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Today was one of those days where I was right IN the whole problem-solving, behaviour management, motivating, and beating kids back into shape. I knew it was coming, and I knew this week would be the week for Grammarphones, Senior Concert Band, and my senior kiddies. The week where I would hunt them all down and have The Conversation, in whatever incarnation was required.
I hate it and love it. They see and hear the care from me, but also the fire in the belly for excellence, for them and myself, in EVERY capacity. Not just academically, but personally. I want the complete package: great people who strive for their best. 🌟
Even though I KNOW that I have done the best that I can, I can’t help but replay conversations, and wonder if I have done enough, and with the right words + weight.
And when it’s Music kiddies it becomes all the more connected and personal because of what they give to you on a daily basis. The conversations inevitably become even more emotionally-charged because you love your kiddies + because of the relationship you have with them. 💛
But I got one tiny little gem back today; walking out of the Music Centre into the Centre for Senior Learning, newly beat-up Sir Year 11 went one way and I went the other.
But not far enough that I couldn’t hear this:
Sir Year 11: “Hey, where were you? We’ve been waiting for ages!”
Mangled Sir Year 11: “Ms Kwok wanted speak with me about Grammarphones. She was disappointed in me.”
Sir Year 11: “Oh shit.”
I have recently become interested in money. I am in my 30s, and I have FINALLY decided to delve into the adulting that is required to actually be interested in investing, credit cards, long-term goals, and generally making my money work harder and smarter. Making it sweat a little on my behalf.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I’ve ALWAYS been good with money. As a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian, we could live off a shoe-string. We could stretch rice and mung beans for days, and make damn tasty meals at that. And I have ALWAYS been a prodigious saver. The first thing I ever bought was my beautiful grand piano, which was $9000.00, at age 20. The next was my home, at age 24. Every dollar had value. I saw how hard both of my parents worked, and how careful they were with money, but also how much they appreciated it, and that has inspired my own money savviness.
However, I’ve never been remotely INTERESTED in money. It was just the thing that bought you things. If I wanted something, no matter how big or pricey, I saved my arse off and then bought it. I have NEVER been in debt. I have never had bad credit. I have no idea what it feels like to not have a small amount squirrelled away for a rainy day. I always have “padding”. And most days, “padding” for the “padding”. Laugh all you like, it’s genetic, just like my inability not to get drunk off smelling a glass of wine.
To put that all into perspective, I got my first credit card at age 33. And you know what for?! So that I could get the bonus on Qantas points. I had to figure out how to spend more in order to get the bonus. I remember my rather comical foray into point accumulation when I had cycled all regular bills through the card, bought all the necessary groceries and items I needed, then stood there and thought, “Okay, now what? I have to spend another $500 before the end of the month!”
The thing is, I have always WANTED to be curious and interested about money. I bought financial magazines when I was in my teens + early 20s thinking that if I bought the books, I’d magically be inspired to BE money savvy. Part of all of that was the fact that I was lucky to be first generation and living in Australia, and as a young female, had access to all the education in the world. I should be good at money. And moreover, I should be fascinated by and interested in money simply because of my good fortune to be able to interact with it so positively.
NUP. NADDA. ZERO INTEREST.
Somehow, over the past few months, I have become incredibly, healthily, utterly interested. Not in the “I-Will-Become-A-Millionaire-By-Selling-A-Red-Paperclip” sort of interested, but in a way that has allowed me to make interested, informed, healthy money choices to make my dollar go further. Part of this has been inspired by my planning of my big overseas trip to the US + Canada later this year, where I have challenged myself on numerous counts not to take the first offer on anything; flights, hotels, accommodation, transport…all of it.
It’s been enticingly, weirdly satisfying and informative.
Now, here’s where the inspiration behind the inspiration comes into play:
It took me UNTIL NOW to even begin to be interested. I didn’t suck, in fact I was rather excellent at my money handling right up until this point. Requirement, logic and necessity did NOT provide ANY of the necessary incentive to MAKE me interested in the way that I am now.
Pure curiosity and self-motivation. A healthy appreciation of my skills and a sense of positive learning and discovery.
Now how many times have you thought about that in terms of TEACHING?!
There are a hundred and one ways to get a student to jump through the educational hoops. Coercing, bribery, templates, roadmaps, fear of exams, shaming, all in various volumes and degrees, all nicely put into a learning plan and emailed to students and parents. All rubric-ed up, bento-boxed, and delivered with an institutional stamp. And a school logo.
But the ONLY way to get really healthy, authentic learning that is self-motivated is through inspiring that self-motivation through healthy modelling.
You never know when it’s going to “catch”. Mine “caught” in delayed reaction TWENTY-ONE YEARS AFTER THE FACT! That’s so utterly delayed it’s laughable.
But it’s healthy, inspired, and self-motivated.
And shouldn’t that be the ONLY type of learning that we pedal as teachers?
I am on holidays. Wonderful, blessed, not-a-minute-too-soon holidays.
And I find myself too easily aimlessly wandering, or working flat-out, and not leaning into my own inspiration. I am working off the residual momentum of Term 1, rather than making choices on how I’d like to spend my time with purpose and clarity. With joy and measure.
And the very worst incentive of all, I am working off the “let’s do it ALL” mentality, so that I can just do absolutely nothing for 2 weeks.
Which is the most unhealthy that you can be in terms of creative thinking and self-inspiration.
The thing is, nothing is ever complete. Everything is in a state of change, and is delightfully, annoying impermanent. And if you get stuck on trying to FINISH, you’ll never, ever really LIVE. If you’re able to walk each day step by step, without hurrying but without stopping, the day is so absolutely full of delight and learning. And I forget that when I am wrung-out-exhausted at the end of the term.
