New Australian book shares stories of inspirational educators

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Class of teens are in their music lesson at school. There is a female teacher and the class are practicing choir with her.

Author, editor and teacher-librarian Megan Daley, of Children’s Books Daily, is a firm believer in the power of an exceptional teacher. Sometimes, it is not about what they taught you, but simply that they saw you – often before you even recognised yourself.

To showcase that power, Ms Daley is celebrating today’s release of her new book, Teacher, Teacher. It’s a collection of stories from contributors across Australia, with an aim to share stories of the brilliant educators who have nurtured, inspired, championed or created change – in an individual student or a whole community. 

And as data from the Black Dog Institute reveals that more than three quarters of  Australian teachers deal with teacher shortages in their own schools, and almost half are considering leaving the profession within the next 12 months, these timely, engaging and authentic accounts span both the darkness and the light of the educational journey and serve as a potent reminder of the value quality teachers can deliver.

From Tony Birch’s account of lessons learnt from marathon running to Jessie Tu’s sharp memory of first encountering the feminist lens, Rick Morton’s tribute to the village that raises a child and Eliza Hull’s call to action for schools to reflect the wonderfully diverse world we live in, Teacher, Teacher provides insight into what makes an exceptional  teacher and is a celebration of great educators everywhere. 

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“The traditional school system doesn’t work for all kids,” says Ms Daley. “But there are also so many fantastic stories too – and, often, it’s because of an amazing teacher.”

When she put the call out for contributors, Ms Daley says she was thrilled to receive more than 100 stories. The hard part was choosing the 30 that made it on to the pages.

With so many stories to choose from – including a cross-section of educational experiences that cover everything from early childhood influences, high school and specialist programs for youth at risk – Ms Daley says it’s tough to choose her own personal favourite.

One stand-out, she says, is a story written by 19-year-old singer/songwriter Joe Visser: My year with the terrible teacher.

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“It showed teachers can be themselves and inspire students to be themselves, too,” she says. “It celebrates the quirky teachers – and I definitely fit that description.”

Award-winning children’s author Andrea Rowe says the chance to write about her “magnificent English teacher, Mr Dunlevy” was time to look back on the many ways he had “recognised my potential and pushed me beyond my writing comfort zone, volleyed back gutsy conversations, shoved me forward into debate club … and brought bookworm comfort during teen tough moments of illness”.

“He left lasting impacts and championed change in the quietest of ways,” the author of new picture book, Sunday Skating says. “Mr Dunlevy was the teacher who ignited my story telling torch, pushing me to follow the threads of curiosity and to dig deep with research. Alongside his curated reading lists and our philosophical lunchtime library chats, he also challenged me to practise empathy and understand altered points of view.”

There were, Ms Rowe says, also “uncomfortable lessons when it came to matching values with actions”.

“He was the first person beyond my parents who pushed me to ‘be the change’ and to step forward towards people in need of support and advocacy,” she says. “I really believe that an exceptional teacher is one who guides you beyond the pages of a textbook, who was fundamental in helping you forming your humanity and finding your way towards your talents, skills and passions, Those lessons, and teachers are with you for life.”

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In this excerpt from the Teacher, Teacher introduction, award-winning teacher librarian Megan Daley remembers the passion for education her parents helped inspire:

I grew up in household of teachers. Children of teachers recount stories of being the first kids at school of a morning and the tedious wait for friends to arrive as your parent wrestles (usually unsuccessfully) with the photocopier. They remember the hours they spent after school helping their parent cut up laminated resources, the confusion of watching their parent worry over other people’s children late into the night and witnessing the dedication, the despair and the occasional triumph of a teacher parent. 

In her story Lessons in Growing Up, Gabrielle Tozer says that ‘a thread of education runs through my family tree’ and I see and feel this thread within my own family. 

My mother is a teacher librarian and I am the teacher librarian I am because of the years I spent alongside her as a child, the middle grade and young adult books she fed me as she completed further studies in Australian literature, the library displays I helped her to build, and the mentoring she continues to give me.  

My father is a professor of criminology and his dedication, even now in retirement, to his university students and his area of expertise, is extraordinary. When I meet a past student who still talks about my father or see the joy he still gets from writing, or witness the dedication my mother has to the students she volunteer tutors at a local Intensive English Language school for newly arrived young people of refugee and migrant background, I witness firsthand that teaching is a vocation as much as it is a profession.

A profession is a career for which you are paid, a vocation encompasses not just your career, but your life’s work and often, your calling.

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Teacher, Teacher features contributions from: Zoe Anderson, Tony Birch, Megan Daley, Christine Davey-White, Kristy Dickinson, Sam Drummond, Rebecca Dymond, Angela Fraser, Jacqueline Harvey, Eliza Hull, Hakea Hustler, Andrew Kwong, Ned Manning, Lizzie Maughan, Rick Morton, Casey Mulder, Michelle Nye, Alexandra O’Sullivan, Amra Pajalic, Maria Papas, Andrea Rowe, Karen Ruth, Guy Salvidge, Gabrielle Tozer, Jessie Tu, Joe Visser, Monique Wallace and Shannon Wong-Nizic and is published by Affirm Press.

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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]