Sunday, 22 January at 3.00pm
Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Graduates,
I cannot deny that I have spent a great deal of time deliberating over what it is I wanted to say at this graduation ceremony. I think I speak for the entire cohort of education graduates in saying that today is truly an occasion of mixed emotions. There will be some who are perhaps a little sad that their tertiary studies have come to what is, at least, a temporary end. There will be others who couldn’t be happier about the fact, eagerly awaiting their first day as a quote-unquote ‘real teacher’. If I am honest, I find myself somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Regardless of any emotional turbulence that might be currently underway, this group of graduates stand proudly before you as they prepare to take the next step in their professional lives.
I am confident that many of the graduates will remember those first few days of class with vivid recollection. Amidst getting to know each other and familiarising ourselves with the quickest route to the university tavern, we spent some time early on in class sharing ‘why’ we wished to become teachers. Overwhemingly, those answers reflected a desire to make a genuine difference in the lives of young people. In almost every case, this was a direct result of each of us being lucky enough to have had one or more of those ‘special teachers’ whose impact on our lives was so profound that we decided to follow in their footsteps. Irrespective of our preferred subjects, cultural backgrounds or socioeconomic circumstances, we shared a common inspiration - the chance to one day be that special teacher. The chance to have a profound impact upon students of our own. That opportunity is upon us now.
I was very fortunate to spend a year of my ECU degree studying at the University of South Florida in the United States. During this time, I completed practicum assessments in some of the poorest schools in Hillsborough County. I remember one school in particular very well, with its metal detectors, armed police officers and staff ‘panic room,’ which I fortunately never got the chance to try out. This was supposedly, a school to be feared – and yet, this was the school where I forged the most wonderful memories with staff and students, who couldn’t believe that this strange-sounding young man cared enough to travel halfway around the world because he wanted to teach and learn about U.S. History. I also managed to teach a few kids where Australia was on the world map, which I’m sure will be handy.
I think it is fair to say this group of graduates that stand before you today have some phenomenal challenges ahead of them. At this point, we know – not every day will be perfect. It is likely there will be students in your classes that are ‘smarter’ than you. There will be days where your trusty repetoire of classroom strategies fails to produce the desired result. I can almost guarantee that the department photocopier will wildly malfunction at the most inconvenient of times. In spite of all this, we persist – and for a very good reason. For me, that reason is to make learning contagious – to make one idea spark another, and another. This might not be something you achieve in every student’s mind every time you teach, but as any one of those special teachers will tell you – when you get it right, there is no other feeling like it.
It would be a gross oversight to not take this opportunity to thank the teaching staff at ECU. Many of the lecturers and tutors I was priveleged to learn from have provided phenomenal levels of support, wisdom and encouragement over the last few years. The opportunity to be a part of those classes was as much an exercise in observing high-quality teaching practice as it was exploring the unit content. I know that those same dedicated individuals will continue to offer guidance and advice beyond graduation, as our relationship progresses towards that of professional colleagues. These people have worked tirelessly over the last few years to collectively prepare us for the years ahead. These people are a large part of the reason that ECU commands a reputation as one of the premier institutions for those wishing to pursue a career in Education.
If I, in my limited experience of teaching thus far, could offer one piece of advice to my fellow graduates today, it is this – care about what you do as a teacher. The best teachers that I have ever had – the reason I am standing here before you today – clearly cared about what they were doing. A teacher who cares never stops learning. A teacher who cares will inspire their students to achieve their potential. A teacher who cares will produce students who care. And who ever achieved anything without caring about it?
I would like to take this final opporunity to wish the entire graduating body every success in their future endeavours, as teachers or otherwise.