Natalie Barr, Ebony Haythornthwaite and Aran Zalewski on the south west teachers who inspired them

Natalie Barr, Aran Zalewski and Ebony Haythornthwaite talk the teachers who inspired them. Photos: Louie Douvis/SMH, Bendigo Advertiser and Richard Polden.
Natalie Barr, Aran Zalewski and Ebony Haythornthwaite talk the teachers who inspired them. Photos: Louie Douvis/SMH, Bendigo Advertiser and Richard Polden.

As another school year comes to an end, students are preparing to leave the classrooms for the last time for 2017 – however what they’ve learnt will potentially stay with them for a lifetime.

Given the right teacher, at the right time, a student can learn more than just what’s in the curriculum.

They can learn lessons which will influence the person they will eventually become. 

It’s time we celebrate the teachers that go beyond simply educating. 

We spoke to some South West identities about their own schooling experience and who it was that inspired them the most.

It became clear that if there was anyone who had a calling to teach, these individuals would certainly fit the mold.

And it’s these sense of passion, creativity and encouragement like these examples which we need our schools.

Photos: Louie Douvis/SMH.

Photos: Louie Douvis/SMH.

For many people across Australia Natalie Barr is the journalist who brings them their morning news on Sunrise.

The role has been one which Barr has held for more than a decade, but her journey to what some describe as the pinnacle of breakfast television was one which began in her hometown of Bunbury.

However, it is also one which didn’t happen.

During year 10 at Bunbury Catholic College, Barr was diagnosed with a rare spinal disease which had her on lying on her back for a third of her schooling year. 

But this was the best case scenario. 

If the doctors didn’t catch it when they did, there was a chance Barr would never walk again. 

It was during this time that one of her teachers, Brother Harry Prout, really helped her.

Barr talked to journalist Kaylee Meerton about her most inspirational teacher here.

Brother Harry Prout – Bunbury Catholic College

When Natalie Barr was in year 10 at high school she was forced to spend a term away from school, with a spine eating disease called osteomyelitis.

It was during this time that her most inspirational teacher, Brother Harry Prout, really stepped up.

Barr’s English teacher at Bunbury Catholic College visited her while she was stuck in bed, bringing with him some school work so that his star student wouldn’t fall behind.   

Photo: Meredith O'Shea/The Sunday Age.

Photo: Meredith O'Shea/The Sunday Age.

“I think a lot of teachers would have (gone that extra step),” Brother Harry said.  

“But I just recognised her as the sort of girl that would have been very uncomfortable being away from school, and being in bed like that.

“I tormented her by bringing in homework and stuff - thinking she’d probably be able to do it - and she did do some of it.

“Mind you, she didn’t need to do it I just thought it might be something for her to keep her mind off her discomfort and keep her connected to the kids at school, and the school itself.”

But for the young teacher, it was more than just making sure his students were keeping up with the coursework.

He wanted to make sure that when it came to all of his students, he completely understood their individual situations.

“I try to make it my job to get around and meet with the families of the students I taught, wherever I taught, so I know a bit of context,” he said.  

“So I knew Natalie’s mum and dad, and brother a little bit and just thought that it was something that could be helpful.

“I just loved the relationships you could have with the kids and just watching them grow.

“And I liked working collaboratively with the other teachers as well.

“Both those two things were really important to me - and to be able to enable that somehow, and be a bit imaginative and a bit creative, in trying to make school a bit fun.”

But it wasn’t the teaching lifestyle which attracted Brother Harry to Bunbury Catholic College – the school that he himself attended as a child.

While he was a student at the South West college he decided he wanted to do work with the Marist Brothers.

“At first I wanted to join the Sisters of Mercy but then I found out that they didn’t take blokes so it was later on that I found out about the Brothers,” he said.  

“In those days all we did was pretty much teaching so that’s how I went into it.

“But I thoroughly enjoyed teaching right up until – after Bunbury – where I started being a headteacher, and then in charge of a subject area and then a year level, and I realised I didn’t want to be mucking around with bits of paper and stuff; I just wanted to teach kids.

“So I moved sideways into a different area of education where I was involved more with kids and teachers, rather than the bureaucracy.”

