J2 grew up in Adelaide and went to a high school in the Adelaide Hills, at the time regarded pretty much as country for the purpose of school sporting competitions. At the time, as Baby Boomer adolescents put pressure on high school enrolments, the school had a number of young, enthusiastic teachers who connected well with students. The young teachers quickly became role models.
J2’s father had wanted to go to university but with the 1930s Depression and WWII, his family had no money for his education. He was determined, however, that his sons would have what he had been denied. He did all he could to ensure his children- 3 sons – had a good education and qualifications for a career. His eldest son, four years older than J2, had won a Telstra Scholarship to do Engineering at University. The youngest son was also focusing on Maths/Science. In part inspired by a good English teacher, J2, in the middle, was drawn to English and the Social Sciences.
He had other good teachers – and a couple of poor ones. It was, however, the school environment – teachers excited about knowledge and learning, the nurturing of his leadership potential in football teams, as House Captain and prefect – that captured his imagination and heart. It was an environment that supported change and development. The prefects as a group tackled some of the more arcane and arbitrary school rules about dress and behaviour and were able to make a few changes. It was an environment of possibility.
By the time J2 had to fill out forms for life after school, with his father’s firm pressure for qualifications, he knew that he wanted – and needed – to work with people. He also knew that he wanted to teach. With his father’s encouragement, he applied for teaching scholarships and for Public Service cadetships. A career and security was his father’s bottom line. His second son had no hesitation in choosing the Teachers’ College Scholarship, when offered, over the Public Service.
His scholarship took him to the relatively new Flinders University and Sturt Teachers’ College. Even before Uni started, he jumped at the chance to do a week of supervised observation at a Hills high School. The teacher to whom he was assigned allowed him to take a couple of lessons. He knew it was the profession for him. He looks back on himself in that situation as a green, soft Hippie – but has never waivered in his choice. He did another Practice Teaching that year and more in his second year, receiving feedback along the way. By his fourth year, assessment was built in.
He had enrolled as an Arts student but was talked into the newly established B.Ed, giving him a course that integrated subject and professional learning. Even in the first year, before Uni began, he attended classes in Technology, Drama and Music at Sturt Teachers’ College. The course worked like an internship. Even in the first year he and his fellow students prepared teaching programs, reflected on them, kept a journal and worked on how to improve. While only a few students chose the B.Ed., those who did believed they were better for having done so.
Many of his working friends had plenty of money. He had enough to survive. With his father’s help he bought a second-hand Mini. It cost him $2 to fill with petrol and got him where he needed to go – including the schools where he did his Practice. Flinders University, however, had its own cultural and social life for a student of the Arts. Its thriving, innovative Drama program was new to South Australia. It hosted and nurtured talent such as Scott Hicks, Geoffrey Rush and Greg Pickhaver (HG Nelson in comedy routines) . There were student reviews as a part of University life and other clubs which made life interesting.
There was also the lottery of conscription for 19 year-old Australian males – the birthdays being drawn from a barrel on Australian television determining which of the cohort were required to serve the Australian Army in Vietnam. J2’s number was not called, but the experience was formative and radicalising. Students rallied and protested – against the Vietnam War, against conscription and against various forms of discrimination. J2 remembers protesting against the Springbok’s Rugby Tour of Australia because black players were not included in the team.
By the time he graduated, he had a girlfriend in the year behind him and therefore argued for a city appointment. He was in luck. The demand for secondary schooling was being met by opening new schools in outer metropolitan areas, including the new suburb of Banksia Park. J2 joined a group of largely enthusiastic teachers to welcome a group of Year 8 students in a set of transportable buildings on the Modbury High School campus while their new school – Banksia Park High – was being built.
He moved into accommodation close to the city, so the daily commute was more manageable for him and his Mini. His parents had done of good job of preparing him to cook, wash, clean and look after himself.
By September of that year the Banksia Park High School students were able to move into the new school, which grew, year by year from the bottom up, with the addition of a new Year 8. The inaugural Principal, Les Kemp, was a leader and innovator. The school was open plan, encouraging (indeed, demanding) team work, independent and collaborative learning. Teachers were encouraged to seek out best practice, to learn from others, to innovate and to study. It was an enterprising, creative learning environment for staff and students.
After 10 years teaching, J2 accepted a new challenge – a Coordinator’s job in a school in what was then known as South Australia’s Iron Triangle, where about two thirds of high school students at the time found local employment. The principal and staff were young, enthusiastic and, the looking for curriculum innovation – designing and implementing curriculum that met the specific needs of their students. The job suited him. He put his curriculum, people and change-management skills to good use.
