Over It: the HSC, Higher Ed reforms, and Home Renovations

This made me laugh when I checked social media this morning:

EIGHT years on … and … still painting …

… and then I got out of bed and painted a ceiling before I showered, had breakfast, and started my workday!

Here it is: the LAST room in progress. And it needs to progress fast, because my husband is currently sleeping in my daughter’s bed, my clothes are all around me, one child has announced he’s coming home today and the other one says she’s home tomorrow. So if this doesn’t get done in the next day and a half, we are looking at a long weekend (yay!) with more people than beds (boo!).

I don’t think that would make me very popular, somehow.

My Facebook memories tell me that I have been using these September school holidays to work on stuff around the home for a very long time. More than one home, in fact. This is the third one. Nine years ago, I was mid-meltdown over the delayed kitchen. This is what it looked like one day after it was meant to be finished:

Most definitely not finished.

Bizarrely, if your look where the fridge is meant to be, they’d capped off the taps and outlet from the old sink, but left the washing machine taps where they were. So Jody and I somehow managed to lift the washing machine back inside and hook it up for a little while.

Because every kitchen needs a washing machine.

It looks a lot better now. I’ve been meaning to get an “After” photo, but the kitchen is not currently tidy enough for that and I’m, you know, painting ceilings and walls before and after work, so most things around here are only getting untidier!

Focusing on renovations has been a helpful distraction because the higher education sector has been having a tough time of it. At our institution, we are all now on reduced pay, and waiting to hear which of our colleagues have been granted an early retirement package. As if that didn’t bring enough uncertainty into attempts at future planning, we’re waiting to hear the fate of the higher education reforms package, which seems likely to go back to the Senate in early November. All of this sees me dragging my feet and prioritising things like painting and blogging over finalising the agenda for our planning day, which is next week.

Overnight we learned that one of the two cross bench Senators who will ultimately decide the fate of the package has pointed out the inequity baked into it and decided not to support it. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and peace when I read the news–most un-2020 of me. Of course, there is still one undecided vote, and so the legislation may still be passed. I’ve listened to all the arguments for and against, but at the end of the day, I keep thinking of the current Year 12. Not the ones in the news for off-colour scavenger hunts (they are over-privileged drongos, pure and simple, and I refuse to give them cyber-column inches) but the bulk of the 70 000 or so of them who started their Senior year in a smoke-hazed apocalyptic landscape, who’ve spent much of their final year largely out of the classroom because of a pandemic, and who now have to sit their exams and try to get into Uni as though it were any other year. Mind you, they are also potentially facing tougher competition for entry: with high youth unemployment, the first recession in a generation, and a practical inability to take a gap year when travel is off the table and casual employment is hard to come by, we are seeing in early admissions and application data what we always see in recessions: that our young people are turning to the relative safe haven of higher education to up-skill and ride out the worst of the unemployment rises.

Year 12 who, at this point, don’t know whether their degrees are going to cost them what they thought they would when they applied, or some new amount decided by legislation between the times of application and enrollment. Their exams start in a fortnight. By the time the Senate decides what their degrees will cost next year, I’ll be marking the papers that generate their ability to matriculate.

And no matter how you cut it, that seems to me to be profoundly unfair.

Another week, another funeral .. and some free advice for new teachers

As we sat in the chapel, my friend and former colleague leaned over and asked, “How’s your health? Are you feeling OK?”

Gallows humour, but it seemed apt. We’ve been to a lot of funerals this year.

We had headed back to Goulburn, which is always a bit like revisiting the scene of the crime: the site of my first official teaching post, and the place where I met, dated, and became engaged to my husband. The gentleman whose life we were honouring, Bob, had been my husband’s mentor when he was a beginning teacher. Bob had done the reading at our wedding. His widow had painted our anniversary candle, which had been made by the guy with the black humour sitting beside me. In the pew in front was my former boss, and in the one ahead of that was a couple who’d attended our wedding (keep in mind we had fewer than thirty people there – to have five of us in the same room is statistically significant), and in the row in front of that my friend and bonus-Mum who’d come with me to select my wedding dress.

