• Samuel Leighton-Dore reflects on the significant roles his teachers played growing up. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
I still remember how it felt to have my value as a young person placed in my ideas and creativity, not in my appearance or the way my voice sounded.
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

25 Oct 2019 - 11:00 AM  UPDATED 1 Oct 2020 - 4:28 PM

When I was in year one, a teacher by the name of Mrs Lane sat me on her knee in front of the whole class and announced that one day I would become a writer.

"Sam's going to write books!" she exclaimed to a room full of fidgety six-year-olds. 

"Isn't that marvellous?"

Mrs Lane has remained with me over the last 20-odd years because she was the first of several teachers who profoundly shaped my development and direction. While I'm sure she didn't realise the extent of it, I was being bullied at the time; taunted on the playground for 'looking like a girl' and possessing more than a couple of typically effeminate mannerisms.

As my shaky sense of self was only beginning to form, she planted seeds of worth and value deep into the proverbial dirt that was being lumped on me from all angles, knowing full well that they wouldn't sprout into flowers for years to come.

That's the power of a good teacher - to plant seeds of worth in even the most neglected gardens.

I still remember how it felt to be noticed back then, to be seen - to have an authoritative figure recognise my way with words and actively encourage it. She made me feel special at time when I felt anything but - when I was running home from school each recess to get away from those who pursued me with such disregard and malice. I still remember how it felt to have my value as a young person placed in my ideas and creativity, not in my appearance or the way my voice sounded.

Fortunately, Mrs Lane wouldn't be the last teacher to notice I was treading water and offer me a life-vest.

When I changed schools in year eight I was quickly 'taken in' by several teachers, many of whom I remain in contact with over social media today. They knew I was coming from another school, one where I had been assaulted by fellow students and neglected by teachers. They realised I was vulnerable and went out of their way to ensure I felt supported and valued.

I still remember how it felt to be noticed back then, to be seen - to have an authoritative figure recognise my way with words and actively encourage it.

Mr Dennehey made sure I was in his school 'house' from the get-go, so that he could keep a close eye on me and encourage my participation in school events. Mr Larkin noticed I was falling behind in geography and bought me a textbook out of his own pocket. Lucy Sensei offered smiles and chats in the corridors, despite us not having any classes together. Mr T nurtured my interest in the arts and encouraged me to explore new mediums, always meeting my accomplishments with genuine pride. Ms Martin could tell I had no interest in mathematics, so would apply rules and equations to creative contexts, while always complimenting my raging pretty-boy fringe.

These wonderful teachers, and others I haven't named, became the sturdy foundation I needed to start placing my own bricks and working out not only who I was, but who I wanted to be.

When I came out as gay at 16, they took extra care, checking in with me regularly to make sure I was okay - showing me the respect I wasn't yet sure I deserved.

Of course, we shouldn't only recognise these wonderful, hard-working teachers on World Teachers Day. We should cultivate an appreciation for them every day. But I'll take today as a chance to express my gratitude.

And Mrs Lane, if you happen to be reading this, I did write books.

Thank you for telling me I would.

Samuel Leighton-Dore is a writer and visual artist based on the Gold Coast. He writes for SBS Pride and his new book How To Be A Big Strong Man is available in Australia now.

Teachers, find curriculum-aligned and ready-to-use resources with SBS Learn. Made by teachers, for teachers, SBS Learn helps you explore multiculturalism, Indigenous history, homelessness, and more in your classroom.

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