In a class of his own

Acting Secretary Murat Dizdar exemplifies the transformative power of public education.

Image: 'Teaching is who I am': NSW Department of Education Acting Secretary Murat Dizdar during a school visit at Old Guildford Public School

Murat Dizdar has three very good reasons to ensure NSW’s education system is the best in Australia, if not the world: his children, who attend public schools.

“My own children are in the system because I know what we provide inside our classrooms and inside the school gate is as good, if not better, than anywhere else,” Mr Dizdar, Acting Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, says.

“That has to be the case, because 800,000 children and their future lives depend on us.”

As a product of the public school system himself and a former teacher and principal, Mr Dizdar knows the transformative power of public education, and will be the first public school teacher to lead the department since 2016.

He arrived in Australia aged one month from Turkey with his sister and parents, none of whom spoke English. His story mirrors the experience of many migrant families, where parents work day and night, instilling in their children a work ethic and belief in a better life.

The Dizdars lived in the inner-city suburb of Summer Hill and spent time in housing commission accommodation. It was teachers who identified his talent and encouraged him to take the selective exam, which saw him secure a place at Fort Street High School, whose alumni include some of the nation’s pre-eminent legal minds.

Finishing dux in his year and achieving a near-perfect HSC mark, Mr Dizdar did what any migrant child would do - chose between law and medicine. It was the former path he followed, and while at the University of Sydney law school he met his wife, Ceyda.

However, during those early years of university, Mr Dizdar had a secret passion that he admits he feared sharing with his parents.

“From my early high school years, I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” he recalls.

“Mr Griffiths, Ms Johanson, Mr Baker and Mr Sturm all changed my life at Fort Street High School in ways they will have never known. They were passionate, dedicated and inspirational teachers who made their subjects worth studying and school worth attending.

“They were teachers who told me where to look but not what to see. I wanted to be like them as they exemplified the transformative power of outstanding education.”

Midway through law, he swapped across to teaching, shocking his family and friends. “It did rattle everyone,” he admits, “but I never doubted from the first time I stepped into a classroom that I had found my calling.”

That ‘calling’ started at Ashcroft High School in 1997, before Mr Dizdar became head of social sciences at Belmore Boys’ High School. In 2005 he was appointed principal of Punchbowl Boys’ High School - winning an award for school cultural change - before moving across to the corporate side of the department and leading School Performance.

On the many visits I undertake in our schools and preschools across the state, I am reminded of the indisputable fact that we are the profession that creates all others.

Despite moving out of the school environment, Mr Dizdar has deliberately kept one foot in the school playground. He has made a point of visiting schools every week, talking to teachers and school leaders to ensure he knows what is happening on the front line.

This hands-on approach was also exemplified when last year he responded to the department’s call for non-school based teachers to step up for relief teaching by adding his name to the roster.

Mr Dizdar ended up teaching classes at two high schools and says the experience reinforced his love of the classroom and left him feeling energised after each teaching day.

In his new role, Mr Dizdar understands the enormity and importance of his leadership as he oversees children’s educational journey from early childhood education through to post-school options in the tertiary and skills sectors.

“We have the great honour of being able to shape hearts, minds and trajectories across the whole learning pathway for our children and young people,” he says, adding he will work closely across the department to support this impactful work.

Now at the pinnacle of the system in which he has spent most of his life, Mr Dizdar considers himself first and foremost a teacher and is determined in his new role to ensure teachers are given the support they need to “weave their daily magic”.

“Teaching goes to the core of who I am. On the many visits I undertake in our schools and preschools across the state, I am reminded of the indisputable fact that we are the profession that creates all others.

“To now be in a position where I can support the next generation of Mr Griffiths, Ms Johansons, Mr Bakers and Mr Sturms to transform young people’s lives is an incredible honour that I will work tirelessly to be worthy of.”

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