K2 grew up in country NSW in a teaching family. She was comfortable in schools; comfortable too in moving every few years. In the environment in which she grew up, all students had a right to good teachers: teachers could expect to be sent where needed. It was what her family did.
In her final year of high school, a “Guidance” Counsellor told her “You could do whatever you like” – advice she did not find in any way helpful. It certainly contained no guidance. When she won both a Commonwealth and a Teachers’ College Scholarship at the end of her schooling, her family background, a strong sense of the ‘noble idea of service’, a liking for children and the need to support herself through training led to her accepting the Teachers’ College Scholarship. On reflection she thinks she had a compliant personality. Teaching was accepted by those around her as a nice job for a girl, the pathway was in front of her, and she took the path.
Her Teachers’ College Scholarship was to Sydney University for a BA and a one year Diploma of Education. Scholarships were awarded largely on a hierarchy of matriculation results. Students with teaching scholarships to attend university were expected to specialise in two university subjects and teach high school. A counsellor suggested, given her strong Matriculation French result, that she might pick up German and become a Languages teacher. K2, however, was very keen to study Medieval History and opted for English/History. At the time, promotion in high school teaching required specific subject combinations – two languages other than English, Maths/Science, Commerce/Geography, English/History. A choice of History and French for a university-trained teacher would not have been approved.
After graduation, K2 was sent to Seven Hills High School in Sydney’s West. This proved to be a baptism of fire. Public transport from her home was circuitous. She became part of a car pool. The journey, with pick-ups, took two hours each way. They arrived at school at five to nine – just in time. After a term, she was in the process of buying a car when a locally-based married woman needed a job closer to her home. K2 was on the school’s oval, supervising a game of softball, when she was handed a telegram telling her she had been moved to a country school 675 km North-West of Sydney. In spite of the shock, she was glad to escape to the country. Seven Hills had introduced an assessment system for Year 10 English, where every student was given a weekly mark out of ten for each of spelling, writing, poetry, novel and comprehension. The marking load to derive such a mark was crippling. In addition to 4 hours travelling each day K2 was regularly working until 3am to mark work and prepare lessons.
The new appointment proved to be a different pace. The school was large and in the process of adding a new building under the Commonwealth Grants program. Looking back, K2 sees herself as very naïve, but on the whole, people were kind and gentle. There was a wonderful family in the church who looked after her, regularly inviting her for lunches. They are still friends. One regret is that, because the English staffroom was overcrowded, she and another new English teacher were allocated desks in the Home Economics staffroom. While the Home Economics staff were friendly, welcoming and organised, she missed out on collegial discussions and sharing which would have helped her experience and growth as an English teacher.
She was in her country school for just over three and a half years. In her third year she did some French teaching when the French teacher left unexpectedly. This experience gave her the opportunity to successfully apply for a vacancy teaching French at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music School in the following year. This was a stunning experience. Classes were small – between 14 and 25 students. It was, however, all too brief. She was, by now, married. Her husband’s job took him to the NSW Southern Highlands. She spent a term commuting to Sydney before being transferred to the Southern Highlands as an English teacher. The school made sure all English teachers had a History class. She did get to teach a little Year 7 French – and to cause a fire in the kitchens when taking a cooking lesson!
Her final appointment to a school in the Shoalhaven region lasted almost two decades. Initially it was a culture shock. It was an area of significant growth in student numbers. The school had 1400 students and a new high school was under construction. There were 11 classes at Year 10 and 6 at Year 12. The English and History departments operated quite separately. If you were in the English staffroom you taught English and vice-versa. When she retired, numbers were around 1000 and growing – with 8 classes in Year 10 and 6 in Years 11 and 12. While she still taught English, she also taught General Studies, French and some History. The fortnightly timetable tended to create double lessons often with several days between lessons, which is an unsatisfactory model for teaching or learning Languages.
K2 thinks teaching has given her confidence to talk to groups and broadened her knowledge of people, including different cultural groups. She learned that not all people are the same. She ponders how her life may have been different had she taken the Counsellor’s advice to study Languages at University. It may have kept her in the city, and she is not sure if that would have been good or bad. On the whole, she has enjoyed the slower pace of life in the country – and the life of the church communities to which she has belonged. The church has probably been a more formative influence in her world-view than teaching.
She also comments that, had it been available, she may have benefitted more from a Primary School focused Diploma of Education, or, even better, a Bachelor of Education instead of a BA Dip Ed. Although these choices were technically available, not only were they not promoted or publicised, they were actively discouraged. For the privilege of four years of teacher training students were expected to teach high school.
In retirement K2 is actively involved in playgroups and music for young children. She has tutored older children. She makes jams and preserves all year for an annual Christian community fund-raiser. She never stops reading – and wonders what might have happened had her Guidance Counsellor mentioned Librarianship as a career!