knit.
From the College she went to a selective State High School, at the tail end of the old Public Examinations Board (PEB) cohort, so could not continue her Domestic Arts interest into Year 11 and 12. She loathed her double Maths, double Science program. To make matters worse, her parents separated in her final year of schooling and her elder brother, in hospital while she was doing her final exams, died tragically and traumatically.
While her mother was pushing her to become a teacher, in line with her early ambitions, H2 applied to 25 restaurants for an apprenticeship as a chef. She was invited to two interviews, at Lyrics and Decca’s. From this, aged 16, she was offered a three-month trial as an apprentice and a place at Teachers’ College on the same day. Under pressure to make a quick decision, living between her father’s and her mother’s homes, she took her mother’s advice and opted for Teachers’ College, joining the first cohort of the four-year integrated Batchelor of Education course.It proved to be a difficult four years. Her family situation continued fraught. She worked 40+ hours a week to support herself through the course and had two lumps removed from her breasts. She also did not conform to the stereotype of a Home Economics teacher trainee and the head of School did not see her as a suitable candidate. By her fourth year she had a partner with a permanent job as a manager of a fast-food outlet. Country schools were where the teaching vacancies were, but country towns had no related fast-food outlets, making it difficult for her to maintain the relationship. She applied for three interstate jobs – in NSW and Queensland. She was offered a position in Ayr, Queensland.
The opportunity she took, however, came as a wild card. She saw an AusAID advertisement recruiting Australian teachers for Zimbabwe. Recruits were to be paid local wages supplemented by AusAID using the NSW teachers’ pay scale and conditions. Her mother, who by now had trained as a geologist, was enthusiastic; her partner was supportive and up for a big adventure. She applied, was interviewed and offered the job.
So 1982 saw H2 and her partner put their furniture into storage and moved to Africa for two years. The school was in the Seke district, south of Harare and had been established after the War of Independence to provide education to the families of demobilised soldiers. Accommodation, several miles from the school, was organised and paid for by AusAID for two weeks, after which she had to find her own way.
The school operated two shifts a day and teachers taught across both. School began with an assembly at 7 am for which teachers were expected to wear full academic dress. She left home at 5.15 am to walk 4 km to the bus-stop. For the return journey there was no bus timetable. She simply waited on a corner near the school until a bus came; sometimes she would wait for two hours, knitting or reading a book. If another teacher gave her a lift in a car she would be expected to pay for the lift.
She taught nine cooking classes. At her interview in Australia she had been asked if she knew what a Dutch oven was. She soon found out the relevance of the question.
Her classroom was a patch of dirt outside for cooking and the laundry room inside, a pile of coal and some pits. These, she discovered, were her ovens. The curriculum was set and rigid. In her two years she taught scone-making 18 times. In her second year she had a Year 8 sewing class. There were two hand operated sewing machines and the girls all made the same garment, using the same pattern but with a choice of pink or purple fabric. She had her chalk sent from Australia.
In her second year she also had an unplanned pregnancy. Under her NSW employment conditions she had ten days paid maternity leave after what proved to be a difficult delivery. Returning to work, in her last term she was moved to a different school. By now she had a car and a nanny to look after her son. She would drive home at recess and lunchtime to breast-feed him, hand him to the nanny and return to school. Although she had been granted maternity leave, because she and her partner were not married, the baby’s travel to Australia was not covered by her contract and was paid separately by H2.
Back in South Australia she managed to pick up some relief work and short-term contracts. She and her partner split up and she became a single supporting parent. She obtained a two-term contract in the South-East of the State with teacher housing. The staffing officer had indicated this could turn into permanent work if she did well. The Home Economics Senior was really supportive and helped her to settle in and develop her skills as a Home Economics teacher. However, at the end of the year, when the school needed to lose a position, rather than displace a permanent teacher, they chose to redefine jobs and lose the Home Economics position currently filled by her contract. She returned to Adelaide.
Throughout her training and teaching, she had continued to make things. She enrolled in further study. On the same day she enrolled she was offered a 3 year permanent teaching position in a remote mining town. She flew up to look at it – and began three very difficult years. A school was being built in the town and students were temporarily schooled at at a town 32 kilometres away. Overcrowding was a feature. The airport was 10 km away at another mine. The school administrator who picked her up from the airport made it clear he did not approve of working mothers – let alone a single supporting one. It was clear child-care was going to be difficult. On the other hand, she really wanted financial independence so she could support her child.
