Inspiring Teachers

Back in October, I mentioned that ANU has initiated a new award to recognise great school teachers. We’re the first Australian university to do so, but I hope others will follow our example. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet the inaugural recipient of the prize, Armidale maths teacher David Dorrian.

There will be three more awards given out today, to Mary Condon, Stefan Van Aanholt, and Lorraine Huxley. Their citations are below. They’re well worth reading, as a reminder of some of the extraordinary teachers who are out there inspiring the next generation.

Mr David Dorrian was nominated by Nicholas Henry who has today graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce. Nicholas said of Mr Dorrian that, as Head of Mathematics at The Armidale School, he was a teacher who was truly excited about his topic – Mathematics – and imbued this in his students. Nicholas went on to say that Mr Dorrian was a person of high moral standard who would not compromise on his standards and inspired others to maintain their convictions and was a teacher who went above and beyond his routine teaching duties to assist others.

One of Mr Dorrian’s former colleagues has said that Mr Dorrian was one of the best Mathematics teachers he has known: an outstanding teacher, humble in his approach to his profession, going about his work modestly whilst retaining very strong principles.

Mrs Mary Condon was nominated by Sarah Peisley who has today graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in the fields of Archaeology and Forensic Anthropology.

Mrs Condon teaches at the Holy Spirit College, Bellambi and, originally from Cooma, is a graduate of this University.

In her nomination Sarah said: When picking subjects for years 11 and 12 HSC, I missed out on many classes I originally wanted and as a result had to do Ancient History.  I was already doing Modern History and had thought that would be enough history for my HSC year!  However, as soon as I started Mrs Condon’s classes, I fell in love with ancient history and everything else to do with it.  Mrs Condon had a way of making historical characters and events come alive.  I felt like I knew exactly what it was like to grow up in a Spartan village and I felt that Augustus and Agrippina were close friends of mine.  After 2 years of Ancient History classes, I bored friends and family with quotes by ancient authors and poets and I could pick the holes in any “historical” movie or book.  I feel that a major turning event in my choice of career was a class excursion when Mrs Condon took us to the Nicholson Museum at Sydney Uni. When we walked in the door and I saw a copy of the Prima Porta statue of Augustus and all the artefacts Mrs Condon had described to us, I felt at home and I knew exactly what I wanted to do “when I grew up”. I applied for universities offering archaeology and enrolled in HSC extension history. Once I got to ANU, again I felt at home with ancient bones and historical settlements. I have been on many excavations in the last few years, have written a report on the material culture of Kiandra Gold Mining town that will be given to local libraries and councils and have stood at the site where the most famous Australian, Mungo Man, was discovered.  I have found my niche and I have Mrs Condon’s passion and inspiration and her desire to pass that on to thank for my love for archaeology and ancient people and culture and it would be wonderful to see her recognised with this award.

Mr Stefan Van Aanholt was nominated by Anna Blanch who has today graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.  Mr Van Aanholt taught Anna at McCarthy Catholic College in Tamworth.  He is now based in the Armidale Catholic Schools Office. He (and his wife who is also with us today) are graduates of this University.

In her nomination Anna said: Stef challenged me to critically think about what he was teaching, to have an opinion and to be prepared to argue for my views intelligently.  He had high expectations of the ability and capacity of his students and it gave me confidence to know that he believed in me.
Stef encouraged excellence and prepared me to succeed at a high level at the tertiary level by teaching me how to learn and how to think.

Stef was really passionate about teaching and about the literature and history that he taught me – this was infectious; it’s one of the primary reasons why I studied English and History at ANU and why I want to teach literature myself! Stef engaged with his students on a personal level – he didn’t have to be liked (in fact the passion he incited in his students was sometimes frustration as much as delight) – and he was secure enough to be argued with and to encourage engagement.

Mrs Lorraine Huxley was nominated by Monica Tseng who has today graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Psychology. Mrs Huxley originally trained as an optometrist, lectured at the Queensland University of Technology before commencing teaching at Somerville House.  She is on the Queensland State Panel for Biology and is the author of the recommended text.

