Working in the Education Dept…

… was an interesting time for me. It gave me some great opportunities – as I developed skills I didn’t realise I had and it had me mixing it up with a broad range of people, from all manners of backgrounds. You name it – I probably spoke to a person at some time, who did it. If I wasn’t yarning with them directly, I was yarning with their young fella or their partner, or their room-mate and so on. Leaving the Defence Force and entering into a world wrapped around our schools system, was a huge challenge for me.

The people who directly affected the role that I was employed in were the principals, deputy principals, teachers, parents and of course – the kids themselves. Mostly though, my main role was to find out how to put young people who weren’t taking part in their school’s education – back into their school chairs. There were key support roles bent around what I was required to do; school psychologists, Aboriginal liaison officers, Aboriginal education workers, school chaplains etc but largely – we were responsible for our own students and engaged them as best we could given their specific circumstances.

We were fighting a losing battle though – especially from a strategic point of view. We put out spot-fires and often – only just. The issue really was that we were engaged the wrong way around. Instead of deploying us in a pro-active sense, we were put out to schools mostly in a reactive role  – where a student was a chronic ‘truant’ or considered a ‘risk’ to either themselves or other around them. In fact – this mostly came about when a student got caught up in some sort of disagreement with a staff member. If it was considered ‘violent’ – we were called in.

You need to understand too though that most teachers do not have the wherewithal to  manage children who do not fit in to a main-stream classroom. It’s actually not their fault! It took my working in the state education system to fully begin to realise this fact for myself. Our education system has to be too many things to too many people, so unfortunately it can’t catch all those who often fall through the cracks. Which is incredibly sad because our education system actually does understands these cracks and the nature of many who slip through them. It just doesn’t manage these issues incredibly well.

Teachers are taught to do what they do. Teaching takes an incredible amount of effort, preparation, understanding, imagination and application – for most this is enough. How do you take someone who’s utterly immersed in the education package required for your child and convince them to be the keepers of their welfare as well? How do you teach someone to do that for your child – as well as all the other things required? Don’t we have people supposedly available for that – aren’t they the school psychs, chaplains, youth workers, guidance counselors etc – the ‘care bears’ of the education world?

We do – but not enough of them – not by a long shot! How do I know this? I was one of these ‘care-bears’ and we were always on the clock! Sometimes it was a simple as devising a plan that kept a grade 1 child in his seat (and classroom), during the first couple of months of their schooling. Sometimes it saw me sitting next to an older kid,  in an empty bathtub at their home – listening and listening – waiting for them to put down the razor blade they had pressed against their wrist. Sometimes it was chasing them on the streets and fronting their streetwise mates, all because their mum hadn’t seen them for over two weeks. Sometimes it was standing up to a teacher who was a bully – chasing the kid out of the classroom, just because they could. Sometimes it was the parent or the primary care-taker (oh the joys of PC language) and sometimes – sometimes – this was worse than all the other things bouncing around inside a kid in their life.

Sometimes though – it was sheer joy! The smile on a kid’s face when they got congratulated for sitting still for a mornings session – the first kind word said to that kid for most of it’s life! The grateful sole parent – doing it alone and so thankful that there was at least one other person out there who cared about their child. The copper who comes up to a long time rat-bag and streetwise kid – ruffles his hair and says: “Good on ya son – well done!” Simply because the kid did as he agreed to do in a un-official contract drawn up between them on the street. Relatively simple things – thinking outside the square – being creative, being caring.

The standouts for me though are three extraordinary care-bears: one – a colleague who taught me the ropes and who is now an Official care-bear (trained and graduated) working in another country. One; from another country, who is still working and mentored us through many difficult circumstances – simply because she cared about these kids. The last one – sadly taken by a debilitating disease – but she taught me so much about how to care responsibly (as best you can) in the education environment. Above all else – she taught us that it was OK to care, because it was our job and responsibility to care for these young people – as the sad fact was – there was no-one else able to do it.

But wait – there’s more. There were outstanding teaching and executive staff too. Three high school teachers spring to mind. They engaged their students in challenging ways at times – but never wavered in their commitment to these kids. They were the one consistent thing in these young fellas life at that time and it showed. They has counterparts in the primary school too. two teachers especially – both of whom had me forced upon them as I was placed in their classrooms for indefinite periods of time. No permission sought – no discussions entered into – just me dumped in their class due to a student at risk being part of the class numbers.

Imagine if you were a teacher – supposedly fully responsible for the duty-of-care of every single student in your classroom – and someone has now been forced upon you because of one student who had specific needs. How would you feel? Thankfully – these teachers were able to be talked around and they became my greatest allies. One a man the other a woman. We did good work and I couldn’t have done what I had to do – without their help and guidance.  They were standout teachers – one of a very few who have the head-space and time to take caring about their kids – to a whole new level.

And it wouldn’t have happened if it couldn’t have relied on the outstanding leadership associated with their schools. Each of these school teachers were part of a staff led by some of the most amazing principals and deputy principals I have ever met. What else can you say about a principal who walks around his school during playtime – acknowledging every single student by their own name? If he had time he’d also ask after their parents – or grandparents – depending on that child’s set of circumstances and needs – and he’d know the subtle nuances associated with that young fellas background.

