As apart of my 3rd year Education Placement I am required to be in a secondary school… which when I started I originally wanted to teach High School; yet after spending the past 2 in a primary school setting my mindset had changed and I’ve had my heart set on the little ones ever since!
Primary school aged kids are so adorable (even the little shit ones… some I wanted to bop over the head, but somehow I think that there’s a law against that… but they’re still innocent and eager to learn) They’re easier to manage, follow instruction and plan for. Simply do some testing, find out what level they’re at and teach them accordingly! (although its a lot harder than that..)
So my secondary school placement… I have no idea where to start…
I’ve had troubles with finding a school for my 3rd year secondary placement all year, yet with a little bit of hope, persistence and fairy dust I managed to score a school in Melbourne.
Now when you think of any school/classroom (primary or secondary) automatically you picture an environment with students sitting at desks…head down doing work, A teacher actively roaming the room assisting students with a problem which may arise…. Even a couple of girls giggling in the back ground… Or boys having a conversation about footy or this hot chick they hooked up with on the weekend…
Yet at St Joseph’s in North Melbourne it would be a rare occasion for the students to sit down long enough for me to give them instructions and wander around the room…
St Joseph’s is a flexible learning Center for disengaged youths… For some kids this is their last chance for any sort education.
The students who attend SJFLC have been through the works .. drugs, alcohol, abuse, crime, abandonment, in and out of care, behavioral issues… or simply they’re just falling between the cracks & becoming disengaged in a mainstream school. They really don’t discriminate at SJFLC at all!
My first day was the toughest.
I had no idea what I was walking in to – all I had been told was that it was a school for disengaged youths & they had a lot of support from youth workers… I just thought Oh yeah – no problem… completely naive to the fact that this wouldn’t be the same as my high school!
Day One –
Walking in I noticed that there was heaps of graffiti around – I thought it looked pretty cool, made me think about my friend and colleagues graffiti photography blog! – when I find the link i’ll share it, she’s truly an amazing photographer!
So I met with Chloe the Principle of the school, she briefed me about the students. Wow – I was so overwhelmed. She just dished out all of the goods and told me what to expect from the students or more what not to expect from the students… pretty much what I mentioned above. I told her about my background of working alongside young people who have a physical disability, yet not much experience with other issues.
We then went through and met the teachers and youth workers – there are 3 teachers and 2 youth workers in the middle school program(Not too sure about the staff in the senior program) but they all work alongside each other to assist the young people.
So in the mornings after the staff meeting at 9am (on the dot) there is a little knock at the door – its Spence* (names have been changed for privacy & confidential reasons..) He’s at school & he’s hungry! This is when we open up the kitchen and the young people filter through and help themselves to toast, oats, coffee, toasted sandwiches etc. Most of the food supplied at the school is donated by local businesses – such as Bakers Delight donate loaves of bread every week, The Queen Victoria Market donate what they can …
This is when we engage with the young people and ask them about their night & whatever else is happening in their lives…. just basic small talk – but its this small talk that is so crucial to the young people as they may not even have a chance to have a real conversation with an adult at all… or even just having someone to talk to. It’s so interesting listening to their stories – you find out so much from them just by listening.
After breakfast at around 9.30, we head upstairs to one of the teachers classroom for morning meeting with the students… its in here where we discuss the school principles – Honesty, Safe & Legal, Participation and Respect.
St Joe’s have no rules. They are based around those principles – there are 1st, 3rd and 9th chances – each young person much acknowledge that they have to comply with those principles whilst in the school… yet whether they do or not is a different story!
The young people come in and throw their bodies on the beanbags, sit on the ground – fiddle with their phones – Snapchat the person sitting next to them (Its actually hilarious watching someone take a selfie.. quite amusing! haha) – So in the circle they form one of the teachers or youth worker direct the meeting in relation to the principles – So for example if its Respect for that day they focus on what is respectful and what isn’t (often with a snide comment here and there, something being thrown or someone telling someone to fuck off… ironically not so respectful) At these meeting vital information about how their day will operate is usually passed along – whether its processed or not is a different story. They usually just sit there until they are excused from the room and are separated into their own classes.
My mentor teacher is Ivan, he’s the Student Wellbeing coordinator and a teacher. Walking into his classroom There are about 5 or 6 tables scattered around and 4 computers on the outskirts of the room, along with a couch, TV and an X-Box.
Young people barge into class as the morning goes on – I’m advised that ever we simply greet them and thank them for coming to school – no matter how late they come.
I was just about to put down my coffee when a young person stormed in and demanded to use one of the computers “F**king log me on to the computer Ivan!!” I immediately turned around and questioned how he was speaking to the teachers, yet Ivan was the least bit phased at this – he simply replied “no please?” with a smirk.
“Whatever, just f**kin log me on!” – Ivan shook his head down low, stood up and preceded to walk over to the computers to log the young person on…
Next minute another young boy came into the classroom and sat down next to him, gave the sup nod and then they did this handshake thing – and then they were off talking looking up motor bikes on gumtree….
It wasn’t long before a couple of more students came through threw their bags down and just chilled…
As having not met any of the students before I had to try and develop relationships with them – It was tough to start a conversation with them as there was this visible wall they put up…. So naturally, I went to the nicest looking kid in the room!
Sat next to her and just was like heeeyyyy, how are you doing? I’m Ella! with the biggest smile on my face…
She just looked at me with a blank stare as to say “What the F**k do you want bitch”
Okkaaaayyyyy – So she was nice looking – but far from it. I knew she was just testing me because she didn’t know me
But I kept persisting;
She told me her name, and we eventually started reading the Newspaper together… starting with her interpretation of what her horoscope means – which in her words “am I gunna be rich?” haha – Bless!
So as the day went on I was called the C Word too many times and did have pens and pencils thrown in my direction… but you’ve just gotta shrug it off… I’ve been called worse – trust me
At morning break and lunch time I often found myself helping out in the kitchen or with a basketball in my hand shooting with some of the kids, at this moment I thought that this was a pretty good gig.
Walking around and trying to make conversation with them is the toughest… I found that I had to find some sort of common ground in order to get any sort of conversation out of them…
In the afternoon after the young people have left and gone home the staff get together to have a debrief – all about what happened during that day.
Wow.. there seems to be a lot of things that go on that we miss… Found out a student had come to school under the influence of an illicit substance & a youth worker had been assisting that young person most of the day – I was completely naive to that happening –
So anyways As the day finished, i packed up my stuff and headed to my car (Hoping that it was still there.. just a little bit)… chucked all of my stuff over on the passengers seat and sat down. I took the deepest breath in and exhaled. What a day!!
Driving home my mind was wandering everywhere – trying to imagine what it would be like to be one of these young people… I dont think that I could ever compare myself to them… They’ve been through the works. My heart breaks.
From then on I made it my personal mission to help them… If I can change and make a positive impact on at least one of the young people at St Josephs then I’ve done my job! There is always hope… Just have to believe.