Tears at the school gate, but we should admire those who wait on the other side

As students return to school this week, it’s worth acknowledging the important role teachers play in helping children realise their full potential, writes Madonna King

Jan 28, 2021, updated Jan 28, 2021
A good teacher can light a passion in our children and teach them that they can succeed by travelling their own path. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

A good teacher can light a passion in our children and teach them that they can succeed by travelling their own path. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Across Queensland this week, streams of silent tears were shed by parents.
Parents of preppies, clutching Bluey bags, heading off to start 13 years of schooling.
Fathers of first-graders, with the swagger of confidence that comes with knowing stuff those below them in Prep don’t.
Mothers of middle-schoolers off to start Year 5 and Year 7 at different schools; navigating new bus timetables and friendships and teachers. You’ll spot the unease worn on their faces in supermarkets and boardrooms and in school drop-off zones all week.
And parents, too, of those embarking on their final year of schooling; a year where the only certainty is that there will be more uncertainty.
Facebook feeds filled this week with the clean faces and shoes of all those starting back, and the dewy-eyed faces of those waving them off.
“Why are you crying, Mum?’’ My Year 12 daughter asked. “No reason,’’ I responded. One day, if she’s lucky, she’ll understand.
She’ll understand that parenting is the most worthwhile job in the world. The most joyous. The most meaningful. And on some days, the loneliest and the hardest and the most complex.
Similarly, one day she’ll also understand that school might not be for everyone but it does a damn fine job for most.
That the friendships she navigates might be friendships for life, or coalitions of convenience. Time, and a dozen broken hearts, will determine that. Ditto with partners.
She’ll learn, too, that school is a big chunky institution that can struggle with the quirky, build those lacking in confidence, and fill minds with the opportunities that lie ahead.
If she’s lucky, she’ll remember that others aren’t so lucky, and use the skills gifted to her to pave a path for others.
In time, she’ll understand test results are a mark on the page, and not an indicator of the heights she can fly, or the jobs she might miss out on.

In time, she’ll understand, that even ATAR is just an acronym; its worth might be in teaching our children the value of hard work, and the importance of acknowledging the stars of those around her.
School, whether our children are just starting or finishing, is full of lessons. Some of them fill their minds with knowledge and curiosity, crucial for the jobs market.
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Others, no less important, are lessons for life: tutorials in how to be a friend, a team-player and a leader; how to cope with life’s curveballs, and how to see the world through the lens of another.
Good teachers are trained in providing those lessons; in teaching our children that each of them has their own journey, that winning is not always possible, and that some of the most valuable lessons lie in losing.
This week, as we hand our children back for so many hours each day, it’s worth acknowledging the women and men who teach all of those lessons.
Men and women who are besotted with science, who fill our children’s minds with the possibilities of calculus, who can dissect the US election, and determine how much of a storm our children can explain.
Hats off to them. They work so much longer than their job description details, and for less pay than many of the parents of those they teach.
But their hard work lightens our load. A good teacher can lift the ceiling of potential our children place over their own heads, light a passion for something we have not discovered ourselves, and show them that they can all succeed by travelling their own path; not the path of the person whose desk they share.
It shouldn’t stop us acknowledging our children’s developmental milestones with a tear, a shopping trip, or even a glass of wine this week.
But a nod of acknowledgement to their teachers, standing at the school gates to welcome them, will work wonders too.
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