Thank you Mr McGann! 


    By Derek Green

    Years ago, while still seduced by the empty promises of self-help books, wedged somewhere between trying to identify the ‘toxic people’ in my life and learning to ‘fully maximise my potential’, I read about the therapeutic value of writing thank you letters. Being pig-headed and slightly arrogant as I was (probably why I was given that particular book in the first place), I couldn’t immediately think of anyone to thank; after all, I was a self-made man who’d done it all on his own, and worked super-hard, right? 

    Luckily I caught a glimpse of myself and recognised how ready I was for a humbling experience, and so I wrote a thank you to someone from 25 years prior who had helped me, through no obligation other than to just be a good person. Receiving my letter out of the blue, they responded with appreciation at this acknowledgement, and we reconnected. 

    I’ve thought often about the power of that letter – not so much pride in having authored it, but how it unlocked a hidden gratitude I had for someone, and awareness of some of the other times I had benefited from care and kindness. Counting myself lucky to have this forum in the Westsider to occasionally air my thoughts, it’s time for me to thank another person – a teacher from my school days. 

    I hated high school for most of the six years I was there, I found it boring, pointless and time consuming, serving only to interrupt my more important life pursuits – music, footy and girls. I also sensed that my fellow students and I weren’t the only ones who felt that way – the teachers seemed equally disengaged. I toyed with leaving school to become first a chef, and then a landscape gardener, but through work experience learned that I wasn’t cut out for dealing with piles of dirty pots or digging trenches, so I aimlessly persevered. 

    …all it had taken was one voice, a person to see some potential and offer encouragement… 

    Just as dusk was settling on year 10, a replacement English teacher named Mr McGann set us several writing tasks over the final week, which I completed like every other for that year – with limited enthusiasm. As the class rushed for the door at the sound of the bell, he called out to me. “Hey, I want to talk to you.” 

    I knew I had been inattentive, and expecting to be admonished, was surprised when all I heard were words of praise. 

    “You have quite a turn of phrase and a nose for story-telling,” he said. “Have you thought about doing both English AND English Literature next year?” 

    “No,” I replied. I had always enjoyed reading books, but literature? I couldn’t think of anything worse. 

    “Well, think about it, you might find you are good at it!” 

    This kind of positive feedback was unlike anything I had ever received – like everyone else I was in a one-size-fits all environment that was more about survival than learning or finding logical pathways. Yet all it had taken was one voice, a person to see some potential and offer encouragement, rather than tell me to hurry up, slow down, get moving, or stop talking. Since that day I (sort of) knuckled down in my studies, went to university, and over time, words became my super-power. 

    Mr McGann is probably long gone, but his legacy is proof that you can be remembered for even the small things you do. 

    Turns out none of us are really that self-made after all. 

    Derek Green
    Derek Green
    I'd rather die wandering than die wondering. Read more of my travel escapades at:

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