This week we welcome @DenyseWhelan1 


Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

I became a K-6 teacher in NSW public schools in 1970. I knew I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was in Year 5 and was fortunate to have teachers in both primary and high school who encouraged this. In ‘those days’ you got a teaching scholarship, a permanent appointment to any school (you could nominate areas) and signed an agreement to teach anywhere in NSW for 3 years. 

My first appointment was as a K/1 teacher in a Central School (K-12) in northwest NSW. I was 20. By year end I’d met my future husband (a one-teacher ‘schoolie’) and eventually ended up in a two-teacher school for the next 2 years, then we got a move to his new school in the Riverina and I became a K-2 teacher in a Central School around 40 minutes away. In 1976 my husband and I were appointed as Acting Principal (him!) and Teacher (me!) at Weilmoringle. Our daughter started school there with us as her teachers. We lived in a school residence and were 12 hours drive from Sydney, where my family lived.

My husband’s promotion there earned us a move to the city, where we could buy our first house. He went to a large K-6 school and I went to the Hills area for the next 5 years. My husband’s health deteriorated in 1978-79 and in 1980 the Dept of Education medically retired him at age 30. This changed my life and career. From 1983 the schools where I worked were in the socio-economically disadvantaged areas of western Sydney.

I got promotions (lists they were called) was raising a family (son came along in 1979) and began a degree via part-time, distance education then a masters, supported by the Department over the next 7 years. I was invited to be a relieving Assistant Principal, then substantive roles in both Assistant Principal and Deputy Principal by merit selection. Over the next 8-10 years I was often a relieving Principal in the school and the asked to be relieving principal at a local school, eventually becoming appointed as a K-6 Principal in a school with 2 autistic satellite classes, 2 OC classes, a 3 class Special education unit and 10 mainstream classes. I was the only non-teaching member of the executive.

I retired early from that principal’s role as my health suffered. It was deemed that I had experienced a ‘burn-out’ and ‘work overload’ and it has not been until recent years that I’ve been prepared to share that.

After a year or so though I missed schools! I didn’t miss being a boss though! A kind friend and colleague gave me part-time temporary work in her school and from 2004-2010 I was an RFF teacher then ESL. I started the ESL program at the school and went to Uni (again!) to get TESOL qualifications. By the time I was 60 (late 2009) I decided to stop. 

In 2013-14 I was a University Practicum Advisor and Tutor in Masters Level subject at UWS. From 2012 I have been an External Observer with BOSTES. In 2011 I began a small education consultancy for pre-schools and families assisting them with how to best prepare children from the transition from home to school

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

The people training to be teachers, are teachers now, and back when I was in schools inspire me. I am so pleased to see teachers coming into teaching and sharing their passion. The kids benefit from this enthusiasm and passion. I get quite disappointed whenever I read of anyone saying ‘don’t go into teaching’ because no-one has a right to discourage anyone thinking of teaching. Teaching is a calling. Yes, it is a career too but much happens in teaching where we can get very dispirited and down yet no day is ever the same and some small reward can make all the difference! The child who couldn’t speak English coming up and asking a question …the children who may not be top academically but put their efforts and interests into non-academic subject. These kids all need to be recognised as well as the ‘stars’.

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

The rewards have not changed much because as I said I believe teaching is ‘within you’ and is a calling and each teacher can name those small rewards which keep you going. What I have always seen as challenges are in fact one I ignored myself until it was too late for my welfare and that is ‘over doing it’. To be honest, I am not sure how this can be avoided or minimised because when I stopped work in 2003 the email systems had only been around for a year. The challenge will be/is self-management despite everyone trying to have a ‘piece’ of you. I hope to have some discussions in my week here about ‘self-care’ and noticing how we might help each other more. Twitter chats are one great way for educators to engage on-line no matter where they are and its been through Twitter that I reconnected professionally following my ‘second last’ retirement in 2010. My final retirement was late 2014 when I stopped my Uni teaching.

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

How long have we got…oh, could we please de-politicise education? That is my suggestion. I have been through all of the changes from where schools were administered by educators not bureaucrats and then acts of parliament which saw the separation of education curricula to boards and then the move towards the national curriculum and so on. There needs to be stable education policies that are not driven by the whims and wishes of the government of the day and their agenda. The system in Australia remains fragmented in some really important ways including starting ages for school, names of classes, handwriting styles, curriculum priorities. For such a small country (population wise) we are a very messy and non-united country for the delivery of consistent high quality education to the students K-12. I have no answers specifically and it has always been a groan from me each time a new government is formed – state or federal

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

I hope to have some discussions in my week here about ‘self-care’ and noticing how we might help each other more. It’s also school holidays in most of Australia so I hope to ask about what everyone’s up to and did everyone ‘survive’ reporting to parents!!

I see EduTweetOz being a place that I wish had been around when I was looking for connect with educators after I left schools and did not know how! As a blogger I knew about twitter back in 2010 when I found twitter and then found my first education-based tweep (I won’t name her but she is still around very much and is a director of schools (or whatever this year’s name is) and through her I ‘met’ so many now friends who are teachers in both K-6 and 7-12 schools. So, twitter convos are ways in which teachers can both engage or just observe. I love how people help each other out and this account is unique and one where others get to share the views and news. Thanks for having me here!


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