Jim and Jillian Dellit established this website to bring together their various endeavours, to engage with and contribute to the educational community and educational delivery. Jillian is continuing this work both in her own right, and to keep faith with Jim's life, 1947-2014, and their productive partnership 1970-2014.

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Conversations with Baby Boomer Teachers: Profile 46

Posted by Jillian in Aboriginal education, Art education, Biography
December 2

Growing up in Adelaide in an extended family of hard-working Greek immigrants, W2 developed a passion for Art from the age of 6, when an uncle introduced him to oil paint. Naively, the uncle did not initially think to teach him to mix and clean up with turps (probably not expecting him to either mix or clean up!). W2 used water for both- and got into a mess. He soon learned to do it properly and really took to the medium.

He remembers wanting to draw, and draw, and draw.

At primary school a teacher asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be an artist and have a work in the Art Gallery.

In 1966, when W2 was 10, his father paid $110, which he could ill afford, to enrol him in a correspondence Art Course. His parents recognised his passion, nurturing and supporting it. His father was a tailor by trade, but eventually took a job on the railways as tailoring work dried up. His $110 investment paid off. W2 continued to paint, draw and improve, exhibiting paintings in a Gallery at Henley Beach.

W2 attended three high schools in an attempt to find one that suited his needs. His sister tried to steer him away from Art and into Maths and Science. She was unsuccessful. He liked English, History and writing stories, but Art was his passion, supported by the design and materials elements of Technical Studies. He hung out with surfing ‘dudes’ and got into strife. His schools were supportive, and he was encouraged and supported by Art teachers who recognised his talent.

His father died while he was at high school. His mother, on a widow’s pension, supported him through tertiary as well as secondary education. Education was all-important. On leaving school he enrolled in an Art course at Torrens College of Advanced Education at Underdale, where he met, for the first time, numbers of people with similar interests. As well as networking and collaborating, he worked solidly on his technique. The course had a high attrition rate. Of around ninety first year students, about fifty went into the second year.  Once he was satisfied with his training in technique, he added teacher training to his program. It was important to him to first address his need for training as an artist.

He received no scholarship. He lived at home and paid his way with help from his mother and a variety of jobs. He eventually bought the house next to his mother’s and accepted an appointment as a teacher to Coober Pedy.

There was very little support and few resources for an Art teacher in Coober Pedy. There was an Advisor in Port Pirie who provided some support by phone, and arranged a visit by plane to Port Pirie. The roads were largely dirt, and there was no hope of excursions to Art Galleries for his students. He relied on books to show his students examples of classical and modern art but also build his own examples – such as a huge sculpture of a toothpaste tube.  He loved teaching the children and they responded well to Art.

After three years at Coober Pedy he returned to the city and took a year off without pay, working on his own art before accepting an appointment at a large Northern suburb high school. He enjoyed the work and continued to undertake small design jobs for bands, or put together projects and exhibitions with other artists. Fearing complacency, he moved schools again after three years, this time teaching Art in a high school in the Adelaide Hills. This he found less satisfying. There was considerable tension in the community and school between the ‘real’ farmers and those considered hobby farmers. Agriculture was curriculum kingpin. Art, and the students interested in it, received little priority. He felt he was letting his students down.

He moved on to teach young offenders. Art teachers, he believes, are blessed with rapport with students and he felt he was successful. Nevertheless, by now he wanted to pursue Art as a fulltime career and resigned from teaching. He again worked with some fellow artists on sculpture and design work for exhibitions and festivals until the demands of families drove them to once again seek regular employment.

This time, W2 applied for and was appointed to the Indulkana Anangu School in the APY lands as a Year 5 teacher. It was hard work covering curriculum areas for which he had not been trained. He believes things work well if, as a teacher, you make an effort to get to know the children, learn their names, interests and abilities and teach to that. He got on well with the children and liked being in Indulkana. He was there just under a year.

Since returning to the city again, he has done a range of free-lance design work for clients such as the film industry, exhibited, sold sculptures, worked as a film extra and relief teacher. He is driven by his art. He likes teaching, but is an artist first. He sees many of his ex-students, a number of whom are artists. He visits Coober Pedy and still sees some he taught there years ago.

Reflection

W2 has never regretted being a teacher. His students changed him – and his art. He would throw a project at his students. They would go off to the library and research it, then come back with ideas. They were ideas he would not have had himself. They would implement the ideas in uncompromising ways. The art grows and transforms.

He has continued to be a practising and emerging artist and regards training and practising as a teacher as part of his artistic life. He can’t imagine having followed any other path, nor developing any other style. There is no tension between teaching and practising art, they go together. However, it is clear that W2 is an artist, driven to express himself through visual arts, to collaborate in this, to learn and improve. That he would share this through teaching is as inevitable as the collaboration that flows from meeting like-minded people and creating. An artist shares and nurtures. Teaching flows from the art, not the other way around.

Teaching, he understands, is important and serious work.

“If you muck it up you can do terrible damage.”

It is not, however, the core driver.

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