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Madly running around this morning trying to locate a missing Concert Band kiddie for the Remembrance Day service and I happened to look over at our perpetually-late, never-quite-groomed-to-our-satisfaction, more-laid-back-than-a-drunk-lizard Sir Year 11, and said:
“It’s WAAAAAAAY more fun when it’s not you, hey?!”
The return grin was wide + genuine.
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?
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.