Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day (and thank you teachers)

I've never been much of an outspoken feminist, but I've never put up with anything (or anyone) that says 'you're not a man, so you're no good'. I've always told off the boys who made throwaway sexist remarks, but that's the extent of my feminist leanings.

There have been a few times in my life when I've done something that I wasn't expected to do because I was female. I was always surprised when I got that reaction, because I was just trying to do things that interest me.

Like when I was in high school. As they still do, in year 9 and 10, schools give you a choice of elective subjects. While I was interested in cooking and did that elective, I was also interested in metal work, so I signed up for that for a while too.
I was the only girl in the class, but got along really well with the boys in there. The girls, of course, gave me a hard time, but I didn't really care. I enjoyed it, and I did pretty well too (god knows what I ever did with the plumb bob that I made!)

And then when I had worked at the cinema for a while, I decided that I'd like to be a projectionist. I was fascinated with the projectors and the way the sound worked, and how everything worked so well together. Plus, at the time it was the closest I was going to get to working in the movie industry (I had vague ambitions of going into film editing, then directing).
When I asked about it, everyone told me that 'women aren't projectionists'. Full stop. They couldn't tell me why, except that the boxes of film were really heavy. They were, but only as heavy as a child. So managable.

Being the stubborn sort that I am, I nagged persevered; putting the pressure on until finally they decided to give me a go. Apparently, I was the first woman in Australia to take on the job.
And, once again, I was good at it. I was really good at it. In a couple of years, I had been promoted to head protectionist, and was training everyone else.
Eventually, I got sick of the solitude. I don't think that was a necessarily 'female' problem, more of a 'Mel' problem. I like people. So I moved back downstairs into management (which I also did very well, thank you!), and then went off to uni.

Funnily enough, I'm now working in one of the most female dominated professions in the world. Teaching.

And today, on International Women's Day, I'd like to salute teachers. Especially female ones, but really every teacher.

As you know, I have moved away from the classroom. For me, it was too big an investment of my time, and most of all, my emotional energy. I might return there soon. But probably not to a primary school classroom.

Secondary teachers have to deal with ratty teenagers and all that's associated with them, but being a primary school teacher is hard work! You are responsible for a group of up to 35 students for a whole year. Their 'life' is in your hands for that whole year. If you don't get them where they need to be by the end of that year, it's your fault. You may have changed the course of their life.

It sounds dramatic, and it probably is (this is me we're talking about!), but sometimes it is like that. There is so much pressure from so many directions: the community at large, the principal, the education department, other teachers, the students, and most of all, parents.

But teachers do it every day. And all the teachers I know do it really well. And it's not just teaching kids to read and write, it's a whole lot more: social skills, appreciation of the world beyond theirs, art, music, performance, maths, manners, ICT skills, problem solving, critical thinking, environmental responsibility, science, languages, construction...etc. For some students, teachers provide their only smile for the day, a compliment, a meal...

I couldn't do it. It was too much pressure, too much responsibility. Perhaps because of Sam. But maybe it would have happened anyway.

So I take my hat off to everyone who can. So often, you're told what you're not doing right. Today I'd like to tell you what you are doing right. You're teaching. You're doing a job that everyone thinks they know how to do, but probably couldn't. Especially not for the money they'd earn for doing it.

Well done teachers. You are awesome.


  1. The women who inspire me are those who have made their own choices and broken free of the status quo. Life's too short to be a zombie, living according to society's script.
    I too got some interesting reactions when I became a camera"man" and got into film editing. Oh, and karate instructing, that was a good one! Some have perceived my interests to be primarily masculine in nature, but I don't see it that way at all, I've always felt very female. Now I have a daughter has decided she hates girly clothes. Hmmm.... something in the DNA?

    Anyway, you are a woman who I admire Mel, you inspire me in so many ways. The way you have dealt with tragedy in your life in such a real and mature way is incredible. You rejected the religious cliches and faced your own emotions. I am in awe of your strength! xox

  2. Thanks D! That means a lot. I think you're pretty amazing too. Such a great mum, and that you've gone after what you want.
    Go us women!

  3. I am someone who has grown up around strong women all my life (and a fair few of them teachers! wonderful people the lot of them!) Many of whom were involved in the equal pay for equal work marches (was that really only a generation ago!)

    Being told my entire life that there was no reason on this earth that I couldn't do anything I set my mind to and if anyone told me any different they were an idiot and to just keep at it and find a way around them.

    I had a mother who used to laugh at people saying women weren't physically capable of carrying that same loads as men "Just try being a nurse for a while and see how much you actually CAN carry if you know how to do it right!"

    I had a father who refused to teach us how to drive until we could change the oil, tyres etc on the car....Wouldn't let us leave home until we could change fuses, washers etc (actually gave each one of us a tool box when we left home) and told us that he never wanted to feel like we had to be dependant on anyone.

    I know I have taken a more "traditional" route in my life, but I also know that I would have been given help and support in anything I wanted to do.

    I feel that too many women aren't given that confidence in life - these are all things I want my daughter to know and feel in her heart to be true. The snide little "jokes" about women drive me nuts and I too call people on them, I dont want either of my kids thinking it is OK to judge or joke about people based on their gender, race whatever....

    I think you are a wonderful example to all the young people in your life, I would love you as a teacher of either of my kids.


  4. Women who inspire me.... the first person that came to mind was you Mel. Your great strength and ability to say what you think gives me strength. Thanks for that! I love what Esther had to say, to be given the skills and confidence to never feel dependent on another is a great gift. Her father sounds like an awesome guy. Looks like it is time to teach Emma how to change the oil.
    Cheers, Ange
    PS - teachers rock!!


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