Meaningful mementos from students add to the joy of teaching

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

When the Be That Teacher campaign launched recently, the aim was to attract more teachers to the profession by celebrating the positives.

For ACT teacher MJ Logan, whose ‘feel good file’ reveals the incredible impact she has had on her student’s lives, those positives come in the form of treasured gifts that include handwritten and heartfelt notes of gratitude.

She can still remember the first time a student shared a special ‘thank you’ with her.

“It was in 2004 and it was towards the end of the year,” Ms Logan told EducationDaily. “Caitlin McMillan. She was a lovely kid – good all-rounder and really lovely to everyone.”

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Gifts of gratitude fuelled her commitment to teaching

Ms Logan was in her first year of teaching and had never experienced a present from a student before. She found the choice of present especially touching – and, she says, a great testament to the student’s incredible character.

“‘On your behalf, a donation has been made to enable five children to have a uniform and be educated for a year’ – such a lovely gift,” she says. “I still have the card. It comes out when I need those little reminders about what makes teaching so special. It was quite pivotal. It changed my life. It’s always lovely to be acknowledged.”

When asked about other stand-out inclusions from her ‘feel-good file’, Ms Logan – who says her brother and sister are also teachers –  shares the story of a student who was non-binary and struggling with acceptance.

“They were a great person – really intelligent too – and one day they stayed behind after class,” she says. 

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When they produced a gift box containing a thoughtful collection of earrings, Ms Logan says she was moved to tears.

“I wear enormous earrings every day. This kid had sat down with their mum and chosen these really mindfully,” she says. “It was incredibly moving.”

The carefully curated earring collection contained designs saying ‘be kind’, as well as another pair featuring an illustration from the iconic children’s picture book Where The Wild Things Are, another pair featuring the rainbow Pride flag, and one pair featuring the Magic School Bus character Miss Frizzle.

“I’d made an effort to always remember their pronouns and they felt accepted by me,” she says. “I was also running a professional learning community about educating teachers to be inclusive. They felt I’d made a difference.”

Acceptance and kindness matter

Earlier this year, when Ms Logan was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have surgery and treatment soon after, it had only been six weeks since starting a position at a new school before she was forced to take a few months of leave. For one student, though, those six weeks she had been teaching had already left a powerful impression.

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“One of the senior girls in Year 11 is a bit of a rebel and a bit of a risk-taker but a great kid,” she told EducationDaily. “She brought in a beautiful shawl she had crocheted for me in ‘my’ colours with a note saying that she hoped “this keep you warn during chemo”.

It did.

“It doesn’t take much to have an impact on kids,” she says. “They share with you what they have – they want someone to listen.”

 When she is having what she describes as a “really shitty day”, Ms Logan says returning to the feel-good file is like “nourishment for the soul”.

“Teaching is an emotional marathon every day. You have compassion fatigue and anger sometimes – then you have these awe-filled moment of wonder, all in the same day,” she says.

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Balancing those swirling emotions in the classroom competes with the real-world issues that teachers face when they leave the school grounds – when they go home to deal with their own issues with parents, or partners or children of their own. But she acknowledges that those same issues apply to the lives of her students.

“I’ve been dealing with kids who have leukaemia, or anorexia or massive family breakdowns,” she told EducationDaily. “They come to school because it’s a place of strength and safety and learning for them. So, as a teacher, I think, ‘man, if that kid can come in…I can too’. 

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]