The Mentonians

Terry Matthew

English Language Teacher

B Ed (Hons) B Primary Ed

After years of struggling with dyslexia as a child, Terry Matthew fostered a strong passion for teaching students to “never give up” and guiding them to form a love of learning. As Head of Bayview Campus (2021 – 2022) and an English Language teacher at Mentone Grammar, Terry’s determination and generous spirit have inspired students and staff alike.

Terry grew up in a little mining town called Springs in the Gauteng province of South Africa. She attended a charming primary school where her teachers were kind and driven to help students. “I have a vivid memory of sitting in Year 1 watching the teacher write on the board. Looking around, I could see that everyone understood what was being written, except for me. I was reading the letters backwards. Back then, there wasn’t much research about this phenomenon, but now I know it was dyslexia.” The school was proactive in helping Terry, but at just seven years old, her father tragically passed away and the family moved to southern Johannesburg to be closer to their relatives.

Unfortunately, there was very little support for students with dyslexia at Terry’s new school. “At school, those who tried academically were mocked and those who struggled in sports were ridiculed. There was little support for me academically. I knew that I struggled with my letters, but no one did anything about it, apart from my mum.”

Every night after school, mother and daughter would practise reading aloud with “so many tears and so much frustration. My mum was so patient, she used to draw everything for me to understand. The shapes helped me picture things clearly and remember what the words were.” With hard work and perseverance, Terry began to see results. “Every day we would have the same ritual of reading a book out loud in African and English. The minute I got comfortable with a book, she would encourage me to read at a higher level, and suddenly, I could read! It took me so much longer than everyone else, but I was determined.”

When Terry was fifteen, the family moved to the affluent northern suburbs, and her life changed once again. “My new school encouraged learning and I began to thrive. I found joy in debating and public speaking, and soon became the captain of both teams. This was my happy space and I found so many like-minded friends.” During her senior years of school, Terry’s interest in teaching was sparked. “I loved my history and mathematics classes, but I still had issues with English lessons. I didn’t understand what the teacher meant when they wrote vague feedback like ‘be more sophisticated and have more depth in your writing…’, these abstract terms confused me. I knew that one day I would teach students in a clear manner, writing feedback that they could constructively understand. This has always been a very important element of how I teach. I never want a student to leave my class feeling lost or feel like they can’t ask me for clarification. I have always wanted to make learning positive.”

After graduating high school, Terry was filled with doubts about her career choices, so enrolled in a secretarial course. “I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, but I was terrified that I was choosing this career because school was all I had ever known. I needed to try something else first, to realise that this was the right option for me.” It was during this time that Terry began running marathons. “Running was such a positive experience for me. I always thought I was bad at sport, but I realised I hadn’t found my niche.” Soon, Terry turned her love for running into a part-time coaching job. “My role was to train people for their first 10km race. I loved seeing people improve and completely change their thinking.”

While Terry loved her coaching, she knew that her true passion was teaching. “I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to teach children or adults, so I enrolled in an Honours Degree that enabled me to teach students from Year 5 all the way into adulthood. To this day, I love teaching students from all year levels – I love the intellectual banter of my Year 12s and watching as a Year 5 student masters a new concept. All of these moments bring me joy.”

Looking back on her career, Terry fondly remembers her first leadership position as Deputy Principal at a large school in South Africa. “It was such an honour receiving this role, and I was excited to help make a difference in the education system. I loved every minute of it. At just 32 years old, I had a wonderful job, a great support system and a lovely home, but South Africa is not a safe country. After seeing so much violence and corruption, I knew that for the sake of my children, we had to move. Seeing my brother successfully move to Australia was the final encouragement I needed.” Moving countries was an extremely difficult decision for Terry and her family. “It took a long time for the visa application to be approved, and the whole time I was scared. It cost us every cent to move to Australia, but it was worth it.”

Within two days of moving to Victoria, Terry started working as a CRT and within six months, she was offered a position as Head of Middle School at a local Catholic School. “It would have been easy to stay in South Africa, but throughout my life, I have never allowed myself to take the easy road. I challenged myself to move to Australia, and because of it, I was offered a new life, filled with possibility.”

As Terry’s children grew older, she began looking for a school that focused on community. “Mentone Grammar’s family atmosphere instantly drew me to the school. I wanted to work at a place where I would be proud to send my children. This school offers students so many opportunities, both academically and in co-curricular activities. My children have really thrived here, and I have too.”

“Working at Mentone Grammar, both as Head of Bayview and as a classroom teacher, has given me such a sense of accomplishment. I love the feeling of finishing a class that has gone well, when I can see that I have connected with the students. It’s also incredible when past students have reached out and said “hello”. It’s times like these when I can see that I have made an impact. Because that’s what teaching is about for me.”

Author: Steph Kinnear