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Inside Teaching : June 2011
Inside Teaching | June 2011 PROFESSION 24 their students before they get down to business. It’s really useful to share a little of your story with the kids. Tell them about your family, especially the funny members of your family. Tell them about some of the small mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them. During this two weeks, don’t talk about school if you can avoid it. Then in a roundabout way get each student to tell you about their family, what they do for fun, what sports they like and so on. Because secondary school teachers in most cases only have students for one period a day, they may find this approach challenging because of time constraints, but they still need to spend time building a relationship with their students. The good news is that you can do this in the classroom, but it can happen outside the classroom as well. Every child has a trigger that motivates them to want to learn a particular thing. In any concept there’s a facet that will be of interest to a particular student. If you don’t have a relationship with a student, you won’t know what that trigger or facet is. I’ve often heard it said that the best approach with secondary school students is to go in hard with discipline and back off over time. I don’t agree with this approach as it was one of the reasons I left school at 14. As a father, grandfather and uncle, but equally as a horse and dog lover, I know that kindness, understanding and love get you further than if you use a big stick. Schools and in particular classrooms need to be a safe environment where kids want to be. A good classroom feels like an extension of their family; for Aboriginal students, a good teacher is someone who has become their unofficial Aunty or Uncle. Everything I’ve mentioned here applies to all children, but it applies especially to those small cultural groups and students with special needs who are but a dot in huge school populations and, yes, it applies to Aboriginal children. I’ve lived 63 years as an Aboriginal person in a society that’s very unfriendly to Aboriginal people, particularly in all levels of the education system. I know what it’s like to go to school without shoes or decent clothes. I know what it’s like to go to sleep in class because you were kept awake all night with people arguing. I know what it’s like to spend all day at school with nothing in your tummy. I know what it’s like to be the only Aboriginal kid in a school where the kids and even some staff refer to you abusively. I know what it’s like to have teachers patting you on the back and saying for an Aborigine you’re doing pretty good. I know what it’s like to listen to the whispered conversations about you and your family. And even in adulthood I know what it’s like to hear people saying that my degrees and qualifications are not as good as those of non- Aboriginal people. I also, however, know what it’s like, as a father of three, grandfather of nine, Uncle to 100, unofficial Uncle to 1,000 and a colleague to many, to stand up for quality teachers who stand up for everyone they teach. Iwanttobeone.Iwantyouto be one, too. Frank Pearce is State Coordinator Aboriginal Education for the New South Wales Catholic Education Commission. REFERENCES Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? 2003 research conference of the Australian Council for Educational Research – Building teacher quality: What does the research tell us? Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research. What Works team. (2009). Working Together – What Works: The work program improving outcomes for Indigenous students. Melbourne: National Curriculum Services.