Monday, September 24, 2007

On the enduring power of good teachers

I see that Neil has started a new blog! This one focuses on teachers and teaching.

A little while ago I saw a rather wonderful post on the Blonde Canadian's blog about her teaching. This led me to write a heart felt comment and then write a post on the power of passion.

I think that teaching is a wonderful but badly underrated profession. The power of my best teachers has followed me down through my life. Many are now dead, but they endure in my memory.

Now that I am older and more reflective, I have started to record some of them to try to carry their memory on. I know that this will have limited effect, but it is my personal tribute.

Teachers like Mr Fittler who gave me room to grow in third and fourth class at Armidale Demonstration. Or George Crossle at TAS who helped instil in me a love of history and whose treatment of an essay on the White Australia Policy forced me to question my own unthinking acceptance of the status quo.

Brian Mattingley, the teacher who so influenced Alex Buzo and who gave me a love of English. Peter Brownie who challenged me intellectually by giving me university level geography work to read.

At University level, Isabel McBryde who not only created so much fun but gave me an interest in the Aborigines that holds to this day. Or Ted Tapp whose reflective views on history provided an enduring foundation for my own thinking.

Not all great teachers are to be found at school or university. Here I think of Chris Sharah in the Commonwealth Treasury.

Chris was killed in tragic circumstances, an enormous loss. He not only saved my public service bacon at one point, that's another story, but he was absolutely punctilious in improving my English.

He used to take and red pen my writing, spending long periods explaining to me what he had done and, more importantly, why. The clarity and brevity of my minutes to the Treasurer improved greatly as a consequence.

In this current age, it is hard to imagine a Government Department that prided itself on the standard of its writing. Yet that is what Treasury then did, and may still do for all I know, seeking to present complex ideas in simple and sometimes elegant form.

At least in Chris's case I was able to provide some payback.

After his death his brother came to work for me and then accepted a job in the private sector. John Stone as acting head of the Department directed that James be essentially put into isolation.

I thought that this was wrong, and fought it, refusing to comply. Finally Sir Frederick Wheeler, upon his return to duty, ruled in my favour. It was not easy as a section head to stand against the acting Departmental Secretary, but I thought it an important issue of principle. I also had the personal satisfaction that I was doing something for Chris.

I suppose that throughout my working life I have been a frustrated teacher. Certainly I believe that I have an obligation to pass my skills on, to encourage my people to think and question. In doing so, I would like to think that I am carrying on the influence of my key teachers.

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