WHEN Frances Bonnici was a young girl, she remembers sitting her dolls down and teaching them.
Wind the clock forward about 70 years and not much has changed, although these days she teaches Italian to real people at Box Hill U3A.
That’s every Monday, and on Wednesdays she attends U3A as a learner.
“I find it so enjoyable, you learn so much,” she said.
“U3A really keeps the brain going – whether I’m a teacher or a student. I set my Italian students homework, but I always do the homework too, so I’m always learning.”
Frances has been a passionate teacher and learner all her life. She migrated here from Malta (where she had been a teacher) in 1986 with husband Mario and family.
“I had to study again when we came here to upgrade my qualifications so I could teach in Victoria,” she said.
“I studied part-time for two years, and nine months after qualifying I got a position at Panton Hill Primary School teaching Italian.”
Frances was at the school for 13 years and her roles were many – Italian teacher, teacher librarian, classroom teacher and team teacher.
But it was her work since leaving Panton Hill that saw her included in the OAM honours list in June this year. She received the medal for service to the Maltese community and to education.
Frances was elected president of the Maltese Historical Association in 2002, holding the office for 12 years. As a language teacher, she knew the value of immersing students in a second language, and devised the idea of providing a half-day session for school-aged students of Maltese background.
For 10 years the association hosted annual language immersion mornings for primary and secondary students in Parkville.
“For kids it was like school but it wasn’t school. Everyone spoke in Maltese,” Frances said.
“The younger students did things like Maltese songs and dances and we ran writing workshops for the older students. People gave talks about Malta and Maltese culture.
“It was a wonderful experience for the kids.”
At 74, still a teacher and a student, Frances believes staying active and connected is crucial.
“I think the biggest mistake people can make when they retire is not getting out of the house and trying different things. There is so much to do – you’d be silly to stay home,” she said.