The teaching myth.

I worked as a teacher for more than forty years. I loved my work. I had a good career with hard won opportunity. Our family was financially secure thanks to my salary and each of our children received opportunities to grow academically, emotionally and spiritually. Each of them is an adult making positive contributions to their communities.

It wasn’t all beer and skittles however!

” Those who can do. Those who can’t teach” was and sometimes still is an oft expressed opinion by shock jocks, politicians, and other social commentators. The myth of “back to basics, “It was good enough for me so it’s good enough for them ” was and sometimes still is, a much flaunted criticism when unions might have suggested that conditions needed improvement or rates of pay needed revamping. And then there was the myth of ” all those holidays”!

I retired 2016. My daughter is teacher. It irks me every year to watch her and listen to the amount of extra work, demanded extra commitment, unfair and ignorant criticism and judgement that she as a teacher, endures. She works in Catholic Education, as I did but I know too, that societal expectations in relation to the vocation of teaching being the great panacea for every social challenge in the western world, applies across the general teaching of children spectrum!

In addition to her classroom management she is part of the school’s creative team. This, in is fledgling state when she began at her school, was a school based only CAPA night.  It has now grown into a local town annual juggernaut, involving all schools in her area. There is a team of teachers at the school and her roles include costume making, choreography and one of the choirs. This thrills me no end because I was a music teacher and she resisted singing or belonging to a choir all her life.  Now I get to watch her conduct!

Initially as part of the CAPA team her particular focus, which is also the area of her strength as a teacher, were the “challenging boys” group. Kids who we now recognise as being the spectrum. Kids who cannot deal with changes in routine, changes in teaching styles. We all know at least one of them! Beautiful kids. Kids whose parents love them and are looking for support. Parents whose lives are filled with anxiety about what’s ahead. Yes, like every other parent worth his or her salt, but with so much more to contend with because we live in a world of judgement and societal expectation that  interprets all challenging behaviour as bad behaviour from bad kid because of bad parents. When her group of boys won their dance section in  the local Eisteddfod, heads were turned!

Three days before her scheduled return to work after the Christmas holidays, this year, I had three missed calls from her. We played tag and missed each other all day. Two  days later I connected with her. She had been in hospital on our tag playing day, She had fallen on rocks in the river at the front of her home and had smashed her knee. Relieved that a scan and  x-ray had shown no breakages she was in great pain from severe bruising. Leg wrapped and on crutches, she sounded tired and miserable. I live about 3 hours away from her.

What she dropped into the conversation next made my blood boil.  It took me back to hours, days, weeks of time I spent in addition to face to face teaching for 40 years- from my very first year of teaching as a 22 year old in 1973. She had spent 5 hours on Saturday in her classroom, with her co-worker, a teacher, mother, wife too, setting up the classroom for the new year.

Every time I have been into her classroom, an open learning space for about 60 kids under the care of a teaching team of three and support staff, it is like being smacked over the head with colour, creativity, happiness, organisation and wonder. Desks are work stations. There’s a reading corner. Among  memories, etched into my agony file for the rest of my life , as a member of  the executive team of the school I worked in, is the violent objection from staff when the suggestion was made that the introduction of Dadirri Time be introduced into the daily program . Ten minutes, every day, when all activity stopped and the opportunity was provided for stillness and awareness. I could write  book about that!  Its called Mindfulness now!

There’s a  creative space. When I was teaching in my early years and indeed until much later, if the desks were in a straight row, the teacher’s desk was tidy, the class roll was readily available for checking and chalk dust was all over the ledge during the day (proof of teaching “industry”) and the ledge was spotless at the start of the morning (proof of due diligence!) I got a tick for classroom organisation! I remember the reaction bordering on riotous, when a suggestion was made that we investigate “ new desks” to set up learning hubs when technology had arrived at kids with their own laptops in class.

Kids had books, for which they were individually responsible. Now a days, they have portfolios! Kids had their own lunch or a lunch order neither of which had anything to do with me! Now their lunchboxes are checked. They have fruit breaks. They have water bottles. All great initiatives in the name of self sufficiency and good health but extra on top of extra work, organisation, responsibility for the teachers who get belted around the head (metaphorically) for not sticking to the three Rs!

I have moved into the billabong of retirement. That silted up at both ends of life, literally and metaphorically, where one’s experience, gifts, talents, opinion can be comfortably dismissed, without objection from the keepers of power with one word. “Boomer”. I don’t miss the classroom. But I do miss the interaction with young people. I did not ever cope well with being challenged in the classroom until my own children became old enough and I guess felt safe enough to challenge me. Now I stand back in awe as I watch three of them as parents. My teacher daughter is the mother of three. My son is the father on one. My younger daughter is the mother of two. When I hear them tell me of the challenges they meet as their own children go through school I sometimes feel great angst!

