Author: Christina Sexton 
Photographer: All images used with permission.

Previous winner of the Non-Government School Principal of the Year and ACU alumnus Brad Gaynor has been an educator for almost 30 years and has taught thousands of kids across Canberra. While he admits things have changed during this time, his passion for the teacher’s life has never left him.

“I still remember what I wore on my first day in front of a class,” Brad recalls of his junior teacher days. “I remember the feeling so clearly; I was beyond excited and I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring. I still get a smile on my face when I think about it.”

Brad’s passion for teaching has never waned. As the Principal of Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School in Canberra he’s no longer heading up a classroom, but his favourite part of the job is when kids arrive at his door to show off their latest achievements. 

“Getting to know kids and seeing their lightbulb moments is the best," he said. “I also love it when the teachers share their successes with me too, like if they tried something new in class that went really well. I still get the same buzz I did all those years ago when I was just starting out.”

Managing the challenges

While Brad describes teaching as “the best job in the world”, it’s not to say he didn’t experience hard times during his all-encompassing career.  “A lot of the research says we’re not retaining teachers after five years, and I was almost one of them,” he said. 

“Four years into my career, I left to work at an outdoor school for a change of pace. I was really burnt out and I had no balance in my life. Teaching was all I did,” he admits.

“An experienced teacher I was working with at the time warned me to slow down in my first year. I thought, ‘Nah, I’m good’, but sure enough I could barely stand on my feet. 

“Instead of just quitting I went to work at an outdoor school for two years – I don’t even particularly like the outdoors! And I never went camping. But I ended up loving that time and it gave me my energy back. When I left I felt ready to face the classroom again.”

An evolving landscape 

While Brad has grown and changed over the years as an educator, he’s acutely aware that kids – and their parents – have evolved too. 

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, parents wouldn’t have questioned what a teacher did or said. Now, parents are ready to question and stick up for their kids. Communicating with them has become a little trickier.”

What is demanded of teachers has also changed. 

“One of the biggest challenges we face is having to manage diverse student needs,” he said.

“Teachers now have to know about things like anxiety, eyesight and hearing problems, cognitive issues, or ADHD. In some ways, we’ve become better at diagnosing kids and we’re more informed about these conditions. But it’s hard for teachers standing in front of 30 kids to cater to individual needs.”  

Follow your own path

For Brad, working his way up from a class teacher to a principal was a natural progression, but he firmly believes this isn’t for everyone. 

“Early in my career I had a lot of people who guided, mentored and pushed me in the direction of being a principal,” he said. “But if you want to stay as a classroom teacher, then that’s a good thing, brilliant even. You don’t have to climb a ladder if you don’t want to. Being a leader in your classroom is just as important as being a leader in your school.”

But what is Brad’s most important advice for anyone thinking about an education career? 

“Do not become a teacher for the holidays. This is a total myth!” he emphasised. “Sure, you might take a few days off, but the truth is you often have to work your butt off during the holidays.

"Generally, you’re planning, meeting with your team, catching up on work, getting displays ready, and prepping for the next term. If you’re choosing to become a teacher because of the holidays, you’re in for a rude shock.

“However, if you like variety, it’s such an amazing job. Every day is so different.

"And kids really are the most interesting beings to work with.”

Discover where an ACU education degree can take you. 

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