Tuesday 22nd May 2018

Thanks Mr Duffy. 2017.66.

Thanks Mr Duffy. 2017.66.

A long time ago, blogger, now writer Catherine Rodie, asked for people to respond to this for a series of blog posts when Catherine had her blog:

“if you could, who would you like to have a cup of tea with?” The original post was “A Cup of Tea With Mr Duffy”.

Today I have refreshed the post, to add it here, for the first time on my blog.


The classroom on the left was my Year 5 room and also where I did my first teaching prac. The coloured building in the background was the library. Taken on a trip back to the school in 2013.

I gave some thought to who I’d like to have a cup of tea with, it was an obvious choice.

Mr Duffy.

It would need to be at 11.00 a.m. on a school day in the Balgowlah Heights Primary School staffroom. That is a room at the end of the wooden building closest to the headmaster’s office where Mr Piper rules via a loud voice and a stern manner.

Walking up the wooden steps and holding onto the rail, I can feel the timber underneath the flaking paint. I notice that the school hasn’t had the public works painters in for a while. As I reach the verandah, a smell emanates from the left, as does the plume of grey. Of course, teachers can smoke in the staffroom! And in the playground. But not in the classroom. It IS 1960!

Slowly moving towards the screen door, I hear the words “oh Ian, you were great last week with the cricket team those boys really go well against Manly West.” Then as I raise my hand to knock and ask if Mr Duffy is there, Mrs Ridley rushes up and wants to know “what do you want Denyse Simpson, we are having our cups of tea?” I reply, “I am here to see Mr Duffy if he’s here.”

“Greg, that girl from your class who likes helping in the library is here, Denyse Simpson, can you see her?” I stepped back and waited near the verandah’s rail and the door swung open. It was Mr Duffy. “Who are you?” he said looking puzzled, “I was told Denyse Simpson here, and I can see she is not.”

“Mr Duffy” I say quietly, and watch as he lifts his cup of tea from the saucer as I can tell he’s thinking how much time till the bell rings and recess is over. “I was Denyse Simpson, and you were my teacher..but now I’m Denyse Whelan and I’m a teacher too.”

And that’s  when I to reassure him right away of my reason for visiting at the time of his “cup of tea” at Recess. I pull out my photo of me in Grade 6 and point out that he, Mr Duffy, had been the one teacher in my primary school years who had seen the qualities of a teacher in me. The way he encouraged that was to appoint me as the chief library prefect in Grade 6 where I continued to learn about how it is to teach and learn.

The bell rings. Cup of tea drained. Mr Duffy shakes my hand and says “well, that’s been nice to know” and leaves. I look at this man, within this school setting and remember with great affection why I became a teacher. I know too, that he is a modest self-effacing man & he’s a bit embarrassed by my words.

I returned to my old school and classroom in 1968 to do my first teaching practice and loved it! Mr Duffy had retired by then I think. I was made to be a teacher and Mr Duffy helped me realise that!

The list of schools in N.S.W. where I was a teacher, school executive and principal.

Update: I am now retired from all work in teaching but will always be interested in why people choose teaching as a career. This post reminds me of what I did! 

My husband, also now a retired teacher, and I met in the country teaching days and last week he went back to one of his schools, where I also taught after him. Here’s a photo of Fairfax Public School….and the classroom where I taught kids from K-2 in one room in 1971-72.

Do you have fond memories of a teacher from your school days?

Have you ever said thanks to someone who may have inspired you to choose a career?

Adding a P.S. I’ve just read over at Sammie’s blog this: about marrying a teacher! We are married teachers, me and hub, so that makes us..happy!!

Young Married Teachers and their first born!


Joining with Kylie Purtell and friends here for I Blog On Tuesdays.

On Thursdays I link with Leanne and friends here for Loving’ Life.



  1. I didn’t teach at my old primary school but I did go back to visit when I was training to be a teacher. My year 2 teacher was the head teacher. I visited with my bestie, who I started school with all those years ago. Everything looked and felt so much different seeing it through adult eyes!

    • It is strange and fascinating to return isn’t it? My husband has come back from his few days in the remote parts of NSW where he taught on his first appointment as a One Teacher Schoolie. He got to see the room and the lovely teacher who is in charge of this place now.There are 14 students currently enrolled. He could not get over the technology as all he had in 1968 was a chalkboard, chalk and some books! And 41 children!! He was only 3 years older than the oldest in the small HS group that comprised the school. Times change!!

  2. He was only ever known to us as “Mr Duffy”, but I wonder, what was his given name? Mr Duffy came to our primary school when I was in 2nd Grade and was always an enthusiastic and inspiring staff member. He was one of those teachers that many of us hoped became our class teacher.
    Mr Duffy had quite an artistic flair and apart from being a class teacher, he was the school’s honorary, part-time librarian. At that time, our library was a small shed type building that had been the original single classroom when the school started in 1938, and which measured three metres by three metres at the most. Mr Duffy, aided by the P&C, set about raising funds for our new library and I recall one of those big temperature bulb signs placed near the school gate, with the important vertical red section regularly increasing in length..
    Denyse arrived at my school at the end of 4th Grade and I remember well becoming friends with her immediately. We we fortunate to have Mr Duffy as our 5th Grade teacher, but only briefly as our brand new library (of which we were all very proud!) was up and running and Mr Duffy became the full-time librarian. I recall him coming out with that then trendy saying, “What do you think this is, Bush Week?”, with absolutely no idea what he was talking about! I also recall that on one occasion, he caned the bulk of our class as many had done the homework. Took several minutes, as he worked up and down the rows of desks, tapping those of us offenders, self included, on our outstretched palms.

