school

The story no one's telling about teachers in Australia.

As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle greeted the public on the tarmac at Dubbo airport, a small boy caught Prince Harry’s attention.

Five-year-old Luke Vincent was wearing his school uniform, a blue and white checkered hat, and a pair of green goggles. The moment he saw the prince, Luke, with no hesitation, hugged him. He then started to play with Harry’s beard, stroking it while looking back and forth between Harry and the woman holding his hand. When the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle bent down to greet him, Luke gave her a bunch of flowers, before throwing his arms affectionately around her.

After the encounter, which has gone viral all over the world, Seven News spoke to the woman who was crouched down behind Luke, holding his hand as he casually stroked Prince Harry’s beard.

Anne van Dartel is the principal of Buninyong Public School in Dubbo – the school Luke attends.

“Luke loves beards and Luke’s favourite person in Santa Claus,” she explained.

Anne said she was worried when Luke first reached out to stroke Harry’s face – particularly because the school students had been warned against touching the royals.

“Definitely I was very concerned when he started rubbing Prince Harry’s face and his hair,” she said.

“Prince Harry was completely gracious and was so polite, and realised what was happening with the situation with his beard.

“The way that Prince Harry and Princess Meghan interacted with him was just delightful.”

Watch the beautiful moment here. Post continues after audio.

Video by 7 News

But while international headlines are praising the Duke and Duchess for their kindness and patience with little Luke, there’s another story going unacknowledged: that of Principal Anne van Dartel, her staff, and lots and lots of kids like Luke.

Australian media is routinely saturated with stories about our broken education system, and the way teachers are failing our kids, academically, socially, and psychologically. There’s a huge gap between the weakest and the strongest students, we’re told, because teachers don’t have the skills to help the kids who are struggling.

Adrian Piccoli, the former NSW Education Minister, previously said the teaching profession had become a “joke”.

“I keep hearing stories about students coming into schools and principals saying that they are not up to scratch,” Piccoli said at an education leaders’ conference in 2016.

“There is this joke, I couldn’t get into physiotherapy so I went into teaching. That is just unhelpful for that person and it’s unhelpful for the profession,” he said.

Earlier this year, Coalition backbencher Andrew Laming called out teachers for their shorter-than-average work days and generous holidays.

“Teaching needs to operate like other jobs, with the same hours, days and weeks as the rest of the economy,” he told Fairfax.

If there’s a problem with our education system, many say, it’s “teacher quality”. We’re lagging behind the rest of the world in a number of areas, but before you suggest the reason might have something to do with the curriculum or funding or the structure of our education system – none of which teachers actually have any control over – stop.

It’s teachers. 

Teachers have no idea what they’re doing.

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Mia Freedman speaks to Gabbie Stroud, a former teacher who has written about falling in and out of love with her profession…

Why, then, did it come as no surprise to hear Principal Anne van Dartel describe little Luke Vincent’s love of beards? Why didn’t we flinch when we saw her holding his hand, encouraging him to interact with two of the most well known figures in the world? Why did it seem completely unsurprising that the rest of the school were watching Luke on TV, cheering for their friend?

Because this is what schools, and teachers, in Australia are actually like.

They bring food for the students in their classroom who get sent to school with no lunch. They bring in a ‘spare pair of shoes’ for the kid who doesn’t have any. They know who is struggling and who is thriving, who likes dinosaurs, who likes cars, who likes dogs and who gets nervous speaking in front of the class.

Not everyone’s experiences with teachers are always positive. But that isn’t an indictment on teachers as a whole – there are bad teachers just like there are bad doctors, bad politicians, bad hairdressers and bad taxi drivers.

prince-harry-luke-vincent
Image via Getty.

For the most part, people who go into teaching are the ones who will wait on the tarmac beside little Luke, so he can meet Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. They're the ones who know that Luke likes beards, and that his favourite person is Santa Claus.

And they're the ones back at school, encouraging everyone to cheer when Luke gets his moment.

People go into teaching because they love kids. Because they're happy to stand behind a five-year-old as he gets his time in the spotlight, quietly explaining his quirks and his story.

Today, little Luke is a star on the world stage. But so are his teachers.

For more from Clare Stephens, you can follow her on FacebookInstagram or Twitter.

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