This too will pass

When the idea of an Australian National Curriculum was mooted, many teachers and parents looked forward to the uniformity that would enable students to move from school to school or state to state without the impediments to learning posed by different curriculums. Each state had its own curriculum, its own school-starting age, its own handwriting style, textbooks, exercise books, and so on. Each state trained their own teachers in different philosophies and pedagogies, and few states gave automatic recognition to qualifications earned in another. In addition to state differences, each school had its own uniform, variation on rules, routines, and culture.

When children arrived at a school from interstate, making the decision about which class to assign them to was always problematic. Should they be placed with age peers, or with those who had been at school the same number of years, or with those at the same level of achievement? Rarely was there a neat match between even two of these, and there were just as many reasons for and against each placement.

With a change of school, particularly with numerous changes occurring frequently, children may have missed key areas of learning. Sometimes they would be challenged by work that was too difficult as they had no foundation on which to build. Other times the work would be too easy, often requiring repetition of familiar material. Such was the inconsistency from state to state.

There are many reasons for children and their families to transfer interstate, and not all doing so are itinerant. Some make a once-only move.

Some families move:

  • when a parent is transferred for work, including military transfers
  • because they are part of a travelling circus or show
  • to obtain seasonal farm work
  • to flee difficult circumstances
  • for a change of lifestyle or location
  • to be closer to, or further away from, family or friends
  • when they lose their home and/or employment.

There are probably as many reasons as there are families. In addition to differences in curriculum and school culture, each family has its own set of issues to deal with when moving interstate. Not least among these are the emotional and social issues for children who leave behind established routines and possible friendships, and face learning new routines and making new friends.

How well children cope with the change depends upon many factors, especially the reason for the change and the parental response to it. The number and frequency of changes will also be influential and it would not be unexpected for each to require a period of adjustment.

school cropped

Students who arrive one at a time for a lengthy stay, are easier to accommodate than an influx of transient students staying for just a few months; for example, for harvest season. The attitudes of the community in general, including that of teachers, parents and children, are not always positive towards itinerants. Many hold pre-conceptions of families and their children as having deficits in learning, potential, and lifestyle. These views create barriers which can be difficult to overcome, and compound rather than alleviate any problems.

Of course, while it was hoped that an Australian National Curriculum might overcome the difficulties caused by curriculum disparity, it wouldn’t necessarily be able to address some of those associated difficulties faced by individual children, their families, the schools, and their communities.

Although the national curriculum has been rolled out, it wasn’t the panacea hoped for, even in with regard to curriculum uniformity. Indeed, the imposition of uniformity of content and pedagogy has been riddled with controversy and it has not been fully embraced, with only partial implementation, in differing degrees, by each state. It has recently undergone a review from which came a number of recommendations for improvements.

It seems that curriculum disparity cannot yet be removed from the list of problems faced by children when changing schools.

What got me thinking about these issues this week is the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Charli, who has recently had homelessness thrust upon her, wrote about some of the issues she is now facing being transient, and how she is learning to cope with them. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something or someone that is transient. It can be a fleeting moment, a rogue vagabond, or ephemeral like trending hashtags. What is passing by and how can you capture the passing in a flash?

For my flash, I have decided to write about an itinerant child, one who has been on the move, and faces yet another first day at yet another new school.

Déjà vu

“I don’t wanna go.”

“You have to.”

“Why?”

“I have to work.”

“I could look after m’self.”

“No. You have to go to school.”

Tears cascaded as the parent thrust the child onto the back seat littered with clothing, books, and assorted paraphernalia.

“How long are we gonna be here?”

“How long?”

A small hand thumped the door. Feet pushed hard into the back of the front seat.

Hands trembled on the steering wheel. Ash tumbled.

“I don’t know.”

“Where are we?”

“Nowhere.”

Finally, with only a cursory glance at the sign, they approached the school office.