    • What a memory you have. I thought I was good but you are amazing!! Mr Duffy’s first name was Greg and he was Catholic (do not ask me how I know this stuff) and he lived at Narraweena. If he wasnt our teacher for the whole year then for the life of me I cannot remember who was!!
      The library was so special for me too and I know I was once given the job of changing the US spelling on the SRA cards to the Australian version. I also recall Mum doing lunches there on a Monday way before any ideas of a Canteen. I actually did my first prac on a Year 3 in the same room we have Mr Duffy. Another thing I recall and I think it was probably one reason I went into teaching was when he appointed me Library Prefect. I know you were a prefect or did you have V-C role because I have the photo!! As someone who arrived at the school in late Year 4 it was awesome to be recognised for the way in which I was organised and could be relied upon I guess. Thank you so much for commenting!! It meant a lot. D xx

  3. Oh that’s a lovely story, Denyse. He certainly sounds like he made a big impression on you 🙂 I used to love the library too!

    • Thank you Renee. He did and he was very self-effacing so I imagined he would be pretty casual if I had ever told him!! Libraries are so cool. My daughter is now teacher-librarian at her school and loves it.

  4. That’s a beautiful story. I remember one teacher very clearly who inspired me to love history – he brought it alive. His name was Mr Lemon, and it was at Springwood High when I was in year 9. Ever since I’ve loved the stories behind the stories.

  5. That was such a lovely story to read Denyse! My favourite teacher was my Year 1 teacher – Mrs McMinimon (not sure of spelling). I remember her being so kind and motherly. She had a baby in her belly which I found fascinating but sadly she left before the end of the year to have the baby and I never liked a teacher as much as her again for the rest of my schooling years. She came back to visit and show us her baby and that was the last time I saw her I think. #TeamLovinLife

    • What a special memory and what a place she had in your young life. It’s a bit sad to know there was none better who came along. Thank you for sharing!

  6. I had a teacher – Mr Clarke – in Yr 5 at primary school. He was the BEST teacher and I learned so much from him. My times tables, spelling rules, school mottoes, discipline etc etc. It’s interesting that we both have a male teacher as our fondest memory Denyse – obviously there should be a lot more of them in the Public Primary School system – especially with the family breakdowns etc in society today.

    • Yes I agree it is interesting about male teachers. In primary school (K-6) I had 4 out of the 7 years at school. My husband went into teaching too. However, it is a shame, in recent decades, that a minority of men (not necessarily from teaching ranks) have spoiled the ways in which men can feel safe and comfortable interacting with and helping young kids at school and in child care.

  7. I really enjoyed reading your letter, Denyse. Mr Duffy sounds like he was a wonderful teacher.

    I like revisiting places I’ve worked at and reminiscing while taking in all the change.

    SSG xxx

    • Thank you so much SSG. I too have been back to schools where I was a deputy principal and receiving principal and whilst a lot had changed, there were many familiar things and people to see.

  8. There’s always that one teacher. Mine was my year 11/12 English teacher. She made me believe in myself. She saw something in me that the other teachers either didn’t see or didn’t verbalise. I will never forget her.

    • That is the best gift a teacher can give to a student. Self-belief. I hope that you got an opportunity to let her know. Mr Duffy was like that for me, but I never told him. This can be the thanks but I know he is long departed from this world.

  9. My parents still live in the town where I went to primary school and my mum now works there. So I have been there quite a few times. However none of the teachers who taught me still live there. I do have a couple of them as friends on facebook though.

    • It is interesting to move from the student/teacher relationship via Facebook. I was never comfortable with it (my conservative and careful self) but I know a much loved former colleague of mine who is friends with many of the students from long, long ago and they write of their great memories from his class. He was a strict teacher but went out of his way to care for the kids, taking them to football and on camps (with other staff) and they all say ‘thanks, you were tough on us, but we learned a lot’.

  10. I had some great teachers! Special mentions go to my Year 4 teacher, Mr Hamill, the first person to recognise me as a writer; Miss McKendry in Year 5, for being so enthusiastic and creative (pretty sure in hindsight she was a first year teacher); Mrs Poiner in Year 6 ( she has a reputation for being an old dragon lady but she really nurtured me through the trauma of my parents’ split); and Mrs Board, my Year 10 English teacher for also encouraging me as a writer.

    • That is so great to read Janet! I applaud you for remembering their names..I am getting worse but I am MUCH older than you. That is very sweet to know a teacher made an awful time in your life a little better through kind understanding.