Novel way of teaching

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Children’s author Deborah Abela, left, with the teacher who made all the difference Meg Gray who taught Deborah in Year 4. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Children’s author Deborah Abela, left, with the teacher who made all the difference Meg Gray who taught Deborah in Year 4. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

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It’s not an exaggeration to say that a great teacher can shape a student’s life, but in Deborah Abela’s case she attributes Meg Gray for her incredible literary success.

As one of Australia’s best-selling authors for young readers, the popular writer credits her Year 4 teacher for not only inspiring her to become a teacher but for her love of reading and for being the driving force behind her incredibly successful writing career.

The former St Patrick’s Guildford student – who recently met up with her mentor 45 years after leaving Year 4 – said without the popular teacher she has no doubt she would not have penned 26 books currently sold world-wide.

“There are people you meet who influence you so much that they literally send your life into a different direction … Miss Gray did that for me as a kid,” she said.

“Growing up as a girl in the 70’s in the western suburbs and as the daughter of a migrant, so many messages I received were that my voice wasn’t important enough to be heard.

“Miss Gray made sure I knew that was wrong and that my voice was equal to any other.

“When we met recently, she described our classroom as being at the end of a dusty hall, with flimsy walls and mismatched furniture, but I remember the room as bright and colourful and filled with artwork hanging from the roof.

“My memories are obviously because of her personality rather than the actual room, she was a teacher who created a safe, bright space which made us kids supremely lucky.

“Miss Gray was fun, energetic, dedicated, creative and a bit rebellious, (which I liked as a kid). She was like no other teacher I had ever met. She made being at school so exciting.”

The recently retired teacher, who incredibly spent her entire 40-year career at the same school, said she had no idea of the impact she had on Deborah’s life but admitted she was one student she always had a soft spot for.

She said she discovered her ex-student had become a successful writer after seeing The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee while shopping for books for her students but had no idea she was the inspiration until she read the dedication in the front.

Deborah Abela has authored more than 20 of Australia’s best-selling books for young readers. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Deborah Abela has authored more than 20 of Australia’s best-selling books for young readers. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“It said ‘To Miss Gray, my fourth grade teacher, who made spelling a stupendously spectacular game’, I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“I was so thrilled to know I had had such a positive impact on her. You see them go from primary to high school and then they leave and you hope the best for them but never really know what became of them so it was such a delight to see how well Deb was doing.

“It was so lovely to read the book and recognise people name’s and events that happened back then which only we would know about.

“I guess in my early days of teaching I was a bit of a rebel. When I saw the books on offer for the kids I couldn’t believe it, I wouldn’t have been interested in them so I can’t imagine why a Year 4 student would be.

“I probably shouldn’t have done it but I threw all of them out and bought others myself.

“That’s probably why the kids liked me I was a little crazy like that.”

Deborah trained as a teacher following in Miss Gray’s footsteps before producing and writing children’s TV at Network TEN. Today she has written 26 books including the popular Max Remy and Jasper Zammit series.

Her latest book Final Storm, the third in the series, is a rallying cry for young environmental activists to address climate change and conservation.

“Many of the main characters in my books are small, meek and who don’t think they are very brave, which was how I was before Miss Gray’s class,” she gushed.

“She gave me the confidence to think I could achieve anything I wanted.

“That, surely, is the most rewarding part of teaching … helping kids feel safe and loved and to realise their dreams.

“Miss Gray tells me I over-exaggerate her influence, but I disagree. She is simply the very best that teachers can hope to be. Thank you, Miss Gray.”