She stayed, but many, many times wanted to pull the pin. She felt traumatised, harassed and victimised as a single parent. There were required meetings every afternoon after school. Staff were young and inexperienced. There were large numbers of transient students, and nothing for kids to do out of school hours. Home Economics was a Departmental requirement, not something the school had, or would have, chosen. She taught Home Economics, AIDS education, sex and drug education. She was also required to provide non-instruction time lessons in Home Economics for students in classes 3-6, an area n which she had not trained. In the secondary school she was required to teach multi year levels at years 7/8 and 9/10. She was responsible for writing the curriculum for a 2-year cycle. She also taught year 7/8 Humanities to make a full time load. Although appointed as a full-time permanent employee, in the first year she voluntarily reduced time to .8 as even with a non-instruction time (NIT) commitment there was not a 1.0 load. This allowed her to manage her family commitments in an isolated community, with limited infrastructure.
There was almost no support, help or guidance.
The principal refused to sign off on her probationary period. It was a fraught time. She spoke to her GP a number of times about her stress.
She became more involved with the Union, becoming Branch Secretary and attending meetings in Adelaide. She began standing up for herself. She left town every holiday time. To get resources for her sewing classes at the school, she ran adult sewing classes for a Tertiary and Further Education (TAFE) College outreach program. TAFE supplied her with five sewing machines which could be used for the school during the day.
On her return to Adelaide at the end of three years, she continued her involvement with the Australian Education Union, doing a lot of selection panel work and joining committees. She began a Graduate Diploma in Tech Studies at the University of South Australia. She was initially placed in two one-term contract positions before being placed at a community school in Adelaide’s North Western suburbs.
For the first time, she was in a school with excellent facilities for Home Economics and Tech Studies. The school had a well-established culture of team-work, flexibility and curriculum development to meet the needs of a diverse and demanding student cohort. Many students struggled against great difficulties and the school focused on supporting their learning in every way possible. Her appointment was made permanent. She stayed three years, teaching Home Economics, Tech Studies and cross-curriculum. It was demanding and very rewarding. The students were amazing. She met her new, and permanent partner and left the school to have her second child.
She was encouraged to apply for the newly established position of Peer Evaluator, working out of the Education Department’s central office. It was stimulating and exciting to be involved in the start-up of a new program. She got to see some fantastic teaching across the State – teachers making a difference for specific students through passion, compassion and hard work. It was exhilarating.
For the next five years she moved between support roles in Central Office, teaching and Union work. She knew she still really liked teaching and the reward of getting through to kids – of finding the small steps that could help break the cycle of learning disadvantage, so began what proved to be more than a decade at the Open Access College. This was particularly challenging to a teacher of craft subjects. She learned a whole new skill-set as the technology for distance education exploded. Open Access teachers were now potentially in contact with students around the clock. There were heavy marking expectations and teachers were in each other’s pockets in ways they were not in physical learning spaces. It was none-the-less rewarding and engaging.
As well as her teaching commitments she was also a Union nominee to a number of statutory boards. This responsibility, along with her central office and union work gave her a very broad understanding of the education system from a range of perspectives.
Had she chosen a path of apprentice chef, H2 would not have worked in Africa, an eye-opening and formative experience. She has never regretted going.
Being a young teacher in the country was difficult and would have been made easier with more support and mentoring. This is why she thinks induction and mentoring programs are so important.
In 2010 she began a Law degree which she has subsequently finished. She had contemplated Law for a number of years as a consequence of her Union work. She loves law, regulation and the sense of justice they bring. Some solutions are found only through law. Her ideal is to be involved in Education Law.
She was a good teacher. She likes mentoring and working with kids. She also likes sharing with other teachers and having her work analysed by other teachers in a non-threatening way.
Her father was a Labor man and her mother a Liberal woman. They both influenced her and her values. Her relationship with her partner is grounded in education. Education is the conversation in her home.
She still needs to work with her hands and actively continues to engage with handcrafts and to cook for pleasure.