Westlake Boys has been more than fortunate to have attracted some exceptional teachers and today we farewell one of our true jewels, Westlake’s very own Queen of the Ball, who has been more than inspirational to our students and staff. She is a doer, a giver and a real participant in life and the first female Dean to be appointed at Westlake. But most of all she is an exceptional teacher, whose dedication saw her take sports teams, help with Westlake’s drama productions and coordinate the annual School Ball. For many years she was the caring and committed Seventh Form Dean treating our senior students with the respect they crave and deserve. Today she will join old boys and former staff as we can officially call Christine Gratton a Westlaker.
Christine started at Westlake as a reliever in 1983 juggling the art of motherhood and work. She remembers that Westlake was very different from the place it is today. The roll was just over 1000 students and every boy wore the same grey shirt and shorts. Unlike the disciplinary measures of this day and age, students were caned for their misdemeanours. T-Block didn’t exist, nor did the Science Block or today’s wonderful Technology facility and the thought of teaching Westlake students the “art of cuisine” would never have been considered back in those days.
At the time that Christine became a permanent WBHS staff member she recalls being interviewed by the then Headmaster Mr Colin Pascoe, a lovely gentlemanly person. He told her that he believed that when people made the choice to send their sons to an all boys’ school, they wanted their boys to be taught by men. Mr Pascoe worked to a staff ratio of one woman to 12 men and it seemed improbable to change his stance on this matter, confiding to Christine that he wouldn’t want any young, glamorous women teaching the boys but that she would do just fine!
When Christine’s husband Rob taught at Westlake in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the pair would often teach the same students. Rob would teach them for Chemistry and Christine would teach them for English. It was always a race to check out the exam results in January, to see which subject “their” boys had done best in.
Looking back on three decades of life at Westlake, Christine reminisces. She’s enjoyed the most marvellous time in this place, teaching and learning so much from both colleagues as well as students and building strong friendships that will last far and beyond the moment when she exits the WBHS gates today. Miss Burney who showed her how to break information down into manageable chunks for students to absorb; Mr Graham Smith who taught her (and everyone else for that matter) how to compose great literary essays; Mr Berry – in his beautiful and seemingly effortless management of the very diverse English Department – who taught her how to herd cats.
One of Christine’s former students Robert Munn (1998 Form 7) Ph.D. in Neurobiology and currently undertaking post-doctoral research at Stanford, has fond memories of his English teacher. She was the first teacher that really inspired him and made him believe that he was capable of more than just coasting through school; that trying to excel lead to personal rewards beyond the tangible. He says that she was a great teacher, the best he’s ever had and he is sure that many of her students feel the same as he does.
Over the years, Christine has taught boys who displayed unbelievable courage in the face of severe illness or other great personal tragedy; stunningly intelligent boys; boys who wrote so beautifully they could charm a novel out of a pigpen; boys who never gave up despite battling every day in the classroom. She has learnt as much from them as they ever learnt from her.
Westlakers are extremely grateful for the passion, dedication and inspiration that Christine has shown students and staff alike during her 31 years at Westlake. Thank goodness Westlake does not have to miss her full stop – life will take a full circle when Christine returns as a regular relief teacher – it is after all where it all started! In the meantime we wish Christine and Rob all the very best for many healthy, happy and relaxing years ahead.
If you hear any news of Westlake Old Boys or former staff or if you are interested in supporting Westlakers events and activities, please contact Mrs Christine O’Dowd at school on 09 410 8667 or by email [email protected].