A big part of Kevin’s life was the time he spent as a teacher.
Kevin decided to become a teacher after a lot of encouragement from me. He quit his job and did a mature age entry course which secured him a place to study a Bachelor of Primary Teaching at the University of Wollongong. A very brave move.
Kevin was a natural. He took his role as a teacher incredibly seriously. Once he completed his degree, he stalled a little in finding a job, because he took the idea of teaching so seriously. Instead of looking for casual teaching work, he continued to work in the other field he was trained in at uni, pouring beer. He didn’t think he knew enough about teaching to be a teacher. He definitely knew enough about beer to work behind a bar, though.
But finally, thanks to some coercing from friends Kev started his career as a teacher doing day to day casual work at Macquarie Fields high school in South Western Sydney, rather than the primary teaching. They booked him everyday for a year, then the car pool finally lead to a block at the adjoining primary school. He did some work in a behaviour unit to see if he could do this permanently but he can’t leave his job at work and the damage done to the children he taught here weighed heavily on Kev. It is not something he could have done and stayed sane.
He was offered what was termed a ‘priority casual’ position, in which he did one year block at Campbellfield Primary school and was then appointed to another South Western Sydney primary school as a permanent teacher.
This school shall remain nameless because I am not going to be very complementary about the systems they had in place. It was a school whose students were some of the most socially disadvantaged in the area. Most of the staff at this school were remarkable people doing an amazing job in their classrooms.
Kevin’s first years here were intense. He taught Stage 1 initially and was forever worried about meeting their educational needs. Kev believed very strongly that it was his responsibility to ensure that these students had the foundations for literacy and numeracy when they finished in his class. It weighed heavily on him when he would hand students on at the end the each year without them being at the level they should be. He took this as a personal failure. The fact that his classes had a higher than school average attendance rate and he had set the foundation for enjoying school meant little to him if they were not reading and writing at an age appropriate level. He taught them life skills. I remember him coming home after his first year 6 graduation dinner at the school devastated that he had to teach a boy of 11 how to use a knife and fork. A child who had never sat a table and had a meal using a knife and fork. Like at the behavioural unit, the social disadvantage of these children weighed heavily on Kevin.
Kevin was then moved to stage 3. He had demonstrated that he had excellent behaviour management skills and related well to the boys who had difficulty sitting still in a classroom and required a more kinaesthetic approach to learning. So, like in previous years, all the stage 3 learning difficulty students, 28 of them, were placed in one class. Each student had a recognised learning and/or behaviour disorder, all had funding but not one cent was spent on teacher’s aide time for this class. The previous two teachers placed on this class both took significant time off on stress leave. If I comment anymore I may say something that breaches my code of conduct. I probably already have.
Kevin did a remarkable job with this class. The attendance rate of these students increased. They were in class doing valuable learning and Kev tried very hard to address their individual learning needs. The effort it took to teach these students was enormous and the physical and emotional levels needed to adequately supervise, monitoring and maintain teaching and learning in the classroom took its toll on a man who took their failures to his as well. Half way through this year, Kevin had had enough. He decided he did not want to be a primary school teacher anymore. He was headed for a nervous breakdown and extended time off on stress leave but rather than go on leave, he accepted a chance to retrain as an industrial arts teacher. He saw this as his only way out of the nightmare he had found himself in. Besides that, no one cared if you could make a perfect dovetail joint as much as whether you could reach state averages in NAPLAN (or SNAP and ELLA as it was known then) results. Primary educations loss was high school TAS’s gain.
So off to the University of Sydney went Kev, for a 6 month intensive training course in Industrial Arts. He was the first to be appointed from his cohort (I think this suggests he was the ‘targeted’ grad). So where did they place the teacher who had given up his career as a primary school teacher because of the stress he placed on himself to redress social disadvantage. A high school in South Western Sydney with the same levels of social disadvantage. But he only had up to 20 in a room and he didn’t have to make them read, write or do maths, he just had to keep them from stabbing one another with chisels.
Again, he threw himself into making life better for the kids he taught. He was tough, caring and compassionate and always on their side. During this time, he hurt his knee playing touch football with the year 12 PDHPE class and was told by Workcover Doctor’s that he had to be appointed to a school within 20 minutes drive of his home. This is how Kevin was appointed to one of the least socially disadvantaged schools in the Illawarra.
To be continued.