What helps right now is finding inspiration from those amazing people who have suffered hardship, or have had to struggle hard to find their place in life. At present, what is capturing my imagination is how pure passion and fire for work is the difference between an actual trajectory or aimless wanderings. It both amazes and inspires me that when there is passion and excellence, a certain heat and light comes off it, or the person in question. I have the stomach-flipping moment of wondering, poignantly, “Well, what do I stand for?!”
And I realise that my LIFE has been my trajectory. In the playful, stupidly colourful way that I have lived it. The passion in my words when I am invested in my teaching is unmistakable, and if I do nothing else but instil love and confidence into every one of my students, then I have done enough.
I need to remember that.
There is nothing that drives me more than a student who has not only achieved their full ability, but has done so realising their full worth. They have achieved excellence not AT the cost of their well-being, but BECAUSE of their well-being. They have done it wholly, playfully, with brimming REALNESS of the very essence of who they are. They haven’t CONFORMED. They have BEEN.
That’s the way I want to live.
And I take some time these holidays to rediscover that love of life, that dedication to teaching, and that pure authenticity of being.
My first teaching mentor gave me this. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it!
She was larger than life, beloved, and a force to be reckoned with. I wanted to imbue some of her spirit. And now, 15 years late, I hope I have done her proud.
I have absolutely let her down in the “watch this space” category in the LITERAL BIOLOGICAL sense, but I hope that she’s watched my ACTUAL teaching trajectory and been a little bit proud.
Today, I was asked by Tiny Little Plucky Miss Year 7 to be her “safe teacher”. I didn’t even realise that was a possible thing to be until today.
So I said, “I would be honoured to be!
…uh, what do I need to do for you?!”
She wanted a female teacher to check-in with as she travelled through school, life, puberty, friendships, and “just because”, if and when she needed it. She has a male home group teacher who is fabulous but, in her words, “Probably doesn’t want to talk periods!”
The outright humour + PLUCK of this kid! Man, I was laughing and my heart was over-flowing.
Because this gorgeous, feisty, vibrant, amazing little kiddie has autoimmune disease. She’s pint-sized for her age. She has monthly infusions to be able to just “do life”. Her family are EXTRAORDINARY. She is beloved. If she takes a beating out in the quadrangle, all the Year 7 boys rally up and are incredibly protective of her, demanding apologies on her behalf. She WANTS every ounce of every day that she is energetic enough to be present for.
There are loads of other female teachers she sees far more often + could have picked for the job. Why me?!
“Because you being small hasn’t stopped you doing your thing. You ARE big, even if you’re small. And you love every Year 7 in my class, even those that don’t want to be loved.”
OH MY FREAKIN’ GOD. My heart is exploding right now, and I just want to hug this tiny dot of a kid breathless and say:
“KID, YOU’RE ALREADY DOING ALL OF THAT!”
The gala piece that became the Olympic free skate for Adam Rippon.
And the story behind it which I never knew until now; a strong capable leader of the flock injured and in recovery, creating a new strength + redefining themselves.
A reflection of Adam’s own personal journey and his confidence in defining his own artistry, which in my opinion stands him apart from the crowd despite not having the technical merit of the top contenders.
Amazing, the light that shines when we each of us commit to being authentic.
We did a professional development as a whole staff recently where we were asked to name, in a sentence, what sparks our passion as people. Not as teachers, but as people. And found myself saying immediately, without thought or preparation:
“If ‘excellent’ is the highest pinnacle, like the North Star, or the top of a mountain, then I am determined to find a way to get there with my students without shame. I will not hold any of their personal attributes or actions against their inherent value, or allow that to colour their pathway to achieving excellence. But I WANT excellence. That’s unmistakable. It’s in the blood. I just think that you can do it joyfully, with a love of learning the whole way. It can be honest, gritty, no-frills, and monotonous, but it will not cut or hurt them personally.”
So my spark of passion in one sentence is this:
I want to bring the students under my direction to their best selves in an envelope of joy and worthiness.
I’m an example in my words, in how I am as a person, in how I recover, in how I deal with stress, in the challenges I choose to accept, in how I love and care for myself and the people important to me, and even in how I interact with the people I do not like or respect.
You can get to “excellent” by squeezing it out of a kid, by threatening them, by coercing them, by holding academic barriers over them, by comparing them to others, by pitting them against your own self-worth, by unwittingly emotionally cornering them into doing what you want. You know what? It all produces the same result of excellent. How twisted is that?! I hate that. But there it is. I will actually get you the result that you want. I’ve seen it happen.
But THAT version of excellent, forged from a foundation of shame – and that IS what it all is, shame packaged in various forms – doesn’t eff-ing fly. It doesn’t stick, it’s not life-long. And students will fight it the way their bodies fight disease; instinctively.
And why would you want to connect that with excellence and their self-worth?
Teachers, check your words + intent carefully. I have to on a daily basis.
And find another way.
I will find the only other way to “excellent” that doesn’t involve shame, even if I have to find the goddamn scenic route that takes twice as long.
Because that’s my spark.
Class of 2018 Musos carrying on the traditional of presenting me with a new lanyard.
“Education can radically change the trajectory of a child’s life. It can transform the possibilities of what a child can become and achieve.”
“To all the children out there, I want you to understand from my story … [that] suffering doesn’t define you, what other people say to you or call you doesn’t define you — what you choose to do with the opportunities you’ve got, that’s what defines you.”
[Eddie Woo, 2018 Australia’s Local Hero Award]