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This is the speech I wrote for the New Teachers Induction Day in January this year, which was then edited for the opening credits of the whole school staff week at Pulteney Grammar.
The chance to write this speech + share my thoughts was wonderful, terrifying, and exhilarating. The best part of the whole experience was knowing that my best + most honest voice was coming through…because I could feel the butterflies every moment of delivering it! And somehow, it also felt like the most natural + joyful thing to do as well.
Here it is.
Pulteney Opening Credits: Week Zero 2016
Monday 25th January 2016
Welcome back everyone + Happy New Year to you all. I’m really glad to see you all.
So here I stand before you, the ultimate sucker. Because not only did I say “yes” to speaking at the New Staff Induction Day, I said “yes” to editing my speech + speaking this morning. And while on one hand I’m very honoured to be asked, I feel the overwhelming need to let everyone know that after this one, I am retiring from my speech-making career for 2016, there will be no trilogy, there are no plans to record, and I’m going to go back into the Music Centre to do that arm-waving thing I’m good at!
So what I was asked to do last Friday was recount my experiences last year as a new teacher. I said yes to this because Greg pulled this awesome ninja move at the end of last year in engineering my saying yes to speaking. I thought I was being conscientious in my emailing Greg + Nick to ask if I needed to be inducted. No response. Little did I know that when I showed my face at Student Reception, Greg would be there to say, “Hey Annie, no, you don’t need to be inducted, but we’d love you to speak!” Which was devastating, because I didn’t even get the chance to be excited about not being inducted…
….“No! Not fair! How did that happen?!”
But I knew also that I was happy to do so, because my arrival at Pulteney was somewhat unconventional, and less that a year later, I find myself completely at home in the Pulteney community, and happy to be here contributing.
As many of you know, I came from Brighton Secondary School, where I taught for 10 years, and then one year in Sydney teaching at the Conservatorium High School and working as the Composer-in-Residence for the Sydney Children’s Choir. As a brand new teacher, to have Brighton as your placement is unheard of. And to be there as a Music teacher, working in a Specialist Interest Music Department was extraordinary, and gave me my grounding + skills as a teacher. I left Brighton at the end of 2013 purely because I felt it was time to try something new. It was a decision that took 3 years to make, and was one of the hardest choices I’d ever made, because I could have happily stayed there until I was 70. I left on the best terms possible; very proud of what the Music team + I had achieved in quality of ensembles, core curriculum, and being innovative in music education. In 2014, I took a year’s leave without pay, and I accepted the offer to work with the Sydney Children’s Choir, and to teach at the Conservatorium High School. The year challenged + extended me in every way, particularly as a specialist music teacher and choral composer, and was the year of growth that I had looked for. I hoped to stay in Sydney for one more year, but the Con High School weren’t able to offer me full-time, so I returned to Adelaide at the end of 2014, decided to access 6 months’ worth of long service leave, work on my Master of Education + some composing commissions, and decide where I wanted to head next.
Interestingly, as much as I missed the Brighton community + teaching there, I knew that I wanted to look for a new place of work. I didn’t know what that was for a while…but when Day 1 of Term 1 2015 rolled around, I remember thinking, “Wow…and I’m not done with teaching yet. I absolutely want to be back in the classroom.” The job for Pulteney Grammar came up, and I went for it + won it.
That was my background before Pulteney, which is important that you know because when I arrived at Pulteney, I did so with a whole heap of my own expectations. What happened in 2015 was an unexpected and wonderful transformation of mindset for me. Coming into a school in Week 8 of Term 1, full-time, is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’m used to running fast, but running fast, full-time, and being brand new as of Week 8, Term 1? That’s hard. I think the mental gymnastics was up there with air traffic control. I made a lot of mistakes that are funny now, but were stressful then. It was also the first time that I would be picking up SACE Stage I + II independently, and even though I’d taught several subjects within both courses, I had never been in charge of looking after EVERYTHING. I was picking up classes from Year 6 to 12 halfway through their learning and having to build a rapport, establish routines, and look after the music ensembles I assigned to me.
