Mrs Michelle Kath was a very young teacher when she taught me. To understand why I am foregrounding Mrs Kath, you need to understand the context in which I was educated. I was educated at a Christian Brothers College when there was only about 10 female teaching staff on the campus. The campus was located in Ipswich and the town was undergoing a significant recession. Much of the traditional industries in Ipswich like mining, the railway workshops and the small scale manufacturing had closed down. As students in the 80’s, when competing against schools like St Laurence’s, Iona and Marish College, Ashgrove, we felt inferior. We felt like these schools not only thought they were better than us, but they were better people than us. This was not based in any fact, apart from our own, insular projections.
The gift of any leadership is often measured in how a leader can change culture. Mrs Kath was introduced to us as a young energetic teacher. What we soon found out was that she graduated dux of her University course, she was an excellent teacher, and she could coach. A gift of any good teacher is to see something in a student, that sometimes they can’t see in themselves. She saw in me (and all the students that she taught) that we were better than we thought we were. She taught us to look outwards and to be aspirational. She taught us not just to be proud of who we are but to have the confidence to show our gifts outside of Ipswich. While doing this, she became one of the youngest Heads of Departments, one of the youngest Heads of the Senior School, she coached firsts teams to premierships across numerous Edmund Rice Schools and then as only the third female in Australia Mrs Kath achieved a position on College Leadership Teams. In all these appointments she successfully changed culture to make the school communities better places for ALL.
Sometimes the hardest culture to change is your own internal story. As a former student of Mrs Kath and a student of other teachers who identify as women…I want to say this really clearly… I am sorry. I want to apologise as a man because at times “we’ve” let you down. Others, either here or in the media, will talk about the differences of pay rates between men and women, corporate glass ceilings or consent. I want to talk about softening my internal disposition and I invite all those of us who identify as men to do the same… if we’re faced with a choice between being respectful or disrespectful, our culture change will be to choose respect. If conflict arises, I invite our response to choose the path towards healing. If we witness others making poor decisions in the way they treat people, I invite us to seek the humanity and be the peacemaker. Mrs Kath’s lasting gift to me and others that she taught, is not only to be proud of who I am, a student from Ipswich, but to be an agent for positive change. So, to all the women in this room, I am sorry for any hurt that you have received from men. I hope that my actions today move us closer together, rather than apart.
I have Mrs Kath and other great female teachers to thank for changing culture so it is a better place for all.