Head of English
BArts (Literature), DipEd (Secondary, MEd (Student Wellbeing)
“The moment I walked through those school gates, I knew that I had found everything I was looking for.”
Mentone Grammar’s Head of English, Prue Richards, has an unwavering passion for teaching. With her vibrant personality, love for learning, and commitment to her students, Prue has undoubtedly made a significant impact on the Mentone Grammar community.
Growing up in the 80s, Prue recalls a childhood filled with freedom and adventure. She enjoyed riding her bike around the neighborhood, exploring paddocks, and nurturing her love for ballet and horses. As a student, Prue was always social and loved school. History and geography were her favourite subjects, as she enjoyed learning about new places and different times. Despite her love for school, Prue found it difficult to stay focused during her lessons, “I was constantly chatting with my classmates, and would often get told off for talking too much,” she laughs. “I wasn’t great at time management either,” Prue reveals, “I left everything to the last minute. I suppose I thrived under the pressure, but projects are much easier when you aren’t in a rush!”
Fresh out of high school, Prue embarked on a degree that she believed would please her parents. “I didn’t really know who I was, so I assumed that pursuing a career with monetary rewards was the right choice,” she shared. However, after a brief stint in accounting and commerce, Prue realised her true calling lay elsewhere. “I switched to an Arts degree as it aligned with my aspirations of becoming a diplomat,” Prue explained, citing her love for studying languages and politics. This decision took her overseas, where she spent an exciting year in Belgium; “looking back, I was quite brave to do this exchange at just 18 years old. These were the days of writing letters and limited phone calls home; so I really learned a lot about independence.” When the exchange came to an end, Prue returned to Australia emboldened by her newfound autonomy, and moved out of her family home.
Halfway through her degree, at 22 years old, the financial obligations of independent living compelled her to defer her studies and start working. “I worked in a range of fields such as fashion, advertising, media, and eventually recruitment,” Prue recalls. It was during this time that she discovered her passion for fostering human connections, especially assisting job seekers in finding suitable employment. “I had a sense of fulfilment in going the extra mile to support others, and the bonds I formed were incredibly positive,” she added.
At 26 years old, Prue was married, raising her young children and juggling part-time recruitment work. “While I enjoyed my career, I always had this nagging feeling that I wanted to return to my studies. But we were a young family who wanted to buy a house — there were other priorities.” However, during that year, a significant turning point happened when her father passed away unexpectedly. “It made me realise that life is so short, and I yearned to make my time on earth more meaningful by giving back to society,” she revealed. The funeral served as an eye-opener for Prue as she noticed that people didn’t talk about her father’s professional life, but rather his positive impact on the relationships he had formed. “I knew then that I wanted to make a difference in young people’s lives…and while Recruitment did this to some extent, it wasn’t enough. This was when I turned my attention to teaching and returned to university to study Education”.
It was no small feat going back to study with a young family. “Returning to my studies is one of my most significant achievements in life. Although it was challenging balancing a part-time job, motherhood, and online classes, I refused to remain passive and just let life take its course. Instead, I worked harder to achieve my Bachelor of Arts (Literature), Diploma of Education (Secondary) and recently, a Masters of Teaching (Student Wellbeing).”
On her son’s first day of Foundation, Prue was also commencing her first day of teaching. “I distinctly recall this day starting on a stressful note,” she acknowledges. “When I dropped my son off at his new classroom, he was crying inconsolably. It was overwhelming for us both, as we embarked on this new chapter.” But after plenty of cuddles, she wiped his tears away, waved goodbye, and headed to her new job. “The moment I walked through those school gates, I knew that I had found everything I was looking for.”
Since joining Mentone Grammar in 2016, Prue has lit up classrooms with her passion for teaching English and Humanities. In her view, these subjects hold significant value as they help cultivate empathy and compassion within individuals. “As students ‘progress through their senior years of school, English doesn’t just become a subject of grammar and punctuation, but rather a study of humanity. Through studying literature and texts, students gain insight into other people, cultures, and time periods. They are encouraged to form opinions and articulate their thoughts effectively.”
For Prue, Mentone Grammar is a workplace that has provided her with boundless opportunities, both as a teacher and in leadership. “I work with an incredible team who are all very passionate and supportive. This school also offers students so many opportunities, both academically and in co-curricular activities. My son has really thrived here, and I have too.”
As a teacher, she finds it difficult to pinpoint a specific highlight in her career as there have been numerous special moments. One such moment is when she comes across a student’s work that is particularly insightful and thought-provoking, which can be emotionally moving for her. In addition, she cherishes moments where she meets former students’ years down the line who still remember and appreciate her lessons. (It’s worth noting that the author of this article was taught by Prue in high school, and still remembers her lessons fondly.)
For the next generation of students, her advice is simple. “Never miss an opportunity because you are afraid or want to please others. Be brave and back your decisions. We have one life, so make the most out of every day that you have. The best moments in my life have been when I have put aside my doubts, and confidently stepped into my future.”
Written by Steph Kinnear