Three messages that could help me be better at my job

A Balinese tattoo artists recreation of Freddy's hands

A Balinese tattoo artist’s recreation of Freddy’s hands

Nearly five years ago, in Beijing, I held the hand of my son for four days. A twin, he was born lifeless after a series of mistakes by doctors at the most reputable and expensive hospital in the city.

As I sat with him and listened to the beeps of the life support machine, I felt that he gave me three messages about life. Tragically, he will never be able to put them into practice himself, but I will certainly try. I will also try and apply them to the way I teach and the way I work in school.

Freddy’s three messages were:

Listen to your gut instincts

Both my wife and I had a gut feeling something would go wrong with the delivery in Beijing. We both knew she should fly to Bangkok, but we ignored those thoughts and feelings for practical reasons.

Every day we are presented with situations in which our gut instincts can be felt very strongly. It is vital that we don’t lose our ability to sense them, listen to them and act upon them. As teachers, these instincts can make the difference between someone who simply does the job and someone who has a significant impact on young minds and lives.

Teaching is an art form, it is a talent, and gut instincts are a crucial factor in knowing what kids need at any given moment. You just don’t get that in your training, in the curriculum or at any PD.

Keep friends and family close

There is an increasing trend these days to move away and seek a better life somewhere else. For international school teachers like myself, this can be an unending quest. Our families are far away and our friendships often temporary. Facebook and Skype are not the right way to interact with the people who are important to you. A screen does not, and will never, replace being physically close.

As teachers, we must ensure that our students learn how to develop friendships and value their family. We must also help them to grow up as people who communicate face-to-face, who interact physically and who understand that social media is not actual life. They need to learn how to use social media the same way we used to use an address book, as a tool that brings you together in reality.

Don’t talk badly about other people

Such a difficult one. It is amazing how easy it can be to spend time talking about other people. It is also amazing how many bonds are formed by this negative habit.

Gossip and back-stabbing are an integral part of life in schools, something about them breeds it. In some schools it can become a real culture of trying to make yourself look good by making other people look bad. Of course, I am talking about the teachers not the students! However, it is an awful thing for children to be surrounded by, don’t you think?

It is much better to decide not to talk badly about other people, or at least to try not to. When you’re next sitting in the staffroom listening to people slag someone off… get up and walk away. Or, even better, tell them you’re not prepared to be part of it.

This is a massively important lesson for kids too. Helping them identify, deal with and avoid gossip could be an extremely empowering element to your teaching.

Naturally, my success at living up to these ideals varies as each year progresses. However, I do believe that I can improve my life and my ability to do my job if I can make them happen. I also believe I am not alone, which is why I’m sharing them.



  1. Amy Pitcairn

    Thanks for sharing Freddy’s wisdom with the world. Hope your new job will equal more face to face time for us.

  2. Hailey Joubert

    Hi Sam,

    I have been thinking a lot about the third message over recent months and my New Year’s resolution is to make further progress in being more accepting and not to judge – colleagues, students, family, people in general. Not easy, as you said, but a very worthwhile aspiration. This message and the other two you mentioned would be empowering and life changing if we observed them in our own lives and shared them with our students.


    • Mr. Sam

      Thanks, Hailey. It really is a difficult task, particularly if we are surrounded by people being judgmental. This is often the case in schools, for various reasons. But, it is even more the case in society in general these days. So much TV seems to be about being judgmental, and giving people the chance to sit on their sofas on pass judgment on people!

      Funny, a student in Chad’s class (next door to my class) has decided she wants to launch an anti-gossip campaign for students as she feels there is a real problem there. She just created a T-Shirt that says “Oh, sorry, did my back hurt your knife?”. It’ll be interesting to see the reaction!

  3. Bruce Sherratt

    Extremely important article. It’s nice to see something that addresses philosophical and humanistic issues as ‘EDUCATION’, rather than the depressingly overemphasized onus we see all too often on pragmatic, largely work, profession or career orientated curriculum content.
    I think the second point is extremely poignant and important. The young are depending on depersonalized, media based, rather than direct methods of communication. Indeed, I’d say this has reached the level of mass addiction.

    • Mr. Sam

      Thanks, Dad. I agree… I think the human side of education has started to fade in the last few years. Our role in the bringing up of ethical people, good people, confident people who know how to interact with each other, live responsibly and act with mindfulness.

      There is definitely an addiction to technology, but rather than stigmatize it and pretend it isn’t happening, educators need to educate. They need to teach kids who to use these tools, because that is all they are, and then put down the tools when they’ve served their purpose and go out there and live in the real world.

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