The story my husband tells over and over about Bob is that when regaled with stories about Tony’s early teaching exploits, Bob would ask, “But who was learning? Them, or you?”

railway
Goulburn Railway Station in Sloane St. My Pop, a railway man, was born in Sloane St. I lived in a railway worker’s cottage, also on Sloane St.

After the service we hung out with our former colleagues, and it was easy. I miss these people. As a staff, we had been united, and those bonds remain.

Goulburn

At the club afterwards, one of my colleagues was updating me on his three sons. The eldest I had met earlier that afternoon; the youngest wasn’t there; and I was asking him where his middle child was. Many years ago, as a first year out teacher, I had taught that young man. When I say “taught,” I don’t know that I actually did. I clearly remember someone asking a question about teaching for the HSC of our Methods teacher during the Dip Ed, and she laughed and told us not to worry about it: no school would give an HSC class to a first year out.

Mine did.

Worse, they gave me Contemporary English. We had really only studied 2U and General.

Contemporary English was basically two topics. Total. So we spent six months on a topic about sport (those who know me will understand the irony), featuring David Williamson’s The Club, which is not a bad play, but it’s pretty hard to milk it for content for six months. The other text was Peter Skyzrynecki’s anthology, Joseph’s Coat, which I had studied at Uni. For a week. I think we covered almost everything in that anthology by the end of six months.

Add to that the fact that on Day 1 at that school, I had been called out of an all-staff meeting to answer an urgent call, telling me that my dearest friend from senior school had taken this own life. This Year 12 class was literally my first timetabled class in my new career. I walked in and the boys were seated on one side of the room, talking about hockey, and the girls were on the other, discussing their upcoming debutante ball. These patterns of behaviour were familiar to me, and I immediately started flashing back to my own senior years in Lithgow.

So there we were: I was consumed with grief, and my class were triggering it; I was teaching to the HSC when I was ridiculously inexperienced and arguably ill-qualified; and I was bored by the content. Add to that a class where many of the students resented being “made” to do English, and we were in for a fun time. Year 12 gave me the Amanda Woodward award that year, which was their way of calling me a prize bitch without having to utter that word on assembly. I  reckon I deserved it.

friendly
RBF

I’m not sure what they learned, but I learned a lot. In subsequent years, I would no longer be afraid of teaching HSC kids, and carved a career out of it, at Nowra Tutoring Solutions, in uni transition programs, and in HSC Marking. As much as I declared that that entire class hated me, I do recall one student (aged over 18) with whom I was actually quite close out of school, because of our shared exchange student experiences; another girl stayed after school twice a week while we lifted her literacy via free tutoring; and of course, there was my colleague’s son, who was quiet and polite, and kept himself to himself.

But then, there was Jim.

Jim was a fully-grown man, already 18,  who wanted to be out of school and on a worksite, and my recollection is that he gave me hell every lesson he was actually present. And one day after I had called him to stay back at yet another recess, I finally dropped my teacher guard and said something along the lines of, “this isn’t working – what’s your problem with me?”

So he told me.

Jim didn’t feel respected. He thought I was treating him like a child. So I thanked him for his honesty, told him I’d try to do better, and suggested a means by which he could let me know if he wasn’t happy–that didn’t involve interrupting the class. He acknowledged that he needed to show a bit more respect in the classroom, too. From then on, we treated each other quite differently, and class got easier.

(The texts didn’t get anymore interesting, though).

So that Middle Child of my colleague came in after he finished a work call, and he greeted me warmly. He updated me on his life and career. He’s polite and affable and clever, and doesn’t appear to hold any grudges against any former teachers for their cluelessness.

To any beginning teachers out there: take heart. It seems we don’t do lasting damage. And you will learn so much in those first few years, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Just do what you can to make sure the kids are learning, too.

MHS