 

 

If you wish to do further reading on the topics of itinerant students and the review of the Australian National Curriculum, here are some links:

STUDENT MOBILITY: ISSUES AND PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR LITERACY EDUCATORS Dr Robyn Henderson Queensland University of Technology

Review of the Australian Curriculum Final Report

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

53 thoughts on “This too will pass

  1. Bec Colvin

    The FF is very moving – I hope the student ended up in a classroom with a teacher like you, who would be so welcoming and warm. Very interesting discussion on the Australian curriculum! Thanks for sharing your insight and expertise

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  2. macjam47

    Your flash is sad. There are many children here in the US who are displaced much as the child in your story. Moving from one state to another here can cause major hurdles for the children involved to manage. Besides new schools, new friends, and new rules, the curriculum is rarely an easy adjustment with wide differences from state to state, or even school district to school istrict.

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      1. macjam47

        It’s time the adult community and especially the politicians do something about it. Here each state has its own Department of Education and each sets the standards for their own state. The Federal D of E oversees to some extent, and occasionally passes down mandates. It doesn’t make sense that in countries like ours that each state has it’s own standards rather than universal standards across all states.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you for your thoughts, Michelle. I’m ambivalent about standards, and mostly not in favour. While I am aware of the difficulties confronting students when they move from one system to another; I also see the damage done by imposed standards and standardised testing that reduces “education” to a number of what can be measured. A more flexible child-centred approach that respects and promotes learning would be more to my liking. Sure there are certain skills that we all need to function in society but the individual journeys, route and time taken, don’t need to be the same. I think we lose a lot of what is precious about each individual by trying to make them all the same. I thought about this a lot while I was writing the post, but it was already too long to present this alternative position. Thank you for a comment which encouraged me to do so. It’s certainly a difficult situation. Anything to do with people, especially children, is always going to be complex. 🙂

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  3. Sarah Brentyn

    Um. I like the post but need to come back just to read all the comments! They’re almost as interesting as the post itself. I love when that happens. 🙂

    This has always been a thorn in my side: “Should they be placed with age peers, or with those who had been at school the same number of years, or with those at the same level of achievement?” For us, it is “strongly recommended” (if not outright forced) that the child be with same-age peers. And that does not work for every student. It sure doesn’t work for my little one.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Being with same-age peers definitely doesn’t work for everyone. It is a good reason to promote more flexibility in the way we educate our young ones, as well as ourselves. Some children seem to accept and adjust better than others. That doesn’t make it right. It just means they learned to conform and do what they are told. I’m sorry your little one is struggling with that right now. It doesn’t make life easy for anyone in the family.
      I love the sharing of ideas and the growth of understanding that comes through the open and honest discussion too, particularly with people from across the globe. It is interesting to see what we share and how we differ. Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion.

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  4. Rowena

    This is a good topic to raise, Norah. My mother’s family moved from Queensland to NSW in the 1950s. There were four kids and three of them were exceptionally bright. My mother still talks about how she and her brother lost a year with the move and the youngest sister lost two because they added Year 12…an extra year of schooling. Mum isn’t one to let go of a grudge! Mum only changed states once but some families moved around a lot and it must’ve been hard.
    Our daughter recently changed schools as she got into the OC class. This school is 45 minutes drive away and the culture is completely different to our local school and that’s not moving states.
    Our kids will be pleased. We have too much stuff to even think about moving locally let alone interstate.
    Hope you have a great weekend!
    xx Rowena

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  5. Pingback: Why school this way? | Norah Colvin

  6. elliotttlyngreen

    Kids change schools all the time in the states; divorces, job relocations, athletics, etc.. not any different reasons than you explained Norah. Its pretty much when your birthday falls and of course which grade levels a student has accomplished. This was eye opening and yet another clue into variety of cultures and things one may take for granted while the other… you know though; i like this set up. I’m sure it is very difficult but why not. It places a multitude of students with each other, ie different ages into one classroom. And definitely would provide a very different learning experience. Well its kinda like college. Interesting read.

