It is commonplace for schools and teachers to be the subject of conversation in the media about a range of contemporary educational matters. Disappointingly, it is also often the case that the voice of teachers is not included in the conversations.
The multitude of topics that are regularly re-visited by the media include issues such as student and teacher wellbeing, standardised testing, personal capabilities, student reporting, curriculum, COVID-19 management, among many others. One thing that does not emerge enough, are personal examples of teachers making a real difference to the lives of kids at school.
There should be more good news stories of this nature, which highlight the remarkable effect that teachers may have on their students every day – and the difference it makes to their life journey.
Like other professionals, teachers are busy people. They enter the profession because they have a love of kids and learning, whilst also understanding that building positive and respectful relationships is the basis for student growth to occur.
Each academic year, teachers collaboratively work with students and together experience laughter, humour, joy, sadness, tears and disappointments that come from the learning partnership at school. Ultimately, every teacher wants their students to be happy, safe and to achieve their personal best in all endeavours – no matter their age.
In recent times, I was reminded of the impact teachers have on their students – even after many years have passed – by a recent unsolicited email that I received from a student who I taught and had under my care.
This young man was witty, intelligent and had a wonderful sense of humour. Unfortunately, he did not understand that he possessed these qualities himself at the time. His home life was challenging as money was tight.
This was obvious to me by his tattered uniform and his sense of embarrassment from time to time. I believed in this student and always positively challenged him to be the best young man possible. No excuses.
I moved on to another school. During this time, this young man was finding school difficult. Eventually, he was looking for a new learning environment. He came to me in my new school and the rest is history.
Some of his recollections are very powerful and with his permission have been included in the following:
I am not sure if you remember me, however, twelve years ago, you were in the position of deputy principal, and you were the person who gave me a second chance, when I certainly did not deserve one…
“I am not sure if you remember me, twelve years ago you were the person who gave me a second chance, when I certainly did not deserve one…”
Between 2003-2004, you taught me Business Studies at school. I remember that you were one of the only teachers that I had a good rapport with at the school, and this was because you took the time to listen and guide me, rather than ignore or give up on me. I have memories of you coming down hard on me for poor uniform or for misbehaving, however, your approach was never harsh – it was by the book and in line with school requirements. You were always quite empathetic around the state of my uniform (I had a blazer which had holes and tears in it, and the fabric had come apart at the sleeves), however, you never made a point about that as you were aware of my family’s financial issues, but you would call me out for not having a shirt tucked in, or a tie not done properly, as these were things that I had the means to control.
During Year 11, I had been “asked to leave” the College, due to my poor conduct and behaviour. Thankfully, another teacher was trying to assist us with finding a school, and he liaised with you (you had moved to another school by then), and you agreed to at least grant me an interview. I often think about this, as if you had not taken the position at your new school and given me another chance, would I ever have been accepted elsewhere?
I often think about this, as if you had not taken the position at your new school and given me another chance, would I ever have been accepted elsewhere?
During the interview, you agreed to accept me into the school. The magnitude of this discussion is something that I still carry with me to this day, as if you had not given me a chance at redemption, I don’t know where I would be now.
With a new opportunity, I came to school every day, on time, dressed appropriately and with a sense that this was my final shot to make something of myself.
Throughout my time there, you would check in with my teachers quite regularly to ensure that I was moving in the right direction, you would meet with me at least twice a semester to give me a platform to vent and relay any concerns that I had, and you would regularly accept telephone calls from my mum who was concerned that I may have fallen back into my old ways, and rather than be annoyed, you would reassure her that I was doing what was required of me and that things are moving as they are supposed to….
In 2006 I finished Year 12 with my HSC, and proved to my family and more importantly, to myself, that I was capable and worthy, despite, the person that I had previously been, or the disadvantages I had in life – I had made it.
Twelve years have passed since you gave me that second chance, and upon recent reflection I have felt the need to reach out to you and not only thank you, but to also commend you on your teaching style, your drive and your empathy. You were the person who saw past the holes in my jacket, the rebellious attitude I had and the poor behaviour I would display – you saw me for me – a kid who came from nothing, didn’t have much, and who put on a facade as the tough guy to protect himself – You saw me for me.
“Twelve years have passed since you gave me that second chance, and upon recent reflection I have felt the need to reach out to you and not only thank you, but to also commend you on your teaching style, your drive and your empathy.”
Since graduating, you might be pleased to know that I have finished University, and I have achieved a Bachelor of Health Sciences with a Masters in Occupational Therapy. I have spent the past 5 years of my professional career working with underprivileged children, in youth mental health settings and amongst early psychosis teams. For the past year, I have been working as a sexual assault and DV counsellor as I have wanted to get into more trauma based work. Finally, this year I was awarded an honorary clinical title, as praise for the student mentoring and clinical supervision that I provide allied health students.
None of my achievements would have been possible if you hadn’t given me a second chance. So thank you for not just looking at me as the boy with the holes in the blazer, but rather as a kid who just needed a second chance.
This email by my former student reminds me of the significant influence and impact teachers have in their relevant learning communities. Every day – when people notice and when they don’t – there are big and small examples of teachers touching the hearts and minds of kids.
Essentially, it highlights the importance of teachers encountering students in their life journey, which highly effects their wellbeing and learning. As such, we should also search and celebrate holes in a blazer cases where optimum examples of student personal and learning growth are evident.
Frank Chiment is currently serving as the Principal Leader at Patrician Brothers’ College, Blacktown.