Fifty years of classroom fun and learning


22 October 2019

Balnarring Primary School’s David Keystone was seventeen and a half when he decided to become a teacher. Fifty years on, he still looks forward to seeing his students each day.

David said that it was the opportunity to inject fun and variety into his classes which originally got his interest in teaching, and which still fuels his enthusiasm five decades later.

“I think the fact that I could make learning fun and use humour, that was big to me,” David said. “When I was at school there wasn’t a lot of fun in the classroom. To my delight my year 6 teacher would read novels by Robert Louis Stevenson to us every afternoon, so I kind of liked the smell of the teaching and learning sector.”

He said that both the teaching profession and the curriculum in Victoria had undergone huge changes since he first started. One example was staff selection, particularly, the education department’s process for handling employment, promotions and transfers.

“When I first joined up, and for many years afterward, promotion was then based on seniority, not solely on merit,” David said. “Teachers would apply for a school in a transfer and had to have a district inspector assess them as suitably senior to move up to that next level. Thank goodness the union went in to fight for us and promotions are now all based on merit.”

David said another major change over the decades has been society shrugging off the ‘cultural cringe’, leading to increasing numbers of local books and Australian writers in the school curriculum.

“It’s important that Australian children’s literature has grown and developed,” David said. “When I first walked into a school to read to my grade ones and twos, all we had at our disposal were English or American books. Suddenly there was this explosion of Australian writers writing books for Australian audience, and we now have the Children’s Book Council, and that was critical as well. It’s so important culturally that we don’t suffer that cultural cringe ever again.”

David, said the one piece of advice he would give young teachers would be to take advantage of any professional development opportunities which are available.

“The availability of professional development is something that has changed since my days in the early seventies,” he said. “Young teachers would be well advised to take it on board. It’s important to offer them collegiate support, and allow them some latitude to develop.”

“I also think its good advice for new teachers to concentrate on becoming good at one particular area,” David said. “When I started teaching it seemed that so much curriculum was running through my head I might have done better if I had focused a little more.”

David, a life-long union member, is not a fan of NAPLAN. He refused to allow his own children to sit, the NAPLAN equivalent. He said that it was a real concern to him that undue emphasis on NAPLAN reduced teacher professional autonomy but failed to improve student performance.

“It’s a problematical situation where you have teacher judgement being ignored or disregarded over the NAPLAN data that is being collected,” Davis said. “I believe that teachers are excellent student observers and that our judgements are a better indicator of student growth than total reliance on standardized testing.”

“I also think there is overkill on the data that is being collected,” he said. “I don’t know that just collecting more data is going to change our perceptions of student performance that much. Weighing a cow 100 times doesn’t increase its weight.”

Despite all the changes to schools and curricula during his fifty-year career, David said that some things never change - particularly cheeky students in the classroom. He said that engaging with them was key to getting them on side.

“I was speaking with one of my students and asked him ‘what makes a good teacher?’ She said ‘good teachers are not mean, they are kind, and they listen to children and what they have to say,” David said.

“Then she looked at me and said ‘bossy but not too bossy’. I think that word bossy means making sure that you know what you are doing, or that you appear to them to know what you are doing, and you can organise students in some way that makes sense.”

David’s tips for younger teachers:

  • Join your AEU state branch.
  • Have fun and overcome gravity, be fun to be around (For example, I hide a plastic dinosaur, Dino, and a Beanie teddy, Einstein, in the science room before each lesson. Students have to locate and find them. They burst through the door. It’s a hit. Go figure!) Schools can be very serious places if you let them.
  • Show and share with students something that makes you unique or that you are really good at (such as playing a musical instrument, singing, recite poetry, card tricks, tell stories, tell jokes, play games, play tricks)
  • Know the birthday of each of your students (a list of birthdays on display helps jog your memory)
  • Ask them to name their brother or sister in another class
  • Teach a song or make up a rap
  • Primary school recesses and breaks are enormous spaces filled with energy and life. It’s a time when a school comes alive. Enjoy it when out in the yard.

David was recently congratulated for his years of service by Education Minister James Merlino and the Victorian Department of Education.