His success resulted in a secondment to the Department’s Curriculum Branch with a focus on finding ways to retain and motivate students through the middle years of schooling. As the S.A. Certificate of Education (SACE) emerged as a more comprehensive and inclusive qualification at Year 12, he worked on the relationship of assessment and teaching practice in 10 trial schools determining best practice in curriculum and assessment change. He completed a Master’s degree directed to examining the process of change.
After six years of secondment he moved back into schools as Assistant Principal and Deputy Principal, applying his skills in particular, in the Middle School, staff development and SACE curriculum. Eventually, after 28 years of teaching, he succumbed to Departmental pressure, applying for, and winning, a country school Principal position that had been vacant for some months. Morale and school image was low, with many parents opting to send children away to school. He held youth and community forums to identify concerns and formed partnerships with local community organisations, introducing a Youth Opportunities leadership program and community service for all Year 9s. He recruited young teachers and provided professional learning opportunities.
Although he had 30 years of experience in and out of schools he had no experience in school management nor of the public nature of a country principal’s job. He was always on display and on call – and was expected to take a leadership role in the community as well as the school. He tried to do too much. Nevertheless, the school thrived and improved.
Eventually, again with encouragement he won a Principal’s position in a Barossa Valley school, where the challenges were different. From there he moved to an R-12 school of 1450 students in suburban Adelaide. He enjoyed the challenges, the students, and some excellent staff at both schools. He retired after some ill-health. According to his doctors, he was worn out.
His adolescent insight that he needed to work with people, proved prophetic. He developed and honed his people skills continuously. J2 begins his discussion of every job in his long career with an observation about the specific needs of the students and community – his assessment at the time of client need, which he gained from talking directly to them. In every situation he began by getting to know the students, the parents, the staff, the community. He consulted, researched and discussed options. He made links and partnerships, found resources, sought knowledge. Many teachers, trained to believe the job was about knowing a content area and imparting it, took years to understand what J2 understood when he chose his pathway in his final year of schooling – the job of teaching is about working with people.
When, in 1992, he was on a study trip to Japan, he heard the CEO of Toyota speak at a teachers’ conference. His message that “We only make cars, you make people” has become a mantra for J2.
J2 regards himself as lucky to have been living in these times of social change. It suited him and provided many opportunities. The 1960s saw much questioning and demand for change. The 1970s allowed society to open up and changes to be applied. He was fortunate to be in the right time and location to attend Flinders University, which introduced less traditionally organised areas of study and attracted more radical and lateral-thinking professors.
The growth in school student numbers, especially high school students in the 1970s, led to Teachers’ College Scholarships, without which many, including J2, would have been unable to gain a university education. While his parents were prepared to sacrifice to educate their children, he would not have been prepared to accept such a sacrifice. He supplemented his scholarship with fruit-picking but would not have been able to support himself without the scholarship.
He sees the early pillars of his success as the support of his parents, getting a university scholarship, the confidence gained through his Practice Teaching experiences and his appointment to Banksia Park High School. The support of his wife was critical to his journey. She adjusted her life and career around his and worked tirelessly to ensure their own children were nurtured and supported throughout the journey – the most important role there is. Without her his story would be very different.
He believes that teaching comes to shape and define those who engage in it. To be a teacher, you need to be organised, prepared and to work hard. It is a profession that demands and helps you to build skills on the job. The job moulds you. You must be able to work with people – parents and other teachers as well as students. You learn a lot of people skills – the more the better. You have to be pushy – but 90% supportive.
Teaching suited him down to the ground and shaped how he sees the world. Since retiring, he has used his skills in the community as, amongst other things, a travel guide. He enjoys it. It is easier than teaching, but not as fulfilling. He comments that, although you don’t always succeed, there is nothing as rewarding as ex-students seeking you out and telling you that their schooling made a difference. Some, like the first Dux of Banksia Park High School, are doctors and well-paid professionals. Others struggle, have learning difficulties or setbacks, yet make significant and impressive gains to lead satisfying, successful lives contributing to society in numerous ways.
He talks of ‘building positive, productive and professional partnerships’ with staff and, it seems to the interviewer, that the words capture the values underpinning his career. His whole career – from the moment he saw his direction – focused on being professional and productive. Every setback was used positively, turned into learning and used to move forward. His only note of criticism is reserved for those who blame others rather than looking to how to improve themselves.
He misses the ongoing, developmental relationships of schools but clearly continues, in retirement from schooling, positive, productive and professional.