Think back to when you were little.
When you were in those little chairs.
When you played in that playground that seemed enormous.
We don’t remember much from when we are little.
Our mums and dads. Feeling love and looked after. Or not. A big family adventure maybe. Grandparents. And school. Friends. Fun. And that special teacher.
That says something doesn’t it?
It tells us how important teachers are.
You can still remember some of their names, can't you?
Now think about that one teacher who stands out. The one who shaped you. Changed you. Inspired you.
You have now become that person. I am sure of it.
Tonight, we get a chance to recognise the extraordinary work of 22 teachers.
22 selected out of 500 teachers shortlisted for these awards.
But the truth is, you represent an even larger group.
There are more than 300,000 teachers in primary schools and high schools who shape, change and create the people we become.
The first thing I did when I got this job, a bit over a year ago, was go back to my old primary school and give my teacher Mrs Fry a hug.
Mrs Fry started at Cabramatta Public School in 1978. And she’s still there.
Still changing lives. Just like you.
I did that for a reason. I did it because it felt like the right place to start.
But I also wanted to send a message.
A message about what I think is important. About who I think are important. About the sort of Minister I want to be.
We’ve got lots of challenges in education. New ones like AI and vaping. And old ones, like funding and fairness and how we make sure the children who fall behind, aren’t left behind.
If you’re a child today from a poor family, from the bush or if you’re an Indigenous child, you’re three times more likely to fall behind at school.
Most of those children never catch up.
Four out of five children who are behind in 3rd Grade are still behind when they reach Year 9. And many of those children don’t finish school.
In the last six years the percentage of young Australians finishing high school has gone backwards, particularly young people from poor families and particularly in public schools.
In 2016, 83 per cent of students in public schools finished Year 12. Last year it was 76 per cent.
And this is happening at a time when it's more important to finish school than ever. When almost every job created today requires you to finish school and then go on to TAFE or university.
A big part of next year's National School Reform Agreement will be about fixing funding and fixing this. About helping children who fall behind to catch up, keep up and finish school.
There's something else we have to fix.
In the last 10 years, the number of young people going into teaching has also gone backwards. Of those who do start a teaching degree only 50 per cent finish. And of those who finish it, 20 per cent are leaving after less than three years.
Part of it is pay. And there was great news on this front over the weekend in New South Wales.
Part of it is workload. The idea that teachers start at nine and finish at three is frankly, rubbish.
And part of it is the university course itself and the practical experience you get.
A lot of teachers, even ones who have won awards like this, tell me that they didn't really feel ready for the classroom when they first started.
A couple of weeks ago I announced some big changes to fix this. To improve the university courses and to improve prac.
In a couple of weeks, we will also make good on a promise we made in the election.
To roll out new Commonwealth teacher scholarships. They'll be worth up to $40,000 and they are designed to encourage more young people to become a teacher.
And just like the Commonwealth teacher scholarships of old, there's a commitment that will come with it. In return for the $40,000, a commitment to teach for a number of years.
In the next few months, we're also doing something else that I want to give you a sneak preview of tonight.
I want to change the way we as a country think about our teachers, and the way our teachers think our country thinks of them.
A recent survey of Australian teachers found only about 39 per cent thought the work they did was valued by the community.
But in places like Singapore, that figure is more like 68 per cent. They’ve got a line out the door at university of people wanting to become teachers.
I want more young Australians to want to be a teacher. To be like Mrs. Fry. To be like you. To be to be that teacher.
That teacher that inspires, that changes lives.
And in a few months’ time, you'll see a campaign online, on bus stops, on billboards and in shopping centres.
Teachers like Mirakai, a primary school teacher from Queensland.
Mirakai teaches a blind student, Matias, who is five years old.
At the school’s sports carnival this year, Matias wanted Mirakai to hold his hand and run with him instead of running with his cane.
Imagine this. The starter’s pistol fires. The race starts.
Matias is nervous. A serious look on his face.
They set off and his fellow students on the sideline begin chanting his name.
Matias! Matias! Matias!
In a matter of seconds, his face turns from serious to a smile.
A smile from ear to ear.
One of Mirakai’s colleagues took this photo.
Who wouldn’t want to be that teacher?
The truth is you are that teacher.
Everything you do helps the children you teach to aim higher, to be kinder, to work harder, to be braver, to run faster, to find in themselves a smile like that.
That's a gift. That's a superpower.
And because you believe in them, you make them believe in themselves.
That makes what you do the most important job in the world.
In a couple of months if you live in Queensland, you'll see you'll see Mirakai’s story. If you live in another state or territory, you'll see another teacher and another story just as moving.
It's intended to move and inspire and to make more Australians want to become a teacher, to be that teacher.
Recognising and celebrating what our teachers do is important, and that's what these awards are about as well.
I know David Gonski and the Schools Plus Pioneers in Philanthropy know that, that's why they helped found these awards.
So does the Commonwealth Bank. That's why they have sponsored these awards for the last seven years.
And so do I. That's why I suggested this venue here tonight.
Congratulations to all 22 incredible teachers we will soon see on stage.
It is a real privilege to share this stage with you tonight.