One of the longest serving teachers in NSW has been rewarded for his dedication to the public education sector.
With an impressive 60 years of experience in the classroom, Sutherland's John Quinnell, who teaches at Kogarah High School, was praised by the Department of Education at its inaugural service recognition event on November 16.
For the first time, 59 educators and staff who have given more than half a century to teaching, had their exceptional career milestones highlighted.
Mr Quinnell is among the top five longest serving teachers, and at age 80, his passion for the profession is as strong as ever.
The former student of the then Jannali Boys' High School got his leaving certificate and headed to Wirrinya in 1963. It was the start of a whole new adventure for the 20 year-old at the time.
Since then Mr Quinnell has taught at Wirrinya, Quambone, Farmborough Road, Mortdale, Lakemba, Sans Souci, Bundeena, Kareela and Taren Point.
He currently works as an English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) teacher at Kogarah High's Intensive English Centre, where he has been since 1996.
With expertise in working with students who have specific needs, including those from diverse backgrounds, Mr Quinnell thrives on making newly-arrived students feel welcome, all while building confidence with English - a language foreign to their own.
"I can have a student come into my classroom, I say 'good morning' to them, and they say 'good morning' back. I say 'what is your name?' and I can get it back, but that could be all they know of English," Mr Quinnell said.
"There are others who have been educated quite well in their countries. I have a saying, that they have a richness of knowledge, but to turn the key, I have to assume they know very little to get that contact point."
The experienced teacher has taught students from Mongolia, Russian, Ukraine, Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea. He was thrilled to recently discover he was of Indigenous decent of the Anaiwan Aboriginal people, whose territory spans the northern tablelands of NSW.
Mr Quinnell is known as the one who leads the Christmas cheer at end of year graduation ceremonies, as students prepare to celebrate their first Christmas in their new home country.
"The Chinese students call me the Christmas man, because Santa isn't part of their culture," he said. "I dress up in costume and make a grand appearance. Seeing the joy on their faces is so good."
During the past six decades, there has been no other major adjustment than learning new technology, but Mr Quinnell has embraced the change.
"COVID-19 wrecked everything. I didn't know how to make a Google classroom before it. But it's been a joy to see how you can use it to teach individually," he said. "Teaching is rigorous. You have to push through it. You must know what your strengths are so you can rely on those to develop your resilience."
There have been countless memorable moments, but as the teacher says, "there's not one person, there's every person" who stays front of mind. One "lass", not his student, but who crossed his path, was head-hunted by Bill Gates for her mathematical prowess.
"I could be walking on the street, catching a bus, and someone will say 'do you remember me? This could be 15 years ago. I say 'of course I do,'" Mr Quinnell said. "To me they are all memorable."
There is plenty of gas left in the tank, with a "strong body and mind", he said. For now, it's finding daily satisfaction in seeing his students of non-English speaking backgrounds in the classroom, excel, and speak beyond a basic greeting or a roll-call reply.
"It's like a beautiful united nations. They're working together," Mr Quinnell said. "If that scenario could be extended in the world, I'd be a happy little person."
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