July AEU Column


Back in the early 90s I landed my first TAFE job teaching Certificate 3 Childcare students something called Personal Development.

Up until that point I’d taught Drama and English in a couple of secondary schools, Creative Writing at a neighbourhood house, and during one particularly hot Melbourne summer I’d played endless acting games with a band of ratbag teenage boys at a YMCA somewhere out in the western suburbs. Oh and once I conducted a workshop called Acting for TV when by this stage I’d only had two real television jobs playing ‘the jealous friend’ and ‘the Italian girl’ respectively. I guess three years at Drama School had taught me to fake it, if nothing else.

But what was Personal Development exactly?

So there I was one mean-cold Melbourne evening in 1992 looking for Building 3, Level 4, Room 424 and wondering what the heck I had been thinking. There had never been any kind of job interview. A friend of a friend had recommended me for the job and I’d say yes to anything in those days, such was the chutzpah of my early life as a peripatetic freelancer.

Once I finally located my latest place of work for the next eleven weeks, there was no one around to hand me a course reader or to give me a card for the photocopy machine. I had no desk and no coffee mug. I had arrived in stealth, yet another sessional ghost quietly navigating yet another teaching institution and trusting that someone knew I was there and that someone else might even pay me for my trouble at some point.

This was back in the old days when you could teach TAFE without the now requisite TAE qualification and a PhD in Administrivia majoring in Box Ticking and Performance Outcomes. This was when teachers called students, students not clients.

Room 424 was full of sewing machines and long wooden benches. I wasn’t sure where to sit so I stood and waited for my new students to arrive, with the rumble of the occasional tram out on the street below for company

I’d been teaching since I was twenty, in between acting and waitressing jobs and only finally got my Dip Ed because Mum made me.

‘Get real Elly! You wont survive as an actress so you’d better have a second string your bow.’

My parents were both teachers and my father had also been a very active member of the VSTA during the now-famous Maribyrnong strikes in the 70s. The apple doesn’t fall far from etc.

My students finally arrived and they were nine young women, all nervous and self-conscious. Over the ensuing eleven weeks we talked, wrote and role-played about work and relationships, families and friends, depression and anxiety, food and books and I reckon I learned more about personal development than they did.

We all promised to keep in touch but didn’t. I never got back any of the books I loaned them and I have no idea if any of these delightfully open-hearted and funny young women ever become child-care workers.