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What have you been up to?

Just back from Japan? Saving up for a sabbatical in the UK? Been reading philosophy? Taken up Arabic? Preparing to study in New Caledonia? Writing music for another album? Finishing an architecture degree? Planning to teach English overseas?

When a bunch of my ex-students got in touch to see if we could catch up these holidays, I was thrilled. I was really looking forward to seeing what had become of the young ’uns I had farewelled at their Year 12 graduation, just a few years prior.

Of course, because I had been their French teacher and had helped them prepare and practise for their VCE oral exam, I knew all about their friends and families, their favourite subjects and pastimes, and their aspirations for the future.

I have always thought it is a great privilege to be a language teacher, because you can legitimately spend hours just talking about your students’ interests and dreams. I often feel sorry for other teachers, like the VCE Biology teacher who once told me that there was no time for chit chat because they had so much curriculum to ‘pour into the heads’ of the students. I remember nodding sympathetically, but feeling a guilty sense of relief as I scuttled off to my VCE French class, where, instead of ‘filling heads’, we happily spent an hour chatting about my students’ favourite films, their worst part-time jobs and what they hoped to do after finishing school.

So, a few years later, as I headed to the local park to catch up with the old ‘gang’, I was replaying our classroom conversations in my mind and wondering if any of them had gone on to fulfil their teenage dreams.

And they had.

I felt like a proud mum listening to Sarah tell me about the global communications course she had always hoped to get into, and that had given her the chance to study French overseas. Hearing how Jenny had taken a year off performing to spend time writing songs for her next album. Chatting with John about the best things about architecture.

How did they do it? How did these students achieve their dreams? Was it by having their heads filled with knowledge? Perhaps in part. Was it by making the most of scaling and bonus marks? Surely that helped. Or was it because they were specifically asked about their dreams and how they were going to achieve them? I like to think so!

And, if I’m right, then teachers should never underestimate the impact that sincere interest in our students and their aspirations can have.

Tasha Paquier has been teaching modern languages for the last 17 years and calls herself a French teacher, but has been known to teach German, Japanese, Indonesian, EAL, English, Accounting, Global Politics Theory of Knowledge and even ICT. She is currently Head of French at Albert Park College and is a Teaching Fellow at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

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