Teacher for the ages

Come the end of January, it will be the first year in decades Vickie Pettett won't be returning to the classroom. Instead, after teaching for more than 40 years, Mrs Pettett plans to embrace retirement and spend more time with family, travelling and serving the community.

Listening to Mrs Pettett reflect on this closing chapter it is clear that teaching was more of a vocation to her than a job.

“When I arrived at school it wasn’t just a place of work for me, it was a place of friendship, support and love and I am blessed to say it provided me with an opportunity to meet many wonderful people from all walks of life and of all ages, who I now consider to be lifelong friends,” Mrs Pettett said. 

Mrs Pettett's love for teaching was planted at a young age, while she attended a small school in her hometown of Sandy Creek. As a primary school student, she would often assist the school's sole teacher by supervising the younger students during lunch. Years later, when she attended boarding school at St Joseph's in Perthville, she was encouraged by the nuns to formally pursue this passion and so, upon finishing school enrolled at Bathurst Teachers’ College.

Mrs Pettett landed her first teaching role in 1968 at Dunedoo Central School, where she was assigned the Kindergarten class and appointed coach of the primary girls' netball team. It was here that she met her future husband John, a fellow teacher.

In the 1970s after the pair had married, they moved to the Hunter with their growing family. In 1983 and as a mother of four, she returned to teaching full-time, accepting a role at St Paul's Primary School, Gateshead. Following this, she taught at St Joseph's Primary School in Charlestown before joining St Therese’s Primary School in New Lambton, where she has taught for the past 25 years.

Mrs Pettett witnessed many changes at St Therese's over the years, including steady growth in the school's population and new buildings. She saw countless children enter the school as nervous Kindergarten starters and graduate as confident and capable Year 6 students. While always retaining her classroom role, Mrs Pettett also relished the opportunity to assist with school carnivals. She went on to become the first religious education co-ordinator at the school, a position she treasured deeply. 

“I loved the opportunity to work with families as they prepared their children to receive the sacraments of initiation including baptism, confirmation and eucharist,” Mrs Pettett said. “I am also grateful for the support I received from the Catholic Schools Office Religious Education and Spirituality team. They provided me with some amazing ideas on how to modernise the delivery of religious education, which I cherished sharing with the school community. It helped to bring the word of God and scripture alive in the eyes and minds of the children, and this was a real highlight for me.”

Mrs Pettett's son, Matthew, addressed the school community at a presentation event towards the end of 2019. "As a family, we are very proud of what mum has achieved in her long teaching career,” he said. “Mum has been committed to her students' welfare and advancement, and this stems in no small part from putting her Christian faith into practice. We think she has done a great job of balancing her teaching with her other roles of wife, mother to her four children and grandmother to her 13 grandchildren."

At the school's final presentation assembly for 2019, Mrs Pettett received the inaugural St Therese's Medal of Service, which includes the school motto “Be True” and the Mercy cross. The medal was established by staff and the Parents and Friends Association for teachers who serve more than 15 years and is a bespoke design manufactured by Michael Barwick from Heirloom Jewellers.

“I am going to miss being part of the school community- the students and their wonderful families, the dynamic executive team and my colleagues including fellow teachers, learning support staff and canteen volunteers. I intend to keep returning for visits, my passion for assisting children will see to that!” Mrs Pettett said.

Reflecting on Mrs Pettett's retirement, school principal Duilio Rufo, said the school community would sorely miss her. "Mrs Pettett is an outstanding woman, filled with compassion and love,” he said. “She has a genuine desire to ensure that children get a good education and a strong love of her Catholic faith."

Lizzie Watkin Image
Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.