Home' Teacher : December 2010 Contents 22 TEACHER DECEMBER 2010
This year I had a new student in my class. That's not
unusual in our school. We get many new students.
Ours is an in ner-city school in a major Australian
city. It's in a poor area, and students arrive and
leave as their families come and go, moving into or
out of more affluent areas.
I'll call the new student in my class Leon, but
that's not his real name. He was from a remote
Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory
and he came to our school because one of the fami-
lies in our school had lived in his community and
had continued to maintain a relationship with his
family. Leon had asked if he could come to the city
so that he could go to school and live with the fam-
ily. He arrived in mid-January and began Year 5 at
the beginning of the school year.
It didn't take long for Leon to settle into the
school. Ours is a very multicultural school and his
differences were not really noticed. He was good
at sport, especially football, so he integrated well
into the playground.
In the classroom, though, things were a bit dif-
ferent. Leon was very quiet, barely spoke and his
literacy and numeracy results were extremely low.
In some of our initial testing he couldn't answer
many questions. In fact, in most tests he failed to
answer any questions. I doubt he could read the
His quietness didn't worry me, though. I'd taught
in the Territory and have some background in work-
ing with Indigenous communities. I knew Leon was
more comfortable keeping quiet and answering
questions one on one, and that's the way we began.
When we looked at his previous school records,
we saw that he'd had many absences. We worked
out that he missed two or three days a week on
average, but whether his attendance was irregular
we weren't sure. The absences could have meant
that he attended regularly with stints 'out bush' for
a number of weeks at a time for cultural business,
something that is common in Territory schools.
We put some support systems into place. Our
school has funding that allowed a support teacher
to work with Leon a number of times a week, and
staff received training about Indigenous culture
and learning styles. I was still concerned, however,
that I wasn't effectively meeting his needs as he was
so far behind his Year 5 peers and it was hard to
see any significant improvement.
Leon's host family in the school were not
Indigenous, but with their history of living in the
community they were an excellent support for him.
They spoke with the school regularly and kept us
up to date with how they thought Leon was going.
They worked with Leon all the time, helping him
to settle in, reading to him and helping him with
None of us were too sure how long Leon was
going to be with us and, as his host family said, it
could be a number of weeks or a number of years.
We just had to work as if he would always be here.
Things were not always smooth sailing for the
Leon was still young at 10 and obviously missed
his family. Routines that we take for granted, such
as homework, were not easy for a boy who was
used to running around freely after school. I must
admit I turned a blind eye to his homework as there
were more important issues to worry about.
Also in the school was his brother from the fam-
ily -- the family in our school has a close connection
to the families in the Aboriginal community and
children refer to each other as brothers and sisters.
This relationship was very interesting as it ranged
from very close, with Leon's brother protecting
him, to moments of jealousy. Leon's brother was
the youngest child in the family; his older broth-
ers had been very successful, quite often making
the local papers for sporting success. This younger
family member was, I'm sure, looking forward
to his moment in the sun at the school. He was
school captain and at times didn't really appreciate
KERRY FORD REFLECTS ON THE EXPERIENCE OF TEACHING A STUDENT FROM A
REMOTE ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY WHO IS FAR FROM HOME.
Far from home
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