Small moments and big rewards

Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those, the art of living well.

Aristotle

Whether you agree with Aristotle or not, pretty much everyone acknowledges that it’s the teachers who make a school.  Kew Primary currently has 29 classroom and specialist teachers who between them teach grades Prep to 6, PE, Art, French, Performing Arts, Library, Reading Recovery, Literacy Support, English as an Additional Language, and who provide support to students with special needs.

They range from the young and enthusiastic to the more mature and experienced (and still enthusiastic!) Our longest serving teachers are Ali Duffy and Faye Rodgers who have been with the school 20 years. (Faye still has her very first lesson plan, hand-written in beautiful copperplate script, but that’s a story for another time).

The Department of Education groups teachers into three different bands: Graduate, Accomplished and Expert and at Kew we have teachers from all categories with most in the Expert band where teachers have at least 10 years’ experience.

Our staff comes from the city and the country, from Victoria and interstate, and from a range of different cultural backgrounds including: Italian, English, Aboriginal, Greek, Maori, Irish and New Zealander.

This week the KPS Blog decided we wanted to find out a little more about our teachers and so we sent our roving reporter, Nikki McConnen to talk to her son’s Grade 2 teacher, Clio Williams.

Hi Clio, why did you decide to become a primary school teacher?

I was a swimming teacher for eight years, teaching babies through to adults. I loved teaching primary-age children. I came to teaching through a post grad course at Deakin University. My grandmothers on both sides, and aunts on both sides, were teachers so it may be in the blood!

You’ve been teaching at Kew Primary for a few years now, but prior to that we knew you as a very popular relief teacher for our performing arts classes. Do you have a performance background?

I did dance and drama at university. I love performing and have done numerous shows at the Melbourne Fringe, the Writer’s Festival and other Melbourne events.

You’re also part of the school’s ICT Team – what does that entail?

We implemented an iPad program for years 3 – 6, and have regular ‘Tekkie Brekkies’ for staff. I find new apps, and work with staff if any problems or issues arise.

What do you like about Kew Primary?

I love the enthusiasm of the children. I have taught most of the juniors now and they are so keen to learn and improve their skills that they make my job easy. The staff is innovative, enthusiastic and supportive, which has meant that I raise the bar higher for my own practice. I love teaching in an open classroom; it’s a great way to work. Parents and guardians are willing to help out in the classroom, even at the last minute and this strengthens the connection between home and school. I don’t want to teach in isolation; I believe it’s a partnership.

Did you have a favourite or influential teacher when you were a kid?

I had many favourite teachers, I loved them all, but I was a bit of a teacher’s pet! I had a really influential Politics and SOSE teacher. She spurred me on to read ‘Animal Farm’, ‘1984’ and other books that radically changed my teenage world view. She shaped my subject choices at VCE and university.

What is the most rewarding thing about your job? And what is the most frustrating?

I find the most rewarding moments are often the smallest – an offhand comment that sparks a whole class discussion, or a child’s interest that unites the classroom – they’re moments I love. And the smiles I see when they are learning something satisfying.

I get frustrated, like most people do, with ‘to do’ lists that get bigger the closer you get to weekend! (Oh, and meetings that drag on.) My biggest frustration is when I have days where I don’t feel I’ve made a difference.

If the school got a sudden windfall what would you spend it on?

If the school got a sudden windfall I would spend it on more teachers! You can never have enough in a school. I would also get iPads in the junior school area, and apple TVs in every room, finish the kitchen garden…and maybe French ‘research trips’ for the staff!

What’s your all-time favourite book?

So many! I love the children’s book ‘The Ordinary Princess’, and my ‘Cook’s Companion’ by Stephanie Alexander – and anything written by Terry Prattchet.

And what’s your perfect holiday?

A quiet, peaceful place with gorgeous views. People, if I want a chat, and books if I want solitude. Somewhere with family.

And to finish, tell us one thing that we don’t know about you.

I’m a closet Chris De Burgh fan!

Thanks Clio.

Next year we are hoping to talk to more of the people with whom our kids spend much of their day.

Thanks for listening.