Not every teacher is like my daughter and her friend. At the age of forty eight, she is convinced she has missed her chance for promotion. It is my firm belief, based only on observations and without any empirical evidence, that teaching is no longer seen as a profession, a calling, a vocation. It is rather, a guarantee of great holidays, working 9 to 3, five days a week, getting reasonable pay and something that after a few years gives you the chance to teach overseas, or grab a promotion that gets you out of the classroom.

When young people with stars in their eyes find it’s not quite like that, they walk away.

Of course, there are many magnificent, gifted, talented teachers who, in these days celebrity notoriety are out there and everyone knows them! Thats great! . But be assured for every one of them there are many. many more just like them. My daughter is one of them.

I firmly believe that the greatest calling in life is the call to be a Parent. Equally firmly I believe that after that calling, the next greatest calling is the call to teach.

THINKING ABOUT MY CHILDREN

72627075_10217440152189881_8664122829119160320_nIn an attempt to distract myself from the Prime Minister, I have been doing some personal historical reflection. I found 30 or more of my journals in a recent clean up and sorting out of bookshelves. One in particular, my first, I had been searching for since attending the ceremony at the Garden of Innocents in November. What follows are my words from the 1980s. My hopes for our first three children ( now 48, 47 and 42)  and the anticipation of my fourth child and what followed.

In cutting and pasting, I have lost the shape of my texts – but as I have always believed its not size or shape that matter, its content!

My hopes for…..

Patricia 

I look at you, and see a miracle.

In spite of me, you’re wonderful

and I love you.

My hopes for you my child

are that you remain

gentle,

trusting,

loving

and

independent.

I thank God for you.

I thank your father for loving me

and giving me you

and I thank you because

you are you.

………. Kenneth

My boy! My son! My life!

You stand so straight and tall

and yet you are so fail and breakable.

Stay happy son.

Keep your faith – for it your special gift

Believe in yourself

and love yourself.

You bring me joy and love and hope,

you give me reason for living.

………Megan Elizabeth

My little love.

You’re the lucky one!

You can learn so much.

Look to your sister and learn about

Art and music

Determination and strength

Fairness and compassion.

From your brother seek

Creativity and faith

Generosity and strength

Optimism and love.

I love you so. You have brought me joy.

You are with me and yet not mine.

As you grow, I hope I can remember

How special you are to me now. 

19-2-80

O little Child

O little child who isn’t yet

How I am longing for you to be

I want to know that you’re

within me growing and becoming.

The gift of life is so precious.

its our ticket to eternity.

I want to pass this gift on to you

to give you life, through me.

To carry another being within you

bring indescribable joy.

Nothing is greater or more rewarding

or frightening or humbling.

So my child who isn’t yet,

be assured your life is coming!

I’m waiting for you, longing for you

and ready to make you mine!

Children

love and cuddles

gurgles burps and giggles

powder and freshness,

Love!

Children

hurt and tears

screams, shouts and laughter

disinfectant and immunisations!

Children

frightened and dependent

questions, ideas, advice

cigarettes and booze?

Love?

Children

rebellion and independence

demands, protests and ridicule

joints and speed

Love??

Children

ideals and faith

hope for the future.

They deserve our

Love.

3-3-81

 

O little child who isn’t

O little child who isn’t ,

you have been and I

never knew you.

O the ache I feel inside.

The emptiness where there was once life.

Joseph, Rebecca – who were you?

I felt you move – just once

but I knew you were.

I loved you without knowing you.

Why did you die?

Were you not right or me?

I suppose you never knew I love you.

But then all you knew in your

short “before life out here” time

was warmth and security.

You never had to shed tears or know pain.

I still long to hold you.

I’m still ready to make you mine

If I could stop loving

a life I never knew but which

is as much a part of me as my

heart.

O little child I know you are.

We gave you life, a soul

and you live in bliss and love.

Reach down to me, somehow, help me

and reassure my faith.

Make me strong again.

2/4/81

I lost my much loved, unknown baby on Wednesday March 18, 1981

On January 28th 1982 I lost another much loved, much longed for unknown baby.

January 12th 1983, another beloved child.

March 28th 1984 – our 7th child. Our 6th daughter.

And as I reflect on this I think about the word “lost”. My four beloved daughters were not and are not lost. They died. I don’t know why. There were no medical reasons determined.

Our eighth child – the “Joseph” I was longing for in 1981 is now our Joe! More loved than words can expressed. Clever, resourceful, creative, dreamer.

 

 

 

 

“On the Ninth Day of Christmas” 2020

I am beginning this without being able to come up with a suitable title! On December 20th I wrote about the fire north of my home. My fears for my daughter and her family. The awfulness/awefilled-ness of my world which had turned orange and air that was acrid with the smell of burning bush! My daughter and her family are safe but the threat continues.

My son and his family travelled from their home down south, in another state, to be with us for Christmas. It was marvellous. They ventured north to be with my daughter and had lovely days filled with the joy of watching their children laugh and play and connect. They do not see each other often. My younger daughter and her family were with us for Christmas. The “babies” of the grandchildren gaggle. My youngest grand daughter, a ball of energy and inquisitiveness, stilled in her Uncle’s arms, listening intently for  such a long time, while I played my piano. I haven’t been able to play for some time. Rare days.Blessed days. Days that will live on in the telling across the generations!

