Nothing truly worthwhile is easy: the HSC’s real lesson

Anthony Ndaira teaches a class at Mary MacKillop College.
Anthony Ndaira teaches a class at Mary MacKillop College.

It was 12.30pm on 7 November 7, 2008, when I put down my pen having just finished my HSC Geography exam. It was my last one, and I remember distinctly leaving the hall wondering what to do next.

Months of study timetables, writing notes and coming up with creative ways to revise had finally come to an end. After finishing my exams I went back to working part-time at a local cafe, and started making some serious decisions about where I wanted to be in the future.

I also needed to make some adult decisions regarding my faith life as well. No longer was I in the safe environment of a Catholic school, nor could I regularly seek advice from my religion teacher or have prayer rostered into my day at the start of each lesson. I needed to make decisions about how faith would become a part of my life. I began attending a prayer and youth group, and soon found my university chaplaincy and attending events such as the iWitness conference and Theology on Tap to keep the momentum going in my faith life.

I am now teaching religious education and society and culture at Mary MacKillop College, Wakeley. It feels very surreal to be teaching HSC classes of my own.

The biggest advice I give to my Year 12 students when preparing for their exams is that it is worth it, essentially to keep on keeping on. The tireless hours and hard work is worth it, because when looking back you realise that nothing truly worthwhile is easy. In fact, the more worthwhile something is, the harder you have to work for it. I am very fortunate that the girls at Mary MacKillop have quite a resilient nature and are ready to put in the hard yards.

Teacher Anthony Ndaira with students.
Teacher Anthony Ndaira with students.

A lot of the foundational work for preparing a HSC class happens in Year 11 and even throughout their junior high school life.

Much of the skills embedded in these classes take further fruition in Year 12.

Setting high expectations from the start really helps to manage the pressure around trails and in the lead up to their final HSC exams, because it makes working to your personal best the norm.

Most students are also willing to attend tutorials out of school hours and take the time to produce work for feedback.

In the weeks leading up to these exams, I often employ a 24-hour turnaround policy in regards to returning tasks. It keeps students practicing their writing, and it is an opportunity to receive timely and personal feedback.

In class, I sometimes employ the teaching strategies of my own high school teachers. I love name dropping them in class or calling a certain teaching method after them, it is sort of a like a nod of gratitude.

I am now working on the Year 12 spiritual retreat for a new group of HSC candidates which start their Year 12 work in term four.

It is experiences such as these that really help to provide a sense of balance for students in their final year.

They also happen to be some of the most memorable moments of my own HSC year. I encourage students to make the most of these occasions, and other opportunities to participate in the faith life of the College such as Eucharistic Adoration or social justice activities like Stay up for Syria and the Vinnies Van. These events really put the HSC into perspective.

If, in some time warp, I could go back and meet myself as I was coming out of the hall from my last exam, I would probably share the testament of my school motto, telling myself that I am “called to life”. It is not going be easy, but it will be worth it.

More in our series of columns from young teachers as they reflect on their own HSC experience, and share how they are preparing students for the upcoming exams, which commence 13 October: