Popular teacher’s service honoured
For three decades Michael O’Leary (pictured) has been guiding and moulding the minds of the future within the Finley district.
His dedication to education was rewarded before the end of the school term when Mr O’Leary was presented with a 30 year service award.
The science/agriculture teacher came to Finley in 1988 and has never looked back.
Mr O’Leary was originally presented with his service honour at a staff meeting, but the award was also recognised at the school presentation evening with a round of applause from students and other members of the school community.
‘‘It was flattering to get congratulations at the presentation night,’’ he said.
‘‘In my mind I don’t see it as a big achievement as I’m just doing what I enjoy.
‘‘Retirement isn’t even on the horizon for me so I’ll still be at the school teaching for a while longer.
‘‘There are still three other staff who were teaching at the school from when I started, with Marty Piggin, Anne Braybon and my wife Robyn all still working there.
‘‘Not that I have taught much elsewhere, but through many visits to other schools and discussions with staff who have moved further afield, Finley is one of the better schools to be at.’’
Mr O’Leary started his career as a teacher in 1988 after completing his studies at the Australian National University in Canberra and Ku-ring-gai College of Advanced Education, Sydney.
When he arrived at Finley High the school was thriving with 730 students, including six classes in both Year 8 and 9.
However over his time Mr O’Leary has seen student and staff numbers dwindle, with the school population of staff and students now nearly half this size.
‘‘This is mainly due to changes in the economics of agriculture, re-centralisation with several large government agencies closing in the town, drought and now the issue of water availability,’’ he said.
‘‘The drought and current water policy will mean that our students and their families will need all the support we can offer in the foreseeable future.
‘‘I was trained as a physics and chemistry teacher but have since also taught agriculture.
‘‘The drought and the impact of water policy has been a massive issue. My wife Robyn is also an agriculture teacher and it directly affects us as teachers and community members, our friends and our students.
‘‘Unfortunately farmers now need to own more land in order to make a living, which has seen the population of farmers, workers and students at the school decline.’’
Mr O’Leary said even in the current agricultural climate, it is important to foster a love of the industry in the region’s young people so it can survive.
‘‘One of the highlights for me in recent years was with Finley Apex getting on board with the school agriculture program to build a cattle complex in 2011.
‘‘That was a big thing for Robyn and myself, both being heavily involved in agriculture.
‘‘We see the ag program as essential in all regions of Australia, but especially here in the Riverina.
‘‘There is a lot of hardship at the moment but as the world population continues to grow, agriculture and regions such as ours will be absolutely essential.
‘‘There are so many opportunities in the field of agriculture that are not just limited to the day to day labour.
‘‘Even if our students do not pursue a career in agriculture, they will go forward into the world with a balanced viewpoint of the importance of agriculture in Australia and promote the industry in a society that is unfortunately fairly negative towards the agricultural sector.’’
Mr O’Leary said he’s stayed in Finely for so long because it is a ‘‘great community’’.
‘‘Robyn and I have raised a family here and now have three of our four children currently studying at university,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve even taught students that now have their own kids going through high school, which can make parent-teacher night like a school reunion.
‘‘It was a highlight for me this year to have two ex-students reach out and say they are enjoying their science teaching careers and they drew their inspiration from their time at Finley High School.
‘‘I was also very excited that I was able to inspire two of our students to attend the NASA Space Camp in 2018 (see page 5).
‘‘I attended this a few years ago and found it an extraordinary experience that opens up many possibilities.
‘‘Otherwise it’s just all the little victories that stick out in my mind, like kids enjoying their learning or the appreciation they show when you’ve taught them something new.’’