$5 Education

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In 1984, George Ansell was the senior studies co-ordinator at the TAFE college in Townsville in far north Queensland.  He was a highly qualified accountant who had relocated from South Africa bringing his family to Australia and remains the finest teacher I have encountered in thirty years of education.

My path crossed with George all too fleetingly when in his co-ordinator role my application landed on his desk – as I had applied without including the $5 fee.  I had assumed that I would be able to pay on arrival as in 1984 there were no methods that I could access to pay an amount of money, 800 miles away.  As the enrollment deadline was pending George Ansell paid the $5 fee from his own pocket.  I recall receiving my documents with a little hand written note attached saying as such with no hint that I should pay when I arrived.  As though that was not wonderful enough, I was further blessed to have George as my teacher for a year of rigorous accounting studies.

This two-year course was streamlined into just two semesters over one year and with no assignment assessment was graded with two-three hour exams with a one hour break between exams.  The sealed tests were forwarded for external marking to the Queensland Board of Studies.  Students waited for close to three months for the results but when they arrived I had a near perfect score.  This result would not have been achieved except for the dedicated, committed and talented teaching from George and the selfless deed of paying an enrollment fee for a name on a piece of paper.

I did work hard that year.  I took senior economics, english and modern history which were all exam based only and marked externally.  All courses were by requirement two years of curriculum condensed into one year of teaching with all content covered assessed in split six-hour examinations.  Though set over two weeks, three of my exams fell on consecutive days.  Graduate and Post Graduate studies never felt unmanageable after that year!  George also received the results of all students and could not have been prouder of the achievements.

Touch n Go life had begun and four years later after completing the last three-year teaching qualification to be offered at the Teacher’s College which then amalgamated with the university, I left Townsville moving to the southern end of the state due to an Army posting.  Here I began my first teaching job at Wilston State School.  This beautiful school was my home for the next four years, my classroom next to the remarkable Special Education teacher Bobbie, my first year mentored by fabulous Molly in her final year and all those wonderful 8 years olds who taught me as I taught them.  I loved every minute of it!  My first kids are now heading towards forty years in age!  In the staffroom a teacher told me, “You must have done exceedingly well to get into Wilston.”  By then I knew that this government school was the choice for the Australian Cricket Captain’s children (Greg Chappell) who was kind enough to do some cricket clinics with my kids! Show and tell was a heart valve one day – Dad the most revered heart surgeon in Australia at that time.  It was a positive, achieving culture and certainly a privileged landing for a first year teacher.

I did graduate with distinction which was awarded only to students with a perfect distinction award for the final eight week teaching practicum and grade point average during the three years no less than distinction but mostly high distinction.  I was one of 7 students awarded that year with a cohort around 170.  Though no written policy existed, it was understood that these graduates would be offered placement in the state system first.  Wilson could afford to be picky and I was a source of curiosity coming in from far North Queensland.  They were terrific years with supportive colleagues, good administrators, fantastic kids and well-meaning if not extraordinarily ambitious parents.

I thought of George and wanted to let him know how his $5 investment had turned out. When I returned to Townsville in 1994 I discovered he had retired from teaching and was a minister.  As our family had grown and with two small ones and Miss number three on the way, thoughts of George faded for some time.

With a year of maternity leave (non paid for QLD teachers then – of course!) pending I saw the pilot part time Masters and Guidance and Counseling course advertisement for teacher candidates and crazily applied.  I still thought of myself as a newbie and was chuffed and terrified when I made it to interview.  The panel of three which had me shaking inside soon became friends and colleagues.  The next twelve months were Master of Education (Guidance and Counseling) studies on campus, training workshops for GOITs…Guidance Officers in Training…new borne Annie with me at most and then my school called to ask if I would consider returning early for a one day a week position. The year 7s consisted mainly of my former year 5s and there were major issues.  Yes, I did it.  Yes, I loved it.  Yes, I was crazy.  This was a tough school and home life was not always easy for kids.  There are times when deep down  you know you made a difference and I believe for me, it was usually in tough schools.

I had not forgotten George and found myself near to where his church was located.  On the spur of the moment I called in and found administration.  George was not well and no longer ministering.  Whilst I really wanted to contact him, I was young and did not realize that he and his family would most likely have welcomed me.  I felt I did not want to intrude and thus time passed, we moved on again and George became a fond memory.

So to my teacher George –

Thank you so much, I did really well on those senior exams and received a first round offer into my course of choice.

Thanks heaps George as I loved teaching and completed my Masters and qualified as a Guidance Officer back when they even trusted us to administer the WISC and the Stanford Binet.

