Teaching hope

UQ alumnus David Rawson is studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a Frank Knox Fellow. He shares his experience of receiving his acceptance letter, and the opportunities that his education has provided him.

“We all have stories of pain, or we wouldn’t think the world needs changing.

We all have stories of hope, or we wouldn’t think we could change it.”

– Professor Marshall Ganz, Harvard Kennedy School

They say you always remember the day you receive your Harvard letter.

Mine began with a tea that I never quite got to finish between phone calls to family and friends, celebrating the news of admission. There was a sense then, as much as there is now, that life as I knew it was about to change in a powerful way.

It continues to amaze me what transformative potential there is in education. I’ve seen its magic in my own life and chose a career in teaching as a way to play a transformative role in the lives of others. I tell people that I didn’t stumble into teaching; I fell for teaching head over heels, enamoured by my learning at UQ and the feeling of opening up hopeful new worlds of possibility for my students. After teaching languages for three years and leading some improvement initiatives in my school, I decided to apply for graduate school to continue my professional growth.

But if I thought that being admitted to Harvard’s class of 2017 was exciting, then receiving word that I would be a Frank Knox Fellow was a life-changing twist. The award provides full funding for tuition and insurance, as well as a generous living stipend. I almost hadn’t considered applying, believing myself to be an unlikely contender.

You know how the story goes. Society vilifies teachers for the “ease” of our nine-to-three schedule and innumerable weeks of holidays each year. We’re blamed for low test scores and the perception of moral decay in today’s adolescents. What chance did I have compared to those who save lives, defend civil liberties, and empower democracy?

But teaching is important. In some regards, an effective teacher can do all three of these things and more between morning tea and lunch! Although we don’t always see the fruits of our labour immediately, we teach in the knowledge that transformation comes with time. We make enormous investments of our time in our students. We aim to equip and inspire them, and hope we have done enough so they can do the heavy lifting for themselves. This is certainly how my own inspiring teachers empowered me to aim high and to be brave.

Harvard is everything I could have expected and more. There is something quite surreal about being part of an academic community where people have been studying since the 1600s – where you can take the same courses that Mark Zuckerberg and President Barrack Obama studied on their way to meteoric success.

I have found my intellectual home in a rich community of others who rally to the cause of education. I learn as much from the varied experiences of my classmates as I do from the professors, all of who are incredibly generous with their time and support. My studies are teaching me practical skills in leadership, school improvement, and racial equity work. I’m learning to trust in my instincts more, to have the courage to speak my truth, and to stand up for those whose education story has been one of exclusion rather than hope.

That it is possible to grow up with little and to make it to Harvard on a full scholarship speaks volumes about the possibility of our own education system in Australia. Although postcode remains the most reliable predictor of success, this story speaks to the fact that education puts everything on the table.

I’ve also come to believe in US baseball player Branch Rickey’s words, “luck is the residue of design”. When things consistently go our way, others can be quick to attribute them to luck. We might even start to believe it. But isn’t it funny how the more we plan and the harder we work, the luckier we become? We are each the architects of our own life plans. If we let others tell us that following our dreams is a cliché belonging to the world of Hollywood, then we will never map a route towards greatness for which we are each destined.

Trust in good mentors, start charting a course, and apply for everything when you suspect you’re eligible. Whatever your program or interest, there’s so much at stake for those who are counting on you to be successful.

Last updated:
3 January 2017