Decades of dedication to education

Published 12:56pm 13 June 2022

Decades of dedication to education
Words by Jodie Powell

Pam McGahey has given her life to teaching – but her career as an educator almost didn’t happen.

Mrs McGahey, of Mount Samson, has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her service to vocational education and the community in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

The former Ipswich Girls Grammar student was determined to become a primary school teacher, but didn’t achieve high enough marks in her final year of school.

Her parents, wanting the best for their daughter, allowed her to repeat the year.

“After the second time I was absolutely devastated because I missed out and I had improved my grades in some subjects, but French let me down,” she says.

“I asked if I could use my French grade from the year before, but they wouldn’t let me.”

Change of direction

Disappointed, Mrs McGahey applied for a clerical job and was shopping for suitable clothes with her Mum in Brisbane when they bumped into a friend of her mother’s from school days at Ipswich Girls Grammar.

“She was the deputy director of the Kindergarten Teachers’ College and mum mentioned how devastated I was to miss out on training as a primary school teacher,” Mrs McGahey recalls.

“Peggy (Banff) spoke to me at length and at the end said she thought I would be really good as a kindergarten teacher.”

Mrs McGahey’s dedication to her studies earnt her a scholarship from her second year at the College, while the deputy principal of Ipswich Girls’ Grammar – ironically also the school’s French teacher – offered her a place to live at the school as a resident mistress.

She says both made a huge difference, easing the financial burden of study and housing on her parents.

Mrs McGahey says fate has been on her side throughout her career.

Specialised care

“On reflection, I was really meant to follow that path,” she says.

Her first posting, as teacher/director at Rosewood Kindergarten, sparked a passion for working with children with additional needs, which in turn let to a Bachelor of Education majoring in special education.

Mrs McGahey was charged with opening the first state preschool in Mount Isa.

“I spent two years in Mount Isa and absolutely loved it.

“There was another child with additional needs and he and his mother taught me so much.

“During that time, I was looking at the opportunity to go overseas and I resigned from my position at Mount Isa.”

When she left, there was a drastic shortage of teachers – but when she returned there was a glut and Mrs McGahey struggled to find a post.

Help came in the form of the bus driver from a Top Deck tour she’d taken who was an investigator with the tax department in Adelaide.

“He was home on holiday and he contacted me because he’d seen an advertisement in the paper for a teacher in Whyalla.

“That was an incredible learning experience – then it was an extremely deprived area.

“They used to have ship building yards, but they had closed, and 95 percent of homes were public housing.

“In the (kindergarten) centre 76 percent of parents were unemployed and 82 percent were single parents.

“There were a number of children with additional needs.”

Back to Brisbane

Mrs McGahey returned to Brisbane as a senior education consultant with the Creche and Kindergarten Association of Queensland, later becoming the director of Community Early Childhood Services in Queensland.

“I didn’t know who was in charge of the education section when I applied – but I discovered it was the lady my mum spoke to who convinced me to think of early childhood teaching – Peggy Banff,” she laughs.

In addition to her work in early childhood education, Mrs McGahey spent nine years as the Leading Vocational Teacher at Brisbane North Institute of TAFE and was a member of the review panel for the Certificate in Early Childhood Education.

Community contribution

As well, Mrs McGahey has had a long involvement in community work – including as a member of the Newmarket VIEW club, where she was assistant secretary; as a former president of the Dayboro Dolphins Amateur Swimming Club; as a community support worker and caterer with the Closeburn Rural Fire Brigade, and as a Justice of the Peace.

She was also instrumental in establishing Out of School Hours Care at Mount Samson State School.

Studying part time and working full time as a consultant while pregnant with her daughter Elissa, Mrs McGahey realised she would eventually need after school care.

“I needed care for Elissa and Elliot followed soon after.

“Part of our work at TAFE required us to be involved in a release to industry program.

“TAFE then started a course in Out of School Hours Care, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and fulfill my work responsibilities and fulfill my own needs.

“I spoke to the principal (of Mount Samson State School), who was very excited and encouraged me to speak at a P and C meeting.”

The facility was built with a government grant and thanks to the fundraising efforts of the community and is still in use today.

“It wasn’t a bad effort for a school with only about 70 students,” Mrs McGahey says.

Read more local news here.

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