I taught in primary in QLD, NSW and ACT.  I did some casual teaching in secondary. These schools were government, Catholic and Independent.  George, they all had their merits and I am proud to have such a diverse education legacy.

So George, I taught Foundations of Education Psychology in Hawaii, USA and I have never studied harder in my life to keep pace!  I also assessed student teachers across Hawaii and introduced a written reporting system to the University and School Principals (based loosely on my guidance training and reporting).

George, I tutored at UC in an indigenous program and made a world of difference for quite a few young people and in particular a talented young boxer – teaching, it just does not get better than this!

And George, my final year was spent at one of the finest schools I could ever hope to contribute to. Teaching the IB was a highlight of my career – and guess what George, I finished where I started with year 3.  Always my heart!

I know I cannot tell you all this now.  You were 60 something when I arrived in your class at 22.  But George, I wanted to let you know how your five bucks turned out.

Thank you does not cover it.  Oh and George, if I did not pay that $5 back…and I sure hope I did…but if not, I know you helped me pay it back in Education.

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Happy Day of Birth Mum

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When I started this blog, I cited one of the main reasons as legacy – looking back for the benefit of looking forward.  For many years now I have particularly and deeply thought about my mother on my birthday.  Next month will mark seven years since my Mum died in palliative care in Brisbane.  I shared fifty years with Mum, those baby ones that I don’t recall, snippets of early childhood then a whole mash of memories and feelings which make up a life.

My birthday is the sixth day of September.  It was a home birth with a midwife in attendance at 848 Argyle Street in Glasgow, Scotland.  Incredibly, this was the common practise of the era.  If a woman’s first hospital delivery was without complications, subsequent births would be at home with the midwife in attendance.  Fathers were not present in the birthing room.  Certainly during those tough years in Glasgow, men were not necessarily able to leave work nor be in communication with the home.  Childbirth was a women’s domain.  I do know that my father was home given the early morning hour I made my entrance.  More than once my mother told me the story of how the progressive midwife called my father into the room and passed me to him fresh from the state of birth.  He did not receive a cleaned, sweetly wrapped baby girl!  When I was younger I was embarrassed by this, when I was older I wished I had asked my father what that was like for him.

I didn’t always think about Mum on my birthday.  Most of my birthdays were thinking about me – what would I get? What kind of cake would there be?  We did not have parties though there was always something a bit special about dinner and a cake from the fabulous cake shop at Annerley.  Just walking into this family run shop was a treat. Butterfly cakes with real cream and a dot of strawberry jam, buttery slices and trays of beautifully crafted cakes tempting locals from behind the spotless glass counter.  The cake shop only changed hands when the owners became too elderly to run it.  It turned into a ‘hot bread’ shop with sad looking mass produced buns and donuts.

Last night when I awoke after midnight, I did think of Mum.  I was trying to imagine how she must have been feeling fifty-seven years ago in labour with baby number four. My Mum was just twenty-five.  In the house that night my siblings would have been fast asleep.  My sister was five, my big brothers four and two.  In another hour my Mum would be recovering from birth with a new born and three little ones to look after.  At twenty-five I was in my second year of a teaching degree, working part time in the cash office at Target (back in the days where we would collect the cash from the registers – easily counting and banking tens of thousands of dollars on a busy Saturday morning when the stores closed at noon) and living nearly eight hundred miles from Mum and Dad’s home.  We were in our third year of marriage, we had a dog, hosted dinner parties that went into the wee hours and were not even close to thinking of having one baby, let alone a house load of kids!  My Mum had endless energy and could never leave a job undone though I must imagine that she would have had moments when she wondered how long it would be until we all grew up.

So today Mum is on my mind.  I have missed her for seven years and before that I lived a life that took me miles and continents away from her.  She was not perfect my Mum, nor am I – who is?  Mum was a softie, could be talked into most things, never ever set out to upset anyone or be hurtful.  She was clever but uneducated and nursed that missed opportunity with regret.  My Mum knew better than anyone how to have a roaring good time.  She was a fabulous dancer and as a young woman lived for the Friday night dance at the Palais in Scotland.  Mum sang beautifully, whether peeling potatoes or sitting on my Dad’s lap with a rowdy bunch of Scots at the Caledonian Club. She was happiest in the garden and grew marigolds.  Mum never complained about weeding and after three kids myself I discovered that if you are out in the garden weeding – everyone tends to leave you in peace!  I think Mum knew that too!

It’s my birthday Mum and I am thinking about you.  I’m not sad Mum though I miss you so much.  I’m just truly glad that I have so many stories and memories to put my mind on.  I know I am blessed to have those.  So thanks Mum, thanks for my birthday and Mum, happy day of my birth.