Jacqui Tomlins and Nikki McConnen

Canteen, concerts and class reps…

When you do a selfless deed or an act of good your body releases endorphins. This is why volunteering makes us happy! *

You can smell them half way across the playground, the homemade ANZAC biscuits, or is it the apple muffins, or the sausage rolls? Whichever, I always like to linger a moment at the canteen to check out what the kids will be enjoying at lunch and recess.

Last Friday when I dropped by, the seemingly unflappable Sally was in a bit of tizz; all three of her volunteers for that day were at the doctors with sick kids.  She had close to 120 lunch orders to prepare, as well as half a dozen different homemade snacks for recess, and was a little concerned about how she was going to manage.

Fortunately, two volunteering stalwarts, Nikki and Emma, stepped in at no notice and saved the day, and the lamb moneybags, tacos and cheese toasties were all duly delivered.

Now, this got me thinking: what percentage of the population do you reckon volunteer on a regular basis? 10 per cent? 15? 20 even? Well, according the Australian Bureau of Statistics it’s around 36% and, interestingly, the biggest cohort of volunteers – around 55% – is couples with dependent children aged 5 – 17. That’s us. The most commonly cited reason for why people volunteer is because it increases their sense of community belonging. So how does this all relate to Kew Primary School I wondered? Do half of us volunteer? And what is our motivation if we do?

‘I like to know what’s going on around school,’ Nikki tells me, ‘and I like to keep my finger on the pulse. I volunteered to help with the athletics carnival and I got to talk to lots of staff – Barry and Robin and Xavier and Michelle – and it was very enlightening! Plus, I’m a control freak. You see things that need improvement and often there aren’t the resources to fix it and you can’t always expect people who are really busy to pick it up.’

‘Volunteering in class means I get to know my kid’s teacher really well,’ she says, ‘and my children love seeing me there. You get to know the other kids too which means they feel more comfortable about approaching you, or asking you for help outside the classroom.’

Emma likes to know what her kids are doing during the day, too, especially, she says, as it’s really hard to get any information out of them. ‘But I came from overseas,’ she adds, ‘and I didn’t know anyone. I needed to meet as many people as I could and if I hadn’t volunteered I think I would have stayed at home and got lonely and depressed. I don’t have to work and I’ve got the time and means to volunteer and a lot of people don’t have that luxury. Plus…well…I’m just really nosy.’

The head honcho of volunteers in any school is generally the president of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), in our case the indefatigable George. The PTA organises a range of events throughout the year aimed at raising money or fostering a sense of community and, in most cases, both.

‘I’m a very impatient person,’ George tells me. ‘I see a problem and I want to fix it. I feel obligated to help. But there are many, many people in our school who volunteer regularly and quietly – whether it’s reading in class, going on excursions, walking the kids to swimming – and, to be honest, the place would fall in a heap without them.  These people make a really big difference.’

I asked George why some people who are interested in volunteering might be reluctant to put their hand up; I know, for example, people sometimes feel they don’t have the particular skills, or that they can’t make a whole-term commitment.

‘Not everyone wants to be on school council,’ George says, ‘or is suitable for it, but there are dozens of ways that people can help for say, 45 minutes a week, or with a one-off contribution to an event. Sometimes parents can be a bit nervous about volunteering, but they don’t need to be; it’s a good way to become involved in your school and I think it’s a fantastic example to our kids.’

So who knows whether 55% of us volunteer – it doesn’t actually matter – and people clearly get involved for all sorts of reasons.  We do know that many people regularly give up their time to help support our school community in many different ways, and that the day to day experience of our kids is all the better because of it. As George says: ‘If there are no volunteers, it doesn’t happen.’

So, a big thank-you to everyone who has volunteered this year; to the quiet contributors and the nosy, impatient, control freaks!

Thanks for listening,

Jacqui Tomlins

Volunteers are involved with all of the following at KPS:

Canteen, excursions and incursions, classroom reading, swimming, class reps., book club, uniform shop, school banking, fruit duty, working bees, school council, mothers’ day, fathers’ day, peppercorn barbeque, chess club, bush dance, concerts and performances, sporting activities, and more…

If you would like to volunteer please contact:

Your class teacher

George (PTA)     georgerad71@gmail.com

Sally (Canteen)   0431 213289

School office      9853 8325

*One million acts of kindness: www.1millionacts.com.au