Biography of Anne Newman as a teacher

Although I am now engaged in making my way as an artist, an oil painter, my career in teaching remains immensely important to me. I am going to tell a story about my teaching career because teaching kids is a narrative with one main plot but many themes and chapters. My motivation to be a teacher and the plot that runs through my career was, and still is, to make learning just that little bit easier and if possible just that little bit more enjoyable. The greatest skill a teacher can learn is that it is okay to laugh, to smile, to enjoy learning with a child. And the second greatest skill is to see the learning through the eyes of the child and not those of an adult who has forgotten what it was like not to understand, not to know how to do something.
My greatest public contribution to teaching was to discover through some pretty hefty research that a large percentage of children fail in mathematics because they can't read nor understand the wording of the tasks they are given to solve by mathematics teachers. My categorisation of errors children make in mathematics has come to have considerable interest around the world and is commonly referred to as the Newman Error Analysis. I published my work on this around 1977, over 30 years ago, and I am still constantly amazed at how something so simple has remained so popular with mathematics educators. What I hope people learn from my work is that the answer to why a child isn't achieving the expected results can often be something quite obvious as not being able to read or understand. The way to help the child is of course far more complex. In endeavouring to follow my belief that teachers must teach and not just expect children to discover how to read, to spell, to add up or for that matter, to play the piano, I spent nearly 25 years as a senior lecturer at the Australian Catholic University in Oakleigh, Victoria, Australia. I remained true to my belief that we must find ways to show children how to learn and not expect them to plough their way through the maze of educational activities without considerable guidance. Of course experimentation and self discovery are essential ingredients of learning but a road map with some directional signs usually makes the journey just that little bit easier.
My other publicly recognised contribution to education was to co-write with my great friend Diane Walsh the Our English series.
With the outstanding assistance of our editor Anne Sahlin we produced 8 books that focused on teaching children how to understand and write in different genres such as reports, stories, descriptions and so on. I am very proud of these books which I believe assisted many children and teachers in learning more about the English language.
I started my teaching career in 1966 in a small rural school in Central Victoria, Australia. Malmsbury in those days was predominantly a rural community with a small number of shop keepers and the newly arrived staff and their families of the recently opened Youth Training Centre. I was to teach Prep, and Yrs 1, 2 and 3 - about 35 children in all. There was only one other teacher, the Principal who taught Yrs 4, 5 and 6 and ran the school at the same time. It was a poor school and the only books I had was a set of a series called "Ring a Ring of Roses" or something like that. They looked like they had been published in the 1890s. The hard times taught us to be resourceful and to beg, borrow and yes even probably to steal materials that would help our kids learn. I learnt to ask very early in any of my romantic relationships what the young man's occupation was. A young American soldier from the mapping unit in Bendigo, my home city, provided my kids with reams of yellow and black photographic paper. The most popular people at this time were the butchers who willingly gave poor teachers any amount of the large sheets of blank paper for the children to draw and write on.
I got a brief shove up the career ladder within weeks of starting teaching at Malmsbury. One day the Principal didn't appear at school and soon after the bell had been rung and I had gathered my 60 or so kids together, his wife appeared.
"Harry's not coming today", she announced.
"Oh! When will he be back?"
"Never. I'm going home to cook him some breakfast. He's not been well."
I still remember this day as clear as ever. 'Count the kids. I must end up at the end of whatever is going to happen with as many kids as I started with.' Over the next few days which seemed like weeks I don't know how many times I lined them up and counted them and they obediently followed my instructions. I didn't lose one of them as I rushed back and forth between the two rooms of the school trying to teach them all something.
Within hours it was around the town and to the ears of the Mothers' Club that I was now the Principal - acting at least. Up they came.
"Did I have the power to sign as the Principal"
"Guess so. No-one else around. What do you want me to sign? Late notices perhaps?"
" The documents to cut down the pine plantation!"
"What pine plantation and why?"
At some time, probably after WW1 or 11 schools throughout Central Victoria planted pine trees as an investment. I really don't know the history of this but Malmesbury had a pine plantation. There are still many pine trees around the town especially up near the Malmesbury Reservoir. The communities, or State Education Department planted pine trees but no-one thought to buy books for the children to read or for that matter, paper so that they could learn to write. The Education Department provided each child with one pencil per term and two pieces of paper a day. I signed the pine trees away as I invested in the future of my Malmesbury kids. And I bought books with the proceeds and can now probably also accept responsibility for starting the hole in the Ozone layer. I have never regretted buying the books.
I bought the books from a travelling book seller representing an educational publisher. Twenty or more years later we were to meet up again when I wrote the Our English books as he was now working for the publishers Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich. We had a good laugh about how I made his day and probably the best sales for the year when I spent the proceeds of the pine trees on books from his van.