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        1. elliotttlyngreen

          I really found that fascinating and enjoyed reading. Thanks for sharing Norah. Oh and ‘Deja Vu’ is curiously one of my favorite phenomena. Its so hard to capture cuz when it happens in a bkink its gone… though i did grasp your intended use of the concept. Well written.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for reading and adding your thoughts to the conversation, Elliot. I must say I do favour what is called multi-age grouping here. Children are with others of different ages. They learn what they are ready to learn and get support where it is required. The lock-step approach of same age same year doesn’t really do anyone any favours, except those who think children of the same age are at the same level of development and learning. At college, as you say, there are people of all ages in the same class, most of them choosing to be there!

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      1. elliotttlyngreen

        Unfortunately students at a younger age would choose not to be there lol. Perhaps tho a restructuring of our schools system here in the states should be looked into… kind of undo the assembly line process of the whole thing. The possibilities and that of multiple transferring could be worse or beneficial. Idk i cannot really say. But i do know this – im not good at being the new guy.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Exactly! No one would be there if they didn’t have to be! Restructuring the school system would be great, but a mammoth task I fear. I’m not much good at being the new guy either. 🙂

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  7. julespaige

    I may not have lived in a car…but I moved around enough to be the new student too many times. So I totally get this piece.

    My DIL who teaches for a private school has the same issues with curriculum changes – the higher ups make the changes and those in the field have to implement them and the students…receive the burden of having to win or loose at the discretion of those who have never had to deal with the situation the students are being tossed into like a bad salad that no one wants to eat. And the good teachers have to scramble to make sure that the students get what they need, working but not getting paid for overtime.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Jules. Your comment tells me that you do totally get this sad situation. The way you have described what happens in the system as “a bad salad that no one wants to eat” is very apt. We all gag on what they are force feeding us. And you’re right about those good teachers too – they do their best to make that salad palatable and nutritious. It can be a difficult call. Thanks for sharing.

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      1. julespaige

        I just read an article about some teachers who just don’t get enough funds for setting up their classes (or a school that needed some new equipment) – Then were pleasantly surprised when they set up ‘Crowd Funding’ accounts. The one teacher said that anything beyond the needed supplies to her own students and room would go to the school – she got at least twice what she was requesting! I think that new young teacher was very smart to use technology in a good way. I think her students will have a very good school year.

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        1. Norah Post author

          What a fabulous story, Jules. I love the way that teacher took the initiative. The money that teachers spend on resources is never taken into consideration when talking about costs. Each of my colleagues and I used to spend anywhere from $2000 to $5000 a year each, of our own money, on resources. The subsidising that teachers do is rarely acknowledged or valued. Thank you for acknowledging it. 🙂

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          1. julespaige

            Sometimes when I am at yard sales or the charity shops I’ll be on the look out for things that my DIL can use in her class room.

            Here in the states there is a food company that also gives points that patrons/customers can collect to give to teachers to spend for school supplies. The points are as little as one cent, and the most I’ve ever seen is 10 cents. I collect them for my DIL.

            I’m not exactly sure how it works but there is also a soda company where you get points that you can spend. Or you can donate your points to charities, maybe even schools that have registered.

            There are also such things here as the Power Pack Lunch programs or back pack type programs that are run by volunteers that help children get school supplies and also let the children take home food for dinner for their families either daily or maybe just weekly.

            One of our radio stations holds a ‘Stuff the Bus’ promotion that visits various locations and donates the contents of the bus to local schools.
            The idea being that when someone is shopping for their own children or just shopping that they can pick up a few things for children in need and donate to the bus on the way out of the store.
            Also local office supply stores this time of year when our schools start have different promotions every week where selected supplies are anywhere from one cent to a dollar with limits per household (deeply discounted – which you can get with a minimum regular purchase of five dollars of anything else in the store. That’s another way I collect supplies for my DIL’s classroom.

            A child who can rest well with a full belly will be ready and perhaps more willing and able to learn. And what child isn’t trilled when they get a clean new notebook or box of crayons?

