Carl Sanderson is one of the State’s top primary school teachers, named as one of four finalists for WA Premier’s Primary Teacher of the Year in the WA Education Awards 2017. With 39 years in the profession behind him, he has lots of experience to share. Carl tells us his story.
Tell us a little bit about your childhood.
I am the youngest of four children. My father was a professional pianist and my mother was a legal secretary. My mum and dad were both fantastic story tellers – I remember lots of laughter.
I’ve always been interested in science. I’m a proud science geek. I’m fascinated by the natural world and how things worked. This is one of the great joys of teaching young children. They are born scientists and are open to new exciting ideas and challenging concepts.
What was your first job?
I went straight from university to a job as a teacher, but I did – as most people do – work a number of small jobs to pay my way through uni. I worked in a second-hand bookstore, as a handyman on a small property (which was rather ironic because I was not very handy), played piano (not particularly skilfully) at a restaurant, and worked for a while as a shed hand for a shearer. I had grown up in a very proper household where no one swore. After about thirty seconds on my first day I heard more cursing than I had in the previous 10 years. It was a physical job, tough for a boy weighing only 60 kilograms, but I stuck it out and eventually hardened up.
Has there been a defining moment in your life that you can pinpoint?
My father passed away when I was only five. It was obviously a life-changing event for his young widow and four small children. As devastating as it was, it did make us all become more resilient and stronger. I learnt at a young age that life was not always going to go to plan and be easy. I think these lessons have made me a better adult and teacher.
I absolutely believe that helping my students become more resilient and persistent is crucial to them achieving their potential, and to becoming productive, positive and happy adults.
Aside from education, what are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about music. I inherited a small fraction of my father’s musical talent but all of his love for it.
In my professional capacity, I think it’s vital that students are given many opportunities to be creative and individual. Well-rounded kids are happy kids who go on to become happier and more caring adults.
When have you been most satisfied in your life?
To be honest, it’s probably now. To use a cliché, I’m doing my dream job and I am at a point in my life where I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I know what I’m doing as a teacher and I know exactly who I am as a person and I feel my life is heading in a really good direction.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My all-time biggest inspiration is Carl Sagan, the late astrophysicist who was passionate about bringing science to the masses. His dedication to scientific truth and wonderfully accessible writing style really made an impression on me from a young age.
As an older teacher, I often get inspired and renewed by watching the new, younger teachers in action. They always bring new ideas, strategies and methods to the school and you can learn a lot from them.
On a good day at work, what makes it great for you?
When kids are fully immersed in learning and they are mastering a challenging skill or idea – there’s this amazing hum or creative buzz that permeates the room. Helping them to become passionate and enthusiastic about learning new things (especially when they are hard) is very, very rewarding.
Have you had a student who has made a lasting impression on you?
I have taught close to 900 students in my time – that’s a tough one! There have been so many that have left an indelible mark, but if I had to choose just one it would probably be a young girl I taught several years ago who has a hearing disability. She has an amazing intellect and an amazing attitude towards life and learning. She never once (to my knowledge) allowed herself the luxury of feeling sorry for herself and relished all challenges. She was fiercely independent, determined to succeed, very funny and caring. Oh, and she was also a very talented dancer!
In the years since I’ve taught her, I often use her example to other students as someone who didn’t expect the world to treat her with pity or differently – she just got on with things and saw only the positives in life. She is a living, breathing example of persistence and resilience. She is now a doctor of medical science, currently researching paediatric cancer. She is an awesomely impressive young woman!