I left school when I was fifteen, so I didn’t follow what some might say is a normal path to a career. Because of my experience, and because I believe leaving school and travelling and working before starting university, I was interested to speak to Keith Fennell, a former SAS soldier now school teacher when the opportunity presented itself. The below was written for and published by the University of Wollongong.

Keith Fennell In front of a classroom of unsettled teenagers, UOW graduate Keith Fennell is an educator with an edge. Aside from being a little older than your average new graduate teacher, Mr Fennell comes to his first full-time teaching job with a unique perspective and appreciation for teamwork acquired through a career as an elite soldier with the Australian Army. After leaving school at fifteen to try his hand at a trade, Mr Fennel found his way into the Australian Army. Less than a year later, at the age of 21, he was recruited into the elite Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) and later wrote a bestselling book about his experiences.

Listen to Keith Fennel’s conversation about his book, Warrior Brothers, with the ABC’s Richard Fidler in 2008

While Mr Fennell used his unique skill set during deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor as well as in counter-terrorist operations in Australia, perceptiveness, patience and negotiation are skills that also translate well into the classroom. “If someone is a bit off or unsettled I will generally pick up on that and I find that just asking the question ‘are you okay?’ goes a long way.” Despite being offered opportunities to work at high performing schools, Mr Fennell, who graduated with a Graduate Diploma in Education in December, has sought out a teaching position at one of the State’s most disadvantaged schools – Airds High School in Campbelltown. While the content of Mr Fennell’s classes will primarily be Indonesian language, his teaching strategies will ensure the essence of what Mr Fennel has learnt in his adult years is passed on to his students, no matter how disengaged they are. “Kids need to learn how to learn. They need to know how to study, do an exam. They also need to understand how to communicate, have basic life skills and understand that they have choices.” Changing direction Mr Fennell realised he wanted to pursue a new career path while managing a reconstruction program in Banda Aceh following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. “The level of death and destruction took us by surprise. Tens of thousands of people were dead and buried … I met one man who had lost every member of his family. He was the only one left of eighteen people. He’d lost his house. “Meeting people like that, who had lost everything but remain resilient, show strength, still function and want to help out, it puts things into perspective.” “I started to think about what I wanted to do in the next phase of my life and I decided I wanted to go to university, further my education (I left school at 15) and become a teacher and work with kids.” It’s taken ten years for the Arts and School of Education graduate to get to this point, but Mr Fennell has no doubt that from here on in, he will be making a difference through education. “Every teacher has their strength and I can make the most impact in a disadvantaged area where the kids don’t have the same level of support or self esteem that other kids do,” he said.

This article was written for and published by University of Wollongong. Read the original article. Photo by Paul Jones, UOW Photography


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