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Avenel teacher wins state award

Kate Phoenix has teaching in her genes - and the Avenel Primary School teacher won the ultimate prize on Friday night.

CHALPAT SONTI May 21, 2014 3:56am

Avenel Primary School P-2 teacher - and Victorian Primary Teacher of the Year - Kate Phoenix with some of her appreciative students.

If ever anyone was going to become a teacher — and a good one at that — it would have to be Kate Phoenix.

And just how good was shown on Friday night when the Avenel Primary School P-2 teacher was awarded the Victorian Primary Teacher of the Year.

Mrs Phoenix was presented with the honour at the Victorian Education Excellence Awards at the Crown Palladium in Melbourne. Many of her colleagues were there as well to join in the celebrations.

‘‘I was shocked, to be honest,’’ she told the Telegraph.

‘‘The other nominees (from Warrnambool and Hampden Park) had done such great work, I really thought I had no hope. When it has all sunk in, it is such an honour.’’

Mrs Phoenix was initially nominated by school principal Graham Wood and later had to write about herself and what she did at the school — a focus is on early literacy development and oral language, as well as individual learning plans for children with special needs. But it is fair to say she simply has a passion for education, instilled from a young age.

Her grandfather, Bob Witham, was a school principal, including at Seymour East Primary School, mother Julie Hall works at the library at Seymour College and aunt Debbie Pejkovic recently retired as principal of Hallam Valley Primary School.

Mrs Phoenix credits her aunt for much of her own passion.

‘‘I spent a lot of time with her, she was a real mentor for me,’’ she said.

‘‘The passion for education came through from her, but as a kid I was always around schools, it was all we ever talked about.

‘‘We even used to have conversations at family functions. It was a passion for all of us right from a young age and we’re still just as keen.’’

Mrs Phoenix landed a job at Avenel in 2007 after graduating and has been there since. And she credits the school for what she has achieved.

‘‘This is a fabulous school and I’m so lucky to be here,’’ she said.

‘‘The staff have been so amazing, the leadership and support I’ve had are great.

‘‘Graham has been exceptional in letting me pursue professional learning and taking on projects within the school that he has let me run, and allowed me to develop leadership.

‘‘The kids have been amazing as well, not just to teach but for their support.

‘‘The nice thing about this school setting, because it’s such a close-knit school community, I see the kids develop right through over the years as well.’’

And it is the crucial building block of learning, early literacy, that is her passion.

‘‘Particularly oral language,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s the fundamental thing for reading and writing development. That’s what my program is all about, developing kids’ communication skills so they have those building blocks.

‘‘When kids come in here they come in with such a variety of abilities, it’s a real challenge to sort out who has skills in what areas. It is so rewarding when you see those kids start learning to read and write. It’s the joy on their faces when they read their first book or write their name, that’s what makes this job worthwhile.’’

Part of Mrs Phoenix’s prize is a chance to pursue professional development opportunities, though she is not sure exactly what those might be just yet.

‘‘But the opportunities are endless,’’ she said.

‘‘I would love to start working more widely within our region and community to get links between early learning centres and schools, so we can have kids coming on with higher levels of language skills.’’

So how can parents help with their own children? The answer doesn’t lie in expensive ‘‘education’’ materials being marketed to parents.

‘‘I think the most important thing is to talk to your kids and encourage them to ask questions and communicate,’’ Mrs Phoenix said.

‘‘Have conversations with them and instil in them a love of learning and an inquisitive nature so they want to become literate and know more.’’

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