To Sir with WTF?

This secondary school teacher believes that some students are staying on too long in school.* Although it has been many years since I stepped into the classroom as a teacher I still do agree with this. Some students would be better off leaving school because schools have to cater to the majority and there will always be a minority that either fall through the cracks, can’t use what school has to offer, or have needs that the school is simply unable or unwilling to meet. Where we differ in our opinions is that I believe that these students come from all backgrounds, abilities, genders, and every other variable you can think of. Some kids need to escape the school environment to thrive. Some kids just can’t opt out far enough to thrive. Some will always just have to get by how they can.

I am surprised that a secondary school teacher gives this advice:

No doubt, encouraging children to stay at school is enormously beneficial for the individual and society, but it also leads to some students continuing with school when they probably would have been better off leaving earlier and doing something else.

My question is: What else?

Even when I completed Year 10 in 1989 the competition was fierce for apprenticeships which were thin on the ground. Most of us went onto Yrs 11 and 12 because there weren’t a great number of other options. It became rarer for students to leave school in Yr 10 and go to TAFE. Many of us hung around until after Yr 12 and then went to TAFE. This meant that instead of being school leavers at 16 many of my friends completed Yr 12, did 12 months at TAFE and were able to move to larger centres or cities as adults with qualifications to find jobs which were few and far between in my home town, unless you wanted to serve beer at the pub or work at Woolies. There was, as there is now, a lack of options for kids needing to leave school because it doesn’t suit them. Most apprenticeships went to kids that the tradie already knew either through friendship or family connections.

When I returned to the classroom in 1999 if anything the options for kids needing to leave school in Yr 10 were even slimmer. Even then most of the traditional pathways to work from school were asking for an HSC or equivalent. Why would someone take on an apprentice who could only just apply for a license when they could get a Yr 12 graduate who might already have their license, perhaps even their own car if they had already been working part time? Someone more mature, or even just someone who could be sent to buy the beers when work finished for the day?

I also take exception to the suggestion that it is lower class kids who are the trouble makers. In my experience it was the kids who thought that Mum or Dad could or would get them out of trouble who caused the most. St John’s anyone? This is of course not a blanket rule, troublemakers come from all walks of life. It is any surprise that something like Schoolies week attracts these kids?

I understand why Schoolies scares a lot of people. It involves a lot of teenagers, hormones, alcohol and drugs which is never a good combination in large quantities. However, a large number of schoolies seem to come away unscathed with some lasting memories. Tragically one girl lost her life this year and there has been one reported (quite possibly a number gone unreported) rape. If this was the standard by which we shut events down then we probably wouldn’t have any large public events at all. Some people misbehaving is not a reason to shut down an event, nor it is a reason to smear a social class.

I would have expected a better argument from a teacher. I’m giving this an F.

*Chris could obviously be any gender, I have just gone with the “To Sir with Love” pun for the title.

Categories: education, Life

Tags: , ,

15 replies

  1. The apprenticeship thing is interesting. I’ve talked to a lot of tradies who would much rather have a 16 year old than an 18 year old as a first year apprentice. The wages are more suited to a 16 year old, so they are more likely to stick it out. Also, 16 year olds are 2 years less cocky, and more willing to accept they have a lot to learn. Some apprenticeships require a year 12 education though. Things need to change.
    I think we need to move back to 16 year old apprenticeships. Those that require more maths & science should start with full time TAFE, where they learn just what they need, and are treated by the income support system as school students. Then they can start working after 6 months or whatever is required. This works on many levels. One of the reasons apprentices quit is that their employers often expect them to have and pay to run their own cars. That’s just not reasonable on apprentice wages. If first years were mostly 16, that would disappear on its own. TAFE is a break from the school system. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for a lot of kids for whom school doesn’t. Also, kids in the school system still have some access to some support programs (although they seem to be ever diminishing). My aunt used to work with kids who were not getting anywhere with school. She would work with the kid and with employers who liked to take on younger kids. She had a pretty high success rate. She took the place of the family connection – she tried to match the kids to the jobs, to increase the chances of success for everyone. There should be SO much more of this kind of thing.
    This attitude that more school learning is clearly better for everyone is deeply flawed, IMO. Not good for kids who shouldn’t be there, and clearly not good for the kids stuck in classrooms with the ones who shouldn’t be there. But I agree with you that you can’t push them out of school without sensible alternative pathways.

