I have always resented that barbed quip of an idiom. Because it’s absolutely bollocks. Teachers make the world go round: without them, we would have no doctors, lawyers or engineers; we would be without scientists, architects and writers.
Taken at face value, I am the stereotypical Lisa Simpson/Hermione Granger-esque ‘good student’. I have always loved school. But rather than putting this down to any natural inclination for being a goody two-shoes, I credit my love for school to the string of amazing teachers who I have been lucky enough to have been taught by. Teachers like my grade two teacher, who blatantly ignored the set curriculum and read us Harry Potter every day (good move, Ms A). My grade four teacher who handmade our pen licences. My grade five/six teacher who kindled a love of books in me, not only lending me his own but also letting me read them before he did because I supposedly read faster. Or my high school maths teacher, who never had lunchtimes free because he was always conducting maths help classes. Whoever thought that circular functions and derivation could be made enthralling? Or how about my geography teacher who would bake us muffins and leave them on our desks when we came to morning classes? I’ve had drama teachers who flipped furniture over, sending us into fits of laughter as they bounded from one side of the room to the other. I’ve had a physiology lecturer who did just the same, with the pizzazz of Jack Black in School of Rock. I’ve had flute teachers who would offer me their lasagne for lunch, and a philosophy tutor who would integrate Nicki Minaj with the readings of Nietzsche. My literature tutor inspired me to fly to London and explore the world. Further, I have had the best run of English teachers: teachers who have taught me more than grammar and Shakespeare, but also acted as mentors, friends, confederates, counsellors, and inspirations. These teachers are so good that you don’t want to budge even when the end-of-day bell rings.
It’s suffice to say that the majority of my role models are teachers. But as I mentioned earlier, this is only because I have been lucky enough to be under the care of these incredible people. I have never taken my education for granted. Obviously, not every teacher can make a lesson plan come to life. Not all teachers are wonderful; many are downright awful and forgettable. I am well aware that school does not connote joy for a vast majority of people; instead, it can be a hell-hole. A place of rigidity, restriction and lots of yawning. There exists disengagement and disappointment galore, particularly for those kids who can’t comfortably afford uniforms and textbooks, let alone tutors for every subject or extracurricular activities every day of the week. These kids from low-income households are, on average, almost three years behind their high-income peers. That means that a disadvantaged Year 12 student will be performing at a Year 9 level. 40 per cent of indigenous students fail to meet minimum reading and maths standards. Four out of 10 remote students drop out of high school. In fact, amongst OECD countries, Australia has one of the largest gaps between our worst-performing and best-performing children in education, according to Teach for Australia. A child’s educational disadvantage – being born in the wrong postcode or into a low socio-economic background – can impair their access to future opportunities. We sorely need better teachers in the areas that need them most. Here at the University of Melbourne, there is an emphasis on prestige and climbing the ladder, but the reality is that most students are products of a privileged background. That privilege should be a catalyst for entitlement in action, not a cloak of ignorance. Programs such as Destination Melbourne, the Melbourne University Health Initiative and Outlook Rural Health Club, as well as the Access Melbourne scheme, are a strong start to bridging the education gap so as to allow young people the chance of a brighter future.
So bottoms up to those who are the silent heroes working in outreach locations, spending time in volunteer positions, aspiring to be teachers – you make a world of difference, granting people hope and changing lives. We need more of you. There is more to teaching than what happens in the confines of a classroom. Good teachers are the champions of the world: they rarely throw the towel in, don’t hold grudges, give infinite chances, and have the ability to inspire sweaty, rowdy jocks and naysayer teens. They teach understanding, provide care and give us something that nobody can ever take away from us: education. These people give more than they get, and they deserve something more than a bigger pay check: I’m talking R-E-S-P-E-C-T.*
*Yes, cue Aretha.