Teaching was what she always wanted to do. With her mother and an aunt as teachers, S2 grew up in an atmosphere of education. She participated in activities involving art whenever the opportunity arose. She was an avid follower and participant in the ABC Radio’s children’s program, The Argonauts, sending in Art work, then eagerly anticipating, and taking account of, the feedback she received on air from the Art commentator, Phidias, (the Argonaut persona of the artist Jeffrey Smart).
She enjoyed her own schooling, liked children and, especially in her senior years of high school, enjoyed Languages and Art. Many girls from St George Girls’ High School progressed to careers in teaching, medicine or nursing so it was a well-worn path for her into teaching. She tossed up between teaching Languages or teaching Art. The modelling she saw for both subjects led her to believe that Art would be the more interesting path. There was a rich culture around Art – far more aspects to explore with students than there appeared to be in the grammar-based Languages curricula.
Her back-up plan – a B.A. Dip Ed- did not have to be implemented. She was accepted into the special Art teaching program at East Sydney Technical College, Darlinghurst (from 1996 the National Art School), commuting each day by train from Oatley, south of the city, to Sydney’s Museum station.
This opened up for her a world of new experience. Darlinghurst was full of interesting characters. There were around 40 students in the course, about 85% women – a rare, focused cohort of talented students headed roughly in the same direction. It was a four-year course. The first three years were spent on Art studies at East Sydney Technical College, with students attending Sydney Teachers’ College one day a week for education programs. In their fourth year, students completed a Dip Ed full time at Sydney Teachers’ College. Their second teaching subject was English.
At the end of their 3 years at Art School students held an Exhibition of their work at the Cell Block Gallery. A few students didn’t progress to teaching. At least one transitioned into the College’s five-year Art Diploma. One became a buyer for a city Department store. For some it launched an Art career. It was the very best Art education available.
S2 was appointed to a new high school in the Illawarra district, near Wollongong. Her grandparents had resided in this area. It was an adventure. The staff were young and students being encouraged to stay at school beyond the age of compulsion. She served out her two-year bond here before being moved to a high school in Sydney’s Southern suburbs, where both the Deputy Principal and the Principal had taught her at high school. Three years later she applied for a teacher exchange in Canada, USA or UK and was offered a placement in Dundee, Scotland – where her grandmother had been born.
She enjoyed teaching in the Secondary Modern School to which she was appointed. It was an underprivileged area where most students left after their O levels to work in the Timex factory or local clothing factories. The Art program was entirely practical. She loved working with the students. Two of her grandmother’s cousins were still living in the area and she enjoyed meeting and spending time with relatives who had sent her gifts from Scotland throughout her childhood. It was a great personal experience. It also left her with an appreciation of the Australian education system and the advantages she had enjoyed growing up in Sydney.
On her return she spent a year at JJ Cahill Memorial High School as relieving Head Teacher of Art. By now she had been assessed for promotion and placed on the list awaiting appointment as a Head Teacher of Visual Arts. At the end of her year at JJ Cahill she accepted an appointment as head of Art in a newly established Art Department at a Girls’ High School in Sydney’s South West.
Art was gaining some ground in schools and before long she was asked to come out of school to take up a position as Art Consultant, working from the newly-established Art Branch at Five Dock, helping Art teachers in schools where there was no Art Department or where teachers were newly appointed, especially when untrained in Art. She was the Art Consultant for a city region as well as two large country regions of the State – including Armidale and Tamworth – another adventure. She saw lots of NSW and felt she was really helping people and contributing to Art education. She came to understand how the Education Department worked – a valuable context for her continuing growth as an educator.
This was a time of great change and expansion in Australian education. The Commonwealth Schools Commission was producing reports and developing programs that expanded and consolidated tertiary education and transformed schooling. Schools acquired libraries, laboratories, computing rooms and gymnasiums through Commonwealth grants. Students not destined for university were encouraged to stay on a school and a much wider range of curriculum offerings and assessment methods were developed. Programs also provided additional training for teachers to take advantage of the expanding curriculum.
During 1974 the Schools Commission and the Australia Council accepted responsibility for an Australia-wide study of Education and the Arts, from K-12 and into the Community. Following discussion with government and non-government education authorities a State Study Group was convened. S2 was appointed as Executive Officer for the NSW Study Group. She met a broad range interesting people from all branches of the Arts, expanding her understanding of the worlds of both education and the Arts. The Schools Commission Report, NSW Report of Education and the Arts was published in 1978.
When the report was finished she was appointed as Education Department’s related Arts Consultant. The work emphasised curriculum. As her heart was in schools, she eventually requested a school appointment and returned for several years as Head Teacher Visual Arts at first one, then a second Girls’ school in the St George Region of Sydney. At the second of these, the position morphed into Head Teacher Creative Arts, covering Drama, Dance, Music and Media Studies. The workload in managing the delivery of such a large and diverse collection of subjects with both theoretical and practical components, while maintaining quality control of teachers’ reports and complex administration, was heavy.
At the same time, her mother was developing dementia. She took leave to assist her mother, and, while shopping for her, noticed a sign in the window of a local Art shop advertising a vacancy for a shop assistant who could also undertake some Art teaching. She applied and got the job. She could work in the shop and after school run classes for school children. Recent migrants, mostly from Asia, were moving into the area, bringing with them traditions of extra-curricular activities for their children after school. The children were interested and enthusiastic and their parents supportive. Although she had 5 more years before the usual retiring age, she resigned from the Education Department.
With the shop manager working part-time, S2 was able to work while supporting her mother at home. The children coming to after-school classes were younger than she had been teaching at school, but she could use and adapt her programs – providing interest for both the children and herself. She also organised little Exhibitions. Without marking and staff supervision she could rest at night. She also formed many lovely friendships.
R2 was always a teacher, rather than an artist, first. Art had been her hobby from early childhood and her parents had encouraged it. She still responds to Art both as an artist and as a teacher, looking at how a work, or an Exhibition, might be presented to students and used for learning. For 30 years or more that was the focus of her life.
She loved the job.
She has kept some of her students’ work, including sculpture and ceramics. She taught several talented students who have pursued careers in Art. One of these won the Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship and continued her studied in Milan, Italy. She later became a successful performance and installation artist.
Another student, who, coincidentally, also grew up in Oatley, went on to win outstanding international acclaim.
For her, the teaching has been integral and essential. She has retained her interest and proficiency in languages.
Art is a living thing, it changes constantly, creating a different aesthetic. Technology constantly changes and impacts of how and what is possible. There is no end to its possibilities, nor to the learning it engenders.
For this Baby Boomer, the Art, the learning and the teaching are clearly inseparable from living and breathing.