Encouragement and opportunity. Easy words to say, but encouragement and opportunity can be hard to come by. With them, we can be more than we ever anticipated. Without them, we may still get there, but it’ll be a harder road to travel.
When I cast my mind back to my own education, and I think about the role I’ve played in the education of others since I began teaching 23 years ago, I think about encouragement and opportunity. I think about minds being opened, I think about seeing other points of view, I think about social interactions that might have had little to do with curriculum, but plenty to do with being human. I think about having and providing encouragement and opportunities.
You see, the institution that is a school is a very important cog in the societies we live in. I’m a firm believer in sending kids to school, in trusting in our education systems to nurture and guide, in those systems helping our young people to learn with and from others. I’m disappointed when I hear of education not delivering all that, but I hold onto the ideal that it can and must.
I grew up in a less than affluent area, and the committed and inspiring teachers I was fortunate to cross paths with provided opportunities for impassioned debate and thoughtful reflection. They believed in me and actively encouraged me to strive for an academic path through life. I remember a teacher sharing the story of a student at the school who had never entertained the idea of a university degree. His teacher encouraged him to think beyond the life he had imagined for himself. That student is now Associate Editor of ‘The Age’ newspaper, one of the most prestigious newspapers in Australia today. Would he have had the opportunity to pursue that career without the active encouragement of that teacher? A person who could see possibility and seed the idea that there was more out there than what that young man visualised.
A moment in my career stays with me. A Year Seven class, and students working in a computer lab. One young girl couldn’t get access, so instead she sat with me while others worked, and we talked about what was happening in her life. For me, it was an incidental conversation, one of many I share with my students. A couple of days later, the same young girl submitted her workbook. On the inside cover was a note;
“Dear Mrs. Luca,
Thank you for talking to me the other day. When I went home I felt really good.”
A few years later I took a call in the staffroom. It was that same young girl. She had just given birth to her first child, and wanted me to know. She was seventeen. She was seeking my encouragement, and I gave her that. Life had not provided her with an academic career, but she remembered someone who had taken an interest in her, and she sought me out when she was facing what was, without doubt, a daunting task at a tender age.
Not all of our students ride the busy motorways of life and reach the dizzying heights of career success, some take the quieter laneways. Their journey is no less important. All of them deserve our encouragement and their eyes opened to opportunity.
So, all of you out there. Do your job well. Do it well so that you can motivate others, spark a desire within them to reach for their dreams. Never underestimate the power of your words and actions to encourage and provide opportunity. You never know who it is that you are influencing, who out there is remembering the kind word, the supportive comment, the friendly smile, the nudge to extend themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of doing.
It’s the purpose of education; probably the most important thing we can do.