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.

Being chucked in at the deep end. The day the swimming teacher tried to drown me.

November 22, 2011

The pool shop man sighed. “Ok, let’s go over this one more time.”

He’d been trying to explain how I needed to remove my pool pump. He may as well have been asking me to memorize the Space Shuttle’s flight plan.

I realised there was a problem in the cement swimming hole, when the water turned vomit green a few days ago. It’s quite possible that Shrek is enjoying some quiet time at the bottom.

My routine to test if there’s a problem with the filter is a time-honoured one. I turn the control switch to ON. If nothing happens, I rush to the pool shop.

I explained to the pool shop man that I might not be able to complete this task he was setting me. It sounded… technical.

Easy, he said. Even for you. And we can only fix it if you bring it in to us. The pool shop man is kind and patient. And rich, from all my visits.

I went home, and did what he said. He now has my pump, which may or may not be repaired by the next state election.

Of course, pool pumps never fail in the dead of winter. They are designed to turn up their metal toes only in extreme heat.

In the meantime, the family has no-where to swim. Which is why we decided to join the masses at the public swimming pool. And that’s when my nerves surfaced.

The first time I went to our local pool, all those years ago, Dad couldn’t come. So Mum took me by bus.

She wanted me to learn to swim like the other kids. Dad couldn’t understand the fuss. He worked out the swimming caper in the surf, and thought I should do likewise. As was usually the case, Mum won the day.

I remember spotting the bloke they claimed was the Swimming Teacher. It was an interesting description. He was a successful swimmer. He wasn’t a teacher.

It was a weekday, which meant the pool was all but empty. He told me to take my shirt and thongs off.

Mum hadn’t even taken her seat in the stand, when he picked me up, and tossed me into the deep end of that pool. I was about 6 years old.

His method, a long-standing one apparently, was to MAKE me get to the pool’s edge. The true definition of sink or swim. Sadly, I embraced the sinking part of the equation.

After thrashing around for a bit, I sank like a stone. Mum told me later that the more she screamed, the more he laughed. Maybe he didn’t realise that she couldn’t swim either.

Someone else jumped in to save me. Safely out of the water, I coughed, and spluttered, and cried.

My mother was not a woman to be messed with. Especially when it came to her children. The so-called teacher had just landed himself in a world of hurt.

Years later, I asked what happened. All she would tell me was that they stopped letting him teach small kids after that. I’d always suspected that his bigger problem was the visit Dad paid him the next day.

My greatest recollection of that terror, was the smell. Chlorine. I suspect that the pool had just been given a healthy dose. It’s stayed with me ever since.

Whenever I returned to that pool, or any other public swimming facility, the mere sniff of the stuff saw a wave of panic wash over me. Even when I could swim. Which, I might add, was the result of lessons from a wonderful, caring teacher soon after.

It returns, that feeling, for just a few brief seconds, even today. When I walked into that crowded pool on the weekend, I picked up the chlorine the same way as large hungry men detect a pie stand.

We move on, of course. My greater fear now is re-connecting pool pumps. If it ever gets fixed. Now that’s really being thrown in at the deep end.