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Passing the baton


It is not often you get to work alongside your granddaughter but for long-serving educator Sue McDonald that is one of the added joys of doing relief teaching at St Patrick’s School, Mansfield Park.

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Last term Sue and her granddaughter Nikki, 22, celebrated working together at the same school as relief teachers for the first time, in what they called a day of ‘McDonald power’.

“We had been both booked up for the same day and we thought it was fantastic,” said Sue, 75, who lives with her son’s family including oldest grandchild Nikki.

“We came to St Patrick’s in the same car and went home together. It was very exciting and she was about four classrooms down so I would poke my head out every now and then to make sure she was okay.”

Graduating with her teacher’s degree earlier this year, Nikki said she was happy to have the support of her Nanna.

“That was my first ever day of relief teaching so she gave me some good tips and could introduce me to everyone at the school. It was nice having a familiar face here,” she said.

Teaching is definitely in the blood for the McDonald women.

In her 57th year of educating primary school children, Sue has spent 30 years with the Department of Education, followed by 25 years in Catholic education at St Margaret Mary’s School, Croydon.

Although “supposedly retiring” 18 months ago, she continues to help out to meet teacher shortages due to COVID and is regularly doing relief work at St Patrick’s, St Margaret Mary’s and Whitefriars.

Sue’s daughter Samantha has followed in her footsteps and is a secondary school teacher at Harvest Christian College at Kadina, while Nikki is just starting her career.

And despite more than five decades in the classroom, Sue said there was always something new to learn and she still enjoys her work.

“I have a big passion for teaching and after all this time I still love it,” she said.

“I love the ‘aha’ moments, when the kids say ‘I’ve got it!’ I love seeing them happy, they are inquisitive naturally and I love helping them to learn.”

Nikki, who this term has a full time placement teaching the new mid-year Reception students at
St Patrick’s, said Nanna was a great role model.

“I always thought she was pretty happy with her job and she’s been doing it for so long,” she said. “For me, I just love spending time with the kids…it’s a very rewarding job.”

Both agreed it was great to have opportunity to “debrief” after a day at school together.

“I can’t wait for her to get home so I can talk to her,” Sue admitted. “I am so eager to hear how the day went…I am sort of reliving my career through Nikki. It’s a wonderful bond we have.”

For new teachers like her granddaughter, Sue had some sage advice.

“Be open to change. Be flexible in what you plan – if you don’t get it done it’s because something more important happened on the day,” she said.

“Learn as much as you can from experienced teachers, from the internet, take advice. Get engaged immediately with the school, the students and the staff. For so many years the staff at St Margaret Mary’s, and now St Patrick’s, were my family too. I was going to work and enjoying it because I had my lovely family there!

“I also make sure I laugh every day. I don’t like to be the grumpy teacher – I prefer to be known as kind and caring.”


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