I spent two years at Malmsbury learning to be resourceful. One of the greatest challenges facing teachers in rural areas was finding accommodation. My first experience was to share a small bedroom with another teacher I had never met. Her cat also shared the room! One day we were literally put out onto the street as our landlady had become ill. I had no where to live. I was offered accommodation by several of the mothers at the school - some of whom were known prostitutes. My boyfriend at the time jokingly suggested I take up one of these offers assuring me I would make a lot more money than my teaching salary. Eventually I was taken in by a woman in Kyneton who boarded the "bank" girls - girls who worked in the banks. I was again sharing a room but this time with a young woman who had an enormous luminous Jesus hanging on the wall over her bed. The evening meal was served at 4.30pm and as I couldn't get home until 6, the meal was put on the slow combustion stove to keep warm. I gained a great, slim figure.

From Malmsbury I moved to Melbourne which became the worst year of my teaching life. I was recovering from a serious bout of hepatitis A which I had contracted while at Malmsbury,missing four months of work. I wanted to make my own way in the world and fight my own battles so I refused to look for a teaching position near home and have some "mother care". During the year my boyfriend was one of the young Australian men conscripted to fight in Vietnam and tragically killed. The school environment was toxic and I quickly fell out with the "Infant Mistress". In those days the infant classes (grades Prep to 3) were managed by a woman who had specialized in the teaching of infants. All teachers who taught Prep to 3 had studied for an extra year at Teacher's College to gain an TITC- a Trained Infant Teaching Certificate. This was a highly respected qualification. Not only had we studied for an extra year at college but were trained in the much valued teaching strategies of Dr Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor who pioneered the teaching of young children. You can read about her at
Back at Ashwood the Infant Mistress, in a genuine desire to have the children learn, had written the daily lessons we were to teach down to the exact time when each of the lessons were to occur. In many ways she was right in her approach. Young children do need specific learning strategies to master English especially if they suffer from learning difficulties. But we were expected to follow her lessons exactly according to each of the stated steps. And these lessons were to occur at the exact time designated by the Infant Mistress. I was often reprimanded in her office for altering the lessons and the times. I was also constantly in trouble because my students achieved lower grades on the monthly tests than the other comparable classes. I later learned from one of the teachers that they had learnt to make up the test results to avoid the reprimands!! Testing is necessary for all of us, not just children. But not when it is done in such a way as to intimidate the teachers or, of course, the children. All testing in primary and secondary school, until Year 12 should be diagnostic. I am very proud of my Error Analysis work in Mathematics. I was so thrilled when I was approached to get my permission to use the Newman Error Analysis in the guidelines for the NAPLAN tests. The message is: if children are failing, find out why. And the first place to start is by asking the child to talk about their difficulties.
The year at Ashwood wasn't my best and in most ways I failed as a teacher and seriously considered giving up. I returned home to Bendigo to get the much needed "mother care" . I had a teaching position at Castlemaine North with 47 Preps. I decided the traditional way of teaching was wrong and started an open plan classroom where the children learned according to their ability groups. They were in different groups for maths, spelling and reading. I had a wonderful two years at Castlemaine where I learnt many valuable lessons from the Grade 6 teacher Barry Harnell. He was the best teacher I had ever met and taught me to listen to the children, to put myself in their place and to plan my teaching from what they knew. I became active in many extra curricular activities associated with education and was rewarded by being offered a position to lecture at the then Geelong Teache's Collage. As I was only 24 years old I was very proud to take on this new direction in my teaching.
