… 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!