R2’s father was a teacher. He was different to other fathers, interested in opera, a piano player, academic, friends with John Bernard and Arthur Delbridge, the editors of the Macquarie Dictionary. R2 grew up absorbing this world, but understanding it was not the norm. His father was also his Year 5 teacher.
He loved working with children, but did not get the marks to enter Teachers’ College in his final school exams. On leaving school he went to work in the Insurance Industry, lasting 2 years and 2 days. It was clear to him that this was not for him. He successfully applied for one of the Whitlam Government’s mature-age tertiary education allowances, quit his insurance job and enrolled in a Primary Education course at The Guild Teachers’ College in Sydney. There was a choice of Infants, Primary or General Primary teaching. He favoured General Primary. His leaning was towards Year 6.
His parents were OK with his choice, although his father was, by this stage. a bit frustrated with teaching.R2 did his one-day-a -week practice teaching at Maria Regina School in Avalon. He enjoyed this – especially the chance to form on-going relationships with the children. He did some casual teaching days at St Mary’s Manly, and worked three days a week at the Diggers Club. With his allowance and part-time work, he was earning almost as much as he had in his insurance job. He was still, he believes, immature at the end of the course, and was naïve about job interviews.
He went for a couple of job interviews, with recommendations from the College. One interview was for an Independent Boys’ School in Eastern Sydney. The school had an immediate need for a Grade 3 teacher who could live in at the Prep Boarding House to help with supervision of boarders. R2 was unattached and able to move in immediately. He took the job.
The boarding house accommodated boys aged 7 to 12 years (Grades 3-6), mostly from the country. It was, he says, ‘a bit of a boy’s club’. Most of the boarding house teachers were young. They taught all day and talked all night. Most other teachers were much older. Teaching was by textbook. His class of 25 had to adapt to his teaching style. He developed some innovative demonstration techniques, for example, blowing smoke through a filter. At night the young teachers sat around and marked books or papers There was not much life outside school except in the school holidays. His out-of-school interest was playing rugby for Easts.
The school had some accommodation for married couples. When a vacancy occurred in this accommodation, he asked his girlfriend to marry him – she accepted, he secured the accommodation, they married and moved in. He did not, at this time, secure a housemaster’s position, but continued to teach and assist with boarding students. He was also, before long, able to win and fulfil an exchange teaching placement in Cambridge for a year.
On his return he was appointed House Master at the Transition House (Prep boys plus Year 7), assisting in the school’s transition to changing approaches and demands for both care and education. Often there was little choice in what year level he taught. He mainly taught Grades 3, 4 and 6. He enjoyed all of them. Educational philosophy changed dramatically throughout this time. The school’s approach moved from the teacher centred one of his initial appointment to a distinctly child-centred one that provided much more support, guidance and assistance. He spent more time helping students to get organised. It was a hard transition, but he did well.
In 2000 he gave up the Boarding House Master position and moved out of school accommodation. He continued teaching in the day time.
In 2004 his parents became ill and in need of support. R2 was also feeling tired. He still enjoyed much of the work, but realised he was burnt out. After 27 years at the school, he retired and focused on looking after his parents.
In retirement he has continued to do casual work in two Catholic schools. Each year he does less and less and now accepts work only if the school can find no one else. He still enjoys the company of children and continues to work with a children’s charity. He also branched out very successfully as an extra in movies and television series and as a shuttle bus driver.
R2 has never regretted leaving the insurance industry. He had more to offer society than he could have given had he stayed. He would, he believes, have eventually got out one way or another. He could not have stayed in a job where he felt he was adding so little to society. He tried at one stage to get into social work. He was always language-oriented, never good with his hands.
His years at the school were fulfilling and enjoyable, but must have been more stressed than he realised because, 15 years after retiring, he still dreams about the boarding house.
He was lucky in teaching. He was in the right place at the right time. The boarding house job was a Godsend. It was a brilliant fit for him. He was fortunate to get the married quarters, the Cambridge exchange and the housemaster’s job when he did.
It was, however, demanding and draining. He was really tired when he retired in 2004.
That has not, however, stopped him continuing to contribute to schooling in numerous ways, including casual teaching, charity work and supporting others.
Whether it is in his genes, or absorbed through his skin as he listened to those early conversations of his father with his mate John Bernard, the need to teach children seems to be flowing in his veins.