A few decades have passed since his time at the college and Brother Harry has moved on from the teaching to focus on other work with the Marist Brothers.

Now based in Melbourne, he lives and works within the community at the old 1956 Olympic Village.

The area is considered to be Victoria’s sixth poorest area, with at least 1000 homes occupied by people who are reliant on Centrelink and government housing.

“I just work with the people there, trying to ensure their lives are as rich and as fruitful as they possibly can be, given the circumstances they are in,” Brother Harry said.

His work there saw him recognised as Banyule City Council’s Citizen of the Year in 2014. 

Photo: Channel Nine.

Photo: Channel Nine.

Ebony Haythornthwaite became a household name during the 2015 season of The Block, when she and older brother Luke walked away as runner-up, selling their $2.2 million South Yarra apartment.

Since then, Haythornthwaite has started up her own interior design business, The Visionary Co. which operates out of the Vasse region.

For the interior designer, the business offers a way for her to channel her creative and artistic flare - passions which she developed during her schooling years at Busselton’s Cornerstone Christian College.

It was there that she was inspired by two of the school’s teachers – Bob Cameron and David Van Der Tang.

Listen to what Haythornthwaite had to say about her teachers when she spoke to journalist Amy Martin.

David Van Der Tang – Cornerstone Christian College, Busselton

When David Van Der Tang started teaching Ebony Haythornthwaite it came at a “unique time in the history of  the school”.

A year 11 student at Busselton’s Cornerstone Christian College, Haythornthwaite was one of the first senior students since the school opened it’s doors in 1986.

It was for this reason that Mr Van Der Tang wasn’t completely surprised that this was an inspirational time for the young Haythornthwaite.

Photo: supplied.

Photo: supplied.

“It was the time we were looking at establishing the senior school and that made for an environment where students and teachers could establish some really solid relationships,” he said.

“Ebony was a particularly creative individual and I just thoroughly enjoyed working with her because she’s the type of person who was quite assertive.

“We’d often have vigorous discussions – she did English with me so there was a lot of creative interaction and it was just a fantastic experience working with Ebony and I wouldn’t take much credit for that.”

For Mr Van Der Tang it’s experiences such as the ones he had with Haythornthwaite which really cemented his love of teaching.

“Teaching is never boring” he confidently said before adding that it was “tremendously exciting to be able to identify people who are going to achieve things and be able to link in with them and be part of something.

“Your input only magnifies because of the fact you come into contact with these talented individuals”.

Mr Van Der Tang is a teacher who goes the extra step in getting students to connect with the content.

For his students the lessons don’t just involve the norms of essay writing and content analysis of syllabus English.

It was an approach which Mr Van Der Tang’s own English teacher took with him and is part of reason why he was inspired to follow the profession.

“I had a very rich experience in her classroom – I had a number of years with her,” he said.

“We had an Elizabethan evening, which is an idea have I’ve used in my own career and here at the school we’ve have a Jane Austen evening where the kids all dressed in costume and we ate dinner by candlelight.

“The idea being that yes you have a formal schooling curriculum – especially the senior kids with their final exams – but at the same time I want to make the kids’ time here as enjoyable and as rich as possible.

“It something which I do think about a lot with my own teaching and it comes from the teachings from people like my English teacher, who I found inspirational even after school.”

Bob Cameron  – Cornerstone Christian College, Busselton

When Bob Cameron first heard that Ebony Haythornthwaite named him as one of her most inspirational teachers, he thought: “Me? Why me?”

Although he had been teaching for more than four decades – half of which had been at Busselton’s Cornerstone Catholic College – although he had been “wracking his brains”, he didn’t think he had done anything out of the ordinary.

“I’m really pleased; but I’m a bit flabbergasted because I wouldn’t have thought have considered myself particularly inspirational,” Mr Cameron said. 

“I do have a lot of fun – I must admit – I enjoy teaching very much and I enjoy being with kids and I think that’s pretty important if you’re a teacher.”

Photo: supplied.

Photo: supplied.

When it comes to his teaching, Mr Cameron has always lived by the mantra of teaching kids, not subjects – which is why he has tried his hand almost every subject.

