When the child safe gate clangs behind Educator Susan Johnson for the last time this week, the door will also close on an affiliation that predates any permanent fixture at Altona Kindergarten.
“My mother was actively involved with other interested families in setting up Altona Kindergarten. As a tiny child I joined Mrs Rice together with a number of other children at the brand-new kindergarten.”
Early on Sue wasn’t quite so enamoured by the experience, one day taking advantage of a gap under the gate to find her way back home to mum. “The teacher let me go home early!” claimed Sue, before a concerned Mrs Rice arrived shortly in tow.
When Sue became a mother herself to three children, all of them attended the kindergarten under the tutelage of, wait for it, Miss Bacon! At this time Sue began her sizzling career in early education.
“I had always wanted to be a teacher and was lucky enough to secure a job as a ‘Kindergarten Assistant’- firstly at Altona, followed by a stint of ‘Relief Assistant’, then back to Altona and then on to Somers Parade Kindergarten.”
As the new millennium dawned, Sue was to face some challenging adjustments in her life. First she was ‘transmitted’ from employment by the local council to the new ECMS (which under CEO Carol Allen set up their initial head office at Altona Kindergarten).
And sadly Sue lost her husband in 2000.
“The pay was hardly enough to continue raising a family. I had always wanted to be a teacher and felt I had enough knowledge to give back to the children. So in 2001 (aged 50) I took the plunge and gained a place at Melbourne University and earned my Bachelor of Early Childhood Education.”
To understand Sue’s lifelong Altona Kindergarten connection, and with Altona for that matter, one must consider how many families she‘s touched over the years and how much she is loved in return at a locale Sue likens to a country town – ‘a secret little gem.’ Indeed, a trip to Pier Street or any of the restaurants and supermarkets is never a quick visit for Sue.
“It is great to walk down the street and be greeted by toots of horns and waves from people you know on bikes on the other side of the road.”
This year Sue is teaching a grandchild of a couple former Altona Kindergarten and Altona Primary School classmates (whose children attended both kinder and school with Sue’s children). Then there are the pop-ins and emails from former parents and kindergarten attendees.
“It makes me feel very special to think I might have had an impact on their lives.”
Reflecting on whether children have changed much over the years, Sue appreciates the positive and negative impacts of modern living, citing the many varied experiences more childcare offers, albeit at the expense of simpler experiences that captivated children in bygone days.
“Often, they have great general knowledge and can be very world aware, however emotionally there is much evidence of more stress and anxiety in children. We also have children who have not been allowed to take risks and are far less resilient than children were in years gone by.”
As her final day approaches, Sue has ‘all sorts of feelings spinning around’ her head. Foremost she will miss the children (the most satisfying part of her job) and co-Educators, not to mention the resident rabbits and magpies who returned recently with their babies.
On the not-to-be-missed list: getting up early and ‘dealing with vast amounts of paperwork’!
Sue has no plans to slow down though, with reading, gardening, her granddaughters and their school activities, finding a choir to join and volunteering with Meals on Wheels all on her radar.
“Leaving the kindergarten in the safe hands of Rebecca, Donna and Arlene make it a little easier for me. Altona Kindergarten is not about me, it is about the team and I have been honored to have been part of this team throughout the good and the bad. We have always supported one another and I will miss the daily contact with the team.”
ECMS bids farewell and wishes Altona’s own little gem the very best for the future.