University of Newcastle Teacher Graduation

SPEECH
UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE TEACHER GRADUATION
NEWCASTLE
13 DECEMBER 2023

I start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting and pay my respects to elders past and present.

I also want to acknowledge:

  • Mr Paul Jeans, Chancellor
  • Prof Alex Zelinsky AO, Vice-Chancellor
  • Professor Susan Ledger, Dean of Education
  • Laurette Professor Jenny Gore, from the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre
  • Professor Uncle Bob Morgan, Chair of the Board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and Research
  • Ms Deirdre Heitmeyer, honorary doctorate recipient
  • My friend, Sharon Claydon MP, Member for Newcastle

And to you, the graduating students and your mums, dads, loved ones and your very special guests.

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this evening on this very special occasion.

This is the first time I have had the privilege to speak at a graduation ceremony.

It is a great honour.

The first thing I did when I got this job, a bit over a year ago, was go back to my old primary school and give my teacher Mrs Fry a hug.

Mrs Fry started there, at Cabramatta Public School, in 1978. And she is still there.

I did that for a reason. It felt like the right place to start.

But I also wanted to send a message.

A message about what I think is important. About who I think are important. About the sort of Minister I want to be.

I mentioned before, this is the first time I’ve spoken at a graduation ceremony.

I told the Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky that I would love to speak today – but on one condition. That the graduating class be allowed to invite some of your teachers.

To invite a teacher who inspired you, who shaped you, who helped you believe in yourself. Who made you want to be a teacher.

Because I suspect they are the reason many of you are here today.

And because I want them to see you on this stage. To see the life they have helped make and the career they have inspired.

I had the privilege of meeting some of you earlier today.

People like Mikalya Guest who has brought with her today the teacher who inspired her, who also happens to be her Mum.

Mrs Guest works at Darlington Point Public School. A great public school in a small town on the Murrumbidgee.

By all accounts it sounds like Mrs Guest is a bit of a rockstar around town and is constantly recognised by her current and previous students. She is that teacher for Darlington Point.

Mr Berman is that teacher for Charlotte Smith who is also graduating tonight.

He’s a history teacher and Charlotte told me about the ability Mr Berman has to put his students into a time machine.

To take students out of the classroom and back in time. To hover over battlefields and into the offices of presidents and prime ministers.

I also met Mrs Cobham who taught Joel Gauci. Joel says Mrs Cobham’s warmth and passion is hard to ignore. And it’s not just the lessons he learnt in the classroom, it’s the individual lessons Mrs Cobham taught him that he really values.

Joel says in moments of self-doubt, Mrs Cobham offered him guidance and the confidence he needed to believe in himself.

Now that’s a superpower.

To all the teachers and former teachers in this hall tonight, now watching your former students become teachers themselves, I know you know the type of impact you have had.

This invitation is proof of that.

So are the notes, the gifts and the mementos from other students that I suspect many of you keep in your bottom drawer.

But I also know that some teachers sometimes wonder whether the rest of the country knows this. If the rest of us really appreciate how hard and complex this profession is.

A lot of teachers tell me they don’t feel valued. We need to change that.

I want to change the way we as a country think about our teachers, and the way our teachers think our country thinks of them.

That’s why we have just launched the national advertising campaign you just saw, called ‘Be That Teacher’.

It features Mr Wang and seven other teachers. One from every state and territory with a story just like this.

The truth is there are more than 300,000 stories like this. Every teacher has them.

This campaign is now online, on billboards, on bus stops and in shopping centres right across Australia.

There is a lot we have to do to make our education system better and fairer, but it starts with this. It starts with a bit of respect. It starts with you.

Because everything you do, or will do, helps the children you will teach to aim higher, to be kinder, to work harder and to be braver.

And because, maybe most importantly, you will teach them to believe in themselves.

That’s a gift. That makes what you are about to do the most important job in the world.

Next year as you enter the classroom, my job will be to work with State and Territory Education Ministers to forge a new National School Reform Agreement for the nation.

A new agreement that finishes the job David Gonski started over a decade ago to make sure all of our schools are funded fairly. To level the playing field.

And to tie that funding to the sorts of things that are going to help close not just the funding gap but the education gap.

If you are a child from a poor family today, or from regional Australia, or you are Indigenous, you are less likely to go to early education, you are more likely to fall behind at primary school, you are less likely to finish high school, and you are less likely to go to a university like this.

This is what I want to fix.

We have got to close the funding gap for our public schools, but we have also got to use that money to fund the things that will close this education gap.

And that’s a big part of what the agreement we forge next year will be about.

I also want to give a shout out tonight to Professor Jenny Gore.

The first few years in the classroom are tough. They really are. And mentoring and support in those early years can make all the difference between whether you decide if this is a career for life, like some of the teachers you have brought here today, or not.

Ten years ago Jenny developed a program here at Newcastle Uni called Quality Teaching Rounds.

It’s a mentoring program that helps teachers learn from each other about the best classroom practice.

And it works.

In the last 10 years it has helped more than 4,700 teachers and benefited at least 785,000 students.

And now with a bit of Commonwealth support we are rolling it out across the country.

It’s the sort of program that might help you too.

Good luck next year.

And thank you for choosing the most important job in the world.

For the things that you are about to do.

And the lives that you will change.

For the children, that because of you, will also walk on this stage one day.   

Paul Keating used to say a good education was like having the “keys to the kingdom”.

A master key that unlocks every door. Every opportunity in life.

If he’s right, and you know he is, then you are the key makers.

It’s you, and what you will do when you leave here, that will help open doors that would have otherwise stayed closed.

And while not everyone who walks through those doors will realise that it was you who opened them, they will get it one day.

Like I did.

And when they do, they will say to you, what I said to Mrs Fry, “thank you for what you taught me.”

ENDS