Educator extraordinaire, Debbie Bradfield, tells her stories from the classroom and the importance of passion as a teacher.
“I have always been energetic and taught with humour and passion. Memories are precious and when we take the time to reflect we realise how much they mean to us.”
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and your family life?
My mum and dad are both English and lived in Malta. They wanted more opportunities for my brother and me, so they decided to immigrate to Australia. We ended up in Biloela, a small rural town in central Queensland, where I lived and went to school until college. My earliest memories include teaching my dolls, riding my bike with friends, playing armies at school and being the nurse for the injured soldiers. I always loved children’s books. As my mum was a teacher, our hallway had large bookshelves full of children’s books.
Tell us about why you became a teacher?
I am a third-generation teacher and it was always my dream! I never thought about any other profession. I was teaching dolls and playing classroom using a large blackboard my dad set up in our carport from a young age. I remember my mum’s classroom; she was very innovative and taught in an open classroom with many colleagues in family grouping situations.
Talk us through your experience of being a teacher. What have been the biggest highlights? And the greatest challenges?
I was posted as a teacher in charge of the St George State Preschool in an off-campus setting in 1987. I was 19 and turned 20 in February, with a budget of approximately $700 a year. I ran the preschool centre for 16 years. We began with a morning and afternoon group session with some children coming 2 days and some coming 3. In my first year, I taught 59 children. I remember arriving at the centre and meeting Lois my teacher aide, she was fantastic and shared so many ideas, tricks and sayings over the years. In 1990 I married her son and following I had my 3 children taking small amounts of leave and then coming back to teach.
In the early 2000s the Preschool education began changing. We had 5-day fortnights and then preschools closed and were replaced by preps. I moved to the local Catholic School and tried my best to take my play-based philosophy and pedagogy. I enjoyed helping children plan their play and extend both indoor and outdoor play. We had a double classroom space and so we could develop play spaces for weeks at a time. It was another wonderful time in my teaching career. As I was flexible and enjoyed helping children develop play. I was also happy to change and grow as a teacher, so with the introduction of the National Curriculum I took on new ideas and expectations while still trying to let children grow and develop at their own pace.
Over the years expectations of children and teachers grew and I always tried my best to create a positive learning environment and use the resource to help all of the children. Data collection grew and so did professional development. I still wanted to share the joy in learning, so special days and teacher plays were also very important to me. In 2018 I won Expert Primary Teacher Excellence Award for Toowoomba Catholic Schools. However, I was also working 7 days a week and my work-life balance was definitely something I needed to change. In 2019 a two-day week kindy job came up in Texas, so my husband and I moved. Now I am beginning a very new journey which has had many challenges as the kindy was in financial difficulty, the town was in drought, I had to also discover new regulations, curriculum and standards. However, I am enjoying a play-based curriculum again.
Did anyone, in particular, inspire you to become a teacher and what was it about them that inspired you?
My mum but also several teachers over the years. I fondly remember my grade 2 teacher Miss Byrnes who loved liquorice and my year 3 and 4 teachers Miss Williams. I still remember her flicking her thick dark hair over her shoulders. At high school, my art teacher Mr Redgen taught me about music and art. My modern history teacher who had a class of 3, shared insights about the world and talked with us like we were adults. All these teachers were kind and it shone through in their teaching. At college, I was lucky enough to be mentored by Yvonne Winer. Yvonne is an author and storyteller and an inspiring lecturer. I didn’t realise how much of an impact she would have on me until I began to teach. She loved natural items in the classroom and told stories using items such as music and many different props. I still use her stories every year in my service.
What have you learnt from this experience?
I have always been energetic and taught with humour and passion. Memories are precious and when we take the time to reflect we realise how much they mean to us.
You have 3 beautiful children can you tell us about how important your family is to you? How did you juggle your job and your family? What are three (3) important messages that you have hoped to instil in your children?
When the kids were young, I didn’t want to go out, I just wanted to stay at home with them when I wasn’t working. We lived in the same street as their cousins, so our house was always full of play. We had a large playroom downstairs that opened up to a large pepperina tree with an old Besser brick BBQ. I loved all their play from lifesavers, McDonald’s drive-through, weddings, vets, school/dance classes and heading off on adventures. I always read bedtime stories and sang songs which I think all 3 children have been traumatised by! My husband Will and I had a great routine. I would organise homework and bath time. Will cooked tea and then I would clean up. We all laugh now but when the kids were older, we employed a cleaning lady. I would run around screaming quick clean up Nada is coming. Their response was always why are we cleaning up for the cleaning lady!
Three important messages:
1. We love you and you can share anything with us
2. Be kind and think about other feelings – treat others as you would like to be treated
3. Be the best me I can be…always try your best… we also laugh now as I use to try and make them visualise what they wanted to achieve
What are your funniest teaching stories?
I have so many wonderful memories of funny teaching moments with Lois. When we begin reminiscing, we ended in stitches about situations and children’s adventures. Once we solved a crime due to a child’s show and tell. We knew which mum during her pregnancy wore her husband’s jocks, knew which mum locked dad out of the house and who couldn’t go to sleep because mummy and daddy were making so much noise in the bath together. I recall an incident when we were swimming in the town wading pool, which was 2 doors away from the preschool. The child asked me if they could go to the toilet when he was gone a little while I asked Lois to check on him, he had jumped the pool fence run up the street, jumped the preschool gate and went to the toilet at Preschool! We had no risk assessments back then! We also taught quads who all grew up to be bull riders.
What are your tips for teachers in general?
You need passion, passion, passion! And a very wise principal told me…it’s all about the children and now use that as my mantra!
As a teacher/leader what legacy do you feel you have created in your students and staff?
I hope that children develop self-confidence and a love of learning. I hope they have happy memories.
What motivates you now?
Always the children! I enjoy creating play spaces and environments to extend their interests and play.
What do you do to unwind and relax? Is there a favourite place to go to unwind?
I walk every day. I used to walk with Lois at 5.15 every morning, it’s not quite the same walking without her. My favourite place though has always been the beach! Walking along and listening to the waves.
Do you make time for self-care? What do you do to look after yourself?
I love catching up with my children, they are all like my best friends, I feel they take care of me now! Also, lots of cups of coffee especially with a small piece of dark chocolate while watching a chick flick! I have a long soaking bath with lavender oil every night.
Phone calls with family make my day, especially facetime calls with my granddaughters Evie, Sophie and Cadence. I also love reading and playing with them when we see each other. They are 4, 3 and 2 so it is great fun being the cow and getting tied up/escaping, making cakes in the sandpit or having lots of cups of tea.
Has COVID affected you personally?
Well, I guess we’ll have to wait that one out. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not so impactful compared to what is happening to others.
Finally, what is the next step for you?
I am unsure at this stage, but I know one day my dream is to retire at the beach.
Photography courtesy of The Real Deal Photography
Editorial by Maura Jean
Teach … [verb]
1) To impart knowledge of or skill in; give instruction in.
2) To instruct by precept, example, or experience
Empowering you, the teacher, to empower our children, the leaders of tomorrow.
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