Brendan James Murray
Education is a two-way street. Teachers have as much to learn from students as the other way round – that’s if they’re prepared to really get to know who sits in their classroom. Mornington Peninsula author and secondary school teacher Brendan James Murray is one of those teachers who makes the time to understand who his students are as people, where they’ve come from, and where they want to go in life. And he does all he can to help them get there, even when the system is stacked against them. Brendan knows there’s a whole lot more to life and education than an ATAR score.
Brendan teaches English at the school he attended. The new father didn’t grow up thinking he’d be a teacher. His first true love was writing. After studying professional writing, he cleverly realised that if he became an English teacher he could bring his love of reading and writing to his professional life.
In his memoir The School, released in May this year, Brendan shares his learnings from one year in the classroom. “It’s primarily about the students; it’s about school and teaching, but it’s also trying to show a reader who might not be a teacher life in a modern school. And that young people who often get a bad rap, that there’s so much that’s amazing and wonderful about them. And there’s so much about modern education we need to change for the sake of the kids.”
This insightful and honest book almost didn’t get written. “I can find it emotionally challenging to write about experiences people have had that are quite horrible. Early on in the writing I contacted the publisher to say I was struggling and wasn’t sure I’d be able to write it.” Fortunately, Brendan’s publisher was able to support him in telling this important story, and we can learn from the diverse and compelling characters included in The School.
To write his book, Brendan contacted some of his former students who are now adults. “I reached out to students whose stories I thought could illuminate something important about education. Every person I approached said yes. Writing the book was a case of doing those interviews, getting more aspects of the story, and then bringing it all together.”
One of those students was Wambui, who grew up in Kenya and came to Australia in the early years of high school. “In the village where Wambui grew up, she witnessed a man being murdered. It was a case of mob justice; the men of the village had caught him while he was robbing a house. He was killed outside Wambui’s house. She was only a little girl at the time; she was appealing for mercy and compassion. It is such a telling story. It reminds us of what some of these young people in our classes have experienced, and sometimes in a large group it is the children who need to be listened to, not silenced.”
Brendan wants to share one final thing: “My belief is teaching is a wonderful profession. I would implore anyone – be that a young person choosing a career or an older person looking to change career – I would encourage them to look at teaching.”
Brendan is guest author at Words after Dark, hosted by Antipodes Bookshop in Sorrento, on Thursday, September 9, from 6-8pm. It is a free event but bookings are essential. The School is published by Picador.