I was brought up in the southern suburbs of Sydney and went to Oyster Bay Infants and Primary School in Oyster Bay, after that I attended Jannali Girls’ High School in Jannali NSW. I have great memories of my school years, especially of primary school.
We had a fantastic principal and deputy, I always felt quite strongly that I was part of a warm and caring school community. I had great teachers who sparked a genuine love of learning. I liked high school years as well, mainly. I think I was a strange and awkward child so it wasn’t always fun; I spent a lot of time talking with teachers, rather then other students. I’m still friends with a number of my teachers and enjoy seeing them and hearing from them from time to time. I contact them too.
Great teachers pass on their enthusiasm
I had so many incredible teachers, it’s hard to pick out just a few but there was one particular teacher that I had in Year 6, who had a great sense of humour, a sense of the absurd, which I appreciated. In high school I was taught so well, I still have a passion for ancient history because I had a great history teacher. I’m really interested in art because I had a terrific art teacher, and Jane Austen is my favourite author because I had an English teacher who taught Jane Austen so well.
Teachers who are passionate about their subject matter pass that on to their students; students become the rich recipients of their knowledge and enthusiasm, it’s not just about passing exams. Now at 40 years of age, I really appreciate those ‘gifts’.
A few years ago I was at a Fred Williams exhibition; I sent a text to my art teacher and thanked her for giving me a love of art and an appreciation of Fred Williams.
Teaching not a nine to five job
The teachers I really connected with were the ones who were really excited about what they were doing. Teaching is clearly not a nine to five job. For example I can remember teachers spending a Saturday driving students from Sydney to Canberra to see an art exhibition. I remember being given extra reading lists that teachers made up to extend our understanding about what we were studying.
I really valued being able to talk with my teachers about what was really important to me, such as what I was going to study at university and where I might go for this. My brother and I were the first generation in our family to be able to go to university.
Having teachers to talk with about the courses I could do at university was so important to me. My parents were very supportive and encouraged me, but it was the teachers who could tell me about what I could expect and how I could prepare for university life and a career.
No plan for life in politics
I didn’t plan a life in politics or a career in federal parliament. I did have a political science teacher who suggested that I study political science at university because I enjoyed arguing the issues. I suppose I was interested in politics and was prepared to take on responsibility at school and one thing led to another.
As a parent I can see schools are even better now than when I was a kid – and I really liked and enjoyed school! I see teachers go to an extraordinary amount of effort to help children expand their knowledge, discover their talents and round out their personalities. For example teachers identified that my daughter was very clever in languages and my son so talented at shot put. How would I have discovered that without teachers helping to identify their talents? It’s marvelous, it’s very exciting and it’s the teachers who identify and help bring out those talents.
Critical participants in democracy
I believe it’s so important that teachers encourage children to think for themselves - to challenge them to take an interest and have a view about the world around them and to do the research to back up their thinking.
Teaching students to watch the news, to read newspapers and inform themselves about current affairs is so important. To know what’s happening in the world around them is so important and to ask questions about what they read and see in the news.
Teachers play an incredible role in teaching students to be critical participants in democracy; by doing this they’re doing their students and the nation a favour.