Teacher Development Mentor
BSc Dip Ed, Grad Dip (Outdoor Education)
Craig Best (Class of 1988) is a shining example of a professional dedicated to helping others. As the Teacher Development Mentor at Mentone Grammar, Craig embraces the opportunity to help students grow and learn, and also empowers teachers in their development. With over 12 years of experience as an outdoor education teacher prior to this role, Craig was able to teach his students about nature while fostering important skills such as preparation and leadership through student-led approaches. His passion for helping people shines through in his work, and he has made a positive impact on many lives.
Craig’s childhood was filled with happy memories. Endless afternoons and weekends playing driveway cricket, road tennis, and park footy with his brother and next-door neighbour. Life as a young Australian boy revolved around sports, and he cherished representing the Edithvale/Aspendale Junior Football Club in the winter months and competing for Chelsea Little Athletics Club in summer. Some of Craig’s favourite times were camping trips to Wilsons Prom with his family, which began a lifelong appreciation for hiking and the outdoors.
At 10 years of age, Craig began his education at Mentone Grammar. He recounts life at the Boy’s Grammar being “a lot stricter than it is today. The teachers were firm and only called us by our surname, and discipline was paramount, but I was lucky enough to avoid most of the trouble,” Craig laughs.
“One thing that remains the same is the strong emphasis on camaraderie and friendship. I’ve made lifelong friends through my involvement in the school. Even after graduating from school, I continued to play for the Old Mentonians Football Club for several years.”
After completing a Bachelor of Science and DipEd at University, Craig decided to move away from home – in a big way. “I was 22 years old and a qualified Science Teacher, but I felt like I hadn’t experienced enough of the world.” On a shoestring budget, Craig travelled to 44 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America in three years. On his journey he hitchhiked, was the victim of a robbery, got lost, suffered altitude sickness, and if all that wasn’t adventurous enough, Craig singlehandedly repelled a hippopotamus attack with a paddle while canoeing down the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. “It was intense, but I’m very proud of that”. Craig reflects that these experiences helped him build confidence, as he had to rely on his own knowledge and resources to get through.
After months on the road, Craig settled in London and worked as a substitute teacher. While teaching a Friday afternoon science lesson involving chemicals and Bunsen burners, he sensed the students needed to find space. “It felt like the walls were closing in on us – as their teacher, I could sense that the kids were so stressed and just didn’t want to be in that closed environment.” This experience made him realise that his students would benefit from the calming effects of nature. To clear his head, Craig spent the weekend in the New Forest National Park in the south of England, where he considered how his students had no access to natural surroundings as they lived in concrete confinements of inner London. “Meeting those children, and wanting to help them find their ‘space,’ was the pivotal moment that led me to pursue a career in outdoor education.”
Upon his return to Australia, Craig went back to University to study a Graduate Diploma in Outdoor Education, then began his career as an outdoor education teacher at Mowbray College in the western suburbs of Melbourne. He spent the next 12 years outdoors, teaching students about the beauty of nature, with highlights including 11-day canoe trips down the Murray River. Craig maintained a student-led approach to these trips, teaching important skills such as resilience and leadership.
After many years as the Head of Outdoor Education, Craig transitioned from head of the campsite to becoming the Head of Campus. “Camping, hiking and working outdoors is exhilarating, but also taxing on the body, so I was ready to start a new adventure in the classroom,” Craig said. When Mowbray College sadly closed, Craig reached out to his former athletics coach and current Mentone Grammar Principal, Mal Cater, for a reference. Unexpectedly, Mal invited him on a tour of Mentone Grammar, which turned out to be an informal job interview. Two hours later Craig was offered a position as a mathematics and science teacher, “I said yes on the spot, and I haven’t looked back,” Craig laughs.
Craig was appointed as Coordinator of Lionel Large House in 2016, a position he held for seven years. He found this role incredibly fulfilling as he was able to play a critical role in guiding students in Years 10-12 as they transitioned to young adulthood. Craig enjoyed listening to their stories and helping them discover their passions. In a career shift, Craig then took on the new role of ‘Teacher Development Mentor’ at Mentone Grammar. In his new role, Craig is responsible for guiding new teachers at Mentone Grammar, setting up buddy systems, explaining the culture, and showing them the ropes. “I’ve always had a passion for helping people, and teaching is a vocation where you can have a big, positive impact on many students. In my new role, I also have the chance to help teachers feel empowered,” Craig explains. “Being a teacher is not an easy task, and it can be especially challenging for new teachers as they transition to a new environment, culture and set of expectations,” he explains. Craig provides guidance to these new teachers and supports them to become successful in their roles.
Throughout the years, numerous teachers have deemed Craig’s assistance as priceless, and still recognize him as their top resource. Among teachers and students, Craig is renowned for his willingness to engage in conversation, his wealth of knowledge, his adventurous nature, and his kindheartedness. These inspiring attributes have established Craig as a treasured member of our Mentone Grammar community.
For the next generation of students and staff his advice is simple: “Keep enjoying life, don’t worry about minor details, and go travelling!”
Written by Steph Kinnear