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The Good, The Bad and The Acknowledged

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I have just finished writing a brief letter to the manager of my local supermarket. Interestingly we have two of the major players in our small shopping centre.  When we first arrived earlier this year we tended to divide our dollars between the two in order to support the employment of staff at both stores.

Over time though we have found ourselves more drawn to one of the stores because the customer service is more attentive, cheery and competent.  Family members have verified independently that there is a distinct difference between the customer service at the stores.

Like many of us, I can be quick to complain when things are not right, lacking or mistakes are made.  Over the years I have tried to make time to give positive feedback when it is warranted.  Admittedly, not often enough.

My letter to the manager has taken just mere minutes and I have pointed out that the customer service is friendly and seamless.  It strikes me that the training of staff must be exceedingly competent and customer focussed – a person or several people are doing a really good job of developing an effective service culture and I want to acknowledge their efforts.

I will provide a copy of my letter to the manager of the other store.  Whilst yesterday I huffed out of there after some snippy service thinking – that’s it, I’m not coming back here anymore.  Today I have decided that perhaps reading my thoughts on the shopping experience with great service just 20 steps down the mall may provide the constructive feedback I feel this team needs without taking aim at individuals.

It’s a small thing to do – acknowledge the good but do not accept the substandard in silence.  Do both!

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Where Is Your Happy Place?

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When I consider this beautiful beach location which overlooks an island of which a large portion is uninhabited national park and forestry plantations, I define ‘happy’ as the contentment I feel along this stretch, how fortunate I am to live here and the sheer pleasure a simple walk beside this beach brings.  The stunning passage between the island and the mainland is a protected marine park.  It is possible on the stand up paddle to see an amazing array of fish but this water corridor is also home to dugongs, turtles and dolphins.

I believe that connectedness seeps into our soul allowing us to feel whether a situation is right for us or not.  We must however, be open to the message our souls may be sending.  How often have we heard a friend, relative or indeed ourselves declare how a certain house had a feeling about it the moment we walked through the door.  Real estate agents can never explain the phenomenon to potential buyers but they silently wish for it!

Some places just feel right and though I have not lived here for even a year, this little quiet patch is very much my match!  Though it’s not just my happy place because it is beautiful, or I have shared walks, kayaking, paddling and fish and chip suppers here with my family.  It has also been a place I have been pulled to in times of deep sadness, family loss and a cooling off spot when domestic bliss needs a breather.

There is a new pup in the family, still weeks from final vaccinations and clearance to romp out into the big wide world.  I have a child like impatience waiting to introduce him to this place in particular.

I have already informed ‘His Majesty’ (a family term of endearment for Mr Husband and Father) that they are to take my ashes out on to the passage at sunset, scatter when ready and toast with champagne – and make sure it’s the real stuff and out of glasses not plastic!

Where is your special place?  Perhaps it is yet to be found and felt?

 

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Puppy Tales

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!Es otro cuento largo!  It’s a long story! His name is Pendles – not the easiest name on the tongue, though I can see he should grow into it.  I am well-informed by our resident expert on all things Collingwood that the name, inspired by Captain Scott Pendlebury is given not just for the footballer’s immense sporting prowess but most importantly for the respectful, fair, gracious and well liked man who the ‘real’ Pendles is!  There’s also an incident about bouncing a ball on a pigeon and still coming up with perfection that apparently added to the weight of naming this baby border collie – Pendles.

He is a coast boy like our dear Jack and though it is ridiculous, there is a smidge part of me that likes to dream that they have a related thread.  Though we are definite about not comparing, as Jack was our dog of 15 years – a kelpie collie cross with the look of a handsome black and white wonder but the slightly smaller frame and increased agility of the kelpie.  We all swore that boy knew every word we said – he was certainly smart and never failed to be excited and waiting for his run with the all things Collingwood tragic.

Our Noosa boy Jack supposedly fell from a ute – he was such a delightful dog when he came to us at around six months via the Noosa RSPCA (we’ll just look they told me…tell Mum you’ll call him Jack, then she’ll say yes he told the three kids who would happily have stayed behind in the cage with him – had I not relented).  Jack came to us with complete manners, a delight of an animal so perhaps someone really had lost their magnificent pup.  Well, we loved him for the next decade and a half and all in all he had a good life – not rounding up sheep which this clever boy would have easily excelled at but rounding us up and seeing three youngsters into their teens and independent adulthood.

