When I was younger, in fact 5 years more than half my age right now (I love a good Maths riddle!), I was absolutely convinced that my future profession lay in something that when you said the word, changed people’s perception of your intellectual capacity instantly. Unfortunately, teaching was not inclined – as a word – to do this, therefore the very thought of teaching was not on the shortlist. Journalist, Architect and Osteopath all were. Do you see how these words almost jump off the page? Morphologically, and etymologically they are more challenging words, and to me, a naiive 17 year old, that would extend to a more gratifying choice of profession. Osteopathy was chosen and off I went into a world of anatomy and physiology, swimming in names of body parts, at the micro and macro level. Looking through microscopes at the way our bodies are put together, whilst at the same time manipulating other student’s bodies to translate text-book meaning. I look back at these two years and although I was unprepared for the 42 contact hours a week, I was totally enthralled by the notion of sitting in a lecture hall, poring over textbooks, and re-writing copious notes. Knowing what I know now, about teaching and learning that is, I would say I was laying the foundations of wanting to be part of education back then, like a gentle lapping tide tapping at my feet as I stood on the edge of the water. After two years I returned home to be with my terminally ill mother, saying to all that would hear me – I will come back soon.
I didn’t go back, earning my own money was alluring. Having committed to an engagement so my dying mother would ‘have some comfort’ in her last two weeks was also a contributing factor. I followed through with this promise and was married at 22 and had my first son at 24. But something was missing. I yearned to feel mentally stimulated. I needed to learn. When pregnant with my second son a year later I began a Business degree. Why business? It met the criteria – I could study from home, I was always good with maths and it contained legal studies to which I was very interested. After 6 years of part-time study and three sons born in 4 years I graduated. I had already been working part-time as an assistant accountant and the field of management accounting with its ‘what ifs’ and ‘what now’ was providing me with the stimulation I craved. Unfortunately though my marriage did not stand the test of time and at 33 I found myself with three small children, no house, a small wage (graduate accountants are paid abismally) and ambition to learn as much as I could in my chosen profession. I worked hard, too hard, and often found myself picking my children up from daycare only to ‘dump’ them in reception with some snacks, toys and a promise that ‘I wouldn’t be long’. I loved the work but struggled with finding the right balance as a mother. I look back and I was trying to save everybody and everything that came across my desk, I really wasn’t suited to charging out my time by the minute to an unsuspecting client (and not feeling guilty about it).
It was at the end of a very long week, when critical deadlines had been met, and children (my own) yelled at that I stood back and looked very closely at where I was and what I wanted for myself and my children. I had been outsourced to complete 25 hours per week Bursar duties for a start-up independent school. I loved this job, but the circumstances and predicament of their financial position was not immediately evident. As I delved in and got my hands dirty (some would say unrecognisably filthy) I realised that the situation was dire. The principal had tried to grow the school too quickly, buildings had appeared without any understanding of the burdening debt the school was carrying. I had been asked by the principal and the Board to come on as Business Manager. I did take this ‘leap of faith’ and I now know why. I was turned on by the feeling of working ‘in a school’. It was alive, it seemed the most authentic way to give to something bigger – the future of our country lies with our kids. And, I was part of this, or so I thought. The experience of trying to keep the school afloat nearly killed me. The burden of not being able to tell anyone was, looking back, not fair. But I did it until the day when the new management structure did not feel I was able ‘their type of person’. How did I feel? In Australia, we use the term ‘gutted’ to mean feeling as if someone has reached inside you, and viscerally pulled out your insides. But, underneath this was also a nagging feeling that I was going to be free of the strain, the pressure to ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’, to lessen the impact of someone else’s negligently ignorant decision-making. Also, the gentle tidal lapping had begun to increase, I looked down and felt my feet firmly in the sand and the waves were now hitting with more than a gentle force halfway up my legs. I had been looking, with the eyes of someone who sees green appearing from the blackened bush after a bushfire, and more than anything I had been feeling a sense of a renewed possibility in life. My wonderings of ‘could I be’ and ‘is this me’ were forming into definite pointers in my life. I was moving from contemplating teaching to feeling a great desire to be nothing else but a teacher.
The point I truly knew was toward the end of my Graduate Diploma year when I was being assessed on my Prac placement by a very skilful and passionate lecturer. She sat and observed my lesson and I strangely lacked the butterflies I thought I would have. I just ‘did’. As I have recently learned from lessons in positive psychology, I was in my ‘flow’. At that point I was still entertaining secondary teaching, simply because I felt I had the skills and knowledge to impart to older students in the areas of Business, Commerce and Accounting (did I mention I had also completed my CPA qualification over the last few years?). When this lecturer looked me in the eyes post-teaching, she didn’t need to speak, I knew what she was going to say. This was me, teaching and being part of young people’s lives, cheerleading, supporting and promoting their growth both as learners and young people who will one day take a place in our society was my calling. I was home, after years of questioning my purpose in life I knew I had reached the door to the rest of my life. Interesting isn’t it, when you know you have arrived, when that gentle lapping has washed over you, so completely that you can’t do anything but give into the giant wave.