Teachers: Inspiring People

A chance meeting with a former student leads Jennifer Dudding to muse on the far-reaching influence of our teachers. 

Education and the journey of lifelong learning encompass the whole child. Within the school environment, each child is given opportunities that will enable him or her to develop academically, spiritually, socially and personally. Teachers… are also there to guide, nurture and walk alongside their students as mentors.

I was handed a rare and precious gift today. While I was standing in a store at my local shopping centre, a young woman politely enquired as to whether I had once taught at a particular private school. She then introduced herself as one of my former students! This rapidly segued into an account of her schooling, tertiary education, work and future ambitions. She was keen to remind me of other classmates and update me on their journeys. This beautiful, accomplished young woman had sought me out in a busy store, happy to reconnect. Never would I have recognised her. 13 years later she was no longer a child. What a poignant moment.

This interaction made my day – and it also got me thinking. If, even years later, students want to say hello to a former teacher, why is teaching seen as a default career choice? Why is it not a profession that is highly regarded and sought after?

apple-tree-teacher-illo1440I wonder how many of your schoolteachers you can recall? If I were a gambling woman, I’d bet you could list most of your primary-school teachers, and would need two hands to count your high-school teachers. In addition, I reckon you could conduct a quick character analysis of these people, catalogue personality traits and even recall with clarity some specific classroom experiences.

Children spend about six hours a day, five days a week, 40 weeks a year with teachers. Over a period of 13 years or so, this is a substantial part of their lives. While often we think of school in terms of basic literacy and numeracy, the experience of schooling and the teachers that come into contact with our children impact us so much more. Education and the journey of lifelong learning encompass the whole child. Within the school environment, each child is given opportunities that will enable him or her to develop academically, spiritually, socially and personally. Teachers, while employed for academic purposes, are also there to guide, nurture and walk alongside their students as mentors. Those fantastic teachers that you can remember brought their experiences and personalities into the classroom: they encouraged, inspired and motivated. Is it any wonder that you remember them?

Had you asked me in the formative years, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ my reply would have been swift and certain. From as early as Grade 2, I was determined to become a primary school teacher. Both my parents are trained teachers, and as I moved steadily from grade to grade, I came into contact with effective classroom managers and brilliant teachers. Were I to mark the roll, so to speak, my Grade 1 teacher would be fondly remembered for organising an assembly item where we coloured in our front teeth black. Fast-forward to the high-school years, and Mr Sanderson created a classroom environment that filled the senses. He covered the walls and ceiling of his English classroom with posters, movie billboards, prints of famous artworks and fashionable bands. When the time came for creative writing, he once asked us to select a poster and create a fictional story using the illustration.

While a full account of my recollections could amount to pages, my purpose is to illustrate that my teachers influenced many aspects of my development. Each was unique in their own way, and part of schooling is learning to achieve and even thrive when placed in a class with a teacher you do not like or naturally connect with. I imagine that my teachers would laugh to read my anecdotes, and possibly also shudder to think that all their time, planning, preparation and marking resulted in memories of obscure events.

Teachers are essential to our children’s future and I give them full credit for their tireless efforts, and offer my deepest appreciation. It is my observation, however, that appreciation from the broader community is lacking. That is, from sectors of the community that are not directly connected with school life. If teachers are responsible for playing a major part in shaping the next generation, one would assume that society as a whole would desire the ‘best and brightest’ to flow into the teaching profession, with the top students recruited into pursuing education degrees and continuing on into the classroom. Surely it is logical that our children will achieve more at school if they are being taught by society’s high achievers?

I would love to see our community value and appreciate teachers more, so let me take the opportunity to bust some teaching myths! While some may see it as a ‘lifestyle career’, any of us who have taught or are married to those who have, will know that teachers seldom leave the grounds at 3pm or, if they do, they will be carrying home hours of work for the evening. Half the job – consisting of meetings, parent interviews, marking, preparation and camps – takes place outside the hours of 9am to 3pm. Holidays, which teachers enjoy like the rest of us, are also a time to move classrooms, program for the term ahead, evaluate the term past or do reports.

I can’t argue that the holidays aren’t good. They’re fantastic – but teachers often work through them. When my eldest son completed his first year of school last year, his teacher spent a portion of her Christmas break lovingly creating a USB of all the photos taken throughout the year, which she then hand-delivered to each child in her class. Viewing this took about an hour: a keepsake brimming with precious memories. What a beautiful parting gift for her students and their families.

Perhaps the prestige of a career is only defined in terms of income. Increase teachers’ wages in proportion to their work, and the job’s value, and the perception of teaching, would change immediately.

Have you been thinking of some of your teachers? The ones who poured themselves into their students and brought their subject to life? How many of them set you on a course that led to further study, or a successful career? Would you be where you are without their guidance?

 Illustration by Ron Monnier