Q2 hated school. She grew up in NSW in a household that included her widowed grandmother and a godmother (step-daughter of her grandmother) who lived around the corner. Until Q2 was 5, these two taught her sewing and domestic skills in a nurturing, supportive, extended family environment. She had the run of the two houses. Her mother had been eligible to go to a selective high school, but her parents couldn’t afford to send her. Both her parents wanted her to be well educated.
School, she quickly decided, was not for her. She ran away again and again, getting herself through the main shopping centre of Bankstown to her home on the opposite side of the town to the school, on the borderline of the zone for the next school.
Two incidents in her first couple of weeks at school remain in her memory. On a day, after she had had an injection, a boy pushed her into a tree, hurting her injected arm. The teacher she complained to told her not to be a dibber-dobber. On another occasion she wore a small brooch to school that her father had bought her from a visit to Botany. She lost the brooch in the playground. The teacher from whom she sought help told her she should never have brought it to school and it was her own fault, providing no help to find it.
She decided then that she would become a teacher in order to be fair and kind to students. The resolve never wavered.
This ambition was reinforced by the Art teacher who taught her throughout High School. Mrs Gensch wore her hair like a Greek goddess and was unfailingly kind and supportive. Her feedback was honest, guiding, positive and helpful. At the same time, she was passionate about Arts and Crafts and engendered that passion in her students.
Outside of school, Q2 was an organiser. At Christmas and Easter family gatherings she would organise her cousins into games and activities. She was also a Sunday School teacher.
She did not put 100% of effort into her Higher School Certificate. Her boyfriend, who did not do the HSC, proved a bit of a distraction. She had applied to train as an Art teacher, and also to do Architecture, but did not get the requisite marks for entry to either course. A local Vocational Guidance Centre suggested she apply to one of the private teachers’ colleges. A local Catholic College proved inaccessible without a car, which she did not have, but The Guild Teachers’ College on Broadway in Sydney (later subsumed into Sydney College of Advanced Education under the Dawkins reforms) was accessible by train. She enrolled there in a Primary School Teaching course and supported herself by working as a waitress on weekends and as a cleaner at the Bankstown Credit Union.
The three-year course included a school placement one day a week – in the same school, for her a Catholic primary school in Dulwich Hill. This was, she believes, a very effective mechanism in sorting out students suited to teaching from those who were not. In her cohort, two thirds of students dropped out before graduation. The school placement, she believes, helped students realise teaching was not for them!
In the last year of her course she was eligible for, and received, a student allowance under the Whitlam Government’s newly introduced mature-age tertiary entrance scheme. She had to appear before a panel and show that she had been fully supporting herself for the previous two years.
In spite of this, when she graduated, there was a glut of teachers, and jobs were scarce. She walked around to different schools, offering to work for no pay. Two Catholic schools provided her with odd days of teaching. One day she walked into a pre-school looking for work. The Director listened, then told her that the teacher of their cohort of four-year olds had resigned that morning – and the job was hers if she wanted it. At the same time, the two Catholic schools offered her work. She went with the pre-school.
She loved the work so much that she enrolled in (and completed) an external Early Childhood B.Ed. from the Magill Campus of what was then the South Australian College of Education – later to become the University of South Australia.
In this period, she married, had two children, spent a year travelling overseas and returned to casual teaching. She could see, however, what happened to casual teachers in times of fluctuating enrolments. She applied for, and won, a position as a Primary Teacher at an Independent Girls’ School in Sydney, where she stayed for 27 years.
Around about the age of 50, still at the Independent Girls’ School, she “reinvented” (her word) herself by completing a Master of Creative Arts at the University of Technology Sydney, switching from being a Primary teacher to being a Visual Arts teacher. She was able to complete the first years of the degree in her own time – leaving early one day a week and worked on it full-time in the June-July school holidays, but she took a year’s leave to finish it. When she completed it in six months, the school allowed her to return to replace a Year 1 teacher taking leave, after which Q2 took up the position as Infants’ Art Teacher.
She also set up a business running Art camps in holiday periods and Art classes after school. Her daughter caught some of her passion and helped with these.
Q2 never wanted anything more than to be in the classroom with children. It did not matter to her whether that was as a classroom teacher or an Art teacher. However, she increasingly found that she had little time for a life out of school. The demands of students, parents and the school took over her weekends and evenings. She pushed for, and got, part-time work to achieve balance in her life.
In retirement she chooses to do some casual teaching. She is still doing Art courses, most recently furthering her learning in ceramics.
Life takes you on a journey and Q2 is happy with hers. She has followed a creative pathway.
At her school farewell, many of her students spoke, every one of them testifying that she had succeeded in her ambition as a 5-year-old to become “a fair and kind teacher”. If she had felt, at any stage, unable to achieve that, she would have left teaching.
Her career was framed by her early mentors – her grandmother and godmother who filled her life with joy, interest and kindness, her parents who believed in education and were proud of her, and her Art teacher who guided her throughout high school giving her a life-long commitment to creativity and improvement. She was also driven by determination to show that school did not have to be as it was in her first weeks as a 5-year-old, unfair and unkind.
You need, she concludes, to be always learning. Teachers must be, above all, open to learning.
Learning, she concludes, is so exciting.