When I was a skinny kid, riding my bike around West Auckland, my heroes were mostly terrifying fast bowlers and pacey fly-halves.
But the absolute top of my list was a humble lady who was passionate about Shakespeare and punctuation.
Sure, Richard Hadlee could knock over the Aussie top order, the All Blacks create a try from nothing, but my High School English teacher, Claire Hallas – or Mrs Hallas as I knew her – had the magic ability to shape entire worlds.
It was the kind of neighbourhood the newspapers would describe as “hard scrabble”, but all I knew were the great people who populated my rich slice of the world. People like my dad, a carpenter who built our family home on weekends while we lived in the garage.
With admiration, I marvelled at how dad had conjured this structure from ideas within his head. I also knew he had someone – a key teacher – who had taught him how to do this magic.
Into this mix came the teachers at Waitakere College. They could open books and take me to ancient Rome, to the base of the Pyramids or to the top of Mount Everest. This intrigued me. By the time I was finishing High School, and not really sure what to do with myself, I thought about becoming a teacher like Mrs Hallas.
Mrs Hallas had a different idea. She was adamant I should go to University and study commerce. Two things I had never considered or thought of as options. People talk about that one coach or teacher that changed their lives. Well Mrs Hallas was that for me.
So why do we not recognise our teachers as national heroes? Great Australians like Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, biologist Sir Gustav Nossal and wartime surgeon Weary Dunlop all had important teachers who started them on their paths.
The launch of News Corp’s Australia’s Best Teacher series comes at a crucial moment for elevating the status of teachers. ANZ is proud to get behind it.
Look at the raw facts, Australia faces an “unprecedented” teacher shortage while a recent Productivity Commission report found teachers are leaving the profession due to workload and stress.
Australia has fallen below the OECD global averages for maths, while also falling in reading and science. This is not good enough for a nation which has achieved so much in these fields.
It is urgent to showcase the incredible work of teachers and the impact they are having on the next generation.
It could teach us all a thing or two.
Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