It’s Dominique Goode’s first day of school. She’s wearing a pretty fuchsia dress and her brown hair is in a bun decorated with a sparkly butterfly clip. She walks into her kindergarten class with twenty six new students, one line of boys and one line of girls. Inside, Dominique puts on a bright orange name tag.

Miss Goode on her first day as a teacher. Photos: Kitty Beale, Catholic Education Office.

“Hands up if you can see Miss Goode’s name tag around her neck?” she asks the children who sit cross legged on the floor before her. All the hands shoot up.

Today is Miss Goode’s first day as a teacher as well as her students’ first day of formal education. She graduated from university last year and this is day one at Sacred Heart Primary School in Villawood in Sydney’s West.

“Shaun and Patrick and Vivienne and Marc Anthony, you can go over to the table with the blue fish and get your name tags and come back and sit down,” she says, pointing to various children in the group. 

Miss Goode has already memorised all her students’ names from photos taken on orientation day. 

There's a lot to get your head around on the first day.

“I think it’s nice for the children to know that I know who they are,” she tells me later.  She’s also spent hours creating things to make the classroom inviting: beautiful coloured cut outs of fish and octopuses and other sea creatures are attached to each desk.

It doesn't take long to learn the hands up drill.

“In a moment we’re going to sing a song, but first let’s look at the smart board and see if we know what day it is,” she says as the children stare wide-eyed at the electronic whiteboard. 

Miss Goode demonstrates how to write on the smart board.

“Grace, do you know what tomorrow is?” Miss Goode asks. 

A girl with enormous dark eyes and black hair puts her fingers in her mouth.  “Can we sing a song?” asks Grace.  “We’ll be singing a song soon, but first let’s see which day it is tomorrow,” says Miss Goode kindly. 

“Monday!” shouts out one boy.  “I’m looking for someone with their hand up,” Miss Goode says and there’s instant silence and a sea of thrusting arms.

.Choices to be made, drawings to be drawn.

Dominique is 26 and when she left school, she worked in retail, unsure what she wanted to do.  “I thought about what I enjoyed doing and one of the things that I enjoyed was being in the classroom,” she recalls.  “When I had good teachers, I really loved being there.”  She wants to make learning as pleasurable for her students as some of her teachers made it for her. 

“My year 4 teacher was amazing,” Dominique says.  “Something as boring as learning the states and their capitals, we had to do a trip journal.  It was like we were going on a trip, and we had to look up the main attractions for each state.  She made it fun.”

First ever assembly.

Dominique may know all the children’s names but they don’t know each other yet.  She has them move into a circle and they sing a song:

What do you think her name is,
I wonder if she knows?
Her name is ... [Olivia! Grace! Madeleine!]
Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello!!

On the last line, the children wave at each other giggling. 

Hard at work.

Myles confidently declares his name when it’s his turn.  One girl twists her name tag in her hands and screws up her face and says it softly.  The same girl sometimes seems to have difficulty following instructions.  It may be because she doesn’t speak English very well.  That’s the case with some of the children and many of the parents at Sacred Heart.  Villawood is perhaps best known for its immigration detention centre.  The suburb hosts a sizeable Vietnamese community and school notes are sent home in both Vietnamese and English.  Some parents are refugees and there’s substantial poverty in the area. 

“The school provides a lot of support and outreach to some of its families,” says Mark Rix of the Catholic Education Office.  “There are, of course, challenges for beginning teachers in every school, including Sacred Heart, but the families are very supportive and appreciative.”

Myles says his name confidently when it's his turn.

The Catholic Education system makes sure that new teachers, like Dominique, get whatever back up they need.  They are assigned both a mentor and a supervisor and are given seven days during the year away from the classroom for extra training, research or preparation.  Head office understands that the first day in particular the can be daunting. 

“It is a very significant event for a beginning teacher,” Rix says.  “The realisation that this is their own class and that there is no one to hand the students back to or jump in if things don’t quite go according to plan can weigh on their mind.”

Dominique says she’s nervous about her first day but it doesn’t show.  “I think all that singing and waving deserves a pat on the back, let’s pat ourselves on the back,” Miss Goode says, and 26 tiny hands copy her move. 

The principal Mr Barrington introduces himself to the class.

The bright, friendly principal, Mr Barrington, pops into the classroom to say hello.  He invites the kindy kids to visit him in his office later.  “I think these clever people might even remember where my office is, Miss Goode,” Mr Barrington says.  “I know!  I can show you!” cries one boy.

Ms Goode decides to take the children on a tour of the school to learn where the important places are. Olivia puts her hand up. 

“I don’t want to go out,” she says.

“But we’re all going,” replies Miss Goode brightly. The first stop is the toilet block. 

“Now if you need to go to the toilet ...” Miss Goode begins. 

“Miss Goode, I need to go to the toilet,” one boy interrupts. 

“Okay then boys, put up your hand if you need to go to the toilet,” Miss Goode says.  12 out of 13 boys’ hands instantly shoot up.

After they return, shirts now untucked, the class heads to the canteen, where Miss Goode explains that they can buy lunch if they didn’t bring it from home.  “I’ve got money!” declares one little boy.  After stops at the office and the library, the children clop back to their classroom in their shiny new black shoes and oversized maroon and blue uniforms.  Once they’re seated, Miss Goode asks them to recall what they saw on their walk.  “I saw a princess!” Olivia exclaims.

Olivia thought she saw a princess on the school tour.

