Profile: Chantal Azar
Chantal Azar teaches Year 1 at St Patricks Primary school in Parramatta. It’s her fourth year of teaching but she has spent most of her life in the classroom, either as a student or an educator. She tells CCER how both her work and faith have taken her abroad, why the perfect day involves making mistakes, and how serendipity brought her face to face with a childhood inspiration.
On St Patricks
“I just love this community here at St Patricks. I prayed about it, thinking ‘where does God want me to be?’ And then through the interviews and through working with people here I just found that St Pats was the place for me, I guess.”
“(Because of) the community that is here at St Pats and, (people like) Bernadette Fabri, my principal and Ellie Bancovic, my assistant principal, how welcoming they were. They trusted me, (treating me) not just as an outsider or not just a teacher but as one of their own and I just felt that sense of belonging here.”
On working in Catholic schools
In the beginning growing up I just thought (working in a Catholic school was) where I should be. I never thought twice about being in a state school but then I found that working in a Catholic school I felt there is this sense of belonging that I feel as an individual as well as a teacher. And having that reference always to God and saying to the children, ‘Let’s think, where is God in this situation?’ Or ‘If I treat somebody like this how is God going to feel about that?’ And so always continuously referring back to that. And (it’s also about) how you treat your colleagues. They have the same or similar morals to you and similar values to you and it’s important to be able to share those values and morals for our own well-being. And being teachers, you want that communication and conversation to keep on going about your faith.
On Pilgrimage and World Youth Day
Being at World Youth Day for me was quite moving. A quote that kind of resonated with me and still sticks with me now was St Mary Mackillop’s quote of “you never see a need without doing anything about it.” For me I think, my goodness, something so small, yet so powerful…yet so powerful (sic), whether it’s in my life or at school or with my family, I think the Philippines definitely showed me that.
We went to several schools and then we were based at one school where we did mission work. We were painting their fences and the boys were concreting walls. We got a chance to go into the classrooms and sing songs with the children and talk to them about our country and their country as well. I think for me the moment we left was the biggest life changing experience for me.
Q: What did you see at World Youth Day in Poland?
CA: Crowds! Crowds! Lots of Australians. Lots of people my age, younger, older, who wanted to seek more in their faith and know who Jesus is, and who God is and Mother Mary. And to experience it all together, even though we did not speak the same language.
We were still there for that purpose, that one purpose. It really tested me because I’m not really a crowds person. So for me it made me realise that despite the crowds, despite the heat, or the rain, or how squashed you were, or how far away from the stage you were, Jesus was in my heart and I realised the main reason why I was there.
I thought this is the moment why I love Jesus so much and (remember) wanting to continue that at school with my children and talk to them about their opportunities and how they can make a difference in the world and with their faith as well because they’re learning all the time.
On The Perfect Day
The perfect day isn’t necessarily where the children get everything right. A perfect day would be them learning from their mistakes, taking risks. We always refer back to having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. So, instead of them saying ‘I’ve made a mistake’. A growth mind set would say ‘that’s ok. I learn from my mistakes, how can I use this mistake to make it a challenge for me for next time?”
And we look at our three mascots in the school. We’ve got Rocky Resilience, Coolio Compassion and Ricky Respect. And we talk about those three main values – respect, compassion and resilience.
(It’s also important) for children to also believe in themselves. There’s nothing better than a teacher seeing a child in the beginning kind of feeling frustrated but then they want to continue to strive and persevere and not just give up. So for me seeing that success within themselves adds to my perfect day.
On difficult days
(A difficult day would be) planning this amazing lesson and having all of these ideas and then realising, hang on, the children aren’t ready for this. Last year I was in Year Two so I came back to Year One this year, and that was a big teaching lesson for me. I thought I had planned all of these amazing activities, and then I thought ‘wait, these children have only just come from kindergarten. I have to simplify it’. But it’s a learning experience for me as well, and I say to my children ‘you’re making mistakes? Well, teachers make mistakes all of the time’. And so now then I have to go back and say, ‘ok, this is where they’re at and this is how I’m going to meet their needs.’
On being a teacher
Growing up I wanted to be a photographer, then I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a lawyer, and then I went back to teaching. Then I wanted to be an artist, and then I went back to teaching. I always went back to teaching.
Even though I was young I knew that little children are our future. I read a quote last night that said our children, the youth, are the future of the church and that’s a big thing for me.
Teaching can be challenging. It can be a very challenging job. Every day your mind is going, your feet are going. But I think teachers and any other individuals need to realise their purpose for being here, and knowing that the most rewarding thing is seeing when children do progress, and when they do feel that sense of achievement and success. That is something definitely that teachers gain from this job. And also building that community, talking to the parents of the children and hearing them saying ‘you have really made a difference in my child’s life.’ For me it’s those moments that I’m like yes, this is why I’m a teacher. And this is way I love my job so much.
My kindergarten teacher, Mrs Koletta, there was just something about her. In kindergarten, you don’t remember everything but I remember her warmth. That nature in her that she had, that motherly instinct in which I knew I was protected in her classroom, that I could always go to her and say ‘I don’t know what to do, can you help me’.
And so in my beginning year of teaching I went to a professional development course at CEO (the Catholic Education Office) and we were learning about the new maths syllabus. I was looking at this speaker and I was thinking this teacher looks really familiar…I could kind of make this connection that I’d seen (her) before. And it was my kindergarten teacher. So here I am, a graduate now working, listening again to my kindergarten teacher at this course. So twice she’s guided me, and I went up to her and she looked at me and said ‘Chantal Azar’, (she remembered me) straight away! And she was talking to me about my handwriting in kindergarten and how proud she was. And I was thinking ‘it’s been so many years and you still haven’t forgotten my abilities or my strengths or my weakness’. I think that is such an inspirational teacher and a mentor to have in your life. And she actually came last year into my class, and she was just looking at my classroom and saying how proud she was. My children, my students, got to meet her and it was just amazing. And so I went back home and I told my mum and it was such a beautiful moment. It really was.