The Things That Matter Most
Allen & Unwin, 2023
368pp., pbk., RRP $A32.99
The staff of St Margaret’s Primary School are hanging by a thread. There’s serious litigation pending, the school is due for registration, and a powerful parent named Janet Bellevue has a lot to say about everything. As teachers they’re trying to remain professional, as people they’re unravelling fast.
There’s Tyson, first year out of uni and nervous as hell, Derek the Assistant Principal who’s dropped the ball on administration, Bev from the office who’s confronting a serious diagnosis, and Sally-Ann who’s desperate for a child of her own.
Thank goodness for kids like Lionel Merrick. Lionel is the student who steals your heart and makes the whole teaching gig worthwhile: he’s cheerful, likeable, helpful – and devoted to his little sister Lacey. But Lionel has a secret of his own. As his future slides from vulnerable to dangerous, will someone from St Margaret’s realise before it’s too late?
Trent Dalton’s quote on the bottom of the front cover reads, “Lionel Merrick stumbled into my heart like a kid late for class, then the whole book swept in after him … gut-wrenching and important.’ And that encapsulates this story from the author of the ground-breaking Teacher, perfectly.
As teachers we have all been or met Tyson, Derek, Sally Ann, Bev and Nova and we certainly know Janet Bellevue and Eric Templeton. And, sadly, we also know Lionel and Lacey and Rupert and so many others just like them, and even more with their own stories to tell and challenges to face. They’re why we work such long hours, put in the effort, don’t walk away when the Janets and the Sampsons try us to the limit – because they’re the things that matter most.
This is a must-read for all teachers because even though it will echo their own day-to-day lives, it will reassure them that they are not alone, they are not invisible, that their issues are shared, and that Lionel and Lacey and Rupert, even Abigail are worth it.
This is a must-read for all parents whose only experience of school is their own so many years ago when things were vastly different so they can get some insight into a life that is not limited to 9-3; that teachers are entitled to a life and living that does not revolve around their child; and debunks the myth that teachers are “underworked, overpaid and have too many holidays”. If that’s the case, why are they not enrolling in uni to become one?
And it is also a must-read for all those who worship the God of Administrivia and who believe that a pile of pointless paperwork is the pathway to paradise. Because when it comes down to it, what are the things that really matter most?