Four decades in schooling

By Greg Whitby, 21 November 2018


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

I expect most young people today could not imagine themselves in the same profession for 40 years. Life-long professions are becoming more the exception than the rule unless you have a vocation in education, medicine or perhaps ministry. A colleague of mine, Anne, a primary principal, is retiring at the end of this year after 47 years working in schools.

So how does one survive and thrive in education for almost half a century? For Anne, it has been driven by a deep and life-long passion for young people and their learning. Having trained at Wagga Teachers College for two years, Anne was allocated a position at an infants school in Sydney where she was ‘thrown in the deep end’ and had to learn on the job.

On-the-job learning is what Anne believes sets teachers up for success because many of the teacher training institutions are still teaching the way we were taught at school. In the early days of her teaching, a student’s feedback was either a smile or a frown. Today, Anne believes it has to be very different as we move away from the concept of a one-size-fits-all model of learning to one that responds to each student’s individual needs.

One of the biggest changes in the past 40 years has been the recognition that building teachers’ skills is what makes the biggest difference to student learning. Anne admits that the work is much harder today because teachers and leaders need to be adept at so many things: analysing data, planning for each student, including those with complex needs, and keeping up-to-date with their own professional learning. And then there is all the additional paperwork and compliance requirements.

While many of the changes in schooling have been positive, Anne believes that teachers today do not always receive the acknowledgement they deserve. They can be an easy target of politicians and policy-makers. Teaching is a tough job and the best ones are artists; master craftsmen and craftswomen. Every time a radio program takes calls on favourite teachers and the impact that person has had on their lives, the phones go into meltdown. Everyone has a story. Everyone remembers that particular teacher who inspired them to be something more.

Anne says that she doesn’t regret a moment of her career. She is proud of what she has achieved and that she follow the same career path if she was a young person again. And her parting advice for parents is to remember that schools cannot do the work without their involvement and support, to trust that their child’s teachers are well-trained and committed to making a difference and to maintain communication, even when the conversations are difficult ones.

There are many teachers like Anne who have spent a lifetime in the service of young people and their families. To you Anne, and to all other retiring teachers/leaders – I salute your work. Thank you for the incredible contribution you have made. You have changed lives.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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