In Their Words: Mr Stephen Fogarty

As a child, Mr Stephen Fogarty, Director of Health and Physical Education, was drawn to things that were all-consuming, from basketball and backyard cricket to reading. It was while he was in Year 12, that he decided to pursue a career combining his interest in sport and literature.

A few times a week, I play a game of basketball. Over the past 35 years it’s become somewhat of a ritual; I enjoy the feeling of being so focused on what you are doing in the moment that the rest of the world ceases to exist.

That’s one of the best feelings, to be so absorbed in something that time loses meaning.

It often reminds me of my childhood. Endless afternoons spent playing cricket or football with my cousins, the sound of a sprinkler in the background, the smell of my grandma’s roast chicken lingering in the air and not a care in the world (except who won the match).

I grew up in Rockhampton, about seven hours north of Brisbane, within a large extended family. Each of my parents had nine siblings, and I have 60 cousins. I sometimes wonder if that’s why my mum and dad decided to only have one child—to have some peace and quiet among the chaos.

Sport was probably the only way to corral so many children effectively, and my strongest memories of my childhood centre on sport. We were always outside, playing something, until the last light faded, signalling it was time to go inside for dinner.

My family have a long history in sport. My mum’s side of the family was prominent enough that there is a street in Rockhampton named in honour of their contributions to sport. Many of my uncles and cousins played senior rugby league and some went on to play at regional, state and national levels.

If I was inside the house, I was reading. I think I’m drawn to things that are all-consuming, and reading can be magical, transporting us to other worlds, allowing us to imagine life from the perspectives of others.

By the time I was in Year 12, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that allowed me to combine these interests, so decided I would either study journalism, and become a sports reporter, or education and teach Health and Physical Education and English.

It was my Senior English Teacher, Mrs Marion Illich, who inspired me to study education. She knew that I would find my niche in teaching, and was able to see in me attributes I was yet to comprehend, let alone value. Decades later, I now know how influential teachers are in the lives of children; I’ve experienced it as both a student and teacher.

My first job after graduating from university was as a Primary School PE Teacher at a school in Logan. I’d studied secondary education, and suddenly I found myself teaching very young children who were still learning to tie their shoelaces. What I learned from that role is something that remains with me now—content will change, but knowing how to deliver a message in a way that a student understands, that’s an enduring skill.

After a while, I decided to move closer to home and taught HPE and English at Emerald State High School and The Rockhampton Grammar School, before relocating back to South East Queensland, teaching at Canterbury College.

I applied for the role of Head of Senior Physical Education at Girls Grammar in 2004, and have been here ever since. In my current role, as Director of Health and Physical Education, I am responsible for the program across all year levels. What’s kept me here is what I suspect has kept many of our staff at the School—we work in a high-performing environment where we are encouraged to challenge our students, and ourselves. We are always looking for new ways to engage our students in physical education and help them reach goals they may have not even initially envisaged.

I know that some students may not have an interest in physical education, but I enjoy that challenge. I love being able to demonstrate how it’s beneficial across all areas of their lives. We know the myriad benefits of physical activity extend beyond the body, nourishing both mind and soul.

One of the greatest rewards of my job is seeing the development of students—their growth, maturity and independence. It’s a fine thing to see them move through the School as they ready themselves to face the world. We are, each of us, the product of our past. I had an incredible childhood (including the experiences that I had at school). As a teacher, I try to replicate some of that experience for my own students. If I can do it even half as well as those who inspired me, the girls who I have taught will be OK.