I never wanted to be a teacher.
I never wanted to be one of THOSE people who never got out of the system. The people who go to school, go to university, go back to school. I wanted to fight against the jibes and put downs of, “Those who can, work, those who can’t, teach.” I know there are plenty of variations to this, but I am hoping you get my point.
I remember my Dad sitting at the school gates waiting to pick me up at school when I was young and commenting, “How do [inset number of teachers seen] teachers leave the car park before you are even in my car?” He ended up with 2 teachers in the family and me married to one.
I have spent many of my early years trying to justify my 12 weeks holiday a year. I don’t anymore - I love them!
I have seen many articles online as to why teachers leave disgruntled and disillusioned with the education system. I am yet again confronted with a number of staff leaving my current school for various reasons. Even my sister, has decided to take another “gap year” from teaching to work out if she really wants to continue in the “game”.
In February 2017 the ABC reported teachers are leaving the profession in significant numbers - the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest 53 per cent of people who hold a teaching degree do not currently work in education.
And research conducted by the Australian Government in 2014 estimates that 20 per cent of education graduates do not register as teachers on graduating, meaning many teachers are leaving before they've even started.
Yet here I am, sitting in a class of Grade 12 students, students who I first taught when they were Grade 7, wondering about my 25th year in the one profession.
Why am I still here?
Why do I teach?
I teach because I care.
I teach because I think I am good at what I do.
I teach because I think I can make a difference.
I teach because I get 12 weeks holiday a year to spend with my wife and 3 sons.
I teach because I get paid very well.
I teach because I get to go to 18th’s, 21st’s, engagement parties and weddings of ex-students - some of whom, have become life-long friends - even beyond a Facebook friend!
My first teaching position was in Mackay. At the time I was finishing off my Arts degree and a teaching Graduate Diploma - just to get some more letters after my name. I even thought I might use a teaching degree some day. I was trying to get somewhere with an AFL career (not good enough!), I was working in retail (probably spending more time working than actually time at University) and struggling through my final teaching practicum (what? I have to go to a staff meeting - ummm I have footy training).
For some reason, I applied for teaching jobs in the private sector and didn’t mind the rejection letters. I even got one interview! I drove to the southside of Brisbane, didn’t really interview that well, talked more about how I love my sport and wanted to make a career out of it, had no teaching philosophy or really knew how to manage behaviour. I didn’t get that job.
The second interview came by and it was for a little Christian school in Mackay. We are talking about a school paying the minimum award wage, with 250 students from Grade 1-12. This was in the days when Mackay was still a big sugar town with about 60,000 people.
Within 5 minutes of that interview, something clicked with me and the principal. Could I actually do this? This principal had actually sold me on the idea. We used the term “drawn” to the idea of accepting this job as THE Grade 8-12 English teacher and a History teacher. Was I just about to become a teacher? Despite what I thought was logical, I accepted a position, loaded up the back of a station wagon, and drove to Mackay.
This principal, Craig Murison, made me as a person and as a teacher. He sat me down after the first term and said, “Russell, if you don’t make the following changes to your teaching practice, you’re not going to make it.”
I am pretty sure I implemented every strategy he and the other 2 senior teachers suggested. They mentored me, they challenged me and turned me into a teacher. I signed up to play Australian Rules football with the mighty Eastern Swans. I played basketball for Lakers basketball club. I joined Hi-Energy gym. I forged a life outside of school.
Instead of spending every night, including Saturday and Sunday, planning, I played football. I went to church. I found mates to hang out with at the footy club Saturday night. I moved in with a good friend and got more housemates. This mate became my brother-in-law by marriage (another long story!)
Settled in Mackay
I stayed at Mackay Christian College for 10 years. My first gig as a teacher. I rose through the ranks of the school either by design, default or just for the fact I was the only one to take on some of the roles I took.
I developed a resume at this school that I still look back on with amazement for someone so young at the time. I developed long time friendships with blokes at the “Swannies”, the parents of my students, the teachers I worked with, and the students I taught. Many who are now, or have celebrated their 40ths.
More importantly, I met my wife. Yes, another teacher! Another long story, but without this move to Mackay, I doubt I would ever have met the person who I have shared the struggles, the pitfalls, the doubts and the moments of sheer joy as a teacher.
We have been married 22 years and she has also made into the teacher I am today. She has made me into the person I am today. I think they are different, but they are not. If you have ever known me as a teacher and a person, I would hope you get what you see, and you see what you get!
She allowed me to be me. She counselled me when I have wanted to quit (usually at least once a year the last 22 years we have been married). She moved me back to God when I tried to do it all myself. She made me realise I can’t “save” everybody, but I can give it a good, hot go!
Mackay made me as a person and a teacher.
Next month - Part 2. Moving back home to Brisbane.
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.
Russell Modlin’s archive of previous article can be found at