Kate Van Der Meulen and Glenys Thompson.
Kate Van Der Meulen and Glenys Thompson.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Celebrating our female teachers

Teachers Glenys Thompson and Kate Van Der Meulen from Roma State College have witnessed a remarkable change in opportunities afforded to women over the years, but believe there’s still work to be done and lessons to be had.

Mrs Thompson and Mrs Van Der Meulen are not only united by their passion for teaching the next generation, but also for International Women’s Day on March 8 as a way to recognise the movement between full equality for men and women, not just in the workforce but every sphere in life.

“It’s a day to recognise the amazing and inspirational women we have locally, nationally and internationally,” Mrs Van Der Meulen said.

“The day continues to inspire us to look beyond ourselves and see a much wider world. Look at what else can be accomplished, it’s saying to women to be the best person you can, look at what other outstanding women have achieved, don’t think you can’t do it too,” Mrs Thompson added.

Mrs Thompson who started her teaching career in 1976 in a small country town, thanked her mother for the life she has today.

The English and Humanities teacher said her parents belonged to a generation when boys were only educated in their senior years, but it was her mother that ensured her and her sister were sent to boarding school.

“My mother had an amazing effect on all of us … (five siblings – three boys, two girls), but for me personally, because she said to me that just because you are a girl, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be educated and you can’t live to the fullest,” Mrs Thompson said.

“In other families I knew, boys were only sent away, but my mother ensured the girls were educated too.

“She had this amazing influence on how she shaped all our thinking, including my father’s.

“They sacrificed hugely to afford that, as we were a working-class family, but my mother was determined that education opens doors, gates, opens your mind to possibilities.”

Mrs Thompson has experienced vast changes in the department of education with close to 50 years’ in the field.

She worked in the era when female teachers were forced to resign if they took more than three months maternity leave or got married.

“We’ve seen major changes in equality of pay and when I was at school, married teachers got the least amount of money, single women got the next, single male teachers got the next amount, then male married teachers got the most because they supposedly looked after their families,” Mrs Thompson said.

“Then the union said ‘equal work, equal pay’ while I was teaching.

“The fact that maternity leave is much more flexible now for women and the fact that women don’t have to resign when they get married.”

Mrs Thompson noted the change in the union allowing male and female teachers to live together, when it was once frowned upon and considered a safety issue.

“The union has improved accommodation right across the board, which means safer situations for women and a better start in your career as well … compared to when I had a two bedroom house with six female teachers, they were the standards that were expected back then,” she said.

However, in a male top-heavy industry, Mrs Thompson believes there are still gender equality issues.

“ … it’s still very difficult to get through at the top … as a society we still say men should have leadership roles and a woman who aspires to do that, has to go beyond the norm to actually be successful,” she said.

“I still think there’s an expectation when men go into teaching, that they’re going to be a principal, rather women going in to it as wanting to be a teacher.

“But fortunately, a lot now realise they have the skills to go further than that.

“Then there’s both genders that just want to be teachers but males are more likely to have the expectation placed upon them that they don’t want to stay in the classroom, but want to go into administration … they don’t push women in the same way that they push a man.”

In spite of that idea, Mrs Van Der Meulen believes it’s important to tell the younger generation that it doesn’t matter what gender you are, you are capable of achieving whatever dream you have, particularly when it comes to your profession.

Both teachers believe it’s important their kids and students experience every opportunity that comes their way and to look beyond the small town and experience the world out there.

“I think coming from a small town, my mother told me there’s a world out there, look beyond the small town and if I told myself at a young age, yes you are going to get there, just keep your eyes further afield than local boundaries,” Mrs Thompson said.

“That’s what we try tell our kids – there’s more out there,” Mrs Van Der Meulen added.

The Year 12 female leaders at Roma State College attended the Zonta International Women’s Day breakfast on Friday to celebrate the day.

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