40 years of service to the teachers of Queensland

40 years of service - Debra Cunningham Dr Marie Jansen, Dr John Dwyer, Debra Cunningham BTR Annual Report 2002

For Debra Cunningham, this month marks 40 years of service to the teachers of Queensland at the Queensland College of Teachers. Debby has worked at all three iterations of the teacher regulatory authority in Queensland - the Board of Teacher Education (1971-1988), the Board of Teacher Registration (1989-2005) and the Queensland College of Teachers (2006-present). She has worked with five of the six Directors, and with all but one of the eight Board Chairs.

Debby began as a Temporary Graduate Assistant at the BTE in 1982 and is retiring in December 2022. During that time she has served in a full range of roles, retiring as Principal Executive Officer and Secretary to the QCT Board. These roles have included working in the areas of Registration, Regulation Policy and Professional Education Review, and Professional Standards. Having begun with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 1982, Debby completed a Master in Education Studies in 1988.

Having celebrated 50 years of teacher regulation in Queensland in 2021, with decade features in each edition of eNews documenting this important history, it can be seen that Debby's own career runs parallel to so many of these key events. In 1987 she was a key researcher in the significant Project 21 review of teacher regulation, she was on staff when the BTE became the BTR following this review and was appointed as Assistant Director Professional Services in 1998. Debby served as Acting Director for several months during 2002. Her expertise in substantive areas right across the work of the College led to her being appointed Principal Executive Officer, Office of the Director. In this role she engaged in general oversight of key policy matters, provided policy advice to the Director and the Board, and served as Secretary to the QCT Board.

Debby witnessed many significant changes in teacher regulation in Queensland. These included the Ministerial requirement in 2004 for the BTR to undertake retrospective criminal history checks on all those who had gained registration prior to the then relatively recent introduction of routine police checks on applicants. Another major area of change has been in the powers regarding 'suitability to teach' and inappropriate behaviour by teachers. In 1982, suitability checks were minimal, consisting only of a very brief character reference on the application form. The BTE had no power to seek police checks or information from other sources.

Debby noted the gradual introduction of teacher registration bodies finally being set up in all Australian states from the late 1990s. Prior to that, for many years, Queensland (since 1971) and South Australia (since 1973) had been the only states to have such bodies. The experience and expertise of the Queensland authority and the leadership and drive of its Directors and Chairs were instrumental in the development of the interstate agencies.

Each change of organisational name (from BTE to BTR in 1989 and from BTR to QCT in 2006), with a new set of legislation each time and changes to staffing structure, brought periods of staff consternation and anxiety, and subsequent adjustment. However over 40 years Debby notes that each of the changes has advanced the overall framework of teacher regulation in this State.

Debby was instrumental in conduct of research which was a major activity in BTE days, with many reports being published on various aspects of teacher education. In particular she was able to undertake research on teacher education and teacher regulation in the US, the UK and Sweden while accompanying her husband on overseas sabbaticals. She commented: Yes, they often do things differently overseas, but certain issues (how best to integrate 'theory' and 'practice' in teacher education, lack of funding, the disjunction between research and policy) tend to be similar everywhere!

Debby reflects as follows:

Of course when I first started working at the BTE in 1982, as one of just 17 staff members, I had no thought of being there for more than a few years, and would have been astonished at the idea of staying for 40 years - as indeed I am now, in a way! Where have 40 years gone? One of the main reasons I've ended up staying so long is the satisfaction gained from contributing to such an important area as the education of children and young people. At the QCT, as with its previous incarnations, you really feel you are doing something worthwhile - helping to ensure all our teachers are properly qualified and of suitable character to be entrusted with their role.

I would like to acknowledge the strength and wisdom of BTE/BTR/QCT leaders (Chairs and Directors), past and present, the dedication and expertise of colleagues over the years, and the many friendships formed and still enjoyed. It has also been a privilege to interact with many distinguished education academics and dedicated teachers and other professionals on the Board and various committees over the years.

On behalf of all teachers in Queensland, thank you Debby.


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