Personal perspectives

Remember your purpose: what’s your why?

Three minutes
A TFA Community Member Sunday, March 1st, 2015


I believe this to be true – the routine of daily life threatens to obscure what we most value, our purpose.

To be frank, repetition can build complacency.

Sure, teaching is a profession that presents challenges and new tasks daily – heck, sometimes hourly or moment-to-moment.

However, the necessary rigor and repetition required to deliver engaging lessons in addition to managing the contextual factors, ultimately means that impactful learning in the classroom can be a slog.

Add in an uncontrolled environment, and it can create head-above-water/sink-or-swim situations. The present is all we have capacity to focus on.

The motivation to do this work fades. The vision that we had for where we want to be and what we want to achieve grows dim as we focus on the immediacy of what is required.

Remembering our purpose and vision is a powerful tool. I was recently reminded of this.

Not long ago, I was sifting through some photos from my childhood. Among the inevitable cringe-worthy snaps of mullets, happy pants, scrunchies and dance concerts, I found a photo of a primary school performance.

In the foreground was a young boy playing drums. Off-centre was the face and torso of a pale figure staring beyond the photographer. I had not thought of this boy (I will call him Steven), who was in my class, for many years. Everything I knew about him came to me in that moment.

All the labels and identifiers: single parent family; mother deceased; an alcoholic, violent father; both sons with anger management issues and ADHD.

That I knew so much about the family was a combination of two factors: we lived in a small town, and my mother had an undeclared ‘open house’ policy. This saw any kid in our neighbourhood who needed a safe place, a meal, or a surrogate mother’s care come for refuge. Steven’s older brother was a friend of my sister and a regular fixture in our house.

Whether I knew explicitly or intuitively, Steven’s life was filled with shades of grey. Unsuccessful at academic learning, unable to concentrate, lucky if he came to school with breakfast and without bruises, he was shouted at and sent out of classrooms for his behaviour daily.

Trauma-informed practice tells us that the students who are most vulnerable and have experienced early childhood trauma need to be kept close and made safe.

Their pre-frontal cortex is underdeveloped and they are physically unable to process high levels of cortisol produced when they experience stress. Their fight or flight mechanisms are heightened.

Like many of the students with whom we work, whether due to displacement, poverty or abuse, Steven desperately needed to be made safe before he could focus on learning. His lashing out was a reaction to his conditioning that meant most moments of the day, his very life was at stake.

Looking at the photo, his dark look, and wary eyes, I was reminded of my purpose.

Children should not be exposed to a life that leaves them with anguished eyes.

The driven people who form the new wave of this education revolution, the Teach For All network and others, want to be part of the solution.

Steven – I dedicate this to you.

Thank you for reminding me of my purpose.

I hope you are safe.

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