You don’t have to be publicly recognised to be an inspiration

It was January 2004; the sun was bright, the birds were singing and the flowers were slowly blossoming. Children walked the streets with their neatly-ironed uniforms and accompanying hat and bag, marking the commencement of the Australian school year. Students anxiously rushed to see who would be demonising them (which teacher they’ll have), and what room they would be napping in for the remainder of the year. There were some shouts of joy, others of misery, as children reunited with their friends, learning whether they would share a class together or not.

I was one of them.
As an 11-year-old, I embarked on my second year at this snobby, bitchy school where I deeply yearned to be taught by a “fun” teacher. Previously, I was always stuck in the “boring” class, taught by menopausal-divorcee women who did not understand the concept of teaching. They hardly ever removed their backsides off their “teachers chair” and frantically rambled on about their hatred towards the “children of today”. Little did I know that Year 6, 2004 would be the most influential and life-learning year I’d ever have.

Accompanied by my devoted dad, I slowly made my way to the “board of fate” — the notice board.
I made a list of what I ultimately desired from a teacher.

1. That she was nice.
2. That she was fun.
3. That she was young.
4. That she would let us have free-time.
5. That she would never shout.

Yes, they were my hopes, and let’s just say 4/5 of these “desires” became a reality.

Her name was Miss McCarthy. This was her second year of teaching and she was an alumni-member of the school, too. She was beautiful. She had pretty blonde hair with a nice smile. She was the epitome of a “cool teacher”. She had that presence to her that was just plain awesome. She acted so chill in certain situations, yet always maintained her authoritarian stance. She was, ultimately, who I wanted to be like.

I always respected her judgement and abided by her academic wishes. Having been dreadfully behind in school, she did not condemn me for it. She encouraged active learning through interactive technology; something I had never prior experienced. We were introduced to interesting computer activities, while motivated to make short plays on the topics we were focussing on. When we achieved anything we were genuinely rewarded for it. She would make us aim higher, despite having already reached our goals. The sky was the limit. We developed a teacher-student friendship. By this, I mean she would give me a simple smile, or even a wink when I was doing something productive. This mystifyingly prompted my grades to dramatically increase, as I began to genuinely enjoy school.

2004 also marked “Year 6 Camp”, meaning that we would spend five days in Canberra, the nation’s capital. Having never been away from home for that long, Miss McCarthy would support my “homesickness” in a big-sisterly type of way. She’d allow me to use her mobile phone to call home each night, and encourage my learning of parliamentary activities in a place I’d never been to before. It was a real eye-opener, as I began to forget about my fears, and actually start to have fun. I don’t know how she did it, but her method was explicitly effective. She made me happy, and that’s what I appreciate the most.

It’s funny when you admire somebody, although when you look at the person from another perspective you see something different.
Let’s move on to August 2008. Four years have passed, and a peer of mine unexpectedly starts reminiscing on our primary school days. The topic of Miss McCarthy arises, prompting my peer to sluggishly grunt in disgust. She admits to us that Miss McCarthy would target her for certain things, causing her grief and frustration.
I then began to question my position in this unusual Year 6 class of 2004.
“Huh? I don’t get it. She was the best!” 

The title “teacher’s pet” suddenly came to mind.
“Oh my god, duh! I was the teacher’s pet”. 

It was so frighteningly obvious, causing me to question my 11-year-old self.

How on earth did I not “see” this?

I found it interesting because I wasn’t the best academically in the class, nor was I the “sweetest” or “prettiest”; I was just an ordinary girl. I obeyed my teacher’s wishes and respected her way of teaching — just what a teacher wants in a student. I guess you could say that I was optimistic towards her instructions, even prior to learning that she would be my teacher.

However, I can’t lie; she has left a real mark on me. She inspired me to aim high and never give up. That’s one lesson I will never forget. She encouraged my viewing and reading of current affairs, thus inevitably impacting on my future “desire” in becoming a journalist. But, most of all, she appreciated me. She accepted me. I felt as if I officially belonged. I don’t care what others say of her, because she will always remain a hero of mine. Ironically, I happened to come across her Facebook page towards the end of 2011, and decided to message her with the above.
Funnily enough, she replied.

Hi Jenna,
Of course I remember you! Thank you for your email, I am so glad that I made an impact on you. Congratulations on your fantastic results!! It’s great to hear that you are enjoying uni, I had the time of my life while I was there.
I was still working until term 2 this yr though I had been teaching the younger grades the last 7 years or so.
I had a little baby girl 3 weeks ago, her name is Ruby and I just love being a mum! I plan to go back to school next year when Ruby is a bit bigger. It’s been nice to have a break from work
Thank you again Jenna for your email, it’s not very often that teachers get letters like this one. I really appreciate you taking the time to write to me.
All the best Jenna,
Catherine


You see, teachers do have an impact on their students — whether it be for the better, or for the worse.
Miss McCarthy, however, was one in a million.
I was the lucky one.

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