Jan Brady

Demonstrating how I meet the Professional Standards of
Criteria b.2, b.4, b.5, b.6, d.1

In the context of teaching at The Hills Grammar School, although we have children from many ethnic backgrounds, we do not have any wholly indigenous students. In teaching indigenous Issues within the context of Stage 5 Australian History it is often difficult to develop in our students an understanding of and empathy for the experiences of indigenous people during parts of the twentieth century. In particular it is difficult for some students to understand segregation when they live wholly in a multicultural world.

To assist them in understanding this context I plan a specific lesson around the concept of segregation based on absolutely arbitrary reasons and totally dependent on what is happening in the classroom at that moment. The segregation part of the lesson has to take place spontaneously as far as the students are concerned or it will not work.

It begins at a point in the lesson when we have been discussing paternalism and protectionism which leads into the concept of segregation. In the case of a recent lesson with a Year 10 group, one student kept asking but "why did they have to segregate them" and no matter what my explanation was or suggestions made by other students the "why's" continued. That was wonderful as it gave me the opportunity to begin the "game".

I told the student who was asking "but why" to leave the room, shut the door and wait outside. It is extremely unusual for me to ask a student to leave the room in the middle of a class as this action is reserved for correcting disciplinary matters. The other students were horrified as they are aware that I encourage discussion and questioning at all times. They could not work out what had gone wrong.

The room in which I was teaching this lesson has low windows around two sides so I could observe the student and she could observe what was happening in the class.

Immediately upon her leaving the room several other students sprang to her defence and wanted to know why I had told her to leave the room. Without explanation, they too were told to leave and I refused, quite loudly and harshly, to discuss the matter with them but told them to wait outside as well. During the next minute or so more complained and more were evicted. Eventually two thirds of the class were outside and one third inside the room.

I invited the remaining students to gather at the front of the room and told them what I was doing and spoke to them in such a manner as to make them laugh. During these 60 or so seconds that I was talking to the students inside the classroom, the students outside the room continued to complain for a while but eventually fell quiet as they watched with envy the apparently lighthearted discussion going on in the classroom. They did not like it and began to discuss quietly amongst themselves what had gone wrong. At all times I was able to observe the actions of the students outside the classroom and was prepared to abandon the exercise if necessary.

This classroom is next to the Dean of Students' Office and, at this point, the Dean of Students came to my classroom door to see what was going on because, as she said later, "it was really odd that you were speaking to your class like that". I explained to her what was happening and invited her to stay to take part in the debrief which would follow and perhaps use the exercise for some purpose for the school as a whole.

Meanwhile, two of the outside students had realised that there was another door to enter and had come around to follow the Dean of Students into the classroom, believing that I would not or might not notice that they had come in. That was the signal for me to end the exercise and I opened both doors and invited the students to return to the classroom. The students who had gathered at the front of the classroom returned to their seats and the students who had been outside filed in and sat down quietly, by now somewhat subdued. The whole exclusion exercise had taken about 5 minutes.

When they realised that I had not reported them to the Dean of Students for misbehaviour and that everything was alright, the questions started as to why they had been sent out.

I reminded them that we had been talking about segregation and that the Aborigines had been segregated without knowing why that had happened. I pointed out that they had now experienced a similar segregation and asked how they felt. We debriefed by putting on the board all sorts of words which came from both sides of the student groups - both those inside and outside - and discussing the implications. The words ranged from "powerful", "special", "privileged", "included" (the students inside the room) to "angry", "hurt", "powerless", "excluded" (the students inside the room).

I explained to them that I had behaved in an arbitrary and paternalistic way which was the way the Government had behaved toward the Aborigines, ignoring their rights and making decisions for them without any sort of discussion, and that their segregation had left them as confused as the Aborigines had been.

All the students were now more aware of the implications of this indigenous issue and had a better understanding of the Aboriginal perspective on segregation and we moved on to discussing assimilation and reconciliation as a policy of acceptance towards the Aborigines.

By the end of the lesson the usual light-hearted, enthusiastic, committed atmosphere of the classroom had been regained and the lesson ended with the Dean of Students saying that she had learnt something about Australian History (she is a Mathematics Teacher) and that, if this was the way my lessons went all the time, she wanted to join in more of them. The student who had been asking "why" now understood the issue well.

Top | Back to Professional Standards Criteria Page