“I like to think that as a teacher you can teach the students and it doesn’t matter so much about the content,” he said.

“At the present time I’m teaching almost all math classes and I think teaching math to year nine students who find it boring, that’s a real challenge – and I like a real challenge.

“It sounds sadistic I guess, but that’s what I like to do.”

Never a top student at school himself, Mr Cameron figured that if he could understand the content, there was a chance that his students might be able to as well.

And that’s where the rewards lie for him; when the students appreciate that extra step in ensuring they understand a topic.

“It’s not that I dumb it down, I just make it so it’s understandable,” he said.

“If they don’t get it the first time - because you can tell by a kid’s eyes whether they’ve got it - I’ll try a different way until they get it.

“No one does it for the money; not that I’m saying we’re underpaid.

“I just don’t think you would put yourself through all that for the money.

“If you can get kids to enjoy learning than that’s it.

“And I don’t think that’s changed to be honest - over time that is.

“I think most teachers would find that, that is their most rewarding thing.”

Photo: Bendigo Advertiser.

Photo: Bendigo Advertiser.

There’s only a select number of people who can say they have competed in the Olympics and Aran Zalewski is one of those lucky few.

The 26-year-old found himself selected for the 2016 Australian Men’s Hockey Team for the Rio Olympics – a dream which he had since he first started playing hockey in Margaret River.

And if that’s not enough, he and his team have just gained number one world ranking in hockey, following their 2-1 win over Argentina in the World Hockey League grand final. 

So it’s no surprise when it came naming his most inspirational teacher, Zalewski chose someone who was influential in the beginning of his hockey career.

Mark Harrison was both his year seven teacher at Margaret River Primary School, and his hockey coach.

Hear what Zalewski had to say at about what he took away from Mr Harrison’s teachings.  

Read more

Mark Harrison – Margaret River Primary School

Aside from maybe the odd occasion where you bump into an old teacher at the local shops, most people stop interacting with teachers once they leave school.

For Olympian hockey player Aran Zalewski this wasn’t the case.

Mark Harrison was not only his year seven teacher at Margaret River Primary School, he was also a strong support in the years which followed.

A family friend – and at one point Zalewski’s junior hockey coach – Mr Harrison was able to closely follow the journey on the way to becoming an Olympian.

It’s a relationship which has seen Mr Harrison attend events such as Zalewski’s 21st birthday, and travel to Rio to see the sportstar realise his Olympic dream.

Photo: Augusta-Margaret River Mail.

Photo: Augusta-Margaret River Mail.

But while Mr Harrison jokingly raves that he coachedAran Zalewski, he admitted when it came to that side of the hockey player’s life he played “just a small part”.

Instead, what Zalewski found inspirational about Mr Harrison, was more confined to the classroom.

What’s more, the hockey player has never hid the fact that he was so inspired from Mr Harrison.

“He’s always talked about that sort of stuff so I did know he felt that way,” Mr Harrison said.

“But it is pretty special and I’m pretty chuffed to hear it. It’s nice.

“I’ve known Aran since he was three years old and I’ve had that special connection with him over all these years.

“I hold Aran very special to me and he’s a very special person and just a nice kid with strong values, and who pursued his goals.”

Success is something which Mr Harrison has been hoping for all his students since he began teaching more than three decades ago.

And for each of his students, this success is individual and not comparable from one, to another.

He is forever telling his students – who for the last 30 years have been Margaret River locals – to follow their dreams and to set goals.

“They can achieve anything they put their mind to,” he said

“Everybody has skills and talents in different areas, you don’t have to be an Australian level sportsman or hockey player to achieve success; it could be through your work or how you are as a person.”

That’s the ‘why’ to what Mr Harrison does.

It’s those odd moments where he does bump into his former students, possibly gets introduced to their partner or kids,  and sees what they have done with their life.

And more importantly, who they have become.

“It’s getting kids to realise that everybody is important; you don’t have to be strong at maths or reading or sport or art,” he said.

“Everybody has strengths and everybody get these commitments to the school values - honesty, respect, empathy, those strong feelings.

“They just become nice people who uphold the community values and become good people.”