Say the name of your favorite teacher.

There is simple beauty in this exercise because it does not matter how old you are. If you’re in Year Six, you probably know the name of the teacher who has been the greatest influence on you to this point. You could be 90 years old and still gifted with a memory like a steel trap (I’m 44 and my wife says if get Alzheimer’s she won’t notice). Does the good teacher of your day… their name, their face come flooding back to you? Mum, Dad or Carer? I hope somebody comes to mind, that someone who has seen a spark and made a difference in your child’s journey. Does your own memory produce the picture of that great person for whom teaching was so much more than a job?

Sal Valentino is one of these people. He has been at Simonds College, in inner city Melbourne for over twenty years. He champions the cause for each student at his school to find and know their great possibility. How does he do this? In so many ways… but as Paul Kelly (a contemporary Australian bard) once wrote – let the part tell the whole.

The Simonds boys have just this week, come off some ‘My PB days’ (personal best). The program culminates with a testosterone fuelled moment – the boys get to seal a ‘Good Man Goal’, identify an action, a change they want to make and they write it on to a piece of wood. Then they are trained to muster their energy and with a ‘Mr. Miagi style karate chop’, they set their goal by smashing the piece of wood in two. Ask most teenage boys in school… “And now we want you to break something”, and it is OK… they will think it is Christmas!

But what about the young bloke who is a little tentative?

Here’s the Sal Valentino gold… one such young fella had missed breaking the wood on his first couple of goes… other boys are starting to watch and this is not helping. Intuitively Sal whisks the student to a spot where he can try away from the gaze of his peers. With Sal’s encouragement and imagination, the boy manages to break that piece of wood… he returns to the group with it now in two pieces. Another boy, who also had missed the first couple of times, comes straight up and congratulates his classmate. Sal notices and celebrates publically the compassion and empathy shown in this other boy’s expression of support.

This was a replete piece of education… it took five minutes. There must literally be tens of thousands of these stories over Sal’s career. But this was all in a day’s work for Sal Valentino.

He is a true champion.

So here’s an idea. Write a note of thanks to your champion teacher. Tell them why you think they are a champion… give them back a moment where they taught you something. If they are long gone thank them in your heart.

A letter headed out from this desk on the weekend to the great Chuck Thompson – my Year 7 homeroom teacher. He’s still plying his craft – I reckon an ‘out of the blue’ thank-you will give these champions a spur.

Who was or is your favourite teacher? Feel free to write your story in the space below.