Good teachers making a difference. How one man has improved hundreds of young lives.

December 18, 2012

One of the best teachers I’ve been involved with is a bloke who has been known to wear a skirt.

Not always, mind you. Just special occasions. And no one dares to snigger.

He’s a Pacific Islander. One of those Samoans built as wide as he is tall. With a neck ready to serve as a tree trunk if needed.

His passion, outside family and footy, is teaching. He has a gift. The ability to educate. And to get through, where others fail.

Visit him at school, and you’ll find a classroom that’s alive. There is learning in every corner. And fun in the air.

We met him a few years back, when The Teenager was lucky enough to be put in his class. It remains her favourite year of schooling. And her most productive.

He encourages students to achieve, in whatever field they can. Not great at maths? Have a go at music. Do your best, and you’ll be on the end of a High Five.

There would always be songs played in his room at lunchtime. Someone would get a guitar out. The boys would be dancing. No time for bullying or bitching.

They had a pact, the students and their teacher. One in, all in. If someone was doing the wrong thing, they’d all suffer the consequences. The power of teamwork, on show in Grade 6.

Away from the classroom, his influence was even greater. If there was a game of touch football happening during the day, he’d be part of it. The footy coach, of course. He was a leader of the cultural group, so important in a school full of kids with so many different backgrounds.

Lots of them do it tough at home. So he would give them hope. And something to do. Keep them busy.

I know of so many youngsters who’ve been given a path to succeed, thanks to his perseverance. Making them believe. Walking out of that school gate, feeling good about themselves.

It’s crucial. Even when parents are on the job too. Together, it gives the kids every possible chance. They enjoy their schooling.

Daughter Two was crushed when she was allocated a different teacher this year. So were we. She would have done so well under him. But even in another class, he helped her. A wisecrack in the playground. An encouraging word. Sometimes that’s enough to make the day a little brighter.

We said our goodbyes to him, at last week’s Year 7 graduation. The end of an era. The school has been home to a daughter for the best part of a decade. Next year, the girls will be back together, in high school.

I shook his hand, and thanked him for all that he’d done. Not just for our children, but all the others. It didn’t seem enough. His giant hand crushed mine, and he smiled. Sadly.

It was his last week too. He’s been moved on. The Education chiefs, in their wisdom, have decided he needs to move in a different direction. To a small school, many hours away. I wonder if the parents there have any idea how lucky they are.

He was wearing a necklace made with lollies, carefully constructed by his class. It was straining around that giant neck. I got the feeling that he won’t be eating them any time soon. Like us, he’ll want to hang on to the memories.

Thanks Mr T, for believing in so many young people. We’ll never forget the bloke in the skirt.

Her grandpa would have been proud. My daughter the woodworker, now the family handyman.

March 27, 2012

There are some things a father accepts offspring will be good at.

In my case, these are usually tasks I perform poorly at. Dancing comes to mind. Selecting clothes. Understanding mobile phone functions.

Every now and then, the girls surprise me. One or the other will throw up a new success story, that I didn’t see coming.

It’s a wonderful part of being a parent. But still a shock.

The Teenager does some groovy subjects at high school. Media studies. Dance and drama, where they actually get marks. And something called ITD.

It sounds like the method one would use to call friends overseas. Instead, it stands for Industrial Technology and Design.

From what I can make out, this is something similar to our old woodwork class. In her precise teenage terminology, “we make stuff.”

She was able to show me this “stuff’, by using her smart phone. Lots of photos and video, of the various stages of her work.

The current project is a paper towel holder. Very handy for a household that goes through bundles of the stuff. Mainly for mopping up Coco’s frequent floor puddles.

She saws the wood. Shaves it. Drills holes in it. Hammers nails. All the while humming Taylor Swift songs.

From what I could make out, everything was where it should be. Not that I’m an expert. Far from it.

I don’t own a drill. Never have. Wouldn’t know how to turn one on. My hammer is rusted. There is a court order somewhere banning me from using any kind of saw.

Dad had the most amazing set of tools. All hanging neatly on hooks, carefully arranged on his garage wall. He could make anything.

He seemed to understand early on that I didn’t possess his love of craft. It never worried him. We shared so much else together. No great problem if I couldn’t hit a nail in ten goes.

Classmates at school excelled in woodwork and metalwork class. Most were naturals on the tools. Not me.

My measurements were always out. Bits never stuck. Teachers counted my fingers at the end of each lesson.

A few years later, a mate talked me into doing Industrial Arts with him. Wood, metal and technical drawing, all rolled into one. Actual alarms went off as I walked into the room.

He was a whiz at it, and promised to help me out. He would live to regret that decision.

My friend had to draw everything for me. Then bring the image to life. Every single assignment. All done with a smile. I believe he now does wonderful things in a senior role at BHP. After carrying me for two years, the world of international mining would be a walk in the park.

In the years since, I’ve assumed my rightful place. Tools are for others. The workshop is not for me. We keep a wary, respectful distance.

But it would seem Dad’s expertise has not been lost after all. It just skipped a generation. His love of building things is safely in the carefully manicured hands of his grand-daughter.

I can’t wait to use the new paper towel holder. And even better, if it breaks, I now know someone who can fix it.