I moved back to my bucolic little country town almost ten years ago from smack-bang in the middle of Sydney. A tiny terrace house in Chippendale to be precise. I left my Kindergarten teaching position and brought my little babies (two girls aged 1 and 6 weeks) back home to raise them free from car thieves, traffic noise and pollution. I was desperate to get away from the deadlocks and lack of off-street parking and back to where “everybody knows my name..”.
I envisioned our country lives full of freedom, gardening and acceptance. Possibly also some respect from having gone away to university and teaching children in Sydney and England and then choosing to come home to raise mine.
And there have been good times. There are some still every day. We have dogs that can roam anywhere on our hectare of land but continue to go AWOL whenever we go inside. (The across the road neighbour has a little boy with never ending patience for ball throwing – we can’t compete!)
We have started growing a raised garden with actually useful food in it for the first time in years because our hugely destructive chooks have all died. They were isa- browns and so productive that I think they laid themselves to death! I loved them (and the eggs) and cried when they died but I’m pretty pleased with the garden!
We don’t have to lock our house or our car yet! We always get a park at the shops in the tiny CBD (it’s a only block but it has almost everything!). The pool man who recently retired loved our family and made a fuss over us everyday of every summer. He lent us some sheep to keep down our back paddock. My husband visits him at home to talk about guns and shearing.
Our next door neighbours have been wonderful and friendly. My mum is nearby on her own farm and comes to read a story to the kids every night when my husband is away at work and calls in whenever we need her to mind the kids.
We’ve met some lovely friends and reconnected with others I once knew.
But…and there’s always a but..the local central school has been such a bitter, bitter disappointment it is hard to put into words.
My mum has taught in this school since 1977 when my brother and I started attending this school after our family moved here from Papua New Guinea. I have taught at this school early in my career and last year. My husband , mother and I have volunteered in every capacity in the school we could think of especially running the Home Reader program for the whole school one day a week for the last two years. We have been on excursions, walked classes to sporting events, concerts, worked in tuckshop, joined and worked in P&C activities like fete stalls, took time out to go on teacher employment panels, baking cakes etc. My children have attended this school from Kindergarten and yet…when my big girl became stressed and sick with anxiety over bullying, racism and ostracism at school last year we tried every avenue to make some changes and we were blocked at every turn.
The problem was a teacher who was employed in our school as an Assistant Principal but had no interest in controlling the children or, indeed, teaching them. Children were running wild, in and out, of the classroom. One was injured so badly that medical reports were made in order to make a formal complaint (by a parent who teaches at the same school). Children roamed the room shouting at each other, bouncing balls off others heads, kicking footballs into and out of the classroom and leaving the room via the window. It was like “Lord of the Flies” without the desert island!
We, being from a teaching background ourselves, did what we deemed to be the right things about the situation. We approached the classroom teacher when our daughter was distraught and didn’t want to go to school because of the behaviour allowed in the classroom.
The teacher (Assistant Principal) was quite matter of fact about being unable to control the class saying that at her previous school she had really well behaved asian children like our daughter. She conceded that something would be done ie. the bad behaviour would result in “Behaviour Books” etc.
After school we asked our girl if her teacher had mentioned our meeting and the teacher had taken her within earshot of a group of bullying girls and told her that if she couldn’t cope with the bad behaviour in class then our daughter could walk out at any time and go to the toilet to “calm down”. We were gobsmacked!
Deeming her classroom teacher to be incompetent, we then reported a slew of incidents involving racism, ostracism and bullying to our Deputy (Primary) who later confessed she had no influence over classroom management and we should have spoken to the Deputy (Secondary) who is in charge of both Welfare and Discipline in our central school.
She (Deputy -Primary) referred our daughter to counselling that entailed a type of resilience training, as if the problem was with perception rather than the reality of an out of control classroom with a non-caring teacher. We found later that the child who had needed a medical report for injuries sustained in the classroom was also offered “Resilience Training”. Not quite what he needed.
When subsequently approached with the details of our situation, the Deputy (Secondary) who we pinned all our hopes on as a good person, floored us with the comment that ” you will have to vote with your feet” . I was speechless at the indifference displayed in that throw away line when he could have made all the difference to our lives with his actions.
My daughter begged me to come into her class as a volunteer at this time and I asked and was finally allowed in. It was exactly as I thought. There were children wandering, hurting others, rubbing their names off the naughty list, being outright rude to me and leaving the classroom at all times while the teacher remained oblivious or indifferent.
After a fortnight, my mum and I decided to approach the Principal. This Principal had a history with us as he had been in my brother’s class at school and my mum had taught him and we believed we had a good professional relationship.
We explained everything we had witnessed, who we had approached, what our daughter was dealing with and how the teachers were not keeping the children safe.
We did it for more than my child. We did it for everyone who didn’t know better and who couldn’t speak out against the terrible injustices of bullying and non-teaching happening in her classroom.
And he turned against us from that day.
It was the same month that he chose me for the Community Member Award for Education week for all the work that I (and my family) had done for the school.
He chose to protect the badly chosen (by him) Assistant Principal rather that the vulnerable children under his care.
And this was just the start of the story really…
After much soul searching we applied and were accepted to a private school in the closest town nearby (45 minutes drive) so the girls were able to escape the dreadful power games being played out in our school.
But for our darling little boy, only half way through Kinder when this huge upset occurred, the future remains uncertain. He has mild autism and his story is complex and his path will be different. He is so happy in his familiar surroundings and near his friends he had known since preschool. It is a huge decision what we do for him as we only want to do the best.
But for the Principal at our school, his spite had only just begun….