Celebrating teachers on International Womens Day

Celebrating teachers on International Women's Day

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Teachers Health Group Chairperson Maree O'Halloran reflects on teachers' transformative role

As chair of the Teachers Health Group, Maree O'Halloran has capped a career that has taken her from classroom teacher to the head of the NSW Teachers Federation and then to becoming a lawyer.

As we approach International Women's Day, Ms O’Halloran reflects on the importance of teachers as mentors for the students they teach.

Ms O'Halloran says it was a female music teacher at Matraville High School who convinced her parents not to send her out to work at the age of 15, after studying for the School Certificate.

The teachers at Matraville High convinced my parents that was the wrong thing to do. I would never have been able to do that without those teachers, they had inspired me and I was hoping to do the same for other students."

"I believe education is transformative and I think that it can change individual lives and I think that it can change society for the better."

"I've taught in public schools, I've taught in TAFE, I've taught in Corrective Services, so I've got a very good historical overview of teaching. Then I went into the Teachers Federation union as an industrial officer and became the President of that union which is a full-time role."

As a young teacher, working in inner Sydney and later in Griffith in rural NSW, Maree was influenced by older experienced teachers to join the union and Teachers Health. 

"They said you are a young teacher and you need to be a member of Teachers Health. These are great services created when teachers came together. And with Teachers Health, the really good thing about it is thinking about yourself but also thinking about others. There’s money in a pot to help and it helps yourself, it helps your family and it helps your colleagues."

It was while attending the Teachers Federation Council meetings that Maree realised that by coming together to debate how public schools delivered education as well as taking a stand on pay and conditions that teachers were taking control of their work.

"I never realised that we could take agency over our own work and not be told what to do. And I realised then that's what I wanted to be a part of, that I listened to everyone's point of view and then we went forward."

"I realised I was an advocate and that's what I wanted to be for the rest of my career. I have been fortunate during my life that I've always been able to do a job that aligned with my personal values."

"I love the union movement but I was worried for the people who were workers but they didn't have jobs, so I went to work and helped people on social security payments and the union movement was also supportive of that role. Then I became a lawyer."

Reflecting on her career of service to students, teachers and the community, Ms O'Halloran says her advice to her past self, and to others, is to take time to listen to the ideas of other people.

"Be brave. Listen to new ideas, also listen to other people carefully and make sure that when you hear other people’s ideas, you don’t jump to conclusions straight away. l I have a tendency to think that, 'I have the right pathway and this is the decision,' and I jump to decisions very quickly. And that can be a good thing."

"But I think to my younger self I'd say, 'Listen to other people first. Take some advice.' You might be right, but potentially you’re not right, so just test the waters."