So I did something unusual for me; I gave myself permission to concentrate on only one thing; to teach good quality lessons. This is very different from how I normally approach the start of a school year. I would normally sign up for the extra-curricular activities, find a way to be with my tutor group outside of tutor group time, and start connecting with the community outside of music. But I was very aware of the responsibility I was picking up with Year 11 + 12, so I thought I needed to do things differently to allow myself the energy + headspace to do the best by them.
It’s extraordinary now to look back and remember giving myself that instruction because when I looked back over the year at the end of the 2015, the outcome could not have been more different to what I expected. I, initially, did nothing about embedding myself into the Pulteney community, and yet, it embedded itself around me. The first thing I noticed when I began teaching here was the strength of the community and how connected parents, staff, students, and wider public are to the school. Everyone wants you to feel like you have your place, and the staff – all of you – and students, made me feel so welcome. The students at Pulteney were a big deciding factor in my accepting my position this year, and the school feels like a healthy and innovative place to be.
My Year 11 and 12 students were a lesson in gratitude and transformation for me. I expected just to work; I didn’t expect them to invest so much of themselves in me in my first year. I also wanted to take them at their own value; I purposely didn’t want my previous teaching at Brighton to affect how they interacted with me, so I just showed up, prepared for my lessons, and taught. But I quickly found that they want to know you as a teacher + person, that they hunger for connection + excellence. And they are willing to take risks. I brought with me things that made perfect sense in my teaching practice; being recorded in a master class setting, performing in front of junior classes, and having to perform on a weekly basis. In hindsight, it would have been a lot to adapt to; but they did, and they trusted + leaned into my teaching. They began to ask what a merit student looked and sounded like, and how they could get there themselves. It was a transformative year of interaction + learning…for them, as well as me.
Coming from an established school and then having to start again is scary. I spent a lot of time asking random questions of whoever was unlucky enough to be walking by, just out of sheer desperation. I thought, well I’m going to milk this “new” label for as long as I can because at some point, they will expect me to know stuff. I loved learning and adapting at Pulteney because people want you to succeed and want to assist. I went through roughly and 8-week period where I would rock up every morning to the Senior School staffroom and let rip a whole tidal wave of questions, and someone would be there to answer them. I am sure that Mark, Ken, Irene + Jarvs must have deeply resented being early people to arrive at school, because they copped a lot of it. Staff + students who didn’t know me were coming by the Music Centre just to say hello. The only time I resented this was at parent-teacher interviews…you know how you have parents that just drop in and say, “I just thought I’d come by and say hello!” And in your head, you’re thinking, “That’s great! The words I least want to hear right now that I’m busting, starving, and completely incoherent!”
I’ve had some awesome moments of failure in my first term of teaching; and every time, I’ve felt supported in the response of all of you around me, regardless of how small the problem may have seemed. Probably one of the funniest moments is when I released a Year 8 Music Class out 20 minutes early, and they just all left with massive grins on their faces, all TWENTY FOUR of them!…I had the “OH, BUGGER” moment, flew across the basketball courts, chased them down, and finished the lesson in the middle quadrangle with rhythm games. This would all have been fine and my pride would have been completely intact, but of COURSE Malcolm walked by with a parent tour. So he did the long-distance arm-wave, and I did my best casual return wave, but I can just have imagined the explanation…”Yes, she’s one of the Music teachers. She’s new.” While I think I’m pretty resilient at looking stupid, knowing that I have this steadfast support has meant that I can breathe easier, there is less stress, and there is more self-care and room to grow.
I didn’t expect Pulteney to be all that I found it be and I came in with high expectations…I arrived with the willingness to work hard, and with an open mind. At the end of Term 3 when I had to make a decision between my existing permanency at Brighton, and permanency at Pulteney, it was the work of the community around me, and the slow change in mindset that allowed me to accept permanency at Pulteney, and be excited about the future I was investing in.
Thank you to all of you for 2015…you all had such a big effect. With some sadness, I realise I have to look like I know what I’m doing now!
All the very best to you all for 2016.