A week ago, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the 2017 English Teacher’s Association Annual conference with emphasis on ‘Reimagining English’. Such occasions are usually jam-packed with sessions on stage appropriate subject relevant contents with the right mix of innovative approach and digital revolution required to sustain the interest of 21st century students in the mainstream/EAL/D classrooms. Therefore, it is not unusual for educators to look forward to ETA conferences and I was no different from the others especially with the launch of new Stage six syllabus. The two-day conference commenced with a keynote address as usual but there was one presenter’s session most of us would not have missed for anything in the world. Connoisseurs of educational criticism tend to differ in their opinions about Karen Yager’s contribution to the field of education. However, as I believe in the God of small things, I would like to seize this opportunity to celebrate the achievements of one of the most industrious woman I have ever known in my life.
She is one person who fits the maxim ‘Appearances are deceptive’ quite conveniently, as to strangers she would come across as a happy-go-lucky type who indulges in frivolous pursuits such as shopping, playing bingo and ‘what not’. Once you know her as a presenter who is not reluctant to share her pearls of wisdom with many others in the same profession you would have no other option but to be in consensus with me when I declare that she is the show stopper of the presenters’ pageantry. If there are any cynical critics out there wondering what has brought forth this eulogy, it is the result of an accidental discovery made by me during morning tea at The Pavilions. A fellow participant revealed to me that Karen Yager was diagnosed with cancer. I do not know if there is any grain of truth in this unexpected disclosure but according to the former a hard working woman did not deserve such a slow agonising end. It was pointed out to me that her short length of hair was the outcome of chemotherapy treatment she had recently been subjected to. My spontaneous response was to recommend the best way to get through this crisis, which is to persevere in her outstanding work as her efforts would be immortalised by teachers who have and are benefiting from her selfless contributions.
I recall that I had reached the hall for her presentation on Saturday approximately ten minutes late due to road work. I was not only apprehensive about missing the start of the session but also about missing out on the resources she generously handed out usually before or at the end of every presentation. I did miss the start however, was relieved to receive a copy of a Year 12 HSC English unit/program on the common module ‘Texts and Human Experience’ as I walked in. Most teachers like me would have been clueless about the choice of texts, introductory activities and the most effective strategies to be adopted to enhance student comprehension and student learning outcomes. At the end of the session, I walked out with confidence that I would be able to render the best of my services if provided with the opportunity of teaching HSC students in the forthcoming years. Whether the institutions she represents rewards her befittingly or not, Karen Yager would continue to live in our hearts and even when she exits the stage after her performance she would be remembered by posterity through her works that would be published posthumously.