50 Years And Still Going Strong!


10 October 2019

Victorian Primary School teacher Adele Meren’s classroom is filled with technology - five iPads, five desktop computers, an electronic whiteboard, her Macbook, iPhone, emails, etc.

Things were a little different when she first stepped into a classroom fifty years ago.

Adele started her career teaching Grade 5 at Brunswick Primary School in 1968.

She said that school workplace culture has come a long way since those early days.

“When I first started teaching, there was no equal pay, so the guy teaching in the room next to me got more money than I did. Today it just seems so stupid,” Adele said.

“In my first year, my grade 5 class travelled daily by bus to another school nearby [Brunswick South West] because our school didn’t have enough room for all of the students. We didn’t get to mix with our own cohort, except on Friday nights. When we got back to our own school on Fridays, the Principal would take us to the pub and shout us teachers all a beer, otherwise we never saw any other teachers from our home school. That wouldn’t happen today, it’s a different atmosphere.”

She said the classroom environment had also changed out of sight since the late Sixties.

“In those days the Education Department produced little curriculum pamphlets -- this one was your maths for the year, this was your reading.You taught from that, it was basically centralised from the Department down,” Adele said.

“Today it is totally different. We work as a team, we all discuss whatever the topic is that we are teaching. It’s a much better approach, because you still have the original foundation of what you are teaching, but all of us bring something extra to the table.”

Adele said that during her fifty-year career in the classroom she had seen fundamental changes in how teachers, parents and students interacted.

“When I started out teachers were regarded by parents almost like gods,” she said. “The Principals in those days gave the strap. If you had to send a student to the Principal, that child was frantic thinking about what the Principal might be ‘dishing out.’ Today things are much better.”

“Back then we were called ‘Mr’ or ‘Miss’,” Adele said. “Today, we are on a first name basis with our students, including the Principal, and it just is normal.”

Adele said that there hadn’t been a time in her five decades in the classroom when teaching hadn’t been a demanding career. However she said modern day workloads bore little resemblance to what was expected in the 1960s and 1970s.

“The workload has doubled if not tripled today,” she said. “When I first started teaching, you turned up at school at a quarter to nine and at quarter to four you were out of there. Now, we have two regular meetings that are an hour after school, and because everything is on laptops you are always working from home. The workload is unbelievable. “

Adele said that despite this, modern-day students are in a much better learning environment than when she first started teaching.

“Students today absolutely have it one hundred percent better,” Adele said. “Today, students are allowed to question. If they don’t understand something they can ask. They learn more about how something happened rather than just accepting it as gospel. Back in the seventies they didn’t, students sat there, and you spoke to them, and you wrote it up on the board, and they would copy it and do it.”

Adele has been secretary of her AEU sub branch for 20 years. She said that being a union member had been an important part of her working life.

“If a parent takes legal action against a teacher, you’ve got full union backing, you’ve got barristers paid for,” she said. “The union got us equal pay, family leave, three months paid maternity leave, paternity leave - all these benefits that we take for granted.”

“If the Department had its way, we’d probably be back during Christmas holidays doing short courses.”

Adele shared a few tips that she’d picked up over the years on how to deal with difficult situations in the classroom.

“We emphasise manners, so if a student has upset another student, they have to apologise,” she said. “The other child is not allowed to just say ‘It’s OK’, because if you say that, then ‘it’s OK’ to do it again. Our students say ‘I accept your apology’.”

She said that communication was key in dealing with anxious parents.

“If a student is being disruptive, I find that if you can communicate with the parents as soon as possible, and don’t wait until it blows up even further, it really helps,” Adele said. “Grab the parent after school if you can, or ring them at work, or even email them, and find out if there is more to it. That’s where modern technology has really helped.”

Adele was recently congratulated for her years of service by the Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, and the Victorian Department of Education. Here’s the DET interview video link of Adele: https://vimeo.com/345399745/1e7b0d3e7c