Life On The Job

Life on the Job

Secretary to High School Principal - Carmel Warnock

Carmel Warnock

Description of Job:

Answering telephone calls, making appointments, organising a diary/daily schedule of appointments, typing, wordprocessing & keeping data bases on files/other records, managing correspondence - filing, tracking incoming and outgoing mail, fielding enquiries from the Principal - I deal with many rather than put everything through to the boss; prepare for meetings, take minutes at meetings, brief the Principal on issues, liaise between school/ students/ parents and teachers as well as outside organisations (eg. unions, departmental & church bodies) organise catering for functions/conferences etc...

And the main job of making sure the Principal is well prepared and able to deal with his/her next appointment etc.

School Calendar


My prefered career at school was to become a laboratory technician or a nurse. I got into a science course because that's what I did best at school. While I loved and did really well at biology, I soon realised I hated chemistry and that was a big part of my course.

I worked as a shop assistant for a while until I got into the Commonwealth public service and very quickly found I had good organisational and clerical skills.

My family didn't really mind what I did so long as I did something fulfilling and which was secure. It didn't take me long before I was being promoted ahead of other employees who had started before me and after a few years, I went into the personal secretarial field specialising in Administrative Law and later Ministerial Services.

with Principal

From there I developed a keen interest in politics and some time later, and after the advent of the computer, became a Personal Assistant (usually called Personal Secretary) to various politicians. These positions were short lived as politics can be a very volatile area to work in - one day you have a job and the next you don't!

So, I moved on and I found this delightful position as The Principal's secretary at a very busy and large all boys' Catholic school. It has just under 1600 students from year 4 - 12 and keeps me VERY busy. The Principal is like a politician or a company director in many ways - his school is as big as some constituencies and his role is as varied as a politician's - he doesn't have to grand stand as much but there is always a certain amount of politics involved in positions of that level! It is a very worthwhile and satisfying job.

What Does the School Secretary Do?

At most schools, the secretary is a key player in communicating with parents and community members about what's happening at school.

The school secretary is an important person to know at your child's school. He or she takes care of administrative details, schedules appointments and handles school communication. The school secretary is aware of what's going on at the school on a day-to-day basis. This makes him or her an excellent source of information for parents.

The school secretary is the person you'll call about such things as registration, bus schedules, school lunches, after-school programs and immunization requirements. You should call the school secretary when your child will be absent, unless the school has a telephone recording device for this purpose. At some schools you'll contact the secretary to set up appointments to talk with the principal or your child's teacher.

Secretary cartoon

An elementary school usually has just one school secretary who may very well do everything from calling a parent about a sick child to posting notices for a school meeting. Large middle schools and high schools, on the other hand, are likely to have several secretaries, or administrative assistants, with different areas of responsibilities. In this case, try to be as specific as possible regarding the person you want to speak to or the concern you want to address.
(Source: Great Schools)


I guess you can say I was always hard working and dedicated and that's why I've been successful in my different jobs. Alot of what you do depends on your attitude in doing it!

However, to get into the top areas of secretarial work, the lucky break came when I helped a friend who wanted to get into politics - we lobbied hard for him and he got elected as our Federal Member of Parliament. I applied to work for him as his PA and I got that job. This type of secretarial work took me to a different level of secretarial work - much more responsiblity and working independently etc. and it involved alot of versatility, working with many different people from all different walks of life. They would come straight in off the street needing help - some cases were very complex requiring changes in legislation and representations to different ministers etc. this opened up many doors for me - having this experience on my CV made all the difference.

Unfortunately, at the next election, he lost but I applied to one or two other Government Ministers who I thought I'd like to work for and I was successful again - not only, that, politician who knew me, knew I'd be looking for a job because of my Members loss, were seeking me out. I had a choice of jobs - pretty fortunate in a time when unemployment rates were at around 13 per cent!

After some time, I realised a change in environment was necessary so I looked outside of politics - and looked within the educational sphere - and this is how I got into the life of this school.

Students in Corridor

Being a mother first, I had to put the high powered career of secretarial work at Parliament House off until the children were a little older - I didn't plan it that way but I was not a 'go getter' until I felt comfortable with the home front first. I believe that was very important to me - I wanted to be the mother first and then the career woman because I wanted my husband and I to be the main influence on my children when they were young. All sorts of influences can affect when and why you choose


I can't say that what I am doing now is directly attributable to what I did at school except that I developed work habits at school that I use know. Regular homework, organisation of work loads, prioritising of commitments particularly learnt during Years 11 & 12 - all play an important role in how I operate in my workplace.

