I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an exemplary pupil at school. While I was blessed with a reasonable level of intelligence, I was more interested in applying that intelligence to things other than scholastic pursuits. In particular, smuggling illicitly-acquired vodka into school in Tupperware containers was a bit of a personal penchant.
My father was a doctor and like many Doctors’ progeny, the expectation was that I would be a top student, scoop up more than my fair share of awards and quietly tootle off to medical school to follow his lead. Unfortunately, I missed the memo and the excellence gene seems to have skipped a generation – both my sons wore out plenty of shoe leather walking up to the school stage to pick up their multitudinous awards and scholarships, whereas I didn’t ever have such an honour.
Indeed, simply not being expelled was probably my biggest achievement in high school. I was, it seems, THAT student. The one whom teachers despaired of, who principals spent an inordinate amount of time with and whose parents lived in fear of the next note or phone call from home.
So despite the expectations of tertiary study and medical qualification, I dropped out of school to do an electrical apprenticeship, much to both the horror and the relief of my collective teachers.
One of those teachers is something of a legend in educational circles. Shona Murray was the long-time head of the Tawa College Music Department. Tawa is famous for many things – the last place in New Zealand to allow for the legal sale of alcohol and more churches per capita than any other place in the country among them. In addition to these dubious qualifications, Tawa College is well known as having one of the best music departments in the country. Largely due to the Herculean efforts of Shona and her team.
As a primary school student, I remember auditioning for the famed Tawa Schools and Community Music Festival and being slightly awed by the energy and vitality of Shona and her passion for all things musical. Before becoming the wayward high school pupil I turned into, I spent a few years singing in a variety of Tawa College choirs and generally hanging out in the music department.
I’m bringing up all this distant history not merely for the fun of it, but because I’ve been thinking lately of Shona. Now retired, but still doing things musical, Shona is a frequent user of social media as she follows up on the varied international careers of the students she taught in her long career. Reading a recent post about some musical prodigy or other rising to stardom on the international stage, it occurred to me what an awesome feeling it must be to celebrate the success of those who you’ve helped to develop.
We live in a weird society, within a truly bizarre economic model where the things that really have value (like educating the next generation or taking care of the infirm) are assigned little value. One only needs to look at the relative pay rates of teachers to computer programmers, or of nurses to bankers, to see this is the case.
But Shona is a good example of intrinsic payback. Hardly a week goes by where she doesn’t, I’m sure, glow in absolute pride at how she has created an entire generation of musicians and singers. She no doubt feels quietly satisfied at the fact that the current Head of Music Department, Murray Cameron, was a student of hers 35 years ago. And I have no doubt that she’s bursting with pride about the fact that her daughter, Charlotte, is herself a music teacher at the school and has taken up the mantle of directing college choirs from her mother. All things that have massive emotional payback, if not massive financial return.
So here’s a salute to those who quietly toil for the greater good – the teachers, nurses and social workers who give of themselves for the betterment of society and forego financial benefit for other gains. As a society, we should value you far higher than we do. And, while I’m at it, a hearty mea culpa from me to Shona – hopefully, my adult life has gone some way to making up for my misspent youth.