The rest of the day passes quickly: little lunch, activities, big lunch, a rest, music. At 3.15pm, the children excitedly skip out the door and grab their bags, ready to tell mum and dad all about the first day.  Miss Goode’s first day is over too.  “I’m probably a little bit relieved that it’s over and that we can just get into it now,” she says.  “But that first day of teaching - I’ll never have it back again.  I’m pretty wired.”

Leigh Sales is a rather big fly on the wall.

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17 comments

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    • acker says:

      05:42am | 12/02/10

      Sorry to digress Liegh but I notice check uniforms for the girls !

      A public school near me has just had a uniform change to check dresses stopped because 1 student apparently has seizures when they see checks. I’m not to sure how the education plans to police check hanky’s, ribbons or other check items.

      I hope Dominique can keep her passion up and just roll with the punches when they come, and they will from P&C’s ect…remember Dominique you can let some fly through to the wicketkeeper wink

    • Albie says:

      07:21am | 12/02/10

      Great story - and interesting snapshot.

    • Jeff from Meroo says:

      07:31am | 12/02/10

      Is it me or is wearing a name tag a bit over the top?  Maybe I was a slow learner or things were different in my day but I didn’t learn to read/write until year 1.  How many of these kids would actually be able to read what was on the name tag?

      Great piece though and I like the format with the extra picts and the pict of the author at the end.

    • Surprised Dad says:

      08:45am | 12/02/10

      Jeff - things have changed since our day.  My girl started school this year.  I was never good for homework - and you can imagine my surprise when my daughter (in kindergarten) has come home in the second week with 50 sight words to learn, writing skills to practise and a book to read each night.  Now I have to “learn” how to teach my girl how to read and write and not contradict the teacher’s instructions…Not so easy to do after a hard day’s slog at work….

    • Silvia says:

      08:46am | 12/02/10

      Actually name tags are a great idea and they are used at my children’s kindergarten in 3-year and 4-year old classes at the start of the year. You’d be surprised how many children can read quite a bit before they start school. It’s not full “reading” as they learn it later on: they might recognise beginning letters of each other’s names or similarities with other simple words they might have seen in picture books (which might also be a good conversation starter for little children who don’t know each other). Almost all would recognise their own names by the time they start school. And the name tags are a teaching tool as much as the smart board or posters used in the classroom.
      It’s encouraging to see young teachers starting out with passion and dedication. I wish Ms Goode a long and fulfilling career.
      Great article and photography!

    • matt says:

      08:35am | 12/02/10

      Lovely yarn leigh. Nice to see a strong piece of journalism that isn’t confrontational, doesn’t have a victim and a villain and still informs and entertains.

      I am disturbed though, by how much the principal resembles Tim Fischer…

    • Sarah says:

      08:36am | 12/02/10

      Did i read it wrong or was one of those kids named Marc Antony???

      Jeez I hope there isn’t a Crassus or Scipio, there’ll be bloodshed at recess.

    • nic says:

      11:28am | 12/02/10

      Sarah the beauty of our nation is Marc Antony is possibly of a Vietnamese- Serbian- Italian mix. I’m thankful there wasn’t a Melyaneeee or Sammmsara there smile

    • Jolanda says:

      08:43am | 12/02/10

      Jeff just because they cannot read yet (and some do) doesn’t mean that you do not show them the words.

      The most interesting thing that I read was when Ms Goode said “When I had good teachers, I really loved being there.”  I think that she speaks for all students when she says that.  If we look at areas where children do not want to go to school we should really look at the teachers that are teaching the children and their ability and attitudes.

      Education – Keeping them Honest
      http://jolandachallita.typepad.com/

    • Anita says:

      09:12am | 12/02/10

      Lovely to read about the perspective of a new teacher on the 1st day of school, when most of the attention is focused on the children. Great photos!

    • Jenni says:

      12:52pm | 12/02/10

      Fantastic read, thank you very much smile One of my young friends recently had her “first day” also, having graduated at the end of last year. She has Year 4’s (I think) but I’m sure she too will never forget her first day!

    • Red says:

      01:34pm | 12/02/10

      What a marvellous article Leigh. I love Punch but it is all so tiresome to have every single topic split into dichotomous arguments. Some commentators have even tried here. We are all trying our best to help these little kids, be they in Sydney or Port Hedland, have the best start and opportunity in life. I am involved in techer education and it is really sad that we had nearly 700 graduates such as Dominique unable to find work in WA this year. Notwithstanding what i have said the Principal does look a bit like Graham Blundell.

    • stephen says:

      01:49pm | 12/02/10

      A new Teacher is as delightful as new Students.
      Nice peice.

    • francesca says:

      12:26pm | 13/02/10

      Great story Leigh and I loved the photos. I loved Ms Goode and I hope she keeps her enthusiasm and dedication, because its a very difficult and very important job that she’s doing with very little recognition.

    • Jon Dee says:

      02:57pm | 13/02/10

      Great article Leigh - I really enjoyed reading it. It reminded me of the first day that my oldest daughter had at school. That in turn reminded me of my own first day at school - it’s funny how the milestones that your children achieve remind you of a similar stage in your own life.

    • 6clegs says:

      11:30pm | 14/02/10

      Enjoyed the story. grin

      but i look at Ms Goode, and i can’t help but think about the poor sods who drew the short straws and have to deal with the tribe of unruly brat-children that live next door to me? I certainly hope [for new teachers across Tassie] that the education dept didn’t land them onto any newbie teachers!

    • bags says:

      08:28am | 12/06/12

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