Australian Literacy consultant Riss Leung

Who Is The Oz Lit Teacher? (Part 1)

Jun 14, 2021

You may have been reading the Oz Lit Teacher blog for a while now and wondered who is this Oz Lit Teacher? I thought it was time to come out from behind the name and intrdocue myself.

My name is Narissa (Riss) Leung and I am the Oz lit Teacher.


I grew up in Bendigo with 3 brothers, 2 sisters and numerous pets

Having three older brothers, I started going in to school as soon as I was born. Mum was a regular classroom helper and my twin sister Shirl and I would sit beside her as she listened to other children read. (I’m sure we always sat nice and quietly).

Rocking the Easter Bonnet for the annual parade at school.


I couldn’t wait to go to school and always knew I’d be a teacher

I knew before I even started prep that I wanted to be a teacher. I’d spent 5 years in school already (as a listening-to-reading assistant with my mum) and that was enough work experience for me to know that this was my future. To perfect the craft of teaching I watched what the primary school teachers did and mimicked this when playing ‘schools’ with my siblings on weekends and holidays. (Is it any wonder Shirl was sick of school by the time we’d finished high school- she’d been through twice as much of it than anyone else!)


Training to be a teacher meant becoming a thief

One of the things my primary school teachers did was give out worksheets. Lots of them! If I was serious about being a great teacher, I had to get my hands on lots of worksheets. I began to steal them from anywhere and everywhere. I even remember offering to hand them out in class so I could sneakily give myself an extra sheet to take home (as a teacher now I realise how frustrating it must have been to photocopy the perfect amount only to have one go missing). I hit pay dirt the day I found the source of these worksheets- the delicious smelling purple hand photocopier near the front office. I walked past this machine every lunchtime and helped myself to the pile of leftover photocopies for use in my weekend classes. (Clearly, year level, content focus and student needs weren’t a strong concern of mine back then- a worksheet was a worksheet!).


I resolved to become a good reader and writer in prep

Just like my dad, I’m super competitive. As a prep child, when my teacher asked the class if anyone knew how to spell ‘the’ and Stephen Pearce said he did, I decided right then and there I wanted to know how he knew that and how I could learn to do the same. This was a secret society that I wanted to be a part of.


Great teachers fuelled my passion for literacy

I owe my passion for writing to Mrs Jeanette Brown, my year one teacher. She called me a writer way back then and believed me into being one. She ran our class as a writer’s workshop where she was our experienced coach. She listened to our ideas, shared mentor texts and supported us through the writing process.

It was Miss Patterson, my primary school librarian, who sparked my passion for reading (particularly reading out loud to an audience). In our weekly library sessions, she would select a book she loved and engage us in discussions about that book. She’d ask for our thoughts and predictions and get us to pay attention to the words and the illustrations. She knew how to recommend just the right book to any student and I loved her company so much I spent countless lunchtimes with her in the library. Much to my parents’ disgust, I regularly visited Miss Patterson’s library after school as well. Mum and Dad always say that I was the last kid out of school every day. (Obviously, I was just preparing for my role as a teacher later in life).


I’ve always loved sport

As a child, every weekend was taken up with sport. We’d run, cycle, netball and even high-jump (Shirl and I actually held the joint record for high-jump at our primary school). I started gymnastics after I went to Mr Palmer’s gym with my school in prep. My year 3 teacher Mrs Margaret Brown introduced me to springboard diving. Next thing, I was competing at the National titles and training in the Sydney 2000 Olympic squad. Diving training was much easier when we moved to Queensland and the pool was only 20 minutes’ drive away. Once we returned to Victoria, I had to make a 2-hour trek to Melbourne every Friday afternoon for training. I still have no idea how my parents managed this enormous commitment (according to Mum, the coaches said I had real potential and her and Dad have had no money ever since!).


Gender equality has always been the norm in my family

My brother Nick got our family into running. He also got me into football umpiring. “You get paid to get fit,” he’d said. “You should do it!” This advice came with complete disregard for 2 key pieces of information:

  1. I had no idea what the rules of football actually were and
  2. There was only one other female doing it.

Gender stereotypes were not a thing in my family, so this second bit of information was completely irrelevant in my brother’s eyes. I soon got used to the familiar comments from the boundary (‘is that umpire a girl!?’) and was proud to help pave the way for other girls to follow. (I never got used to smell of the men’s football change rooms after the game though-ewwww!).


Dad was forever at us to get our hands out of our pockets.

There was no time to stand around with your hands in your pockets in our family. Besides the fact that it’s a classic sign of laziness -at least according to the plasterer’s handbook- Dad used to regularly remind us that standing around waiting wouldn’t get you anywhere in life. If something needed to be done you just needed to do it. And if you wanted it done right, you had to do it yourself.

‘If it is to be it is up to me.’

This is what drove me to take on my first leadership role, my principal role and now my consultant role. Getting out of my comfort zone and getting shiz done keeps me passionate and interested in what I’m doing (be that running, hiking or giving literacy advice).



Don't be too serious

Perhaps the best lesson my parents taught me -and still continue to teach me- is to make sure you laugh every single day. I think this is why I love Roald Dahl's children's books and have a weird fascination for funny books about chooks. Laughing everyday isn't just good for you, it helps you make a difference in the world when you make others laugh too. (And, as a teacher, wanting to make a difference is what gets me out of bed every morning).

Dad (making sure he doesn't take himself too seriously.)


That’s it for part 1 of ‘Who is the Oz Lit Teacher?’ If you’d like to read some more you can check out the About Me page on my website.

I’d love to know who inspired your love of literacy. Share your thoughts over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook group.


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