Home' Teacher : December 2010 Contents 24 TEACHER DECEMBER 2010
Leon moving in to his family and casting
When Leon arrived at our school, he
spoke Aboriginal English and a number of
Indigenous languages, but not Standard Eng-
lish. It was difficult to know whether to use
only Standard English with him as a model
or use some Aboriginal English with him, as
a support. I've taught English overseas and
know that if you start to use a student's first
language, they'll often take this as an oppor-
tunity to avoid using Standard English.
Leon's support teacher usually worked
with new arrivals and used many strategies
with Leon. She spent a lot of time find-
ing Indigenous resources, visiting Indig-
enous organisations and developing a close
relationship with Leon. Our school uses the
Reading to Learn program, similar to the
successful Scaffolding Literacy program
used in the Territory, so we knew we had
programs that had a proven track record
with Indigenous students.
By midyear we started to see some suc-
cess. Leon was becoming more confident in
class and was willing to answer questions
publicly. In one of his literacy tests he went
from a score of zero at the beginning of the
year, unable even to read the text, to a score
of 10 out of 29. His improvement was so
extraordinary that his writing samples were
being used as examples of the success of the
Reading to Learn program.
Numeracy was still a struggle, however,
and his scores remained extremely low, but
his literacy results gave us hope of subsequent
improvement. He was still significantly
behind, but improvements were coming.
It was around midyear that Leon went
home to visit his family for a weekend.
When Leon was meant to return to the city,
though, he threw rocks at the plane and ran
off. His community was very angry with
him and he was not allowed to go to school
there. He returned to us several weeks later
when the father of the family hosting him
in our city went to the community on a pre-
We were unsure whether he was coming
back, but when he did come back, he was
very quiet, very lonely and very emotionally
cold. He isolated himself in the playground
and kept to himself. He was miserable.
We constantly wondered if this really
was the best place for him. We worried
about him being away from his culture,
community and family. We wondered if
the academic improvement was worth the
isolation. Was this time with us making him
more or less resilient? Would he disconnect
from his community? Was taking him from
the community good for the com munity?
Would he return to his community?
We saw, too, that in a stable environment
Leon could learn and learn quickly. Why
couldn't this happen in his own community?
We know of the disadvantage in his com-
munity and the issues that can dominate
those communities. We know that schools
in remote communities struggle to retain
teachers for significant periods of time. We
know that there are many barriers to suc-
cess, but we need to know more about what
We're still in two minds about Leon's
journey. On the one hand, we're excited
about his success and improvement, but on
the other, ou r hearts break to see a young
boy so far away from his family and cultu re.
A child shouldn't have to travel to the
other side of the country to achieve suc-
cess; a child should be able to do this at the
school in his local com munity.
We don't know where Leon's journey will
lead. He could be back in his community
soon or he may remain away for a long time.
What we do know, though, is that with the
right environment and support, success can
be achieved, we just need to learn how to do
this in Indigenous communities so all can
Kerry Ford teaches at an inner-city school
in a major Australian city. This article has
been published under a pseudonym to pro-
tect the privacy and reputation of students
and members of the school community.
ww w.readingtolearn.com. au
A child shouldn't have to
travel to the other side
of the country to achieve
success; a child should
be able to do this at
the school in his local
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