“Even now when I am teaching maths I think, ‘What would Kevin do?’”. – Jorji Sietske
This year’s Australian University Teacher of the Year has taught in Queensland schools and overseas, worked as an assistant and acting principal, and for the past seven years he has been inspiring our next generation of teachers.
Dr Kevin Larkin, who is is currently a senior lecturer in Mathematics Education at Griffith University, has attracted widespread praise from current and former students, including Jorji Siestki (quoted above).
“He was the best lecturer,” another former student wrote on the QCT’s Facebook page. “Amazing mentor and lecturer. Thanks Kev,” and “Such a great lecturer,” others wrote.
These comments, and many others on the QCT social media site, are a testament to the enormous respect Kevin has garnered and to the difference he has made.
The dynamic educator started teaching Year 5 at an all boys’ school just after his 20thbirthday in 1982. Two years later he decided to move halfway across the world to work in a small town near Durban in South Africa.
“So that was an interesting time – it was just when apartheid was starting to come to an end, so it was a bit challenging to some of my views and it was a really good educational experience for me,” Kevin says.
“What I found teaching children there is that children are children and teachers are teachers pretty well wherever you go – similar joys, similar struggles. It was a wonderful experience teaching them,” he recalls.
Looking at the bigger picture, seeking new challenges, and a having a twin focus on building relationships and making a difference to students, are hallmarks of Kevin’s career.
“I always wanted to be a teacher and have always tried to look for new opportunities while I was still enjoying what I was doing,” he says.
So, the mathematics teacher became a PE teacher and then an IT teacher, the classroom teacher then wanted to make a difference at the school level so he became an assistant principal, the assistant principal then became an academic at Griffith University to get involved at the systemic level and now is working on the Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) project with Professor Tom Lowrie and colleagues from the University of Canberra.
ELSA is a national 4-year project, involving over 100 preschools, approximately 400 teachers and over 4,000 preschool students around engagement with STEM.
Yet what drives him is the chance to connect with each individual.
“I get most of my energy in my life from teaching, when I’m back with children, when I’m back with educators, working with them … that’s when I feel most at home,” he says.
Dr Larkin, who is also Griffith University’s Chapter Chair of the AEL Griffith Learning and Teaching Academy, says strong relationships are key.
“Children are very adept, as are adults, at working out if the person who is working with them really cares about them. So that’s my starting point when I’m doing any work with undergraduates and whenever I’m doing any work with staff,” he says.
Kevin is also passionate about reframing what mathematics is.
“There’s a misconception around well, what do we mean by mathematics? To me mathematics is questions such as: Am I understanding about how my interest rates are working for my home loan? Am I understanding about how people may be using marketing to misinform me? Am I understanding about the social dimension of gambling?” Dr Larkin says.
“Because I’m a primary school educator my interest in mathematics is very much more about that day to day numeracy and if you ask people about that sort of mathematics then they go “Oh yeah well I do that a lot,” he says.
“So, my work with preschool teachers, preservice teachers and primary school teachers is really just recognising mathematics is all around us and we have to engage with it. We’re doing children a big disservice if we don’t and we can easily relate it to their everyday experiences. It’s just reframing what mathematics is.”
He says teaching is “the best job in the world” and that an education degree provided many opportunities.
“It’s a wonderful career that allows you to develop and grow yourself as a person as well as growing other people in a whole lot of different areas,” Kevin says.
True to his priorities, Dr Larkin ends our interview acknowledging the wider community of teachers, which include two of his siblings and one son.
“It’s the most important job anyone can be doing,” he says.