  2. Thanks Ariane. You have also reminded me of a boyfriend that I had when I was in school. He lived 40 minutes away in a village that had the servo he did his mechanics apprenticeship with but he had to drive to the town I lived in to go to TAFE. Kids without licences were reliant on parents or other students to get to TAFE if there wasn’t a school bus route they could use. A lot of kids ended up leaving home and trying to find somewhere to live so they could get to TAFE. Pretty tough for most kids who have never had to fend for themselves before. The entire system needs an overhaul and chopping huge funds out of TAFE isn’t the way to do it.

  3. There’s a lot of places this could go. (This is my third effort at trying to write a response; both of the previous ones have gone in different directions).
    Addressing the matter of “what about alternative pathways for Yr 10 graduates”, one thing I’d point out is that since the growth of outsourcing of state government maintenance and infrastructure facilities, one thing which has really dropped like a rock is the level of apprenticeships. The various contracting companies don’t want to pay for training an apprentice who’s just going to leave at the end of their three years, so they don’t offer that many apprenticeships any more. Back when the various state governments used to do their own maintenance and construction, they were one of the big sources of apprenticeships. It may not have been as “efficient” or “cost effective” as outsourcing everything to the private sector, but it did keep up a level of qualified trades-persons.
    Sometimes, the benefits of things aren’t felt at the individual level; they’re spread around the whole of society instead.
    One of the things which probably does need to be looked at and re-thought is the nature of the intersection between employment (paid work) and education. I got my first job when I was fifteen, and I was working part-time throughout my final two years of school (years 11 and 12). That part-time job paid for my school lunches, my leisure reading, and my clothing for school and work. It also lasted through my first attempt at getting a university education. Having a part-time job and trying to study was an interesting mixture; one thing I can recognise, looking back at the whole mess, is that the education system is still largely geared around educating the scions of the wealthy.
    School is easier if your parents have money. If your parents have money, they’re probably already pretty invested in the current system, and they have an investment in you doing well. You can see clear lessons at home about the value of schooling, and the value of remaining in school for as long as you can. You aren’t going to get the clash of values which comes about when your parents hear about you learning something they weren’t taught (and therefore don’t see as valid or valuable). If your family has money, there’s not the same economic need for you to go out and get a part-time job in order to be able to keep up with the social Joneses in your school (heck, you may be the one that other kids are attempting to keep up with). If your family has money, they’re more likely to be able to pass on decent study skills to you (and they’re more likely to understand what kinds of skills you’ll need; I had a lot of trouble explaining to my parents about what I needed for university level study, because I was in the first generation of my family to actually have the option). You’re more likely to be the social equals (or even superiors) of your teachers, and thus able to communicate with them effectively.
    Any of the above factors can have an impact on how well you’re going to do in school. Our education system as it stands adjusts for none of them – it’s presumed that all children will have access to parents who are invested in the current system, who are going to reinforce and respect the material presented in the curriculum. It’s presumed all children will have parents who are able to teach them the appropriate study skills for their educational level. It’s presumed all children will have at least one parent who is going to be at home when the child arrives home, and who can and will assist the child with their homework. It’s presumed that older teenagers won’t need to be looking for part-time work in order to supplement the family income in any way. It’s presumed that all kids will understand what their teachers mean about the value of schooling, and will support this. It’s presumed that all kids will be able to afford to participate in whichever extra-curricular activities they fancy (or that fancy them). Problem is, none of this is accurate for all kids. We need to have an education system which adjusts for the external realities.
    As to schoolies – I don’t recall it being a feature of my year twelve experience (in 1988). We had a muck-up day on the final day before the TEE started – a food fight between the teachers and the students, on the school oval, under the sprinklers. The local supermarkets sold out of water pistols. There wasn’t the expectation that large numbers of us would be going to Margaret River or Rottnest to spend a week attempting to get drunk out of our minds – this is something which appears to have grown up in the last decade or so, and as far as I can tell, it’s been largely fuelled by media attention. It’s the new way for teenagers to keep up with the Joneses, it appears. Even if the “go and get drunk road trip” had been an expectation at the time, I probably wouldn’t have participated – again, that part-time job would have interfered, because I would have had to be back in time for my shift on Thursday night and my Saturday morning shift as well.

