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Newsflash: I am not a ballerina. It’s not because I didn’t want to be, and it’s certainly not because of Mrs Perry. She is one of the few teachers I remember from my time at school.
She was always warm and bubbly, and although I could never place her age, she brimmed with the energy of a 20-something, belied only by the grey streak through her short, dark hair.
I never felt completely comfortable at school, but Mrs Perry made me feel special. In modern parlance, “she saw me”. She nurtured my love of dancing, made me feel like I had a gift and appointed me Vice Dance Captain. I realise now it was more for my enthusiasm than my talent.
While I never managed to pirouette at the Bolshoi Theatre, Mrs Perry gave me more than just the joy of dance, she helped me to believe in myself.
Someone else who took me under their experienced wing was my first news boss, Mr Nic Nolan. Nic allowed me to come into 92.9 radio station in Perth for work experience. I went in most mornings and sometimes even on the weekends.
He was the breakfast news anchor and could have easily been “too busy” to pay attention to a 19-year-old journalism student, but he’d read my practice scripts, sometimes even using them for his own bulletins – which left me feeling rather chuffed.
He didn’t once make me feel like a nuisance, even though I felt like one. In fact, he lit a fire inside of me.
I was in the newsroom on a Saturday morning when the newsreader fell sick. Nic asked me to read the rest of the day’s bulletins.
I nearly vomited. “I can’t do it, I’m just the work-experience girl,” I said. And he told me that, unbeknownst to me, he had heard all of my practice newsreads over the months and knew that I was good to go.
He saw something in me. God knows what, because I’ve listened back to some of those early bulletins and the anxiety lodged in my throat made me sound like a chipmunk in fast forward. I didn’t breathe for the full 90 seconds.
Nonetheless, the next day he offered me a full-time gig and so my career began. He held my hand as I navigated the 9/11 attacks – my first major news event to cover – and eventually encouraged me to chase my dreams interstate.
We all need that person who singles us out from obscurity, believes in us and fights for us.
Sometimes it will just be their guiding hand, other times the attention can change our lives.
Todd Sampson credits a teacher called Mr Risk for doing the latter.
Growing up in Nova Scotia, Canada, in a working-class family, Todd was a deviant kid who took pride in flunking school.
Mr Risk saw something in him that Todd didn’t see in himself, and made Todd sit an IQ test; the results led him into a scholarship at a college and changed the trajectory of his life.
One teacher having faith in you can open the door to a whole new world. I called my old radio boss recently to thank him for believing in me. He was as kind as I remember. Watching my life unfold seemed to be as rewarding for him as it has been for me.