End of era for three long-serving members

St Raphael’s Catholic School in Cowra lost more than 100 years of combined experience when three members of staff retired at the end of last year.

Principal Michael Gallagher, teacher Jenny White and special education teacher Benjie Healy gathered for a special presentation of appreciation for their long-term union membership at the end of Term 4.

Benjie started working at St Raphael’s Catholic School Cowra in 1990 as an ESL teacher. “For four years I taught a number of Filipino, Chinese and Japanese students who were enrolled at the school,” she said.

“They still keep in touch with me after so many years – that is how I know they are now successful in their chosen fields of endeavour.

As a long-time union member, I have benefited in many ways from the dialogue between employers and the union, and for that, I am most grateful.

“After that I worked as a casual teacher then I was offered a chance to do special education. Working with children with learning difficulties was a plum job for me. It was exciting, challenging and rewarding.

“I always looked forward to going to school as I was excited to discover what the children have retained from yesterday’s lesson. It gave me so much joy to see them blossom and gain confidence in their reading and writing.

“Letting go after working with the children for a while was hard for me as I’ve treated them like my own children, but at the same time rewarding because they no longer need my help.

“I believe that education is a lifelong process. I decided to do a graduate course in Special Education at Charles Sturt University to gain more skills.

“When I finished the course, one of my lecturers encouraged me to do my Master’s in Special Ed (Inclusive) which I was awarded in 2010.

“I was a busy lady because in addition I decided to represent the support staff for the IEU at the equity committee in the Bathurst Diocese, which I did for 10 years.

“I was always looking forward to attending our committee meetings because working with amazing people like Gene Smith, Jackie Groom, Jennie Cosgrove, Di Nugent and the late Warren Frew was both a memorable and enriching experience.

“My work in the committee gave me the opportunity to attend professional in-service in Sydney every year where I met new people whose experiences inspired and taught me how to do better in my job in learning support.

“Every year, the committee organised dinners. I developed so much confidence because they entrusted me with the job of organising the raffles. Collecting donations for the raffles improved both my social and negotiating skills.

“In a way, I feel sad to leave the school that gave me so much joy and opportunity, supportive colleagues and wonderful kids who made me laugh.

“St Raph’s was my ‘happy place’ and will always hold a special place in my heart. With humility and gratitude, I am hopeful that after 31 years of working at St Raph’s, I’ve made a little contribution in making a difference in people’s lives.”

Great compliment

Jenny White taught for 46 years continuously in the Diocese of Bathurst. From the northern beaches, her first job was at a two-teacher school at Eugowra.

“What a social and educational shock,” she said. “Naturally I’ll deeply miss my relationships with students and their families.

“Having been at St Raphael’s Cowra for 38 years, I’ve now taught the children of former students.

“What a compliment and gift to have former students place their children into your educational care.

“Teaching kindergarten probably created the most insightful and sometimes enormous laughter moments. Every year level has great highlights.

“Seeing an ‘ah-ha’ moment when a child really begins to understand how to read has always provided such a sense of satisfaction for me.

“I’ll miss the whole school relationship package – staff, students and families. It’s a vocational career that I’ve immersed myself in with the deepest of satisfaction.”

Changing environment

Principal Michael Gallagher said his reflections have sharpened at retirement.

“As teachers, our daily challenge is to identify and address the demands of a rapidly changing environment and that draws enormous energy,” he said.

“All too rarely do we get the chance to look up and consider the patterns of change and the signs of the times, yet that is precisely what leaders of learning ought to engage in.

“The pace, the density and the complexity of issues on a teacher’s agenda appear to be escalating and good people aren’t finding the space to grow into great people.

“I believe that teachers are incredibly generous and hard-working people, often to their own detriment.

“I believe that constantly calling for more from them damages people, the profession, and learning.

“Our students thrive when teachers are at their best and the role of education systems and professional associations like the IEU must be to ensure that their people are thriving.

“As a long-time union member, I have benefited in many ways from the dialogue between employers and the union, and for that, I am most grateful.

“The challenge ahead though is not to tinker around the edges but to go to the heart of the profession, rediscover the purpose and passion and reconfigure the way we sustain and grow one another.”

Sue Osborne