  4. I hadn’t heard of schoolies and I think two girls who finished the year after me might have been the first to go from our school. I don’t think their parents had any idea what it would have been like otherwise they never would have been allowed to go. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to go to something like schoolies, nor would I have been able to afford to it would have taken all the money I saved up for my first year of Uni.

  5. @Megpie71 May I shout loudly in agreement with you?
    I see kids whose parents don’t understand the system, even from infants school. Then I think about what I’ve done to support my kids through school so far, and I know that without my intimate knowledge of the system and how it works, they would have had much less access to the support and opportunities they’ve had. They start out with advantage, and I make sure they get more.
    If we were serious about providing equitable education, schools would have the resources to make sure every kid had access to the support they need, as well as to the relevant extending opportunities. We are absolutely nowhere near that.

  6. I would have expected a better argument from a teacher. I’m giving this an F.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to suggest that someone can’t point out a problem (or a perceived problem) (in this case, some kids would be better off not staying at school until the end of year 12) unless they have all of the solutions to the problem (whatever else it is the kids should be doing instead).
    I think sometimes public discourse is served by people pointing out problems, even if they don’t have solutions.
    On schoolies, I finished school in 1992, and although we didn’t use the term, my best mate and I went to Byron Bay for a week after our final exams (on a train from Melbourne, which was an experience I wouldn’t want to repeat) and got drunk and did the usual sort of things drunk teenagers do.

  7. Some students would be better off leaving school because schools have to cater to the majority and there will always be a minority that either fall through the cracks, can’t use what school has to offer, or have needs that the school is simply unable or unwilling to meet.

    Why do public schools need to always cater to the majority? There are selective schools based on academic ability already. Why not have some public high schools that specialise in students who struggle academically in the general school system? They could concentrate on the skills that the students will need to get into TAFE or apprenticeships later and at the very least ensure that students who have fallen behind have the literacy and numeracy skills that you really need these days.

  8. @Rebekka not so much the pointing out the problem, but claiming that the bad behaviour at schoolies is all down to kids who have stayed too long at school. It doesn’t say directly that it is kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, but I think that is what is meant.

    The point that’s often missed by social commentators is that the ugly side of schoolies is largely due to the behaviour of students who performed poorly in year 12. It’s the kind of student who repeatedly neglects homework and refuses to attend after-school detentions because they work up to five nights a week.
    I suspect these underperforming and disengaged students are behind the interstate schoolies shenanigans that we see on news bulletins.

    Disengaged kids don’t just come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This is the argument that I am giving an F.

  9. This also shits me:

    It’s the kind of student who repeatedly neglects homework and refuses to attend after-school detentions because they work up to five nights a week.

    Or possibly doesn’t have the time to do homework, or somewhere to sit quietly while they do it. Who refuses to attend afterschool detention because they work casual shifts which they will lose or lose money on if they don’t get to work on time? Who need to get to work on time so that they can help their parents pay, or perhaps just pay themselves, the rent, bills, buy food and everything else? Because whatever the reason they need to work up to 5 nights a week. Because they will be beaten by their father if they aren’t home immediately school ends (this happened to girls I went to school with and the teachers fucking knew it).
    Because they don’t respect this teacher that they know has no idea about how they live? I hope the Principal of the school the teacher who wrote this article works at had a nice long chat with them this week.

