In a classic case of ‘grip it and rip it’, Elanora State High School’s Darren McSwaine has just been named the Gold Coast Teacher of the Year, something he could never have imagined back in 2008 when he arrived at the school.
The award is decided by the 20 principals who make up the Secondary Principals’ Alliance Gold Coast, and includes a $5000 winning bursary.
Part of the award process involved an interview prior to the award ceremony.
McSwaine says it was here he might have swayed the panel of school leaders.
“I think the main thing [the panel were impressed by] was that I go above and beyond helping students to achieve pathways, not just at school, but beyond school.”
“So, for example, we had a kid last year in Year 9, both his parents were deceased, he was in and out of foster homes, missed two or three years of schooling ... So here he is in Year 9, academically he was probably Year 5 or Year 6 level – couldn’t engage in the work, because it was too hard for him, so all he’d do was muck around to hide it.”
“I got him into a project with the local police who worked with him on his confidence.
"He went and did a carpentry course at the local trade school, did a certificate in construction and now he’s actually got an apprenticeship as a carpenter in Tweed Heads.
“It’s brilliant – the best thing that’s ever happened to him.”
McSwaine says teens should be reminded how lucky they are.
“They think the world revolves around them and just trying [to get them] to look at the broader circle, look outside your little world and there’s people that are suffering.”
“They get that.”
“We watched a video the other day about mobile phones, where a young girl had lost her mother and father in a road accident, because they were using a phone while driving, and some of the kids were in tears.”
“As much as you don’t want to see someone cry, it’s good to see them get in touch with their emotions.”
McSwaine, who coaches the school’s Open Rugby League team, is passionate about helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds and organises the mathematics part of Elanora’s Xcelerate program for talented local primary school students.
He says taking the time to connect with kids is the secret.
“It’s really about getting to know your students, which a lot of teachers struggle to do,” the former mathematics academic says.
While greatly respectful of the job his fellow teachers do daily, McSwaine believes kids may also be underdone by their educators.
“I can say, although I don’t know if I should, I feel that kids these days aren’t being encouraged to think.
“I feel like they are spoon-fed a lot.
“The kids aren’t thinking outside the square, it’s all just content.
“We need better teacher training and we need to keep teachers accountable, asking questions,” he says.