In her nomination Monica said:  Mrs Huxley had a remarkable way of teaching and interacting with her students. Over my secondary years of schooling at Somerville House I have seen her dedication and passion towards educating young women in the field of science (Biology) which inspired me to include science as part of my tertiary studies. Her proactive involvement in students’ intellectual and social development was embellished with words of encouragement and wisdom that motivated me to take lead and set an example for younger students; which I continue to strive to do for others as well.  She was a powerhouse of incontestable inspiration and leadership. These attributes undoubtedly make her a suitable candidate for the ANU Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching 2006.

Here’s how the awards are introduced:

Following a suggestion from Dr Andrew Leigh, in the Research School of Social Sciences, the ANU Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching has been introduced to acknowledge the outstanding contribution made by teachers in shaping the lives of the future generation.

Students intending to graduate at these ceremonies were asked to nominate secondary school teachers who had been inspirational and who made a particular difference in their lives.  One of these ‘future shapers’ has joined us to share the celebration with the student he influenced.

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6 Responses to Inspiring Teachers

  1. Pingback: Club Troppo » Friday’s Missing Link

  2. Cristy says:

    Fantastic idea. I think that using graduating students as the people who make the nominations makes a lot of sense. I do, however, wish that there were more awards like this around that other people could put in nominations for.

  3. I posted this comment on Nick’s thread at Troppo:

    It’s a great idea, and kudos to Andrew for initiating it.

    I had two fantastic teachers in senior – for English and History. By coincidence, I was in Dymocks tonight buying a couple of hardback history tomes, Niall Ferguson’s latest and a history of Prussia – and I ran into Mr Tobin my modern history teacher and had a chat. A lot of what he taught me has stayed with me and continued to fire my enthusiasms and interests. And similarly with Mrs Abernathy for English and my literary interests – though they’re more of an avocation.

    But when – if ever – and I’m 38 and 21 years out of high school – do you feel comfortable addressing the said teachers as Graham and Kate? I always give myself a gold star if I’m able to avoid “sir” or “miss”?

    And Mr Sherman too – Paul never taught me but as a Drama teacher directed Shakespeare plays I was in – he’s very well known in Brisbane theatre circles as someone who’s been acting, inspiring, and organising since the 60s.

    I’m always very chuffed to see them, and I’m sure they’ve had a positive influence on generations of Kedron High kids. We had a very good bunch of teachers – in a state high school in what was basically a lower middle class area – those three are just the most outstanding.

  4. ChrisPer says:

    Great!
    WHile I am all for adequate rewards, I feel that the people calling for an extra 20c an hour to attract in male teachers, or better quality teachers, are totally missing the point about what motivates the best teachers. Money is good, but trivial changes to money are more likely to be a de-motivator as they call attention to paltryness.; Recognition among peers for good work is fantastic.

  5. derrida derider says:

    This is a great idea.

    But I reckon ChrisPer is wrong. Yes of course money is not the main motivation. But it matters at the margin because talented people tend to be able to choose amongst psychically, as well as monetarily, rewarding occupations. And it matters because in a deeply materialistic society it ultimately determines social status and therefore respect. It’s no coincidence that the social standing of school teachers has declined with their place in the earnings distribution.

  6. ChrisPer says:

    dd, I think you are right, and.

    The salary, and signals of possibility of increases, probably help a lot in decisions to join a profession.

    One of the big issues is retention. The good ones are leaving too fast. The present salary level is less important there than perhaps the expectation of future benefit, including salary increases. But the decision to leave is not taken seriously on a single motivator, and high professional satisfaction would be a strong motivation to not even consider leaving.

    Working for the Government is a strong demotivator… and the bureacratic treatment of teachers plus the autocratic imposition of PC educational ideas multiplying paperwork are too. Replacing that with a climate of constructive respect would help no end.

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