The year was 1989. Lots of things were different back then. Teachers used blackboards, not whiteboards. They wrote in chalk. There were no smartphones or tablets. Everything was handwritten or photocopied. Occasionally we’d watch videos on VHS tape. The technology I used at school centred around three things: a monocular for reading the blackboard, a pari of classes with a bubble magnifier lens and an electronic typewriter which mostly stayed at home and was used for essays and assignments.
I had just moved to the small Central Victorian town of Maryborough – there were two state secondary schools being Maryborough High and Maryborough Tech and there was also the local Catholic school. I went to Maryborough High. The buildings were old, freezing in winter, and, you guessed it, hot and stuffy in summer. There was always this faint smell of gas in the science classrooms. I had started at Maryborough High in year 9 when my parents decided to move from Colac, where I grow up. Looking back now, I often think changing schools half way through year 9 was perhaps not the wisest decision our family had made.
The enrolment process wasn’t smooth – I remember the principal questioning whether I’d have been better off going to a ‘special school’, but being a stubborn kid with an even more stubborn mother, we pushed forward and I started there in June 1989.
My first day at Maryborough High began with a stern Home Economics teacher barking at a group of year nine boys in an assembly ‘If any of you give Glen a hard time, you’ll have me to deal with!’ – I could be seen cringing in a corner. I actually jokingly said to those boys later that I had not put her up to that and frankly had just wished she’d kept her mouth shut.
I think the bullies at the school weren’t really interested in me – they had the year 7’s to concentrate on. After my experiences at Colac High (where we’d moved from), I’d learnt the hard way how to handle bullying. If you tell a teacher, it regulated in the bullying intensifying and becoming relentless.
For me, the issues at school were around exclusion, just being treated like you are different – feeling like you were always an outsider.
Science was a subject I quite liked. I remember clearly experiments with Bunsen Burners and Sulphuric Acid (not together!). You don’t actually think of limitations, you think of approaching things in different ways so you can participate. Thinking of limitations is a job left for teachers and classmates.
One day – our Science teacher decided to divide us up into groups. Each group would nominate a person who’d go into the classroom next door and bring back an overhead projector. The groups were 3-4 students in size. So I promptly volunteered myself to be the ‘go get the projector’ person. On my way out the door, I heard the teacher say to my group ‘are you sure Glen is capable of doing that?’ – I paused but decided to ignore it and keep walking. I found a projector and carried it back in to the classroom – all the time reflecting on what the teacher had just said. My normal strategy – ignore it. Not today. I put the projector on the table and asked Mr Science if I could talk to him. He comes over to me.
My heart was pounding, I’m not used to this sort of confrontation. But I had two points I needed tog et across. ‘So, Mr Science, I heard you say to my group “Is Glen capable of that” as I left the room.’ – he was dead quiet. I continued ‘I need to say two things. Firstly, I know these things are valuable, so if I didn’t think I could do this … well then I wouldn’t.’ My heart was pounding, he was dead silent. But (what I hadn’t noticed) so was the rest of the class. I continued – “my second point, Mr Science, is I’m not deaf, I could hear you clearly, please in future if you have something to ask about me, can you please ask it directly to me.’ – my voice was calm and soft, I didn’t get angry, I remember the feeling, it was more disappointment and shame that I even had to do this. He remained silent, he mumbled something and went on teaching the class.
I had apparently learnt some sort of status among some of the students for standing up to Mr Science. I had not set out for that, I had just wished the whole thing had never happened in the first place.
Did Mr Science learn from this experience? Well, no. I heard form another teacher later that he’d said something like ‘Glen and I had a misunderstanding.’ – there was no misunderstanding for me. I was very clear on my expectations of how a teacher should behave. How anyone should behave.