Who am I?

and what gives me the right…?

I have been participating in a 21 day challenge, where every day we pledge to do one thing to honour ourselves, or to help us change old habits that don’t serve us anymore. After coming to the realisation quite suddenly through the night that, whilst I feel good about this blog as a way of using my voice, I have completely hidden myself from it. Here I am, encouraging teachers to take ownership of what they do, and I have been too frightened to put my face on this website! I have actually had some of my old dialogue running through my head – Who do you think you are, giving tips to other people? Who would be interested in what you have to say?

The thing is, since making the very tentative first steps, many people have expressed that they do want to hear what I have to say! So, here, as much for myself as for anyone else, I am going to talk in more detail about my journey to the classroom, and how I came to reach my current world view.

I grew up in a small beachside town in New South Wales, Australia, which I returned to some 10 years ago after a little gallivanting. My parents divorced when I was very young, and whilst there was some trauma and tough times, I always knew my parents loved me. My father’s parents provided a safe house for me throughout the darker days, and in that home I always felt safe and protected. My Grandparents taught me forgiveness, kindness, patience, and the value of a strong family. I now live across the road from that home, where my Grandfather still lives, every day grieving the loss of my Grandma some years back, but forever thankful for the family he is surrounded by.

Here he is with the latest addition to his tribe!

My mother is another kind soul, who has had more than her share of hardship. She battles with anxiety and depression, and I believe that her alcoholism is just a symptom of a deep loneliness – a scar from her own trauma. She teaches me compassion and understanding.

I have a brother who lives with Schizophrenia. He teaches me that there is always another perspective, and that none of us know what another person is dealing with in their own lives.

Apart from these family members, there are many more siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles who have contributed to the person I am today.

Throughout my teen years I suffered from anxiety, depression, and a range of eating disorders. A friend of mine was brutally raped and murdered at my cousin’s 16th birthday party, and that event went on to have a much bigger impact on me than I realised until just a couple of years ago. It has taken 30 years for me to really stop and examine this life-changing incident, to accept it, and to spend some time just trying to heal from it.

After I finished school with very underwhelming HSC results, I studied Hospitality and Tourism Management at TAFE, and soon met my future husband, Andrew. We had only been together for three months when we decided it would be fun to have a baby, and in 1996, at the ripe old age of 21 years, I almost died giving birth to our precious, and very tiny, Isaac. 12 months later we married and went on to have two beautiful girls, Isabelle (1999), and Lily (2004).

Andrew and myself in April, 2019

Whilst working in hospitality, around the time of meeting Andrew, I also met my very dear friend and mentor, Cath, who had not long completed her Medical Herbalist qualifications. At that point in my life, I was far from happy with the person that I was, and sought to be like everyone else I met. I was pretty much infatuated with Cath, who freaked out and backed off a few times because of my intensity, and I went ahead and enrolled in an Advanced Diploma of Western Herbal Medicine in 1998. Of course, it wasn’t just to become Cath. I loved every bit of my study and ensuing practice, but there was always something there that just wasn’t right for me.

My husband was a chef for much of our early marriage, and he is still an artist when it comes to food and cooking (lucky that, because he would be a hungry man if he was waiting for me to provide gastronomical sustenance). While I was finishing my Herbal Medicine study he was cooking in a bowling club restaurant, and by the time Lily was born, he was running the place himself. We decided to take this a step further and open a restaurant in a little heritage tourist town. Bad move, financially. People did warn us, but, like my dear old Aunty Evy used to say, “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders”. Despite winning awards and being featured on major tourism TV shows, we shut the doors after a couple of years, much wiser, broke, and with a marriage that was in tatters due to so much stress from so many angles.

We almost walked away from said marriage, but decided to give it one last go. I had, by this time, developed a reasonable Herbal Medicine practice, and developed my own business creating a range of herbal tea blends that I was selling at markets and supplying to restaurants and cafes throughout the region, and a range of all natural skincare. We used the last of the money from the sale of our house (the rest went into the restaurant) to buy a big green bus, smother it in my business logo, and hit the road. We took the kids out of school (they had been in a Steiner setting, and teachers were all for the learning that would happen on the road), and set about working out who we were.

After 6 months on the road we were completely broke (next level broke – like, how do we afford milk and bread?), but a little stronger, and we decided to come back to our home town, moving into a house across the road from Grandad that was owned by my Dad. I continued with the business and my practice, but I started feeling the tug of further education. I had always wanted to be a teacher, but I guess I was scared to take it on – a 4 year university course, mothering, working…how would it ever work? Something must have switched though, because, all of a sudden, there I was in my tiny little office in Hunter Street, invoicing at my computer, and I found myself completing a university application. Nek minit, business was sold, and I was a student teacher!

It was a hard slog. At one point I was working 3 different jobs. I had 3 children in school, and I was determined to maintain a Distinction average, just to prove to myself that I was smart enough to do this. And I did. I made some amazing new life-long friends, I graduated with Distinction, and, just as I attended my graduation, I accepted a position as a permanent teacher at a new school (I was working in a temporary role in my internship school). I was amazed. It was like a dream. I never had faith that hard work would pay off, but it did!

Well, so I thought, anyway. I started in my permanent position, and went through some extremely tough and traumatic years, all while tying to support my family through their own individual traumas – mental health and substance abuse at the forefront. One particular person made my entry into the teaching profession a very steep learning curve. I worked in that environment for 4 years, at which point I took a temporary engagement at another school to get away from it. And I took myself to therapy.

And the rest of it, I have already explained in earlier posts. For four years I had one very toxic person in the forefront of my mind at all times. I neglected my family, I became someone I didn’t recognise, I survived. But, after much work and self-examination, I don’t even hold any anger or resentment towards that person, and the knowledge that my response to the situation was up to me was the most joyous, freeing feeling I have ever experienced. And it is this realisation that has brought me to where I am now. I should add here that my husband has been my right hand man – he has fed me, clothed me, carried me through a degree and a pile of emotional baggage dropping. I am so thankful we worked through the tough times together!

Don’t get me wrong. I am far from perfect. But I am perfect in my imperfections! What I have gained from this life of ups and downs is far better than what I would have had if I’d led a smooth, consistent, predictable life. I was always meant to be a teacher, but now I know that I needed to develop my compassion, my understanding, my tolerance and my strength so that I could be what I wanted my students to see. I do my very best to withhold judgement and blame, because there, but by the grace of God, go I.

I have been part of the Steiner system with my own children. It is so beautiful, and suits almost all children in its whole child approach – something so in-line with my own experiences as a holistic healer, and I believe that if I decided to go down this path in my career, I would be welcomed. But I believe that I was put here for the greater good. I am active in my Union, fighting for a better, more just world for my students. I believe that EVERY child has the right to a quality education – not just those whose parents have the money, the awareness and the inclination to send their children to private, specialised schooling, and so, at this point in my life, I am sticking with Public Education.

And there is my story. Well, a quick skim-read without getting deep down and dirty. I still enjoy a glass of wine, I can swear like nobody’s business (but only in the appropriate settings), I still question my own abilities and am overly critical of myself. But everything I do now, I do mindfully, catching myself in my regressions and reminding myself that I am enough.

So, I come to this new platform, The Sustainable Teacher, with an understanding that I have far more power than I would have given myself credit for, and so do you. And, as one spidery hero was told, “with great power comes great responsibility”. I am responsible for living my best life, and providing my students with a mentor who walks the walk. I’ll make mistakes, but that’s okay too.

#bethechange #alwayslearning #fixthefuture

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