A tale of two teachers

A tale of two teachers

The influence of teachers extends beyond the classroom, well into the future” – F. Sionil Jose

I was always a disorganised child. With both parents working full-time, they weren’t the sort to go through my school bag and search for permission slips and the like. It was my responsibility to give it to them. I remember my year 3 teacher telling me that tomorrow was the final day to hand in my signed permission slip and $2 for the bus. I was one of the only children in the class who hadn’t handed mine in yet.

Tomorrow came, and I had completely forgotten. By the time I got home from after-school care, it was a chaotic rush of dinner, homework and bed and, hey, kids forget things. During morning attendance, the teacher asked for my money and form. I timidly responded that I had forgotten mine again. Her brow furrowed and an enraged look swept over her face. She looked furious, and began yelling at me about being irresponsible. A torrent of tears streamed down my face. She looked at me and screamed “My mother died this morning. THAT’S something to cry about.”

As a 7-year-old, this was just a devastating to hear. As an adult I could (probably) handle that sort of rebuke, but at that young age I was not emotionally ready to think about someone’s mother dying, or that my behaviour was adding to her torment. I was initially crying because I had disappointed my teacher, I was embarrassed I was being called out in front of my classmates, and I probably thought I was going to miss out on the excursion. Her comment made me feel like I was selfish, stupid and thoughtless for doing this terrible thing to her on the worst day of her life.

I know we all say things as adults that we immediately wish we could take back, but if I could say anything to any teachers today it would be this: if your emotional state means you can’t be around students that day, please stay at home.

As an adult, I could never imagine saying something like that to a child, even on the worst day of my life. The unforeseen circumstances of our words can impact children for years.  Considering my experience with bullying that year, the association of having a normal emotional reaction with shame and guilt really did impact me.   

Then there was my favourite teacher, Miss Ninnes. She was my year 5 teacher, and I can’t imagine how different my life would have been if I had not been in her class.

She built me up, and told me I could be a journalist or a writer if I wanted to.  I will never forget the delight I felt when she told me that one of the short stories I had written was far beyond my years, and said it was something she would expect from a year 9. She taught me the joy of expressing myself creatively, and cemented in me a positive association between entertaining someone through my writing, and true sense of personal pride. She made me want to write, and she made me want to learn.

She taught me that my words were more than just a way to communicate, but a way to be understood. She recognised my sensitivity and, in one story I had written, where a girl could make it rain when she looked out the window while sad, she understood a depth to me that others rarely saw. I remember her calling me in to discuss this story, and her telling me that it was like nothing she had read from one of her students before. She gave me a big hug and told me to keep writing.

She made me believe in myself.  She selected me to be the only member of our class to attend a session run by the special education teacher with year sixes and sevens, where we read Animal Farm and discussed politics. This opened a door to a whole new world of literature, and really instilled a love of reading in me. By giving me this exposure to this private little extension class, she opened my mind to previously unimaginable possibilities and lifted my self esteem immeasurably.  

She took us to this little park with a stream every Wednesday morning where we would have adventures and engage in imaginative play. I remember each week building on the little, but intense worlds we had created the week before, and felt like we were in our own Robinson Crusoe-eque adventure.  Even now, I will still visit that tiny little park if I am feeling down, and it immediately lifts my mood. The memories and stories I created in this small suburban sanctuary were a gift. I was excited to go to school each week, and this mid-week journey was always a highlight.

It’s not that she wasn’t strict – she could be – and she laid down the law on more than a few occasions for misbehaving. Like any loving caregiver, though, it felt like that even if our actions were wrong or disappointing, she still treasured us.

I remember her showing a year 7 teacher a social studies assignment I had produced, and she said “Look, it’s obviously not the neatest thing in the world, but read this bit!” She was proud of me and the work I had produced and could look past my messiness. She did, however, spend a great deal of time imparting the importance of being organised, neat and tidy. She told me people would take my work more seriously, and she was right.

Thank you, Miss Ninnes. You shaped me, you guided me, and you believed in me. I will never forget you.  

Did you have a teacher who truly impacted your life? Let us know in the comments below, or leave a review about your schooling experience.

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