I guess I worry in our current times because there’s this constant outcry for teachers and more teachers. Bugger the more teachers lark – our teachers are under siege – just ask one! What they need is more support. What our kids need is more support. It seems fairly simple to me – but it’s not going to cut it in today’s system.

We need more care-bears in our education system and not just for the young people. Out teachers need them too. A ‘care-bear’ doing what they can do well, will relieve the pressure building on our teachers from that front. We can’t continue to expect out teachers to pick up the slack in our own society.

You see, we need our parents to care more as well.

Belongum – Out!

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About Belongum

People bring 'things' to me. Not necessarily PHYSICAL things as such - mostly just the loose bits and pieces floating around in their 'brain-box'. Sometimes, they also bring themselves - and THAT isn't anywhere near as simple as it sounds. I come here to pass some of this 'brain-box business' on to the ether world, and to empty my head. Besides folks - I love a good yarn - so come and join me!
This entry was posted in Caring, Education, Hope, Teachers, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Working in the Education Dept…

  1. Mandi says:

    Beautifully written, Ron. It’s hard working for the Ed Dept, no matter what role you play. I love that you’re able to see so many different points of view and find validity in all of them.

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  2. belongum says:

    Hey Mandi… hope you’re well mate! Yeah – it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that teachers aren’t always the bad guys when it comes to situations in schools. Getting to know the system from the inside actually scared the bejezus out of me! What was I getting myself into? But we had kids who needed help – and I’m a sucker for such things dammit – so yep – I worked myself silly at it.

    I’m glad I did. It was worth it – looking back on it now. But I feel for teachers, because it’s the teachers who are left out to dry in our system and I can’t see it getting any better soon. How about you mate?
    Cheers 🙂

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  3. Talula says:

    It is the very same situation here in the ‘States’, Belongum. And unfortunately (?); after nearly 30 years of my doing the same as you (teacher, trainer, Director of college “university to you” lab schools for training teachers): it is not really much better overall for teachers. They are still squeezed between Admin & parents, with very little support. Now how crazy is it that 3 of my 5 adult children followed me into the education field (one now in Admin), simply because they saw me do it & knew it was well worth all the trouble to help that ‘one’ that they could actually reach to keep from following into the abyss. Great Post on Education and the real “care bears” in the field. Thanks for being one of them! Talula

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    • belongum says:

      Bugger… sorry about that Talula – I missed you in the wash somehow mate, my apologies! Thanks for dropping by mate – hope all’s well on your side of the world. You mob must have some long discussions about the ed system over there when you get together eh? hahaha – I know my father can’t help himself – because he was a teacher too! Cheers 😉

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  4. m says:

    Yeah, everyone thinks the teachers are the bad guy. Not a lot of people understand that teachers are human working in circumstances where resources to make a difference, including time and training are not provided. When it comes to looking after other humans all other industries hold the clients as responsible as the practitioner – but not the edu system. In the edusystem it seems as though all the responsibility is held with the faculty. So so so wrong.

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    • belongum says:

      It’s hard m – I guess I too thought the teachers were the ones who were responsible in some way – but gee… phew!
      Those who might read this and go -“yeah right!” and you want an idea of how this actually looks from a teachers perspective – in the classroom – get down there and wear their shoes for a little while. I dare anyone to give that a go and see how long they last!
      Teachers DO actually have certain responsibilities in their classrooms in how they conduct their actual teaching practice – but they barely have the room to scratch themselves with everything else that get’s pushed into their classrooms. Sheesh! Thanks for dropping by M 😉

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  5. Daily Magnet says:

    Is there any job you haven’t done Belongum?!! You’ve “been everywhere man…”

    It’s a system under pressure – it’s pretty evident in the changing culture at a lot of schools, which get bigger and bigger and less and less personal. My son was receiving reports for at least a semester after he left school – and his grades really improved, too. His science teacher of 2 years didn’t even know he was hard of hearing, whereas his math teacher identified it straight away – there’s always just these one off unique individuals who can touch our lives. For me, it was my Mr(s) Magoo-like English Lit teacher.

    It’s such a shame there is no value by department heads, for the teachers’ individual approach with students anymore – they just cram more students in and close all the smaller schools.

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  6. belongum says:

    Heaps DM… heaps! I’ve just been a very lucky fella – I’ve got to have a shot at a variety of things just long enough to get a good feel for it. Yep… and that pressure is no good for anyone caught up in it. How long do we go before we realise (oh wise govt) that this sort of pressure actually doesn’t help – how soon before we properly back our teachers and help our kids learn well again – parents… this means us mob too! Good to see you around DM… I’m in Canberra now mate – Wesfarmers NGA Leadership course… keep your ears open (and your fingers poised) for when I get back! 😉

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  7. mummabare says:

    I fail to see how that system could actually optimize learning for any individual, theres a lot that students have to bring to the classroom to be successful. And we can’t forget how influential an effective teacher is….theres some great reading on what makes an effective teacher. Although I don’t really have a right to comment, having opted out of the system altogether for my kid, I certainly have very fond memories of teachers I had, and some not so fond memories.

    At the end of the day we all have a vested interest in education, because we all have a vested interest in our children. I still believe in that old nugget ” you get out what you put in”….can be applied in so many ways.

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