I sometimes wonder about my time at school. The older I get, the more shrouded in a strange mist it appears in my mind, with me wondering, ‘Did I really spend twelve years of my life doing that?’
PE lessons, projects about New Zealand authors and techtonic plates, scales, stationary orders, clip tickets, hunting for change for tuckshop lunches, painful “talent” competitions at lunchtime, copying notes from the whiteboard, so many assemblies: I know it served a purpose, but looking back, the repetitiveness of school life seems horrendous. As a student, don’t you remember how hard it was to fathom that one day, you will be old enough to break free from the rules and structure of this institution and get to choose how you wanted to spend your day?
I found school really hard for a few reasons, probably for the reasons it was hard for everyone. The freedom of leaving became intoxicating the closer it got, because we all knew better things were yet to come. It’s a sign that schooling and parenting have succeeded, when a child is ready to start an adventure on their own, I think. But this is about giving credit where credit is due – my life was changed at school because I found myself in the classroom of a few incredible teachers.
No matter how old you are, I bet you can name the teacher that made a difference in your life. Some matter for the wrong reasons, and this is as much airtime as I’ll give that type of person. However, isn’t it amazing, the impacta teacher can have when they really get to know the you behind those eyes?
You can’t make someone care. You can’t force them to expend emotional labour to make a difference.
I don’t know where that drive comes from, but students can see it a mile away.
It makes a teacher exciting to be around. Their energy is infectious, their curiosity piques your own. They don’t settle, and as a result of just how they are, they push students to be the same.
They’re the people who make a real, true difference.
These teachers are the linchpins who showed me, rather than taught me. They saw me for who I really was, pushed me to work harder to learn more, and gave me feedback that made me better. They fought for my opportunity to learn, grow, create and share what I knew. They altered the course of this little life.
So to those walking into classrooms right now around the world, for the first, thousandth or ten-thousandth time, who are pulling out planning sheets and remembering what’s on the agenda for today, who are striving to make learning memorable, who are going to try something new to see if it works today, thank you.
I imagine it might be hard not to get bogged down in reports, assessments, class content and discipline issues. You are so much more than teachers now – you are often counsellors and social workers, providing breakfast and reading between the lines of what you hear. The mundane repetition of the weeks in a classroom take their toll on everyone. There are countless unseen hours of dedication you put in. I bet it feels like the mahi (work) is never done.
Hardly any of us come back to say ‘thank you’ or share where the rest of our journey has taken us, but it’s important for you to remember that you have left a mark.
You have made a difference. You are changing lives. You will never know the impact you can have.
You won’t always know who you’ve affected, and they often won’t be able to recognise it themselves.
Your emotional labour is not wasted. We felt that you cared, more than we cared what you said.
Your mahi is so very important, and you are changing lives.
Thank you to Ms Lloyd, Mr J, Mrs Russ, Sue, Linda Jean, Donald and Seth.
You made the difference.
Who were the teachers that lit the flame for you?
What would you say to them now, if you could?