I received an unexpected visit at work during the week. I am still processing it.
From 2001 to 2006 I was a Year Adviser to an incredible group of kids. To date, it is one of the roles I have fulfilled in my life that I am proud of. I gave everything I had to my kids for the six years that they were in high school. There were many highs and many lows. In a sense, those six years are the perfect microcosm of my entire teaching career. I often wonder what happened to some of the kids. When they left Year 12 they all had somewhere they were going. I hope they all made it to where they wanted to be.
One boy, highly articulate and always well behaved, but always in the bottom classes, graduated in Year 12. I had taught him and had witnessed first hand the depths of his laziness (and I say that with love). Through senior school he almost received his marching orders from the school after failing to complete assessment after assessment. Luckily, with a promise of catching everything up he was permitted to stay for his final chance. Most people had written him off entirely so I am sure you can predict what I am about to relay to you.
Anyhow, when he graduated, one of many that almost didn’t make it up onto that stage (are there any other prouder moments), I begged of him to at some stage, fulfil his potential and use his brain. He just smiled. Well, this is the way I remember it.
His mum came to see me on Thursday. I received a phone call from the Office. Jan told me that Mrs L was there to see me; she asked if I remembered Mrs L’s son. I did. I was very nervous walking the path to meet her. I couldn’t imagine why, after so long, she wanted to see me. And I was hoping it was good news.
We greeted each other with big smiles and she told me that she was happy I was still at the school. I told her I would probably die at the school so she was fairly safe to always find me there. We laughed (possibly more at the truth of my statement rather than the humour). She wanted to give me an update. She had been thinking of me and of how much I had given them both when her son had been at school (she is very generous).
He had worked in retail, moving through management after he left school. Then he had told his mother he thought he would go to university. Never one to pressure her children, always hoping that they would find their paths and achieve their best, she was happy at his news. He went to TAFE and redid his HSC. He made it into Medicine and gained excellent results. Part way through the course he chose to transfer into a double degree – Law and Science. Law to help others; Science because it interested him. He is doing exceptionally well. A student who was always in the bottom of the year group and who many had written off as ‘dumb’.
When he finishes his degrees he is moving overseas to finish his Medicine degree. Then he will come home.
I cried. He was always a gorgeous kid; quick witted, perceptive, sensitive, wise beyond the institution that is our education system. I am so proud that he has navigated himself towards embracing his potential.
It’s not that I was right about his potential, nor that I was justified in not giving up on him. It is more that he is happy. And he went to a school that many write off. I am happy for him. And I was so touched that his mum went out of her way to come to the school, eight years after he graduated, to update me. There is no greater validation of how hard I work, and the way that I work, than that. I will eternally be grateful to her for thinking of me, and for sharing with me.
I have always said that school isn’t for every child. And it really isn’t. IT could be but there aren’t enough administrators willing to revolutionise the system. And I have always said that just because you don’t do well at school doesn’t mean that you won’t do well in life. Some of us are nerds. Some of us aren’t. Finding our path though, and being true to our authentic selves, ensures success.
Because success comes from happiness, and happiness comes from being true.
It just takes courage.
For that first step.
It helps when someone believes in us but it isn’t vital.