With a CV that boasts school postings that many of us could only dream about, and more letters after his name than the Welsh alphabet, you can be forgiven for thinking of Ellenbrook’s new Head of Secondary Matt Dufty as an eccentric professor who values statistics more than students.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
A chat with the super-intelligent mathematician who grew up with a St Stephen’s education, verges more into Biblical philosophies than Pythagoras’ Theorem, and gives an insight into a man who takes the ‘calling on his life’ very seriously.
“You seek first the kingdom of God. That can mean taking a risk and seeing what happens,” says Matt from his sparsely-decorated office at Ellenbrook Christian College on a Wednesday afternoon.
For some of us, taking a risk might involve changing the brand of milk that we purchase each week in our online shopping order. For Matt Dufty, ‘taking a risk’ has involved studying Education when Medicine was on offer, postponing a Masters’s degree because he wanted more classroom experience or packing his bags for a stint in Papua New Guinea to teach students and open the bible with the locals outside of work.
On studying Education:
“I was a Science and Engineering guy, but I love working with people – to the surprise of many of those around me!”
On postponing the Master of Education, he had begun before teaching his first day in the classroom:
“In order to do research, I needed to ground my practice in the classroom. Research is more valuable when it is done by teachers at the coalface. I try to be in the classroom. I think that’s really important. In school leadership, you’re more sympathetic to the challenges and opportunities that learners and teachers face when you spend time in the classroom. You’re first a teacher; everything else is second. Leadership and educational research come out of being a practitioner.”
On heading to Papua New Guinea as a young teacher:
“I was a teacher during the week at the International School. On the weekends, I worked with the Baptist network in the settlement fellowships there. I had no formal Biblical training, but I thought ‘The Lord taught by teaching stories’ – so I will too.”
Port Moresby is one of the more dangerous locations on the international teaching circuit, a factor that Matt was aware of when he signed up for his stint there.
“I learnt a lot about service there. The locals would be taught their trade skills during the week. This was usually carpentry, and that would take care of their livelihood needs. On the weekends, we had the opportunity to open the Bible with them. I couldn’t speak their language, but an Austrian friend would translate these ‘stories’ line-by-line, sentence-by-sentence in a way that the PNG locals could understand, and they could sit there for hours and take it all in.”
So how does a young chap from Perth end up in Port Moresby teaching locals about the Bible through an interpreter and find comfort in living out of a suitcase for a few years?
For Matt, this was not the first time he had been ‘on the road’, and it would not be his last stop, either.
When he was 12 years old, Matt’s parents decided to spend an entire year travelling through the United States, and they designated Matt as their Head of Finance for the road trip.
“It was amazing – a whole year away from school. I was in charge of the family’s finances, and I was determined to be fiscally responsible! I researched every campground that we could stay at, and by the end of the trip, we came in ahead of budget!”
The trip across the United States was also a time of spiritual awakening for Matt, who was still finding his way in the world.
“I was not always the best of company, not the best-behaved boy on that trip. But, as a 12-year-old, I can remember walking on the shores of Lake Erie and praying a prayer and having a sense that it was heard. I had an earthly father, and I had a Heavenly Father. Previously, when I was 11, I realized that Jesus was the Son of God, after hearing Matthew 9:9-13.”
Returning to Perth, Matt heard a talk at his local school that convinced him that the Christian life was ‘the real deal’ and this lifestyle was worth imitating.
“That Christian staffer, I felt, spoke the words I needed to hear. I had been around religious people before, but this was a person who I wanted to emulate.”
Becoming a Christian is one thing. Finding your purpose in life can take some time, though.
“As a 16-year old I came to the revelation: the meaning of life is to live for Jesus. Of course, it’s biblical. We know that. But it felt as though it was a personal revelation to me.”
Subsequent pouring over the scriptures and being baptized at Duncraig Uniting Church followed. There was no turning back for Matt.
In the same way, the calling to move from Port Moresby to an even more challenging environment came Matt’s way after some prayer: an international school in Jerusalem.
“I had felt the call to serve the peoples of the Middle East. I had been praying about it for many years, and the job was a good fit for me. I knew from Papua New Guinea that I needed to learn the local language if I was to serve to my fullest extent. So, I learnt Hebrew, which I juggled around my work.
The school is in the hotbed of a conflict zone, and Matt learnt more about the way of life of different Middle Eastern communities. He also met his wife there – Ashley, an American staffer from New Jersey. This led to a move closer to home, to a Jewish school in Melbourne.
During his time in Melbourne, Matt met Dr Gregg Weaver, who later moved to Kalamunda Christian School.
So how did Matt prepare himself for his new life in a new school in SCEA?
Teaching the subject of Christian Living:
“Teaching the scriptures is a fearful thing. There is no doubt about that. The Book of James says that teacher will be held to a higher account”.
Working with staff at ECC:
“You’ve got to serve people. The Lord blesses us overwhelmingly, and we need to make sure our motivations are always pure. God continues to refine all of us each day.”
With two young sons (Elisha, 7 and Luke, 4), Matt has moved into the area and is keen to see the Ellenbrook team (with Mr Mike Pitman and Mrs Michelle Cockrell) achieve great things for the ECC community.
“It’s like the United Nations here. Families from various language and national groups are here. It is an amazing place to teach and be a part of,” says Matt.
Something tells me that Matt Dufty will revel in the multicultural environs of the Ellenbrook community……