4 Aug 2022

My time as a High School teacher

After I did my M.A. at the University of Sydney in 1968, I went to the School of Behavioural Sciences at Macquarie University to do my Ph.D. I supported myself initially by part-time tutoring in Social Psychology at Macquarie. Later I had the idea of doing High School teaching to support myself. I had no Diploma of Education so the New South Wales Department of Education gave me the heave-ho but a small regional Catholic school (at Merrylands) gave me a job teaching economics and geography. The school was Cerdon College run by the Marist sisters.

Australia was so short of teachers in those "baby boom" years that my one year of Economics at the University of N.S.W. counted as sufficient qualification for teaching the subject at High School level. I in fact taught upper level economics, which was not far short of university level.

For geography I just kept a chapter ahead in the textbook. In my own schooling I had only ever done Junior geography. But my students all did well enough at exam time

Merrylands was a working class area but all my students eventually did well in their H.S.C. economics examinations. As I recollect, all my students passed their HSC and four got on to the statewide order of merit list. The Higher School Certificate serves as the university entrance examination.

Sister Aquinas, the Head of the school, was a very smart lady. I liked her. I wonder if her vocation endured. I see that she was still in the Marist Sisters order in 1980 so perhaps it did. I believe her birth name was Joan McBride. Her choice of her religious name suggested an intellectual orientation and I believe I saw evidence of that

In the photo below, I am the guy in the back row with the black glasses. I had more hair then. The photo was taken in 1970. The photo is of all the school staff. In those days Catholic schools still had religious staff, at least in part.

Later, in my early years as a lecturer at Uni. N.S.W. I got permission to do outside work part-time and was thus able to return to Secondary School teaching.

I again taught Higher School Certificate Economics -- this time at a now defunct "progressive" ("non-directive") school at Birchgrove called "Chiron College". "Progressive" meant little or no school discipline. A.S. Neill's "Summerhill" school was very fashionable at the time so was part of the inspiration for Chiron College. The school has since ceased to exist. It was associated in some way with artist Charles Blackman, who I think supported it. A number of students came from artistic homes and most came from generally wealthy famiies

The students did not all adapt well to the low discipline. About half of them skipped many classes but greatly improved their skills at playing cards. The other half however did quite well because they came from homes where educational achievement was expected. In other words the parents had to provide the motivation that the school did not. So they turned up for my classes. So the HSC results were very mixed. Around half did well and half failed. In summary: For a certain bourgeois minority, "progressive" education can work. For mass education it would be a disaster