OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO TEACHING
A trailblazing teacher who first taught at 17 years old, returned to university at the age of 70, and is still making an enormous difference for students at ’82 years young’, is the winner of a prestigious state teaching award.
West Moreton Anglican College (WestMAC) teacher Dell Rathbone, who has educated three generations of students in her 65-year educational career, and influenced reform for children with learning needs, won the 2020 Queensland College of Teachers Outstanding Contribution to Teaching Award at a virtual awards ceremony yesterday evening.
It comes as Queensland celebrates World Teachers’ Day.
“What is amazing is that I was signed up for teaching at 14 years of age,” Ms Rathbone said. “There was a shortage of teachers at the time and the inspectors came around the secondary schools and talked to those of us going on to senior, and my big test of eligibility for teaching was whether I could write level across a blackboard!” she said.
In 1955, as a 17-year-old, Ms Rathbone had her first class of 66 students at Graceville State School before moving out west, where she was confronted by extreme poverty in Texas.
“It was a really good experience for me because I had to come up with a lot of ways of engaging children who had no books, nobody reading to them at home and not much of anything really,” she said. She said she also learnt early in her career the importance of parent support “to really do the job properly”.
In an age before Autism was recognised by the medical community, Ms Rathbone identified that the regimented classroom setting of the 1950s was inappropriate for some students and she adapted a range of teaching strategies and techniques to support children. She went on to author the paper ‘Equity in Education’, which influenced education in Queensland in a number of ways, including the integration of special education students into mainstream schools, greater differentiation in the curriculum, the introduction of a policy on gifted education and the creation of the Special Education Resources.
After teaching across western Queensland, including in Wandoan where she taught her children via correspondence, Ms Rathbone moved to Ipswich in 1973 and went on to become the Deputy Principal of Brassall State School. In the 1980s she worked for the Department of Education on projects looking at state-wide changes in Mathematics, school autonomy and better supporting students with special learning needs. She worked for four years on developing Queensland’s first Prep-Year 12 Mathematics curriculum, decades after pursuing Mathematics as a teaching area when it was considered a field for men only.
Since 1994, Ms Rathbone has worked at WestMAC, where she has held countless roles, including Head of ESL and Learning Support. WestMAC Deputy Principal Janelle Lecinski said Ms Rathbone was a stalwart of the Ipswich educational community who had a profound impact on her students.
“She is the teacher who celebrates individual achievements and personal milestones when families are on the other side of the world. She is the teacher who coordinates study evenings to support homestay students in exam preparation. She is the teacher whose graduates frequently call when urgent assistance is needed with a university assignment the next day. She is the teacher who arrives at a private residence to quietly place a 4-leaf clover and well wishes on the windscreen of a student’s car on the morning of a stats exam. She is the teacher who walks beside a student whose journey with unexpected vision impairment commences in Year 9 and who graduates with unimagined success. She is the teacher who three times a week tutors beside the hospital bed of a student whose mental health issues confine her to a specialist ward for most of Year 12. Her emails are flooded with well wishes, wedding invitations and photographs from former students who remain eager to share life’s milestones with the teacher who so generously shaped and enriched their life with the gift of individualised education,” Mrs Lecinski said.
Ms Rathbone said it was her students that inspired her and she felt lucky to teach.
“The biggest luck I’ve had is that a decision I made at 14 left me with a job I love doing,” Ms Rathbone said.
Queensland is fortunate to have you, Dell. Congratulations on being the winner of the TEACHX Outstanding Contribution to Teaching Award.