While I originally wanted to go into the field of science or nursing, I did not end up there. Soon after working in the public service, I was married and then I had a family a few years later. All these life experiences had an affect on what I did and when I did it - originally I thought I'd be at home until my children grew up and left home - how naive I was!

Life taught me that it is a life long educational journey - you continue to learn new things all life long - that's how come I learnt new skills in computing and office management - If I depended on finding a job that linked directly to what I was good at or was taught while at school I would have limited my opportunities.

What I chose as a career path at 18 is different to what I do now. I have met up with some teachers in the 20 or so years since I left school and  we have discussed what I do. What I do is quite a traditional type of career for a woman of my generation so I guess it is not surprising.



In relation to the work I do now, I went to a TAFE college and became trained in Computers and Office Management. Technology in the 1980's grew rapidly and after having had two children and out of the work force for 6 years, I decided I needed to re-educate myself.

After getting apart-time job in an office, I did more on the job training and more short courses after work and on weekends. These courses were specific in nature - courses on data bases, wordprocessing packages etc... Training is still ongoing - I recently completed a specific course which was also in Office Management but relative to schools only. It had very little to do with technology or office systems but dealt more with the people side of office management and the responsiblities associated there.

Training or professional development as we know call it varies depending on what it is you need or decide to do. Training in your career is a developmental learning experience - the work place is forever changing and one needs to keep abreast of latest technologies, legal and industrial devleopment etc...



My career path was always in the paid employment sector. When I decided I wanted to work full-time after having my children, I looked for something I could do well, and wanted to do and that paid adequately. I looked for secretarial work in the field I was interested in - back then it was in social welfare.

I couldn't see myself working as a secretary for a mechanics firm or for a fast food chain. Those fields do not interest me so I looked for something I wanted to do, the Boss I guess found me - by taking me on. My first pay was very important - it meant I was contributing to the running of our household together - I was no longer a dependent on my husband and I felt that I contributed more to the family home - I was no longer just an unskilled labourer!

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about retirement - but I make sure that superannuation is paid so that we have something to fall back on in our retirement.

My career does have a typical day - sometimes that means just wordprocessing for the Principal and fielding phone calls and appointments,  making sure he has what he needs for each appointment and taking care of his welfare at work. In most instances it is a very caring role - as well as a practical role.

Did You Know?

Administrative Professionals' Day (also known as Secretaries Day or Admin Day) is an unofficial secular holiday observed in several countries to recognize the work of secretaries, administrative assistants, receptionists, and other administrative support professionals.

In Australia, it is celebrated on the first Friday in May.
(Source: Wikipedia)


My employer encourages growth and initiative. Professional development is a common occurance and is encouraged. In a school setting where benchmarks for teaching and support staff are continually changing, one has to continually upgrade qualifications or be aware of changes within the field.

My hope is to take on further study next year - it is my aim to study for a Diploma in School Office Management - which is a continuation from the Certificate I recently completed. After the diploma course I hope to complete a degree in the same area - however, it is not offered yet by the university so I have to wait until that becomes available.

Productivity is linked to professional development to a certain degree. Not in the same sense as factory workers are forced to produce and account for every minute of their working time but because in the long term, the professional development you participate in, the more knowledgable and therefore marketable you become. To have up to date skills and knowledge is always more attractive to an employer than someone who was once very good at what they did but has not kept up with the times!

A Secretary at work


Act like a Secretary...Organising my family

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle 

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability



1. You are about to organise your family - the events, sports practice: training and games; music time; devices time; bedtimes; clean up the house and garden times! To do this, you are to sign up to Evernote. (It is free)


2. Record all the data for the events that happen for your family over a two week period. To collect the data, you are to ask each member of your family their schedule for their day for two weeks but also observe as much as possible. People are normally surprised at the amount of time they might spend each day for example watching TV!

Don't forget to write down what you do - your homework, assignments, their due dates; your sporting schedules; and, chores around the house. Did anything surprise you?

3. Get the recipes for each dinner you have for the next two weeks. Are there any repeats - favourite family meals? Do you go out for dinner at any time? What does this cost?

Compare the family dinner recipes with those from Taste.


4. Note down in Evernote:

  • Your family members and their schedules

  • Dinner at home recipes and compare them to those in Taste

  • Your homework, assignments, their due dates; your sporting schedules; and, chores around the house.

 5. Have a family discussion around your findings. What changes might you make?


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