Now Pendles – my name choice was Chewy and at present he is well fulfilling that would be name! Pendles is likewise a coast boy, not Noosa but Rosemount.  (We’ll just look I told him!) From a litter of twelve, five boys and seven girls he was the last boy to be selected.  (Waiting for us, I say!)  I have no idea how good those other little boys are being but our fella howled pretty much non stop on the first two nights!  It would be dishonest to say that the thought that we might have made a grand mistake did not enter my fogged out brain during those wee hours.  On day two we abandoned the expensive doggy pen (which he hated) and introduced him to the side yard (enormous and safe) and family peace has ensued since!

He is a delight.  He is exhausting.  He is adorable and regularly frustrating.  I believe he could be far naughtier and for us, number 5 is a very lucky number.  The sweet pup can play on his own, prefers to be where ever we are – especially where ever Mr ‘Go The Pies’ is situated.  Pendles is joy, fun and light, providing endless pleasure.  Walking him daily is a feat as his attention span is well, comparable to frozen peas just at the moment.  It is delightful to see his interest sparked by a passing leaf, a feeding wallaby on the golf course and then the fascinating lady on her patio who adored his little sit down and refusal to walk until he had one jolly long look at her!

He pops his lead in his mouth to go for a walk and I silently hope that he never gives up that puppy habit – it is so darned cute.  Although supposedly confined to the garden until the full round of vaccinations have been administered in a month – the carefully planned walk takes us down the middle of our neighborhood street where no doggie friends have peed or pooed! On Thursday we start a round of puppy training with no doubt an emphasis on training the pet owners rather than the puppies.  Presently he is a little wary of other dogs and should one pass, even at distance, he sits on his furry bottom and refuses to move.  He is not timid but incredibly curious and watchful.  Roll on Thursday and we shall see if that remains so!

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Should I Stay Or Should I Go And Do I Have The Right To Say?

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That holiday – that one which was – ‘just to have a holiday’ seems so long gone, disintegrated by trauma and the deepest of losses.  When the two of us, along with more than eight million other Australians who embark on international trips made plans to travel we certainly held conversations about flights, hotels, tours and itineraries.  Yes, we bought travel insurance but we did not and have never discussed prior to disembarkation the action we would take in the event of an emergency.  Who would?  Who wants to even think about an accident or illness befalling a loved one? Our trip was last-minute, relatively short – less than a full month.  We could never have imaged three weeks after setting off across the globe that we would be frantically searching for extra flights, changing existing flights, abandoning a tour, forgetting to cancel hotel bookings and existing in a state of panic and distress every step of the very long way home.

Our story had the most heart wrenching ending, the passing of my husband’s mother, though 89 years of age, she was a force.  Strong, with minimal health issues and a will power not easily matched, our future thoughts were always looking towards the cake of 100 candles.  Shortly after arriving back in country we were relieved to be informed that she was showing all the signs of recovery and that our decisions made in panic may have been hasty.  Agonisingly, the following hours brought a rapid but gentle decline.  My husband was beside his mother as she passed and had the excruciating blessing of three days to support his siblings and provide strength and ease at the family death.

I have felt the burden of similar wrenching decisions. When my own father was ill in hospital our youngest daughter was days from traveling to the UK on a school netball tour.  My Dad was insistent that she go and requested that specific details of his prognosis be kept private until her return.  Life would not wait and nor would we have wanted the terrible pain he had to endure until his passing to be prolonged but sadly my Dad’s life ended in the days when she was making her way home.  It was a difficult decision to make but I have never regretted honouring my father’s wishes.  Our Mum would pass away more gently from heart failure just five weeks later and this time I would be days from returning after I had travelled home briefly whilst living at the most northern end of our big state.

We lived in the USA for the final two years of military life.  Being on the east coast we could barely be further from our family and lived through the sad medical decline of my husband’s beautiful Dad, Harry.  Though there was minimal leave on this post, when we did have those precious two weeks we used them to trek across the globe and have the most glorious visit with Harry whilst he was still living in his family home.  That previous May when I had met my daughters in the UK for a two-week trip we had many discussions about possible plans as it became a heart wrenching time when Harry was gravely ill and not expected to regain health.  Everywhere we stopped we found the village church and prayed for strength, recovery and ease.  Each day as we waited on updates we had our plans in our minds.  On that occasion we were truly blessed as against all medical odds, Harry made a thankful recovery.

