Please enjoy reading a copy of Madame Gunn's speech at the recent Foundation Day Celebration.
Dear guests, colleagues and students.
Those of you who know me are aware of the fact that I stand very reluctantly in the limelight. In fact, Mr O'brien had to twist my arm considerably to make me accept the honour of giving this staff address. But once I started to think about what I would like to say, I realised that I actually DID have a message for the students of CHAC.
As you just heard, I’ve been here for 15 years. That’s longer than most of you students have been alive, and the Year 11 and 12s were probably still in nappies–which is quite a thought. And in a few years, that statement will start to apply even to the younger staff.
A lot has changed in 15 years at CHAC. Most obviously the buildings of course, of which there seems to be a new one after each rainy season, like mushrooms. 15 years ago, there was no Tuggerah, no Primary Precinct, no junior high, no Science Centre, no Enterprise Centre, no Café. This building we are in now wasn’t here either. We had our assembly in the wetlands, the students sitting on the floor. It was great, you students could play with twigs, leaves and ants and half the speeches were drowned out by aeroplanes passing overhead. Some of the buildings that were here resembled shipping containers. No classroom was airconditioned. The girls used to take their socks off in the hot afternoon lessons. Funny, the boys never did–maybe they had holes in their socks.
The timetable also was different. We had long lessons and short lessons, so nobody knew ever when the bell was going to go. However, we had a five-day timetable, so we all knew what day it was. We had line days, where once a semester you had one random subject all day long. Imagine the poor maths teachers having Grade 8 maths from 8.40 to 15.10! We had no IT of course. Our report card comments were much less formal; we addressed the students, not the parents, like: Rohan, you are a pleasant student and are making good progress, but you must stop chatting with Ewan and Matthew. That sort of thing.
But a school is not just buildings, processes and lessons of course. A school is like a small country with a culture, with behaviour codes, with expectations of what is normal. And that is where CHAC is so special. And that is where my message to you the students of CHAC lies–My 15 years of service to your education were happy years. Fun years. Fulfilling years. And that is thanks to you.
You may not realise this, but you are a fantastic group of young people. And I don’t mean just my favourite students who study language, or my favourite, favourite students who study French. I have a few words to say to you in a minute. I mean all of you. You are courteous, cooperative and respectful. I was chatting to Mr Russell the other day and he told me that he came to CHAC from a school that was a bit… well, it wasn’t like CHAC. So Mr Russell was used to having to manage student behaviour. And when he taught his first lesson at CHAC, expecting ‘the usual’, he ran out of teaching material halfway through the lesson because he hadn’t known how CHAC students are. He said: “they sat up straight, listened and did their work. It was amazing.”
You are amazing, he is right. You are also modest and gracious. You are committed to your families, appreciative of the staff, patient and tolerant with each other. You are able to form and maintain positive and supportive relationships across ages, across genders and across cultures. You are friendly and open. You are not too cool to be nice. I have never seen a school where the whole cohort gets excited when a new student arrives. When new staff arrive at CHAC they always give the same answer when one asks them after their first or second day how they went: “the kids are great.” They are right-You ARE great.
And you, my language students, I can’t resist the opportunity to give you my special thanks.
Even my little captives in Year 7 and 8 who don’t really have a choice but have to be there. I know full well that you have no idea how conjugating French verbs could EVER be useful in your life. I know that many of you often have other things to think about rather than what we all are trying to teach you. But you trust us and give it a go. You do what we ask you to do, and even when you have not done your homework you come up with a creative excuse because you don’t want to disappoint us.
You are willing to follow the rules, you even take your hat when you leave class to go 18 steps to the nearest toilets. I mean–have you actually ever gotten into trouble for going to the toilets without your hat? It’s so cute.
You are polite, you even say thank you when I hand you an exam.
You are helpful too, there is always a Lincoln or an Andrew or a Lewis or someone else to run errands for me, or to jump up from your seats to make sure that I plug the right cable into the right place. You know my weaknesses and you don’t judge me.
You are funny too. We never play Kahoot without at least three of you calling themselves Madame Gunn. She never seems to win mind you, which is a bit of a worry.
My last few words are for my ‘real’ language students, the French student in Years 9, 10, 11 and 12. The funny thing is that I never wanted to become a teacher. It looked like too much work and responsibility and it came with chores like playground duty, sports supervisions, camps etc. And it is that.
But it is also incredibly rewarding. Because of you. I know I sometimes grumble at you for still not being able to conjugate verbs in the present tense in Year 12. But it is all pretence really. I am so proud of you. The effort you make, the determination to do well. But also your personal qualities, your creativity, your sense of humour, the support you give each other. Your willingness to get engaged: in your sport, music, debating, social justice, the environment, your Maccers job, and your subjects. I love your curiosity, your dreams of living a big life, of travelling, of going beyond your box. I thank you for your trust, in me, in your teachers generally. You are willing to do just about anything, write and perform roleplays, play party games, watch silly French soapies, cry at sad French movies, sing along with French pop songs, debate good and evil, do grammar exercises, some of you are even prepared to try being vegetarians for a while, just for me.
So dear students of CHAC. I believe I speak not only on behalf of all of us ‘oldies’ up here, but of all staff. Thank you.
Madame Darya Gunn