Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Looking back - my life as a teacher

My life as a teacher

Looking back on the variety of experiences in different schools and places I realize that there were times of failure as well as positive interaction with teenage students.  Here are some of the memories of those times. I taught mainly art and music, but in Fiji added Scripture, English, History which I energised by writing plays, adding artwork and creative writing.

The first appointment was at Bendigo High School  in an annex with Forms 1,2,3,4 art and some music with a piano.  Forty children to a class was a handful but that was the norm then.  We had adequate material for painting, drawing, even pottery, the latter not successful as we had an ordinary room and clay requires a specific type of room to be able to keep clean and tidy and the school cleaner was not exactly my friend.  Work was done quickly, the students producing many paintings on newsprint, too hurried now I realize.

I went to Fiji in 1962 and taught in a variety of secondary schools, mainly at a Methodist school in Suva called Dudley High School, When we lived in Rakiraki I taught part-time because of giving birth to two little boys by then.  I became an English language teacher there and being the second language of the children they struggled with Shakespeare and so on but we got along well. Peceli was manager of a Methodist Primary School and we both taught Scripture there (unpaid of course) including participating in the celebrations when Fiji became independent in 1970.

Pictures are of view from Dudley teachers' house, Dudley school, view from my two rooms in Toorak, Suva. 
One year, living at Dilkusha when Peceli was part of a team ministry in the Indo-Fijian community, I took the bus to Suva to teach at Dudley – the whole school in stints of half an hour turnover – crazy as this included tie-dying, batik, stencilling, all sorts of things,  and Marist where I taught screen printing in the science room, blunting their precious knives. We had some good excursions those days, taking groups of teenagers down to the Museum or to a graphic art designer’s studio.

We moved to Peceli’s home-town of Labasa in 1972 and I again became a part-time teacher and the Ratawa family helped by looking after George, Robin and Andrew at home. One successful project was screen printing  at All Saints School in Labasa,  making our own printing ink with Dylon dye mixed into the paste made from boiling cassava vegetables.  Our students won all the major prizes in a national art competition so I took a group down to Suva for the prize-giving. I lost interest in teaching there though when a Hindu principal replaced the missionary head of that Anglican school and he was very dismissive of the Christian religion.
When we migrated to Australia we first went to Swan Hill and I got a short-term teaching appointment at Swan Hill Tech.  Art work in schools by then had slowed down to producing more careful, detailed, paced work, and I got stuck into lino-cuts with the students with great equipment and good results.  They were beaut students. I also taught a few students to play the piano as they had a grand piano in the school.

At Hopetoun my career as an art teacher plummeted as I wasn’t given art, but craft, using a redundant metalwork room, still with the Bunsen burners set into the benches. I decided that pottery was not on without a better room and a kiln, so ended up attempting to teach crafts such as metalwork and leatherwork, not very successfully. I wasn’t interested and passionate about it.  By then I was tired of trying to do three jobs – as the wife of a clergyman, a home-maker with three young children and as a teacher so I decided to stay at home, but of course not long after I went back to study off-campus at Deakin University in Geelong.

My life as a student

I can say that I enjoyed being a student always, more than the task of being a  teacher.  The training college years at Prahran Tech,  RMIT, Fine Arts at Melbourne University were three brilliant years, even going out to secondary schools loaded up with teaching aids was fulfilling. Then at Bendigo I spent four evenings a week at Bendigo Tech aiming to fulfil the requirements of Diploma of Art majoring in pottery. Fellow-students were mainly younger or my age – I was 20 when I started there.  It was a joyful time.

Years later, Deakin University in Geelong offered study off-campus so I started one subject called ‘Australian City’ when we lived in Hopetoun. I was lucky to be able to change to on-campus when Peceli was appointed to the East Geelong parish.  We did not only make very large drawings and painting but also photography, life drawing, and so on – all at the old RSL Mill building at the bottom of Pakington Street. To fulfil the requirements of the BA I took the bus out to Waurn Ponds campus to add anthropology and ethnic music subjects which I continued to Masters level. l loved research, the lectures in music, including a stint on Pacific music at Monash, and then I collected songs in a few weeks fieldwork  in Fiji for my thesis. There was no cost then for study – only a small student fee. I was very fortunate to do the MA then.  There were conferences also where I gave a few small lectures and mixed with the elite of the world’s top ethnomusicologists. Hmm. They mainly revamped their early research and were mainly disappointing.

Later I caught the Newcomb bus to many classes at the Gordon TAFE in Geelong, some about IT, working with images on the computer, professional writing and editing, some excellent creative writing classes. The cost was minimal then, so different to the year 2017 for TAFE subjects.  I wrote many poems, short stories, drafts of novels, and edited about ten little books.

Then came the time to stay at home more, examine the untidiness of the home base, start writing without the network of fellow-students, no longer catch the bus every second day.  I miss the interaction with students of various ages and the stimulation of hearing their stories, seeing their artwork. So  now it became just writing on two blogs – Babasiga and Geelong Visual Diary, and also mostly daily updates of trivia on facebook.

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