I never wanted to be a teacher.
Last month’s article detailed my development as a teacher and as a person during my first 10 years of teaching in Mackay.
This first 10 years was the development of my teaching philosophy and practice. The principal, Craig Murison, along with two senior teachers, Paul Truasheim and John Saunders, sorted me out in that first term of failure. They allowed me to fail, but also transformed me from being the student’s mate, to the student’s mentor, teacher and father figure. The Head of Secondary, Lesley Tunnah, instilled in me a simple leadership, teaching and behaviour management strategy I have countlessly retold and used to help many a young teacher or preservice teacher - BE FIRM, FAIR and FRIENDLY.
I knew I had to leave Mackay.
I loved teaching there. I was established and the job was fulfilling everything I had hoped for - particularly for someone who never wanted to teach. I experienced the “seven year itch” many teachers experience. At that time, I was disgruntled and not happy in Mackay. I turned down a teaching position on the Sunshine Coast, despite it being a desire of mine to move to the coast. Despite logic, I stayed in Mackay and the last 3 years there were amazing.
But I felt like a fraud.
I thought I was stuck. Unable to get a job anywhere else. Even though I had an impressive resume, I felt like no other school would want me. I had proven to myself I could teach, but why would another school want me? I had built a little world for me that I could excel in, but also hide. Was I just a good bloke rather than a good teacher?
The death of two ex-students in Mackay rocked this confidence. Twice towards the end of my time in Mackay I received late night calls to go to Mackay Base Hospital to see ex-students, two ex-students I had mentored and invested in, two ex-students who were “mates”, lying in a hospital bed hooked up to life support. One died in a motorbike accident, the other, suicide. I had only just played Aussie Rules against his team 1 week prior to him taking his life.
Belinda and I still had our son.
We lost a baby to miscarriage.
We needed to move.
My time in Mackay had to be over. I needed to move on and get out of the comfort zone I had created. Instead of doing one more year and taking a term off for long service leave, I took the money and this paid for the move to Brisbane with Belinda and my first-born son.
The job in Brisbane fell in my lap. I can’t even recall applying for a particular job. Someone rung me up about the job. I must have sent my resume and before long I was sitting in front of a panel of 4 teachers, meeting the principal, Murray Averill, and being offered a job. It was that simple.
Northside Christian College was sold to me by one of my new colleagues as, “The best school you will ever work in.” And on reflection, this is not far from the truth. An enrolment policy that bases enrolment on the church attendance of the parents gives a small insight into the “type” of students and parents I encountered. Any of my ex-students or parents from there know with certainty that this did not make them or their kids perfect, but this gave an incredible amount of freedom for me as a teacher to express my faith without any fear.
There were a few incidents and interactions in the five years I was there that could have soured my time, but they were few and far between. I often joked with Belinda about my discipline and behaviour management.
“I told a kid to stop chewing gum today.”
“I told a kid to stop talking today, and then I found out they were talking about their assignment/their youth group camp/organising chapel music.”
Each year of teaching in Brisbane was a different year for me. I am so thankful that I see it that way. Years ago, I felt it on my heart that God wanted to use me to make a difference in peoples’ lives - and Northside allowed me to make a difference.
My time at Northside never ended; it was always a beginning. Dealing with mostly Christian kids from Christian homes is not easy. I prayed more. My prayer life changed. I took 3 groups of students to the Torres Strait. I am not even sure I could get away with a trip like that now. No risk assessment, no plans and no real idea.
We rocked up on Horn Island with the first group I took not really knowing who we were going to meet, where we were going to stay and what we were going to eat. Some nights we prayed, went out on the island, came back, and food appeared in our fridge. We ate dugong, turtle, crayfish, fish and more fish till we could eat no more. Many times we had no idea who delivered it to us or where it came from. We ran church meetings with 50-100 people, yet it felt like the whole island was there. They could hear us from their houses.
Preparing to go to Torres Strait and developing relationships with the students consumed much of my time and prayer life in Brisbane. The teaching, on reflection, was secondary. The students and their results took care of themselves. I was confident in my ability as a teacher to teach, and for my students to get great results, but I was more concerned with the content of their character.
The closer I seemed to be getting to God while I was there, the more circumstances and events that came to try and destroy what was being built up, individually and as a school. At times, the five years there were challenging, deflating and frustrating.
Many students from Northside are my adopted sons and daughters. Many are my adopted brothers and sisters. I developed lifetime friendships. I found it hard to be a “teacher” to many of them. Many were and still are my friends, confidantes and my academic equal or superior. Their lives, desires and now their work, families and relationships have challenged me to my core. I am a better person for having taught them.
The teachers at Northside, many who were long term teachers when I arrived, are still there today. Whenever I see them, we pick up where we left off. They encouraged me, mentored me and filled me with a confidence that remains with me some 10 years later after I left. Some used this school as a platform for better and greater things. Gary Hine, Lynn Smith-Cottrell, Linda George and June Vanderham were spiritual leaders to me. They challenged and uplifted my faith. I am a better man because I was under their leadership.
My time in Brisbane made me confront the sins of my youth. I met long-time friends in my church who are still my spiritual brothers and sisters today - when we catch up! (hint hint those who are reading this!!). My time in Brisbane made me not afraid to appeal to God and to never give up appealing to others for His mercy, love, goodness, uprightness, faithfulness and grace. Not so that I would be raised up and glorified, but so my family, friends, the disadvantaged and our God will be raised up and that Jesus will be reflected in who I am.
I had to leave Brisbane because of these sentiments. I had to take my wife, and now two sons to Alice Springs. We sold most of our possessions in a Garage Sale, including all the baby gear. We were only going to take the basics. Belinda turned to me 2 or 3 days after the sale and said, “I’m pregnant.”
I was going to Alice Springs because I did not want to die without seeing if I can handle it and do something for my family and my God. I was going to Alice Springs to follow God’s leading.
Next month, PART 3- The Alice Springs Years.
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