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Inside Teaching : August 2010
Inside Teaching | August 2010 MY BEST TEACHER 18 STEVE HOLDEN asks Stephanie Alexander about her best teachers, and discovers plenty about the best teaching. Stephanie Alexander Quiz Stephanie Alexander – restaurateur, prolifc book writer, founder of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation program and this year’s Victorian of the Year – about her best teachers and the answers come thick and fast, not just about the best teachers but about the best teaching. ‘Two of my best teachers,’ Alexander says, ‘were my parents. My mother was a fantastic cook, but she was also interested in the culture and traditions of food. When I was eight or nine, I knew how people from different cultures used ingredients in different ways. My mother and my grandfather also kept a kitchen garden, and I was always aware that the food on the table had come from there.’ And her father? ‘He always wanted us to fnd things out for ourselves,’ Alexander says. ‘He was a book man. “Go and look it up in the encyclopedia index,” he’d say – this was in the days before Google. He wanted us to learn how to learn. He had broad interests in politics and social issues, and his actions were informed by his belief that we should always give back to our community.’ Connectedness and giving back is something that runs through our conversation, and Alexander’s life. A case in point involves one of her best teachers in senior high school, Mary Turner. ‘There were six of us students in our fnal year at school, so I became pretty close with my teachers. Mary went out of her My best teacher way to connect with people, and she became a very good friend.’ The friendship, Alexander explains, evolved in a way you often see in small communities. ‘My father was on the school council, and he ran a classical music group and an amateur drama group, and Mary was involved in those too and naturally became a family friend. Her daughter was also friends with my sister, so there was that connection, as well. ‘She taught me maths, which I admit didn’t come easily for me. She helped me on statistics when I was at university, struggling in psychology. She drilled me, basically, and got me through. She was a very strong person.’ Another infuential teacher in her senior year was Jack Prowse. ‘He was a very good teacher,’ says Alexander, ‘charismatic and charming. He connected with us and connected us with bigger things. It was Jack Prowse who encouraged me to enter university.’ By the late 1960s, Alexander was working as a teacher-librarian at Princes Hill High School in Melbourne after she’d closed her frst restaurant, Jamaica House. ‘To become a teacher- librarian in the ’60s, you did a preliminary certifcate through the State Library of Victoria, then you were expected to complete a registration certifcate by correspondence while you were