We should never take teachers for granted, or underestimate the profound impact they have on every student they teach and the future of Australia.
Along with parents and carers, our teachers guide our children through 13 years of school and prepare them for a world of possibilities, challenges, setbacks and successes.
They work with each child as an individual, acknowledging that every child has their own way of understanding, learning, doing and being.
Our teachers also know that success in life necessarily involves working with others and that helping each child to develop skills in collaboration, cooperation, teamwork and problem solving are the foundations of success in both their personal and professional lives.
Teachers work hard, and I mean really hard. On any given day they are instructional specialists, counsellors, trusted colleagues and confidantes.
They’re administrators constantly accounting for what they do to regulators, and calm and considered leaders reassuring students and parents in times of trouble and grief.
Over the past two years they kept turning up to schools when the rest of society was working from home and then switched to being experts in remote learning as the pandemic reached its ugly peak.
Our teachers are back in schools now as the number of COVID-19 cases begins to rise, teaching our children, reassuring our parents, and making their schools great places of learning, care, growth and optimism.
They have their own families, their own lives and their own troubles and challenges. Yet when you visit schools all you can see is their dedication and professionalism and their enduring belief in the liberating possibilities that a great education creates for every student in their care.
As the Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools, I regularly visit our schools that collectively educate more than 72,000 students across metropolitan Sydney.
It’s both inspiring and humbling to see the work of our teachers up close and to experience the power and passion that our teachers bring to the extraordinary vocation that is teaching.
Last week I visited one of our smaller single-stream primary schools where a new principal began this year. Her energy and optimism was so real and evident in everything she said and did. At morning tea, it was evident that the same could be said of her entire staff.
Through the morning I visited each class to see calm and curious students, focussed on their learning and eager to share with each other and their teachers.
Towards the end of the visit I arrived in the kindergarten, where reading tasks were in full swing. The assistant principal was taking a group of about 10 students as the class teacher worked with the rest of kindergarten in the adjoining classroom.
With 40 years’ experience as a teacher, the assistant principal clearly knew what she was doing as each student took their turn at reading – a slow and steady process where occasionally a word would be the cause to pause, to work it out, to get it right and to move on to the rest of the sentence with relative ease.
At one point the assistant principal turned to me and said, “That’s ‘productive struggle’. You see how they’re not jumping in – they’re letting each other work it out in their own time. Isn’t that wonderful!”
And it was. It was wonderful to see a lifelong educator be filled with the same passion and commitment, after 40 years, that led her to teaching in the first place.
It’s wonderful to see schools open again and filled with enthusiastic students and teachers and support staff so committed to the great and extraordinarily important endeavour that is education.
Let’s honour our teachers and all school staff and show them the respect and care that they demonstrate with our students each day and in so many ways.
Photo by Kitty Beale