Young people’s needs change, as they move into secondary school and beyond.
The change from primary to secondary
Secondary school can be very different from primary. Instead of one teacher, your child might have six or more. And they have to move between rooms, up to six times a day. There’s a lot to organise, and a lot to take in.
One issue is that each subject period is quite short. So if a young person is having trouble and doesn’t ask for help, the teacher might not pick it up. And many teenagers don’t want to speak up. You need to stay in touch with the school, and let your child know it’s okay to need help. You can also help your child with the move to secondary school.
A different kind of help
Older children might want help to be given in a different way. Some might not want to stick out from the crowd by having a classroom aide. Janine’s older boy was diagnosed with learning difficulties in primary school, where he got aide support. It helped him a lot, but when he got to secondary, he wasn’t too keen.
“He could have had a tutor, or something like an aide come in, but he refused it. He didn’t want that stigma. He knows he needs some help. But he won’t have it in the classroom. If anything, he’d go to the Koorie educator’s room.” – Janine
Young people shouldn’t be shame about needing help, but their feelings should also be respected. There are many ways to help. You and the teachers can talk with your child helping them in a way that feels comfortable for them.
Looking beyond young people’s behaviour
When young people have their special needs and their culture supported at school, they can focus on learning. When they don’t, some shut down and their needs can get overlooked. Many young people don’t like to speak up, especially if they’re the only Aboriginal student in class.
Other young people get frustrated, or get embarrassed and muck up to take attention away from their special needs. Some teachers will try to find out what’s wrong by talking to you and your child. In other cases, it might be up to you to tell the school why your child needs more help. You can get support to do this.
When assumptions are made
Many teachers work hard to meet the needs of all their students. But sometimes a teacher might have stereotyped ideas about Aboriginal students who are struggling at school. Some might assume a student is getting low marks or mucking up because they don’t want to do the work. They might make comments like, “Kids like you aren’t going to get anywhere in life if you don’t work”.
Sometimes, these experiences might remind parents or carers of bad times they also had at school. For some, it might feel like there’s no point in trying to change things. But your child has rights at school, and you have the right to bring up your concerns. You can get help to do this, from a support person.
Communicating with the school
In primary school your child has just one main teacher each year. In secondary school there are many more teachers who need to know how to help your child. Find the best person to talk to – maybe the year level coordinator or the Integration coordinator. Other staff can help, like a Koorie educator or welfare coordinator. You have the right to ask for just one main person to talk with, so you don’t have to explain things over and over to different staff.
Student Support Group meetings are really important for communicating with the school. The school must make sure information from those meetings gets to all your child’s teachers.
Your child’s pathway beyond school
Later in secondary school, decisions need to be made about what subjects your child will study. Or your child might be offered alternative educational pathways – the school will help coordinate these options. There are many different programs, including some specifically for Aboriginal young people. Ask the Koorie educator, the Integration coordinator or the career officer at school. Or you can ask your local Co-op, or the Office of Aboriginal Affairs.
As your child grows up, they can be more involved in making choices for themselves. This teaches them the skills for self-determination.