  10. Sorry Mindy, completely missed that – I should read more carefully before posting, clearly 🙂

  11. One of the best posts I’ve read on line lately, partly because it deals with what society is and what people are.
    Two hundred years ago the ancestors would have grown up in some timeless village and spent their limited and tenuous time spans doing the same thing until they karked it in their thirties, a bit like the Third World these days.
    Given my own age,it rings bells because forty years ago I was being tipped out of school for taking part in a Moratorium style school strike, but basically, it was it because at nearly eighteen, school and I had worn our respective welcomes years earlier.
    I was only there for the paper at the end that would guarantee a job, altho I was quite happy in the school library finding out about the problems of the world I was growing into.
    But even that stuffed up- the recession was on and I was lucky if I could score shit kicking in the local factories.
    But at least school had left me the ability to read and enjoy a good book, so if the local factories only wanted zombies for the line and white collar jobs were off-limits, at least the system had ensured that being on the dole could often be fun, thanks to school.
    I think Mindy’s point is that an environment that is acceptable and protective for twelve yo’s is not the same enviro as one that is ok for people entering young adulthood.
    Five years on top of seven being regimented at primary years is a long time and school was great place in many ways, but the thinking must come in use of resources if further ones can’t be diverted from idiot wars and the like and the school enviro seems not to facilitate the transformation from child hood to adulthood as well as it does so many technical skills.
    I’ve survived our school system and I thank the legions of good people who helped me through, but paradoxically, the sadness has been that I have had nothing to offer a system that actually educated me quite well, but not for what employers wanted

  12. Two hundred years ago the ancestors would have grown up in some timeless village and spent their limited and tenuous time spans doing the same thing until they karked it in their thirties, a bit like the Third World these days.

    No, no and no. The idea that people 200 years ago largely died in their 30s is wrongity wrong wrong. Average life span at birth, in an era with very high infant mortality, is highly deceptive. If ~50% of people die before their 5th birthday, then once you survive to age five, you have a very good chance of living a lot longer than 30, even if that is average life span (which as you don’t say where your ancestors are from, I can’t comment on).
    So in medieval Britain, where life expectancy at birth was indeed 30, life expectancy at age 21 was an additional 43 years (so if you survived to age 20, you could expect to live, on average, to the age of 64) (that went down significantly during the black death, for obvious reasons).
    As you don’t specify where your ancestors are from, I don’t know how likely it is they were living in a village, but there was rapid urbanisation going on in Europe from the start of the industrial revoltution – if your ancestors lived in Europe 200 years ago they were actually quite likely to be living in a city.

  13. My ancestry is not a subject for discussion.
    Still say, a pretty rustic world compared to ours.
    Which is not to say if unless people are “evolved” into different species in two or three centuries, their lives would have been about as complex and colourful duplicates as member s of the species, going back a hundred thousand years.
    But equally our era has unique forms that history will use to discern it from others.
    Going back to the thread starter, I was just wondering out loud which portion of Mindy’s conundrum will turn out be be more real.
    Will we be as comprehensible to the drawing rooms of the twenty second century as those of the Edwardian era are to us.

  14. My ancestry is not a subject for discussion.

    Had no wish to discuss it, just wasn’t making assumptions about it either. My expertise is medieval Europe, so that’s what I talked about, but didn’t want to make the assumption that’s where your ancestors were from, as obviously many people’s are, but many people’s aren’t.
    The points about average lifespans are true for many other eras as well, from the upper paleolithic to early modern, across different geographic regions. The points about urbanisation are not.

    Still say, a pretty rustic world compared to ours.

    I suppose it depends what you mean by rustic. It’s a loaded term and not one I would use.
    But I think I have probably hijacked this thread enough.

  15. Yes, science is a marvellous expositionary thing, particularly when science is developing its range and predictivity as it own basis through deliberate adherence to testing of evidence. Just thinking at how surprised at the fossil of an ancient squid-like predator from half a billion years ago on ABC a year or two ago.
    Now, Mindy poses the question, what is school and what is staying too long (roughly)?
    This the rethink.
    What thinking and learning are and their purposes and the question of how significant the component known as “school” has been and can remain in developing consciousness and many skills necessary for life.
    Where is it located in the community physically and cognitively
    What is the part that is irksome or discourages people from seeking out or sticking with “educational” processes?
    Continuing life long education is a fact that seems to have so common place as to be itself overlooked, part of the ouch of the last two generations has been the obsolescence of whole sectors of the workforce, as with typists and the industrial line, jobs with some hope of semi permanence to pay of things doing the Brady Bunch thing. But things change awfully quickly.
    Just tonight I heard of the future of airline pilots.
    They apparently a species on the wane, soon your Qantas drone bot will take you to or through Afghanistan without necessarily pranging you against a mountain village, since the character pushing the buttons formerly reserved for human pilots will be ten thousand k’s away on a computer.

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