I loved the year lecturing in Geelong and fell in love with the city and surrounding countryside, so much that I bought land at Portarlington. I later gave this to my parents who retired to enjoy 15 years of coastal life before my father died and mum moved to Melbourne. Importantly, at Geelong Teachers' College I learnt that I could teach tertiary students and was stimulated about the challenge to introduce these young people to teaching kids. The position was only for one year so I decided to fly from a familiar and safe world. I joined the Commonwealth Teaching Service to be part of the new advances that were dragging education in the Northern Territory into a new era. I was to teach at Moil, Darwin in a state of art open plan school. What an experience! I arrived in Darwin in January 1972 when the airport at Alice Springs was a tin shed and Darwin was two tin sheds! Somehow I found my way to the Government hostel where I had arranged accommodation. I didn't know a soul and no-one met me at the plane to escort me. But the memory of the first night with the other new teachers, also living in the hostel, is wonderful. It was a balmy tropical night and the hostel was over the road from Darwin Harbour so we were welcomed by Darwin on its best behavior.
Teaching in Darwin was another challenge. With another teacher we were to run the class of 70 Grade Two's on an open plan. Neither of us had any real experience in this nontraditional approach so I arranged the children along similar lines to the way I taught my 47 Prepies in Castlemaine. We managed the year without any great highs or lows except when dealing with the aboriginal children in the classroom. Our lack of understanding made life difficult for the kids as they struggled to be educated in a western environment. I reverted to a "language experience" approach but my feeling was then and remains still that we failed these children. I don't know what I could have done that would have been more appropriate to their needs. I ran classes after school helped by some of my fellow teachers. Two of the aboriginal children came every night to those classes so perhaps this helped. I will never know.

At the end of my year in Darwin I was faced with a dreadful decision. Should I continue on my life's adventure and follow my new boyfriend to his home in England or should I return to Victoria to support my Mum and Dad who we're experiencing severe difficulties with some family members. I returned to Victoria with the feeling that I no longer wanted to be involved in education. I wanted a break from the long hours of preparation that all good teachers commit to if they want to fully educate all their kids, especially those with learning problems- and this probably includes most children as all need special attention in one way or another. I haven't met one child in my life who doesn't need that little bit of extra special attention. I searched for a job as a waitress in Bendigo without success and ended up working in a discount clothing store. I lasted just a little over 24 hours and earned $5!!

I had given my parents my land at Portarlington, a small coastal village out of Geelong. The land was no use to me as I wasn't allowed to have a loan from the bank as I didn't have a husband. I didn't even consider getting the husband to get the money. I used the land to give my parents a chance of a new life. I spent the next 18 months helping them move and setting up life overlooking Corio Bay. Eventually I got a job working in the library of a Geelong Technical College but fell out with the principal over wanting to teach some of the "delinquent teenage boys" how to use cameras and other audio- visual materials. I had a friend in the audio- visual section of the Education Department who was willing to help but it meant taking the four boys in question out of school for the afternoon. I was told that these 15 year olds were criminals and would probably assault me. I told him I would take my chance with them. I can still remember collecting them from their homes. Each was dressed in his best clothes and spent the day at the audio- visual Centre as model citizens. I was right. Give them a chance , believe in them, find a way to teach them something that has value to them. I don't know what happened to the boys but I hope that day helped them realise that many of us do care and are willing to go the extra distance to help. Unfortunately defying the principal turned him against me and caused me considerable difficulty when, a year later I decided to take up an offer to join the Special Education Division of the Victorian Education Department and become a member of the new venture into establishing Demonstration Units for teachers. Because I wanted to move from the Technical Division who were losing many teachers, I became a political pawn. I was nearly black listed from teaching for life - a threat made to me by the then Director of Technical Teaching. The absurdity was that I wasn't teaching in the Tech School but working in the library. Equally absurd was that I wasn't even qualified to teach in this Division but yet the politics deemed me to be the one that would be used to show others thinking of leaving what would happen to them. It was a frightening few days but resolved by a wonderful union official who risked his career to put mine back on track. I thank him most gratefully for whatever he did to secure my release because I was in all effect held hostage by the Technical Division of the Education Department. Once free I made my way to Melbourne, set up life in a tiny two roomed flat in Carlton and started the next chapter of my life. I was about 28 years old.

