Jan Aitkin

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Telopea, Telopea:  a teacher’s eye view.

Jan Aitkin

Telopea will always be a special place for me:  my late parents-in-law met there in the Principal’s office, I taught there for several years myself and one of my daughters was there as a student.  And twice we lived very close to the School – in Dominion Circuit and then Belmore Gardens, Barton.  We shopped at Manuka, the kids swam in the icy Manuka Pool and went to Forrest School.  We ate at the Wine and Food Club.

The area was our village.

It was a great place to teach.  Alec McPherson was an excellent headmaster – firm, approachable and with a good sense of humour.  When I was at the school it was in a state of transition:  the high schools had been changed from selective to local entry.  Telopea had played second fiddle to Canberra High for years and suddenly this changed.  Telopea by virtue of geography got the kids from the inner southern suburbs which housed the diplomatic corps, public service and the university.  It also got the kids from the Causeway who came from rather less privileged backgrounds. 

This was also the period when the school system was changing from the old Intermediate and Leaving Certificates to the School and Higher School Certificates.  This added a real level of difficulty to teaching and learning because we all had to guess at how the new system would work in practice.

For teachers the staff room with its denizens is an important place:  refuge from the kids and a chance to moan about everything and have a bit of a laugh. We were lucky to have some experienced older staff like Eunice Hughson and Bett Thompson – both very funny and a delight to teach with. 

A particular problem for Telopea staff was the fact that many kids came from families who expected great academic achievements, sometimes regardless of where the kid’s talents really lay.  As well there were the kids from the Diplomatic Corps families who had had quite patchy educations and whose command of English could be quite superficial.  As time went on I noticed that quite a few kids reacted to the pressure by simply dropping out.  Others of course went on to great things in that local industry, the Public Service.

Personally I really enjoyed the whole Telopea experience – lots of good keen kids to teach and a good Principal.  What more could a teacher ask?

Jan Aitkin.  10.07.11

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