Approaching a half century since my years at Saints, here are some of my moments in time and positions reached since the early seventies. I was a Uni student in the Whitlam years, when tertiary education was free for all who qualified.
Along the way, I fathered a son (Jordan) outside a normal family environment and did my best to be a good dad. Circumstance dictated a public school education for him and it was not a good fit. I am happy to report that he has learnt from life a lot better than he did in the classroom and he remains the apple of my eye, a thoughtful, intelligent young man of 28 that he now is.
As a secondary educator in the public system – Drama and English, mostly – for the majority of my career, I question the lack of priority shown by successive federal governments towards public education in all sectors. In my first year of teaching, back in the mid-Jurassic, The Department still subjected new teachers to Probation. A Deputy Principal advised me: ‘if you want a future as a teacher, you’ll have to change your personality.’ Imagine what a subversive little bugger I must have been.
While I have grown older and less stupid, I have always had two well-used words for anyone who wanted to reshape me into something that fitted their preferred mould. Words and stories have always moved me. My best work was when I had a kid venture onstage, to emerge from the spotlight as an enhanced spirit, braver than before. The best learning in Drama is walking that tightrope and those glorious moments immediately after coming down.
I helped more than a few needy or impulsive children evolve into functional, responsible young people. I did it with humour, patience, explicit teaching and at times sheer bloody-mindedness. No mathematical ‘effect size’ or computer program measured what happened in my classes. Educators face an uphill demanding juggling act with the imposed bureaucracy of record-keeping. Most issues would be improved with smaller class sizes. I wrote a novella called Duty of Care, which can be found here.
Retired from full-time work now, I have had time to complete my historical fiction Angel of Aleppo, a story of the Armenian Genocide, a labour of love that has been well-received to date. You can see more about the book and its related issues via my website: joncocks.com or order your copy here.
In 2009, I met my wife Lilit online. She was in Armenia and I was in the Adelaide Hills. On my journey to Armenia to meet her in person and to bring her here to be my wife, I researched Armenia and discovered the Armenian Genocide, an outrage that arguably encouraged Hitler’s murderous schemes. Long an advocate for social justice, and witness as an educator in impoverished places to the kind of poverty that should not exist in a first world country like Australia, the idea for my novel germinated.
I also have unpublished cartoon strips, a long list of credits as an actor in community theatre, a long-running TV ad, and several one-act plays written for students. Other than an enduring love affair with Lilit, I love fine food and wine. I play competition 8-ball and follow the Adelaide Crows in good times and bad. I was present at the MCG on that glorious last Saturday in September, 1997. And I have seen some shockers.
When I addressed the student body in November 2018, being farewelled into retirement, I offered one last, very short English lesson: Famous poet Dylan Thomas wrote: Do not go gentle into that good night. He meant: when death approaches, you need to know your life was meaningful. So, get out there and find your meaning, I told them. Don’t be afraid of stepping up. Life is meant for living. So, live it well.
I have tried to do that and continue to try to do that.
Jon Cocks (FLL 1973)