The Mentonians

Sheree Smith

Foundation (Prep) Teacher

BTeach, BEd

Foundation Teacher, Sheree Smith, knew what she wanted to do from a young age – and has never looked back.

When Sheree was just four-years-old, she encountered a person who would shape the course of her life. “My ballet teacher was an incredibly kind, caring and patient person,” Sheree said. “As I grew up, I aspired to be like her and make younger people feel the way I did when I was in her class.”

Sheree continued to study ballet until she was fourteen. “I loved performing on stage, but I also enjoyed the friendships that I formed with my fellow dancers and the environment that my teacher created for us.”

As a high school student at Kilbreda College, with her heart already set on becoming a teacher, Sheree had a unique perspective on her own learning. “As a child, I was very social and my friends were extremely important to me. I found that I was learning much more in group environments than I did from individual instruction. I realised how much students can learn from each other, working together and explaining things in ways that only children can.”

Not a moment was wasted when it came time for Sheree to submit her university preferences. “I went straight into studying teaching after school. I even had a part-time job as a nanny because I loved being arounds kids so much!”

Sheree has worked as a teacher across Foundation – Year 6 in the catholic and independent sectors ever since, with not a moment of regret. “I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every single year of it, building relationships with new groups of students and watching them grow personally and academically. It is so rewarding.”

In our current climate of lockdowns and off-site learning, many parents marvel at how prep teachers engage their young students online. While Sheree would much prefer to be in-person with her class, she is a big advocate for embracing technology to promote a sense of connection. In 1998 and in her fourth year of teaching, Sheree was part of a milestone project to introduce digital communications into the classroom as a way to learn about global perspectives.

“At the time, my dad worked for an international IT firm and I met one of his American colleagues who lived in Texas with his primary-aged children. We thought it would be fun and a bit experimental to establish a relationship between the two schools, using cutting-edge technologies that really only existed in corporate settings.

“This was the very early days of digital communication, utilising dial-up internet and very basic software, so we started with sending emails between the schools. My students had one Apple 2E desktop computer and a dot-matrix printer to share – that might bring back memories for some,” Sheree laughed.

Then, they took it up a notch. The whole composite class of Prep and Year 1 students travelled into the city to visit the IT firm. The students in Texas did the same. “It would have been quite a sight for the office workers to see their hallways filled with 5-year-olds!” Together, they participated in a video conference across the globe. “At the time, this was extremely innovative and very exciting. We were even joined by a journalist from the Herald Sun who covered the story about an Aussie school using ground-breaking learning tools.

“Little did I know that over twenty years later, this type of technology would be my main mode of teaching for a period of time.”

Despite a long and rewarding career, Sheree’s greatest life achievement is undoubtedly being a mum to her two children, Brianna and Ryley. “Although they have both been raised in the same house, they are very different. Brianna is very studious and focused. Ryley, although he does well at school also, draws his energy from people and socialising, like I did at his age. Most importantly, they have both been raised to be kind to others and I hope that is what people see in them.”

Returning to work after the birth of her first child, Sheree decided to apply at Mentone Grammar. “I knew from living in Bayside that Mentone Grammar was an outstanding school and I saw it as an opportunity to broaden my teaching experience.

“I love the people who I work with, they are talented teachers and great friends, and my students make me laugh and keep me smiling every day. I love walking through the school and seeing students that I taught many years before who are now teenagers – but they always smile and say hello. I hope they remember the time we spent together fondly, as I do!”

In a beautiful ‘circle of life’ moment, some of Sheree’s students have now grown up to become teachers themselves – no doubt, inspired by the kind, caring and patient nature of their primary school teacher, Ms Smith!

Author: Deb Callahan