He failed his leaving certificate and had to repeat a year at Waverley College, something he attributes to maths classes with more than 35 students.
However, he was determined to be a teacher, having got the bug serving as a leader in the college’s cadet unit. He managed to win a scholarship to teach primary (despite having the audacity to write on the blackboard with his left hand) but decided to qualify for secondary teaching through UNSW.
Involvement with Waverley College’s cadet unit has been a pivotal part of Peter’s life. While studying to be a teacher, he remained involved with cadets, and in fact the college even asked him to teach some classes at the school before he had graduated.
The head boy in the cadets was Peter Cosgrove, the future Governor General of Australia, and the pair are still in touch today.
One of Peter’s proudest achievements is staying in touch with many of his former students and assisting them through their life’s journey.
“Talking to Old Boys at a reunion recently about what they remember of me as a teacher was affirming, very rewarding.”
As soon as he returned to his Alma Mater as a secondary teacher Peter continued serving with the cadets, and also began rugby coaching, another pursuit he has enjoyed for 50 years.
The education scene was different in the 1970s, with unpaid brothers, nuns and priests forming the majority of the teaching staff in Catholic schools with lay teachers on the periphery.
Peter has watched that change over the years, with a move to degree qualified professional teachers. The hangover of teaching being seen a voluntary vocation, with extra curricula activity expected to be done for no pay, is something he is grateful to the IEU for tackling over the years.
“I would particularly advise any teacher working in a private school to join the Union. It gives you added protection in what can be a haphazard employment scene.
“Unlike the AEW, the IEU has to negotiate with a wide range of employers and they’ve done a great job bringing pay equity to the teaching profession.”
Peter has also seen big changes in technology. In the late 70s and early 80s the school was a ground breaker, with one of the brothers introducing a television studio to the school and getting many of the teachers trained as film producers. A producer from Channel Nine would come in to help occasionally.
“We realised it was costing us one hour of our time to produce one minute of a show,” Peter said.
Always moving with the times, Peter is constantly re-educating himself. He has a Master of Arts and Master of Educational Administration and he is grateful for the brothers supporting him to take a one year sabbatical in 1993. He studied in London and Boston.
The advent of more women teachers on the college’s staff has been another change, and Peter said the IEU has played a role in that.
Peter said he has not played a more active role in the Union because he was in leadership positions at the school, including acting deputy principal, and felt his presence might inhibit discussions at chapter meetings. But he has always been aware and supportive.
His tips to new teachers: find a mentor or role model that you admire and wish to emulate, be a good listener, be prepared for challenges, learn to laugh at yourself and most importantly, join the IEU.
“The returns from what you put in as a teacher are massive,” he said.