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In the lottery of life, we can all still learn a thing or two from teachers

Opinion

With Queensland preparing to celebrate World Teachers’ Day on Friday, Rebecca Levingston reflects on the lessons she learnt in her primary years and gives thanks for the continuing role educators play in her children’s lives.

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My first teacher at Bohlevale State School had red curly hair. It was the ’80s in Thuringowa. Maybe it was a perm. Maybe it was the humidity.

Her name was Mrs Bortolotto.  We used to say Mrs Bought-a-lotto-ticket and won! I wonder how she felt teaching us. Did she feel lucky? I remember her having a voice that you didn’t disobey. You weren’t allowed to click your fingers when you had your hand up – even if you really, really knew the answer to the question.

She wore pink dresses and had chalky fingers. I remember her with great affection. When I look at our class photo from 1983, some kids aren’t wearing shoes and I have rainbow shoelaces in my pigtails. We all look happy. It was a bright north Queensland day though, so maybe it was just the glare.

This year, I have watched teachers dress up, show up, set up, clean up and lift up classrooms full of kids. I am in awe of the educators of 2020.

Can you imagine turning up every day to a room full of small humans and helping them to become people? How to read, relate, react. When you vote this weekend, it’s a teacher who gave you that pen grip. It’s a teacher who helped give you the skills to put a number in a box. To think critically and express yourself.  I wonder what mark the teachers of Queensland would give our politicians.

I know teachers who buy extra food for their students. Ask any educator how much of their own money they spend on classroom resources. Now ask your local MP if they think school funding across the state passes the test.

One friend had her first teaching day in London and recalls the huge sense of responsibility she felt. She said: “That first day really impressed on me how trusting children are … and what a huge responsibility I had as a teacher to be a positive influence in their lives.”

What a load to carry. Now add a global pandemic. Most families got a taste of homeschooling this year. And most hope it remains a one-off quirk in their calendar. Classrooms and bike racks are full again. School bands are back together.

Bravo to the principals who nourish the next generation. I remember realising how the teachers in my son’s life had become such an important part of our family. My son started Prep loving books. He ended the year reading books. What a powerful gift.

Not all teachers are excellent. But that can be a valuable lesson too. For parent and child.

On weekdays, teachers spend more time with children than most parents. They deserve some serious gratitude for having the energy to field endless questions. Spend an hour with any child under 10 and you will be asked things that will make your brain melt. Here’s a sample from my sons:

Why doesn’t Tully have lunch? (Tully is our dog)
What happens when we die?
Where are all the bodies of the people who have died?
Are you dead forever?
How do taps work?
What is under the road?
What’s inside water?
What’s hotter – the middle of the Earth or the surface of the sun? (this is a regular question)
Why do we have eyelids?
Is this fish dead? (eating a fish finger)
What is ham? (holding a toy pig)
Why can’t I see gravity?

Sometimes I defer to someone in my life with a much bigger brain – Dr Karl.  When I asked him the gravity question, Dr Karl replied, “Dear Rebecca it’s not the answer that gets you the Nobel Prize, it’s the question.”

Not every teacher is going to win a prize. But most deserve one.

This week, if you get the chance, say thank you to a teacher.

Thanks, Mrs Bought-a lotto-ticket. I won.

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