Working in the Demonstration Unit was far from easy and I accept I probably made many mistakes. I need to admit that I am hopeless at politics and at networking. I also admit that I do not tolerate fools easily and even more importantly do not accept any form of injustice. I will always give my energy to righting what I consider to be wrong. And at the end of the day it is the people we are teaching who come first be they young children, teenagers, young adults or even now my resident artists in a nursing home. The person in charge of the Dem Unit was making sure that the Catholic Schools didn't get the in-service they deseerved so I would take sick days to go to St Andrews at Werribee amd help the Josephite nuns running the school. It was here that I later started the pilot study into children's language problems in mathematics. I wasn't happy in the Dem Unit as I wanted to work directly with children who had learning problems. So I applied to undergo the new Bachelor of Special Education created by Professor Marie Neale at Monash University for primary school teachers who had not been to university. The number to undergo the degree course was limited and the competition strong. The initial year had taken only 20 teachers from Victoria and I applied in the second year when they were to take on 40. I was thrilled to be selected and spent the next two years studying under Marie Neale. She was a visionary and it was a priviledge to be one of her students. I was also fortunate in that I was given a young boy with spina bifida to work with and Marie Neale had established a clinic at one of the city hospitals working with children who suffered from spina bifida and hydrocephalus and the accompanying educational problems. I would spent time with her in the hospital and working in the Krongold Centre which had been donated to Monash Univeristy by a family given sanctuary in Australia after WW11. I learnt so much in these two years and have Marie Neale and the other lecturers to thank for giving me the knowledge and confidence to later venture into academia myself. During my second year of the degree I produced the research for which I was once famous - I proved something that should have been common sense to all maths teachers. Often when I child fails in maths it is because they cant read or understand the question. I am very proud of this work and thrilled that it is still considered to be important enough to include in the guidelines for the Naplan testing program.

At the end of my degree I was chosen with three other teachers to work in the Krongold Centre with Marie Neale but the Victorian Education Department refused to release us. I was told I had to go to the Demonstration Unit at Fawkner which was a long way from where I was planning to live in the new unit I was purchasing in Burnley. In a fit of anger I approached the Principal of the Institute of Catholic Education, Dr Beth Blackell and asked her if I could have a job. I had met her doing my research into language problems in mathematics. She offered to keep a position for me until I had sorted out my problems with the Education Department. I joined the staff at what was to become the Australian Catholic University and began life as an academic educator, remaining in this position until I retired from academia at the age of 50. I made the decision to leave the university in the interest of preserving my health if not my bank balance! I established an English Tutoring business to pay for the bills and to continue to meet my need to teach. The tutoring business was closed in 2013, some 18 years after its commencement.

I am now officially retired but have established a painting group at a local nursing home where, with the help of two wonderful friends, I teach painting one day a week to a inspiring group of people who now live in care. I have therefore taught at every level of education from 4 year olds to 100 year olds and I have thoroughly enjoyed the incredible journey that has led me in this direction.