If today was your last day in education, what would be your legacy?

All educators have the power to provide the ‘spark’ and have a long lasting impact on young people, writes Braydon Giles

Braydon Giles wants to leave an educational legacy

Let’s face it: education isn’t a profession for the faint-hearted. It’s an incredibly complex web of competing agendas, teaching and learning programmes and pedagogy. But the role of a teacher remains constant. That of a guide, a mentor, a life coach, a counsellor, a leader.

Think for a moment on how you came to be where you are in education. How did your journey begin? For me, my journey into teaching began in high school. One teacher. One classroom. One hell of a large impact.

As a 14-year-old teenage boy, school was not always on the top of my priority list. If you had asked me the extent of my mathematical knowledge, between mumbles and grunts, I probably would have told you that “2 + 2 = 4” while reminiscing of Barney the purple dinosaur jumping around on screen in my childhood loungeroom. But then came Malcolm.

If I close my eyes, I can still feel the passion. I can see Mal interchanging his red and blue whiteboard markers as he underlines the topic, algebra, with his squiggly, perfectionistic line. There was a time when maths, for me, was sitting next to the smartest kid in the room and shooting side daggers at his book in the hopes of getting the answer. There was a time when maths was copying the answers from the back of the textbook when the teacher was writing on the board. But then, there came a time when math actually became fun: my time with Mal.

There’s the old sentiment that gets thrown around in education: students won’t remember what you taught them, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

Now, sitting here in my 30s, I admittedly still probably could not solve an algebraic equation without some degree of difficulty. But I can remember vividly the feeling of acceptance, of enjoyment and of sheer wonder that came from sitting in that Year 9 maths class with Mal. Whether he knew it at the time or not, he ignited that spark within me. He had turned my school journey around, and I vowed that I would do the same thing for others. It was then that my journey into education really began.

“As teachers, we all have those bad days and bad lessons where we may not feel like we are making a real difference.”

In my first teaching gig, I learnt the true influence of positive leadership and passion working with my head of department, Elizabeth. She would call me “Bray-dawg,” the group of the new teachers “Young Ones” and everyone in her department her “children.” She brought such warmth and positivity. When she entered the room, it lit up, smiles dancing across everyone’s face.

Elizabeth taught me a lot about teaching. I got to witness first-hand her impact on the students and the reciprocal nature of inspiration. While I would probably struggle to bring the “motherly love” she was known for, I could see how her presence brought happiness to the kids. All smiles, all lesson. This resounding influence was felt by all within her department and, as a teacher, she had an impact not only on the children, but on her staff as well. She was a guide, a mentor and a true leader who kept wellbeing at the front of all she would do.

As teachers, we all have those bad days and bad lessons where we may not feel like we are making a real difference. It can be hard, come end of term, when there are the repetitive cycles of assessing, marking, moderating, and reporting. It can be hard when our lessons go pear-shaped. And it can be hard pushing through the workload only to be hit with another wave to be finalised by Monday.

Our lives are often so busy that we rarely step back and think of the “why.” Why did I choose this profession? What inspired me to become an educator?

“Remember all the young people you have inspired and had a lasting impact on.”

These moments are so important in our world of education, now more than ever before. I learnt this in a truly beautiful way from a colleague who shared a sentiment that has resonated in my heart and in my mind ever since: “Life isn’t about some fine destination, it’s about the journey and the fact that you know how to drive.”

If you are new to the world of education, stick with it. You will have your bad days when you want to just quit, but in those times, think of your inspiration. Think of those who have inspired you and why you chose this career path. Find a mentor, someone who inspires you to push yourself. Find your Mal or Elizabeth.

If you’ve been in the world of education for five, ten or forty years, remember why you became an educator during times that are rough. Remember all the young people you have inspired and had a lasting impact on. And remember, this is why we do it.

“To all my friends in education, as a teacher, know that you matter.”

Successful people attribute their accomplishments to many common notions: practice, persistence, coaches and support. The fact is many of these stories also contain the “spark” – a mentor who provides advice and support to help them reach heights that may be unreachable alone.

To all my friends in education, as a teacher, know that you matter. As a mentor, your word is treasured. As a leader, you can enact change for the better. Although all great teachers, mentors and leaders do not necessarily fit a finite pattern, they all share that passion, determination, commitment, and energy to inspire and influence those around them. They all leave indelible marks on those under their care and, in doing so, are filled with valuable memories and moments to treasure long after their time in the classroom has ended.

So, if today was your last day in education, what would be your legacy? What would your students say about you? What impact would you be leaving on them?