Do you respect wood?

Matt BrayMeet Matt Bray, former student at Horsham College, a Teach For Australia Partner School

Matt grew up in in Horsham from a single parent family and completed high school in 2013. He worked as a furniture maker across Melbourne for two years whilst concurrently working at a supermarket at night. He relocated to Ballarat to undertake a double degree in business and commerce with double majors in management and commercial law. He has since recently completed a six-month internship with Hanson Concrete as a project manager and will complete his university studies at the end of this year.

Daniel Margetand Daniel Marget, Cohort 2013, Leadership Development Program

Dan entered the world of teaching in 2013 via Teach For Australia after having completed a commerce/honours degree at Melbourne University. His placement school was Horsham College in Western Victoria, where he’d spend three years learning the ropes as a teacher and connecting with some exceptional students and staff. After that time, he moved to London for a while before returning home and taking up a position as a Leading Teacher at Werribee Secondary College, where he currently works.

In 2013, Matt Bray was in his last year of high school at Horsham College.

Daniel Marget (Cohort 2013), a first-year teacher at the school and the Public Speaking Coordinator, had put a call out for students to compete in the local Lions Clubs’ Junior Public Speaking Contest.

“I’d never done public speaking before,” Matt says. But he and his friend Greg went over to the junior side of the school and gave it a crack. That first day, the students had to brainstorm what they were passionate about and give a practice speech – just five minutes. “There were a whole lot of Year 8s running around the corridor, making noise. I just could not do it at all – I couldn’t rehearse, I couldn’t talk about it. I didn’t have a reference point, and I didn’t know how to make the whole five minutes flow and how to structure it with a start and end.”

Mr Marget helped the students brainstorm, trying to pinpoint their particular passions that would make the five minutes seem like not even enough time.

Mr Marget had never met Matt before, and would never formally be Matt’s teacher. That day, talking with Matt at that first practice session, and it became clear that Matt had a passion for woodwork. Larry David’s line “Do you respect wood?” from satirical comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm came to mind. In the episode, Larry whinges about somebody putting a drink down on a very nice wooden table without a coaster, which leaves a watermark.

“Do you respect wood?” was Matt’s sentiment about the status of the world, exactly.

“I thought I could talk about woodwork for hours with people and bore them out of their brains,” Matt said. But instead of boring people for hours, Matt’s speech progressed him from the regional competition, on to district, and then state.

Talking to Matt more than five years after he’s made his speech, he can still bring that passion to life in conversation. “We’re not using traditional, timber joinery techniques anymore,” he explains. “Everything’s IKEA or thrown together without too much care at all. The unsustainability of it – this is a throwaway society.”

Person using chisel while curving wood


Hearing Matt talk about this issue again, his instructor Mr Marget is brought back to those rounds of competitions. “Matt’s speech was really unique. We never heard the same thing twice. He didn’t have it on cue cards, he didn’t memorise it from a piece of paper. He said the same thing but it was very much ad-libbed, very conversational. He was always walking around the front stage, really interacting with the audience.”

“I really remember you could see parents of these other competitors mouthing the speeches that their child was saying because they had to memorise it themselves, and they’d practiced it so many times. That was what set Matt apart because he demonstrated that the most effective way to speak publicly is to connect with your audience. So not only did he speak about a topic that he was incredibly passionate about, he did it in a way that wasn’t quite obviously rehearsed. It felt like it really came from the heart. He did that so well time and time again, and I think that’s why he kept moving through these different stages.”

Mr Marget travelled with Matt around Victoria for the competitions and the whole experience has stuck with them both – even six years later. Matt remembers fondly, “He dedicated his time, he stayed overnights across different places across the state – and I wasn’t even his student. That’s a testament to him. He’s probably one of the more influential teachers that I’ve had. Dan completely treated me as an adult. When you’re going through school at 18, you’re going through things like ‘where do I want to be from now, where do I see myself in five years, what am I going to do when I leave school?’ You need the side of guidance that isn’t strictly academic.” For Matt, Mr Marget was a mentor at a time when he needed guidance.

After graduating high school, Matt is now doing a double degree in Business and Commerce, majoring in management and commercial law.

Dan Marget is currently teaching at Werribee Secondary College. “I have so many fond memories of my time in Horsham in and out of the classroom, but I don’t think any of them really rank as highly as that experience did. No one had succeeded to the extent that he had in this kind of thing at our school – he was up against some of the highest of high, private school, super-academic kids and he just showed them up time and time again. When he won through to that state final, it was just incredible.”

This story was originally published as part of Teach For Australia’s Ten Year Anniversary timeline. Explore the timeline here. You can find Matt Bray’s story in the year 2013, as well as many more stories and milestones throughout the years.

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