On our return from the USA we finally made the decision to pass through Amsterdam for a few days.  I say ‘finally’ as I was adamant that we needed to fly direct.  By now my celtic superstitious nature which was understandably on overdrive had me convinced that being overseas brought uneasy karma to my world.  We had a spectacular four days with unseasonal snowfall which blanketed the beautiful old streets and canals – a breathtaking sight and particularly one of life’s miraculous shows for Aussie east coasters.  What we were unaware of during this time was that our youngest daughter was involved in a serious car accident.  Whilst there were no injuries to either driver, her car was so badly damaged it was written off.  Serious sibling discussion and input from two wonderful partners came to the conclusion that telling us would result (and it would have) in an over reaction and panic driven return travel.  Ironically, on the first day back we ended up in the emergency department of our local hospital due to a slash to the bone on my husband’s leg and it was right in the middle of this that our daughter rang to tell us of the accident events!  Our young ones made a measured decision centred on the fact that there were no injuries, no ramifications and with all the official aspects competently handled by our lawyer daughter they made the call to have us enjoy our few sensational days strolling the old town, galleries and canals of Amsterdam.

I truly believe you can honour a loved one from where ever you are and indeed my fear on those occasions of decision making was that the very act of long distance travel which takes away communication for extended stretches could in fact be the wrong choice at the wrong time.  With the advent of miraculous communication options, it is a decision that has never been harder to make.  Sadly, I know of circumstances where the time taken to travel has taken away the opportunity to be in contact with the loved one and family during those precious last hours.  Many of us can recall our early travel when any form of communication could be weeks and indeed months apart.  It was a time where circumstances took away any hope of final reunions.

A dear woman recently passed, years too young and the circumstances beyond tragic and painful for the family.  I had known her best as a sweet young teen, full of plans and dreams.  I could not be at the service but I took myself to the beach at that time, had braided my hair in the style she had patiently taught me and felt a peaceful yet strong connection in my private honouring.  When I wrote to the family I told them of my private farewell and their collective response was truly heart warming.

To stay or go?  It is a deeply personal decision unique for each individual and the circumstances of the moment.  One would hope that such decisions are never based on possible perception nor ever held up for judgement.  Deep regard and respect must also be given to those who have the most difficult position of relaying information between the medical fraternity and loved ones near and far.

My children have wings.  They have been and will be travellers.  I have already impressed upon them my heartfelt belief that they can honour a dear one from where ever they are.  I tell them if ‘something happened’ I would not want them to rush in panic or put themselves on long, late roads and they remind me kindly though bluntly – that’s not my call.  Indeed, I have the right to proactively aim for their ease but no, I don’t get to say.

And finally, especially to all the young travellers whose economic situations may force tough calls, I have told more than one – find repose and be peaceful, as you can honour your dear one from where ever you are geographically – love exists in heart and spirit thus your loved one is right there with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life After Green

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My husband of soon to be thirty-five years in January, shared some sage advice passed on to him by a peer during the two month process of separating from military service. “Take up some hobbies – I mean, have you actually lived with your wife?” The well meaning mate does have a point.  Ours has not been a conventional life or I suppose a typical marriage – if such a concept could be defined.

His service to country encompassed thirty-eight years consisting of an agonizingly high number of deployments of active duty and even more time away from home for training exercises, courses, conferences and an extraordinary number of operational command positions which necessitated long hours.  Moving interstate and living in the Middle East and America meant many houses which became homes, interrupted schooling for our children and career gains and losses for me.  It also shaped exhilarating adventures and opportunities, travel beyond what either of us could have imagined after saying, “I do” and the bitter sweet ebb and tide of wonderful friendships.

Like most families with a parent or possibly both in service, touch and go life does not only refer to time and place.  We decided early on not to count the days apart but rather to focus on the times together.  Though we know the number of postings, houses, schools and jobs we have little use for such raw statistics.  We feel blessed to have not faced the adversity of other families and have always remembered to be deeply thankful.  Life for families with a parent in the military is demanding, requires resilience and is absolutely not for everyone.

Our life after green, that is life after the army is a new season which is gently but surely unfolding.  Those ‘old mates’ who are already out tell us – it takes a good three to four years to get settled.  That is about a posting cycle, give or take.  We shall see!

We are about to embark on a four week holiday.  There have been very few actual holidays for my husband and I.  In the early days economics dictated no travel.  In the slightly later days a backseat full of small wonders ensured holidays were long – very long (think pre-technology) drives to see parents and siblings.  Some postings were year long holidays (well, for the kids and I) and there were trips taken across the globe which crack our faces from smiling and laughter as we look back through the various medias available at the time.

Though, four weeks away on a holiday – just to go on holiday.  Well, that may just test the actually living with wife or husband prophecy.  There are a few brilliant folk to catch up with along the way – perhaps that will ensure that we are still willing to be allocated seats together on the way home.