OPINION

Those who can, teach; and how could the rest of us do without them?

Those who can, teach; and how could the rest of us do without them?

I've had a lot of great teachers in my time, but most of them were preaching to the choir - of course I was going to love my English or art teachers because I already loved the subjects.

So when I think about truly exceptional teachers, I think of Mrs Kuswadi and year 12 maths.

I probably shouldn't have done maths for the HSC, given my deep loathing and complete incompetence, but I didn't want to close off a couple of university options that had maths as a prerequisite.

So I struggled along. Until the aforementioned Mrs Kuswadi sat me down and told me she would meet me during lunchtimes until I had my head around my stumbling blocks.

Those lunchtimes weren't all that enjoyable, to be honest. It was maths, after all. But eventually my ability grew and so did my respect for this woman.

She was sacrificing her time, finding 10 ways to explain something that other people grasped after one or two, and she wasn't just doing it to improve my marks.

She was doing it because my life would be better if I could think logically, problem-solve, persevere when things got hard, and do my own tax.

I ended up stuffing up my ancient history exam and counting my (quite respectable) maths mark in my final 10 units.

And when I started working, I did my own tax.

Yesterday, Australia celebrated World Teacher Day.

I'm still waiting for plans for World Journalist Day, but in the meantime I guess I'll have to acknowledge that there's a reason the whole world stops to honour its teachers.

Quite apart from the subjects they instruct in, teachers (the good ones) must have a whole other set of skills related to firing up our curiosity and helping us puzzle through the answers.

They say some people are born teachers. It therefore follows that some people are born not-teachers.

I've always counted myself in the latter category, feeling instinctively when I finished school that teaching was definitely not the career for me.

The main reason was that I liked learning things, but had no particular interest in imparting them.

If you didn't want to know about something I loved - Post-Impressionist painting or the poems of Emily Dickinson, for instance - why would I want to make you?

I honestly couldn't really care. You could call that respecting other people's preferences, or you could call it a bit lazy and selfish.

After all, there's something almost everyone could take from knowing at least a smidgeon about those things.

Which is where we probably get to the nub of the matter. Because if I admit that it is good for people to have some understanding of the things I happen to love (but can't be bothered to share with them), then I'd have to admit it is good for people (even me) to have an understanding of the things I hate.

And that sounds like hard work.

Thank heavens there are people who do want to ignite an interest where one previously didn't exist - and the best teachers really can.

There's a throwaway witticism in a George Bernard Shaw play that goes: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."

Which is stupid on so many levels, I don't know where to start. For example, how does one of those people who "can do" learn how? Erm, from a teacher, perhaps?

Not only can teachers "do", they have the additional ability to pass on what they know.

This year, teachers added distance learning to their list of jobs, while juggling perhaps their own children during lockdown, in-person classes for those who couldn't stay home, and anxious and troubled students, especially those facing final exams.

As I write this, my own daughter has just finished her last HSC exam, and with it, her whole schooling.

She's had a couple of Mrs Kuswadis (well, that's not their names, but you know what I mean) in her life this year and they have made all the difference.

Thanks, teachers. Maybe one day she too will do her own tax.