When I was at Primary and Secondary school I knew I was dumb. I didn’t do well in my classes and I envied the brainy kids who did. It was in my second year 6th that my parents thought I’d better look at following in the family footsteps and go teaching. I wanted to be a writer but it was generally thought that would be too risky so I interviewed for Teachers College by default really.

There were 3 men and one woman who came to interview us. I remember that it was the woman who looked at my report and then me. She quite rightly queried why I was there. Why someone who talked through all her classes, who never did homework and who showed no interest in learning wanted to be a teacher?

I had no idea. But in that moment of panic I remember what I said. It was “I don’t work for a pat on the back, or for someone to say well done. I work because what I am doing means something to me.” We were both a bit startled by my reply and but I remember being relieved that something coherent came out of my mouth. I did not know then that it would be a statement that I would build a life on. That following my heart would take me from University to Primary, to Intermediate to Secondary teaching to RTLB work and now to a learning Enhancement team at a large Auckland secondary school.

I got into Teachers College on a shortlist. There and at University, I began to understand the same things I now teach to so many of the young people we work with.  Those little changes to bad habits can bring amazing success.

I found that my marks got better every time I studied for a test, went to all the classes, proof read my work ( I still can’t spell or use commas properly), and asked the teacher to check I was on the right track.

For the first time I started to understand that ‘brainy’ is not just something you are born with but something I could be too.

It took me until my twenties to begin to understand that just a little and until my forties to notice how many people who did well in life just worked at it. Who knew?

Too all those students who look enviously at the ‘brainy’ kids who seem to learn so easily have a look at what they do and do it too. Or go and talk to a teacher about what’s making learning hard for you. You don’t have to leave it till you’re 40!

Take care


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Julie Mulcahy is married to Peter, a Primary School Principal and is descended from a long line of teachers. She has taught Years 4 through to Year 13, moved from country schools in Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Northland and spent the past 10 years in Auckland where works in a high school.

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Thank you for bravely and openly sharing your personal experience! What a fantastic article and message. So many of us go through life assuming that success is the bi-product of raw talent or luck, when more often than not, it is the result of consistent effort. Of course, raw talent is an advantage but it does not automatically guarantee success. And whats more, we can all do amazing things by proactively building on what we have to work with and applying it skillfully. In my work as a personal coach, I see the impact of small steps taken consistently, every… Read more »

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