Lisa Kerr

Secondary School,
New South Wales

What inspired you to get into teaching?

When I was in high school I had an amazing chemistry teacher. He was a retired chemist and was passionate about passing on his love of chemistry. I loved his classes and grew to love chemistry too. So much so that I walked away from my dream of becoming a pilot and went to university to study chemistry. I studied forensics, graduated, and worked in the field briefly before I quit - I hated it. I was lost, I'd worked so hard for what I thought was my dream job, but then I remembered my teacher. I remembered his passion for teaching. I remembered him telling me that I would make a great teacher one day after I broke down some particularly tricky concepts for my peers. So, I went back to uni and got my Masters and I've never looked back. He was right - I love teaching.

Why do you teach?

My teachers changed the course of my life. I had a tough childhood and I'm neurodivergent, which presented a host of additional challenges. I broke the cycle with education. I stayed at school, I worked hard in spite of the disadvantages in my life. It was my teachers who showed me the power of education and supported me when I needed it most. Now it's my turn to support my students, to help them grow, to pass on a passion for learning, and to encourage and support neurodivergent students. I choose to work in a 'disadvantaged' area - in fact, I work next door to the school I went to. With all the challenges kids face, getting an education shouldn't be one of them.

What's your stand out/most memorable teaching moment?

It's the moments after teaching that I treasure the most. It's the student I ran into at the shops, 8 years after graduating, who is about to start his internship as a doctor at the local hospital and excitedly told me it's a dream come true. It's the student who showed up as a casual teacher one day at the school I taught her at. It makes me feel so old, but so proud of her achievements and drive! It's the young man serving my coffee at the cafe down the road from the school. I taught him 10 years ago. He's turned his life around, gotten a job and is supporting his family, all because he made a decision to do better – and I told him that I knew he could do it. Seeing my students succeed years later is magic.

Have you received a special keepsake from your student/s that you treasure?

The cards with the heartfelt messages and the meaningful stories - I treasure them most. I keep them all in a box and when I'm having a tough time I get them out and read them. They remind me of what matters. One class, a physics class, had a joke. They called me the "all-knowing-entity-of-Physics". They got it engraved on a coffee mug because they knew I run on caffeine! When my clock fell off the wall and broke, another one of my students made me a clock and replaced the numbers with the first 12 elements of the Periodic Table. These gifts mean so much to me.

What is your advice for new teachers or people considering a career in teaching?

Prioritise. Work out what is most important to you as a teacher and what is most valuable to them as a student. Focus on those. This job can be tough but anything in this life that is worth doing is tough. That's how we grow, how we evolve. It can be hard work, it can be draining, but it is so very rewarding. You won't find a more rewarding career, with so many opportunities to make a difference. Remember that you're human, that being human is what makes you relatable, and that students learn more when there is a stable, positive, student-teacher relationship. Not every lesson has to be pedagogical genius. In fact, our students often learn more from us when we make a mistake (and own it). Be the teacher you wish you had, or like the one you loved!

Headshot – Lisa Kerr, looking at camera, smiling
Lisa Kerr - Keepsake

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