“Oh captain my captain”: high school writing competition

Although we may have lost Robin Williams, that phrase from Dead Poets’ Society will never die. “Oh captain my captain” will forever echo in the minds of educators around the world.

Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets' Society
Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets’ Society

Some of us have memories of teachers that make us shudder – especially the older among us. Most of us however, had one or two benevolent guiding lights, piercing through the maelstrom of character forming primary years, and the darkest hours of hormonally charged dismay during high school.

For me, it was Mrs Betty Starr, my year nine history teacher; the woman who helped me understand the real meaning of Australian history, and shattered the illusions of some sheltered Sydney school girls.

I adored her. I wrote about her during my first years as a journalist and editor, and I will never forget her. High school history died for me the day they moved me out of her class. I’m not sure if it was one of those teenage protests that only hurt the teenager, or a realisation that I needed to learn history my own way.

As I sit here, almost a quarter of a century later, I remember her, and tears still come to my eyes. That’s an inspirational teacher. If someone had asked me to write about an inspirational teacher at 14 years old, my subject matter would have been Betty then, as it is Betty now.

In classrooms across Australia, there are students who feel the way I did. They are sitting in their seats, on task, because their leader has expert power, but also referent power. They know what they are talking about, and they inspire the students to cooperate because they are well liked, and above all else, they have an interest in the students’ success.

John Hattie, director of Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, recently stated on ABC documentary Revolution School that the single biggest determinant of student success is not the size of the class, or the students’ postcode: “What really matters is interaction with teachers”, Professor Hattie told Maxine McKew during an interview on The Conversation.

Teachers matter, and School News is interested in hearing from students about their most inspirational teacher. So we ask all high schools to engage with their student body, and offer them the opportunity to formally acknowledge their most inspirational teacher in a piece to be published in national education magazine, School News, Australia.

There will be space dedicated on the School News website for highly commended entries, and one stand-out piece will be selected for publication in our print magazine.

Please forward all entries of no more than 500 words to:

Suzy Barry

[email protected]

Please include the following details with each entry:

  • student name
  • age and year level
  • school name and contact details

Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry is a freelance education writer and the former editor of School News, Australia.

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