Teaching tough at 81

As 81-year-old Lorenda walks into work every Monday morning, she is armed.

Lorenda works in a maximum-security prison and her armour includes marked up essays and the next assignment or lesson for the day. 

Known as ‘the purple lady’ among many of her students, thanks to her trademark glass frames and sartorial choices, Lorenda works four days a week teaching English to people in custody with Kangan Institute.

It’s a scene that most of us can’t quite envisage beyond movie screens but Lorenda has been thriving in this setting for more than 37 years.  

“I was doing emergency teaching in schools when a friend rang me about working at Pentridge,” said Lorenda. 

“He said, my boss doesn’t want to employ a woman… however I’ve told him about you and assured him you will be able to do it.” 

Lorenda went down to Pentridge to check it out and said that while it was a daunting place to visit, teaching adults really appealed to her.    

“It was a whole new challenge for me, I thoroughly enjoyed it and still do,” said Lorenda.  

“My students will say; the judge warned me how bad it would be in here, but they didn’t warn me about you.”

During her time in correctional settings, Lorenda has taught students from varying ages and backgrounds with diverse levels of education. There have been some who cannot read or write, or who want to achieve more and even go on to write novels (such as Chopper Read). 

“There’s some you can immediately get through to and others with whom it is a struggle,” said Lorenda.

“It’s something I am passionate about, teaching adults to read and it’s worked on lots of occasions. I still meet people now who say, ‘oh, you taught me to read’.”

Lorenda was recently awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her contribution to corrections education and community as a volunteer with the St Vincent De Paul Society soup van for 25 years. 

Unknowingly nominated by a colleague, Lorenda was surprised when she found out about the honour. 

“I got an email to say I’d been nominated for an OAM, and I couldn’t believe it. I had to decline or accept, so I declined. I just think there’s a lot more people out there more deserving than I am,” Lorenda said. 

Ultimately, Lorenda accepted the award but has not really enjoyed the fuss.

“My family were thrilled about it though,” she laughs. 

In addition to working four days a week and volunteering every Tuesday, Lorenda has a full schedule as mother and grandmother and weekly activities like yoga and her infamous Sunday night dinners. 

“I think I have a good work life balance. My friends will often say to me, are you still working, when are you going to retire? One of my advantages is I have a lot of energy,” said Lorenda.

“I love working in corrections because of the wide variety and fascinating cohort of students and also because I work with a weird and wonderful team of teachers.”

Kangan Institute CEO Sally Curtain is full of praise for Lorenda’s service and achievement. 

“We know that corrections education is a critical factor in reducing rates of recidivism and increasing the likelihood of people in custody securing employment and making a positive contribution in the community,” said Ms Curtain.  

“Lorenda has seen the life changing impact that learning to read and write can have on an individual and it is this lived experience over decades that offers us invaluable insights into our corrections programs.

“Having someone working with us that has lived through transformational change in corrections and education systems over almost 60 years is invaluable,” said Ms Curtain. 

“Lorenda is an exceptional teacher and a great representative for vocational education and training and the importance of this work in corrections. 

“Lorenda will have taught thousands of students to develop literacy skills and in many cases those skills will have had a significant impact on their lives. 

“We can learn from Lorenda and her students, that the benefits of TAFE are far reaching and inclusive.

“TAFE provides quality skills and training that is accessible to people from all walks of life. It opens pathways for students to learn something new, upskill, gain employment and be meaningfully engaged in their local communities.”

To learn more about Lorenda’s remarkable story view:

Kangan Insitute is acknowledging some of its remarkable teachers as part of celebrations for World Teachers’ Day on Friday 27 October 2023.  

Kangan Institute recognises all of its teachers today (and everyday) for the skilled work, inspiration, education and support they provide to all of our students.

Hats off to teachers this World Teachers Day and join in the celebrations online #WorldTeachersDay.   

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Teaching tough at 81
Teaching tough at 81