AFTER teaching English across five decades, Mrs Duean Howlett from New England Girls’ School will retire at the end of the year. We speak with her about her career, how the teaching of English has changed and why single sex schooling is still relevant.
I understand you were educated at MLC at Burwood, in Sydney. There must have been a teacher there who really inspired you, not just to learn, but to later become a teacher yourself?
Believe it or not, I did not particularly enjoy my education from 5th class at MLC. I found the whole learning process there to be stultifying, restrictive and very traditional. It was very much the case of opening one’s text book at page so and so and answering questions.
I never thought about being a teacher until I accepted a Teacher’s Scholarship and the accompanying bond. As a prac teacher, I taught my first class at Hornsby Girls’ High School – it was a Year 8 class, and the topic was a Medieval Village. After that first lesson, I was hooked on being the best possible teacher ever.
Where did you start your teaching career?
I started my teaching career at Raymond Terrace High School in a demountable on my own. I taught Form 6 [as it was called then] English and Modern History and Form 5 English and Modern History, with a Year 9 English class. My first year there taught me how to establish and maintain discipline and how to excite students to want to learn.
What brought you to Armidale – and NEGS?
I arrived in Armidale and NEGS in 1986, to take up the promotional appointment of Head of English. My husband and I and our two children had many horses, dogs, cats and chooks. We wanted to raise our children and our menagerie in the country.
How has the teaching of English changed over time, both in the class and the curriculum?
Since I started teaching mostly just English, I have worked through four major syllabus and curriculum changes. I started teaching in the Wyndham System, where subjects were divided into categories of difficulty – namely First Level, Second Level and Third Level. Then the system changed to 3 Unit, 2 Unit and 2 Unit A levels. Then it changed to 2 Unit, 2 Unit General and Contemporary levels.
In 1996 I was part of the consultation process for the new and still current syllabus that started in 2000. This is the Area of Study and elective Module syllabus that will be replaced by the National Curriculum in 2014. The highlight of the current syllabus for me is being the facilitator for Extension 2 English, where the students have to be creative, original and develop excellent research skills.
I understand for many years you have also been a HSC marker of English. What does that involve?
I started HSC Marking – 2 Unit Fiction – in the 1970s at the old Moore Park Showground. Since then, I have marked all sections and most levels of English. I have been a Senior Marker for eight years in Module B and C, and this has greatly assisted my teaching. The aim of HSC Marking is to holistically assess what the student has written in 40 minutes. Markers have to reach and maintain a Centre Standard, and this does not include what the student did not include. It is a very different style of marking from the class room teacher, who has to be able to tell the student what has been omitted and what needs to be done to gain a better mark. Marking guidelines are set and bench marks scripts provide further assistance to the Marker.
From this perspective, what things can students do to best prepare for their English exam?
The best thing a student can do to prepare for the HSC English examination is to own the information and knowledge and to be able to set up and develop a thesis supported by detailed textual references and appropriate quotes. They need to do more than just summarise the content of the texts. Mind maps, tables and grids are all useful as well.
You have taught in both the department and independent systems and co-ed and single sex. Why is single sex education relevant in 2012?
I have taught at disadvantaged Sydney outer-western suburb high schools, as well as Barker College and Pymble Ladies’ College on Sydney’s north shore. Single sex education for girls has proven to be an advantage, as it gives them greater confidence and often better abilities in the Maths and Sciences. Single sex education gives girls the chance to take control of and direct their learning. My daughter went through NEGS and my son also went to a single sex school – so it is something I strongly believe in. Boys do learn and behave differently from girls of a similar age.
You have had several years as deputy principal of NEGS. What have been some of your other career highlights?
During my 26 years at NEGS, I have been Head of English, Head of English and History for two years, Head of English and LOTE for one year, Head of English and Careers Adviser for two and Acting Deputy on many occasions, before becoming a full Deputy. As well, I have also been a Year Adviser to four different year groups. An early highlight of my career at NEGS was as producer of Oklahoma! with all Year 10 girls.
And finally … what are your plans for retirement?
When I hang up my mortar board, I want to learn new skills that are of a practical nature. I would also like to become involved in some sort of volunteer work and, of course, to travel.
Thank you and best wishes, Duean.
This story was published in issue 65 of the New England Focus