“When I retire, I can’t just walk away and close the door. I’m turning off hundreds of minds and hundreds of eyes. It’s a unique position to have. It’s going to be a huge adjustment for me…”
Beaconhills College Pakenham’s first Head of Junior School Peter Hockey is set to retire this year after holding the role since 1997. He told former Beaconhills student KYRA GILLESPIE about his career.
Peter Hockey will leave big shoes to fill at the college and he will take an even bigger heart with him when he retires.
Looking back 20 years, he said the beginning of his role as Head of Junior School was quite inauspicious.
“There was nothing here,” he said.
“This school had about 75 students in total and we used to count the cows and sheep from the classroom.
“Twenty years later and we’ve got two campuses, AstroTurf, pirate ships, tennis courts, interactive whiteboards – the list goes on.
“I am so privileged to have been able to grow with the school.
“Nobody else has had that experience, so I am very lucky in that way.”
Peter Hockey was the college’s first Head of Junior School, meaning that this will be the first time there has been a change in the position.
Over the years the college has undergone significant transformations and growth.
“Back then every cent counted. When you all had to work together to make the money stretch, I found that it brought children, parents and teachers together in a way that doesn’t happen so much anymore.
“The school has become quite wealthy and I believe it’s important to hold back a little bit on that spending.”
The idea for retirement began budding in Christmas last year, but Mr Hockey gave himself six months to mull over the decision.
“This is the sort of job where you can’t half do it.
“I’m 64 years old, I’ve still got my health and sanity, but the energy does get sapped a little bit and I decided it would be self-centred to push on.
“In this job you need the energy. The kids look to you for everything and if you find yourself getting tired it gets tough.
“I’m not on top of things to the standard that I want it to be. It’s not that I’m slack, but time catches up.”
Mr Hockey started off teaching year 12s in his early career but quickly learned that he enjoyed teaching the little ones the most.
“My passion is with the young ones, always has been.
“Here you can shape minds, you can take a bit of clay and mould it, but not that it sets – my clay never sets. You can just start the shape.
“From prep you teach the child, from senior school you teach the content.
“If a child starts with a secure base they can build to be anything they want from that. If the base is not secure, they can’t thrive in the same way.”
For Mr Hockey, teaching is all about building relationships.
“To teach is not to use fear or persuasion – real teaching comes through relationships.
“A child’s excitement and motivation starts with the teacher.
“I’ve never taught I child I didn’t like. Sure, there have been some difficult ones, but that’s usually because they don’t have a significant person in their life to look up to.
“I always say to teachers that if you come across a child that you don’t like, you have a problem. Don’t teach. They are just children and you can work on it and turn their life around.
“There’s something good in each child, you just have to get to know them.”
More than 20 years of teaching has taught Mr Hockey that it certainly is not a nine-to-five job.
“It isn’t one of those jobs where you go on holidays and switch off. You’re always thinking of the children.
“Teaching is a human industry, it never has a closing time.”
Anyone who has met Peter knows that he is a storyteller at heart. Rarely is he seen without a book in his hand, reading to the children.
“I’ve always been a storyteller. I think everyone loves stories, no matter who they are and where they come from.”
Born and raised in South Africa, Peter has seen his fair share of conflict.
His first son was born during apartheid, a time of institutionalised racial segregation and internal conflict.
“I was a headmaster at a school in South Africa in the sixties, but I had just started a family and it was too dangerous, so we chose to emigrate to Australia.
“At the school where I taught, there were only five coloured employees. Three were groundsmen and the two ladies were the cleaners. It was terrible.
“I used to give them a lift to and from work, and we would have barbecues together. If the government had found out, I would have gone to jail.
“But my house was the only one that was never robbed. I think word got round that I was kind to the black population and they protected me.
“When I left the apartheid was still entrenched. Coming to Australia was the best decision I ever made.”
Despite all of his life experiences, Mr Hockey claims he has learned the most from the children he has taught.
“You have to listen to the children. If you tell them what to do and move on you won’t learn anything. But if you listen to them they have a lot to say. I have learned so much from them.
“The role has always come easy to me, I’ve never had to force it. I think if I had to force it people would see through me and I’d have cracked.”
With retirement ahead of him, it’s been the little moments that have accumulated into a career worth remembering.
“I can’t think of a single best moment because it’s all the small moments that have made it worthwhile.
“It’s the little girl who comes to me on her seventh birthday and gives me cake. It’s the little boy who laughs that uncontrollable, innocent laughter when I make a joke, and the mother who says that she’s never heard that lovely laughter from her child before.
“It’s the Year 12 at the bus stop who comes cross the road and takes the time to say hello even when they don’t have to.
“It’s the small, intimate personal moments, not the big ones.
“When I retire, I can’t just walk away and close the door. I’m turning off hundreds of minds and hundreds of eyes. It’s a unique position to have. It’s going to be a huge adjustment for me.
“I built this room here and designed all these classrooms here. I’m part of it, there will always be a part of me here.
“I know I’ll miss it. I know I’ll question whether I should have stayed an extra year, but I know this is the right decision.”
In retirement, Mr Hockey plans to spend his summer down at his beach house in Port Arlington and travel overseas to visit his two daughters who are working in England.