Prove them wrong – what’s your motivating factor?

9 year old Ronnie playing piano… the concentration and focus is so intense as she tries to ignore the older brother who is probably trying to distract her but she is being photographed by her dad so is on her best behaviour

I used to play the piano. I used to be really good at it too. I had a great teacher who pushed me and motivated me to do better every week. He was pretty strict and by today’s standards some of his practices would be deemed as unacceptable, but it was the discipline that I needed. A little slap on the hands when they started to droop, putting a KitKat on top of the piano and telling me I could have it if I had a great lesson but then taking it away if I didn’t (I love KitKats, they’re my favourite as my students know so this was torture), were some ways that he kept me wanting to succeed. And I did. Then he moved. I gave up the piano because I couldn’t find a teacher like him again. I wasn’t motivated and lost interest. I wish I had kept going, but I needed the push and the other teachers I had just didn’t provide me with what I needed and they didn’t care if I made mistakes or not. What I’m saying here is that my teacher made a difference, he was tough, he was honest, but that’s how I learnt. I needed to be motivated and prove that I can do it and that’s what he provided for me.

I’m going to steer away from text talk in this post and how to approach SACs and assessments and focus a bit on trying to motivate you. I’m feeling a sense of tiredness amongst my students and Year 12s at the moment with SACs coming up, lots of study to be done and just a sense of feeling overwhelmed. In trying to motivate you I’m going to open up a little about myself which makes me feel somewhat vulnerable and exposed, but sometimes you need to hear from someone else’s perspective and get advice from someone who also feels that it can all be too much and you feel like you won’t succeed. So here it goes.

I grew up in a small country town in Western Australia. There was one high school and it was a public school where a lot of graduate teachers started off their careers. I was the girl that was friends with everybody but not that popular either. I loved reading, I spent hours at the community library and loved scholastic book fairs. I escaped through reading. Loved swimming in the pool in the backyard, riding my bike and playing netball (until I got kicked off the team, but that’s another story). As high school started I was a bit of a nerd, but still was friends with most of the year level (it was a very small cohort), but never felt like I fit in. I didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, and therefore was a bit of an outsider. In Year 10 we studied a book called ‘Go Ask Alice’ about a girl who got involved in drugs and it was life-changing and put me off drugs forever. I loved that book. I loved English. I didn’t get great marks for my essays but I was passing.

The time came for me to decide what pathway I was going to choose – TAFE or Uni? I was adamant that I was going to uni. Nobody in my family had been and I wanted to be the one who did. To me it meant everything. I wasn’t sure what I was going to study, but I knew that was the path I wanted to take. I remember talking to the head of English at the school and he was telling me and my parents (migrants with English as their second language) that there was no way possible that I could take the uni pathway as I wouldn’t succeed. I was getting Bs for English, not great but I wasn’t failing either. I was realistic about my goals, I wasn’t going to be a rocket scientist but I was getting good grades in all my other subjects, and for some reason this teacher had decided that I wasn’t good enough. I was devastated.

But, I’m also the type of person who loves to prove people wrong and that’s my motivating factor. To succeed and then show them that I can do it and that they were wrong.

Not long after that, I moved to the city and started a new school in Year 11. This was hard enough in itself, but you do it, you persevere, you cry and then you make new friends. I had started the subjects that were on the university pathway, was getting Bs and As in English, had an amazing Maths teacher (Snags we called him and he was the best teacher I ever had), but was failing Geography. I didn’t like how Ms K taught. It was read this chapter in the text book and answer the questions. If you’re going to disengage a student, that’s how you do it. I vowed never to do that when I became a teacher. So, there I was at the end of Year 11 sitting with the careers counsellor who was telling me that I couldn’t continue on this path in Year 12 because I needed Geography to get a good ATAR and the D I was getting didn’t cut it.

Again, I thought “stuff that” and wanted to prove them wrong. If you tell me I can’t do something, I will prove to you that I can. It might take days, weeks or years, but I will prove to you that I can and I will.

Mr Walker was the second-best teacher I have ever had. He spent his lessons in his baby blue safari suit talking about his worldly travels about throwing cow dung at walls in South America. They are stories I won’t forget but I got an A in Geography that year. The difference? A teacher who loved what he did. Who wanted to make his students engaged in the subject. He was teaching us through his stories. I loved him!

Did I get into uni at the end of Year 12? Yes, I did.

Did I prove them wrong? Yes, I did.

Is this the end of my story? No, it’s not.

Year 12 Ronnie getting ready for her formal

I went to uni, where I studied media production and theory and loved it. But I needed stability and a job so I went on to study teaching. I think in my heart of hearts I always wanted to be a teacher I just didn’t realise it until after I finished my first degree and was sitting in a cafe with a friend contemplating my future when she suggested I join her in studying teaching at uni the following year. I applied, got in and haven’t looked back.

It was during my final teaching placement that I finally got that moment that was 6 years in the making. I was a student teacher at a select entry school in Perth. My supervising teacher was fabulous and I was enjoying teaching my English classes there for 6 weeks. During that time I was introduced to the head of English at that school and I recognised him from the school I went to when I lived in the country. He was the teacher that told me that I would not succeed in English and said that I couldn’t pursue the uni pathway. He didn’t recognise me. When I introduced myself to him, I asked him if he remembered me and he didn’t. I told him that I remembered him from that small high school in that small country town. I also told him that I remembered how he told me that I wasn’t good enough to succeed in English and go to uni. I also told him that I’m now training to be an English teacher. I said thank you. Thanks for making me feel like I wasn’t good enough, but that was my motivating factor to prove him wrong. And mic drop.

I was realistic about my goals. I knew what I wanted. I didn’t want to be dux, but I also wasn’t interested in doing a TAFE course. I loved learning, I loved school. I wanted more and I still want more. A teacher never stops learning. They were my choices. I was realistic about what I was capable of and what I could achieve. I needed to work so hard for my grades, but it was the teachers who showed passion in their teaching and the tough love that they gave me that pushed me to do better and succeed. If a B was my best, it was celebrated and I was proud of that, as were my teachers. There were times that I wanted to give up but I’m too stubborn and proving that I can do something when someone tells me I can’t is the motivation that I need.

In my adult life and throughout my career I feel the same. There are days when I feel like a failure as a teacher and that I’m not good enough for my students. But then I remember back to 15 year old Ronnie who felt that she wasn’t smart enough and was a disappointment but 6 years later finally got to tell that teacher that they were wrong about her and that’s what gives me the motivation I need.

You might be feeling that it’s hard or the feedback that you’re getting from your teacher is too focused on what you’re not doing right and what you should be doing more of. But remember, if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t tell you. They want to see you succeed just as much as you do. I know I do. Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing students finally ‘get it’ and achieve their best grades possible. That might not be an A+ but if everyone was getting those grades, then the world would be a pretty boring place and would put Bic out of business because I wouldn’t be using as many red pens.

You need to find your motivating factor. It doesn’t have to be to get into uni and do a particular course or to do a specific apprenticeship. Sometimes that motivating factor is that KitKat sitting on top of the piano, or that mic drop moment you get to have 6 years later when someone told you that you couldn’t and you did. Let that drive you as you move on this year. Prove that teacher wrong (and that teacher may be me if you’re my student). Whoever has told you that you can’t (and that may be yourself) show them or yourself that you can.

I’m glad I was told that I couldn’t do it, otherwise, I wouldn’t have worked as hard as I did to prove that I can.

Keep it zesty people


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