Its the second day of the new decade. I remember the first time I wrote in the margin of my exercise book, pondering with all the trepidation I could muster as an almost 9 year old, “1960”. My life was changing even then. My older brother had left home in 1958 and my next brother was about to leave home. I remember thinking that if it was already 1960, how old must Mum and Dad be?

My Dad was a journalist so keeping up with the news was in my blood even then. Mr Menzies was the PM. Pattie was his wife. What an impressive bloke he was to a nearly nine year old. Hardly ever seen on tele. Often in the paper. His face like a carved image of authority. He looked like he was in charge and knew what he might have been on about! Royalist to his bone marrow as was most of the rest of Australia.

I remember hot summers. Burning footpaths. Melting tar. Perspiration running down the back of the legs in hot classrooms. “Heat waves “ brought into submission by “Southerly busters”! Sitting on the back steps in the afternoon and waiting for the approaching sound of the roar, a bit like the starting of the Electrolux vacuum cleaner on a Saturday morning. When the “Buster” arrived it sucked away humidity, flies, mosquitos and lethargy!

My brother was in Rome in the 1960s and sometimes we would make an audio tape to send to him in addition to the weekly aerograms. One Christmas my Mum, who was very self conscious about the sound of her voice was describing the festive table . Using her most posh enunciation she explained, “And it’s ninety nine in the dining room”. Sweltering day! On the return tape my brother told of the great glee expressed by his British and American friends on hearing what he referred to as “Mums flattened vowel sounds”, doing a slightly disrespectful rendition of them himself!

But that’s all gone. Times were frequently tough but they were not the first tough times generations of families had lived through. Yes, there were fires and floods and droughts. We knew when the seasons started and when we could expect them to end. I always loved the time of year when the westerly breeze in the morning morphed into and easterly heralding that Autumn was on the horizon. Wild winds in August! Freezing blasts that gave me the chance to experience chill blains for the first and only time in my life as a boarder in the Hunter Valley. Winds that cut mercilessly through layers of clothes  straight to bones, making teeth chatter on the way to Mass each morning at 7.00am.

It seems that too has just about gone. Where I live the leaves on my frangipani trees barely hit the ground before new leaves are shooting. My husband’s Grandmother used to describe those trees in their winter dress as “maiden’s nightmares”. I remember being scandalised by the description. I hardly have time to blush now because they are covering themselves up within days of shedding!

I am sick, in my heart and in my head ,by what I see now. 2020. Day two. Four thousand people taking shelter on a beach waiting for the Navy to rescue those who need to be rescued and bringing water because there is none. I think of images of refugee camps in countries torn by war.

People whose houses, livelihoods, irreplaceable possessions have melted! People whose family members have died. Mothers whose children are without Fathers. A young woman anticipating the birth of their child alone now that her husband is dead. Husband, wives, lovers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who wait for their loved ones to return from volunteering as front line fire fighters. I ponder the fact that the tragedy of all of this is in no way unique to the majority of the rest of the world.

My son’s sister in law who taught English in Cambodia and is there at the moment, lost her home and all her possessions in the fire that decimated Club Terrace in Victoria. She will return to nothing! She will return to love.

Uncertainty. Fear. Hopelessness. Dismay. Powerlessness. Brokenness. Anger,

And the most puzzling thought that I have been pondering is about the rest of the “western world”. When there is a shooting in America, a bombing in London, a terrorist attack in Paris our news programs bombard us with information. All the details. Daily, sometimes hourly updates. I have seen only one reference on line to the fires in a London publication. Of course there may have been others.

Truth is, to the power brokers of the world we are small fry! We ARE expendable! The thinking nations of the rest of the world cannot understand our government’s climate change denial policy! Slogans, jingoism, the tools of the advertising industry are not good enough!”She’ll right, Mate” does not apply! “Thoughts and Prayers” are not love and compassion or practical help!

The power brokers of the world covet our coal and other natural resources. They purchase them  and our water and our farm land  assisted by our so called leaders in the name of the economy. “We” do not matter! Its true! I cringe at the thought of the latest offering from the Department of Tourism inviting the poor old POMs who are suffering Post Brexit Stress Disorder and who might arrive in Perth looking for Nirvana only  to find Hades. Catastrophic fire condition forecast there for tomorrow. Perhaps action needs to be taken there to turn back THOSE “boats”!

Our Leader went MIA. He’s back now but he may as well not be. Bombastic and patronising. The “Could have been Leader’ has been at least a bit more visible and realistic but always there is the waiting for the moment when it all gets back to “you didn’t win” “you only just won” argy bargy.

The saying I remember from days when I was even more cynical that I am now is “if you can’t dazzle the with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit!” Well there’s nothing dazzling or baffling going on really – just an awful lot of bullshit!