The other day surrounded by colleagues and friends at our christmas party amid speeches, cheers, toasts and tears I had an epiphany! After 20 years of teaching at the same school, apart from a stint overseas, I realised I was indeed on the right path and fulfilling my destiny each and every day. There is no other destination, (though I do harbour dreams of publishing my poetry & novel), only a journey to inspire and encourage and motivate young people to try their best, listen to their hearts and follow their dreams!
People shake their heads and wonder how you can stay in the same job for so long but I’ve worked in many different jobs from fashion retail sales, beauty therapy, nail technician, telemarketing and finally teaching-my true vocation. It’s not just a job, it’s a calling. It’s a lifestyle, not something you do between 9-5 and switch off from when you come home. I’m constantly researching, planning exciting lessons, thinking of better ways to explain, engage and encourage. I’m switched on to teaching and learning all.the.time!
I’ve worked as an educator, a facilitator, a trainer, a coach, a mentor, a psychologist, youth worker, counsellor, confidante for all those years. I’ve shared and taught and learnt along with my students ways of learning and doing, seeing and being, striving and persevering and no two days have ever been the same! That I influence, inspire and motivate students to try harder, work harder, be better and want more in life is the best reward. To make that impact on lives and make a difference fills my heart with joy!
It’s a hard job, don’t get me wrong. It’s not all “To Sir With Love” and “Freedom Writer” moments of high fives and fist pumping. There are many hard, joyless days of high stress and hard slog with pressures; deadlines; demanding, disturbed and disengaged students; hostile and aggressive parents and lessons that fall flat and simply do not deliver the results hoped for despite careful planning and preparation. Then every once in a while you get a gem of a short story or a snatch of poetry scribbled on a scrap of paper and I’m reduced to tears because I’ve reached somebody; had an effect and it’s produced a piece of art. Yes, Art! True art moves people to express emotion as the artist has expressed his/her truth, his/her being, his/her art.
In the past year I have been able to reach difficult students through poetry and to inspire them to write their own. It’s been hugely successful and one of the defining moments of my career. Apart from publishing their poetry and using digital storytelling tools to create, present and share their work, I’ve established a poetry club at lunchtimes and hope to have poets visit the school in the near future. I’m particularly inspired by the slam poet/artist/teacher Taylor Mali whose performance of his poem, “What a teacher makes” gives me goosebumps every time I watch it on youtube.
I have undertaken professional development courses in my own time and networked with writers, editors and publishers as well as worked on my own writing and have created an online presence which I share with my students.
Recently through the wonderful medium of social networking, ie. Facebook, I have been rediscovered by past students who have thrilled me with their messages of gratitude for inspiring them to write and to share their writing with me through FB.
Sarah is one of those ex- students whom I encouraged many years ago, to keep a journal and write, write, write. She went on to study writing at tertiary level and recently we reconnected and I introduced her to poetry and shared exercises and even a course with the great Judith Rodriguez. She now writes daily and has published a collection of her poems which she gave me as a christmas gift today. How thrilling to know I have inspired and created a poet! How rewarding to see the fruits of my labour! To know that someone you taught has grown and developed and produced a work of art is a feeling I cannot really begin to explain. I know that books, reading and writing poetry are things that I’ve passed on to her that will comfort her, enrich her life and enable her to express her being.
Then there’s Stefania, a passionate drummer, design artist student with a beautiful eye and a musical soul, who writes poems in her blog and checks in with me regularly.
Finally there is Emmanuel, a first year aerospace engineering student who writes poetry at night and has honoured me by allowing me to be one of the few people he shares with. He’s deeply intelligent, frightfully polite and extremely respectful and has a way with words that positively delights me! I’m so proud and so honoured to share in the achievements of all my students, both present and past and to feel a part of their lives still.
So as I sat there in the school library listening to retirement speeches that spoke of a love and dedication to the job and the kids that went far beyond the school gates and the call of duty and watched photostory presentations chronicling a career full of achievements, connections and challenges with students I wiped away tears while laughing and celebrating what it means to be a teacher: to make kids want to be better people. And I realised I’m in the right place, on the right path and fulfilling my destiny.