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            1. Norah Post author

              Wow! What wonderful projects there are for supporting teachers and children, Jules. I’m impressed. I’m not aware of similar programs here. I do like the sound of the bus. I think your DIL is very fortunate to have your support. She must be truly appreciative of all you do for her. What a wonderful MIL.
              The statements in your final paragraph are very true. Children need to be nourished and rested, both physically and mentally, in order to learn. And, oh, the joy of new books and pens! I still feel it now, but in my childhood days, it was just the best. Thank you for the memory.

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  8. lucciagray

    Great flash. Adults tend to think children can cope with anything, just because they’re children, but although they may seem to cope with everything, because they’re so adaptable, clever and prepared for survival, it doesn’t mean the memories disappear, or that as an adult, the memories may return to haunt them. I’ve known too many people who are messed up grown ups due to difficult childhoods or traumatic events, to believe that children can ‘manage’ miraculously…

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for joining in the conversation, Luccia. I wonder is it that children seem to cope, or that adults don’t expect them to feel the same depth of emotion and don’t always pay heed to what they are being told, in words or actions? Sometimes the adults, like the one in my story, have so much of their own to cope with that they can’t even begin to think of what the children might be going through. It is sad that those events in childhood over which one has no control can wreak so much havoc in adulthood.

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      1. lucciagray

        Adults have lots of accumulated issues and daily life challenges to deal with, but adults should be more responsible for their children’s physical and emotional wellbeing, after all, they’re the adult!

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        1. Norah Post author

          That’s right. Unfortunately, sometimes the adults missed out as children and weren’t provided those role models of responsibility, and the dysfunction is passed from generation to generation. I wish it weren’t so.

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              1. Annecdotist

                Hurrah to all this, and just to add to Lucy’s initial point – children’s distress sometimes goes unnoticed because it’s expressed differently to adults’ and/or they can’t afford to upset those they depend upon for survival.

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  9. Charli Mills

    I wasn’t aware of the Australian National Curriculum and it makes me curious as to how US education evolved. It seems to me we’ve had uniformity across state lines for a long time. Perhaps the origins of US exams was the way to pass levels. I’m really not certain! Then you introduced us to itinerant students. What are your crops seasons like in relation to school year? The US school year was developed around farming so older children might help in the fields. Again, this challenges my assumed thoughts! I’m going to have to do some exploring. Very thought-provoking post and a heart-wrenching flash. I’m impressed with your gender neutrality, too!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Charli. That’s interesting. I didn’t realise there was uniformity of education across the states in the US. You’d think that would be a more challenging task for 52 states than for our six! I guess our longer school holidays (six weeks from mid-December to end of January) are in summer. I think harvesting of different crops occurs at different times from one end of the country to another. In fact, I’ve just Googled it and found this table https://goo.gl/2O6zqj It’s pretty interesting. People could be moving around at any time of the year. I find it fascinating that the US school year was developed around farming. I thing industrialisation saw the introduction of schools as we know them – they had to do something with the kids! I always wondered why your school holidays were so long.
      I’m pleased the post gave you something to think about; and appreciate your comments about my flash. Thank you for your comment. 🙂

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      1. Charli Mills

        Norah, this continues to captivate me! I’ve asked my teacher friends on FB to explain to me how and when the US achieved uniformity to see if my understanding of historical teaching (normal schools and primers for each level) is correct. One-room schoolhouses were always a fascination to me as their ruins remain scattered across the American West. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder who was a teacher and Todd’s family historically has generations of teachers so I know about teacher education in the US from a historical perspective. Industrialization was not a thing of the west. In fact, you might say, industrialization of the North is in part what caused the Civil War with the agrarian South. The West was all about resources — minerals for mining, land for homesteading, water for electricity, range for ranching, game for hunting and forests for logging. Both the North and South political powers wanted dibs on the western resources (and the resident Natives wanted their homeland). Turbulent history in the US but we had consistent primers and schoolhouses for children in every community! However, your post has challenged me to think deeper about my assumed knowledge. Then, seeing your crop chart — way different from typical US harvests! I once spoke to a group of Australian and New Zealand farmers who were touring the upper Midwest to learn about our organic farming methods. I really had no idea it was so different and this chart explains some of the questions they had to which I thought were odd! I also had a great time with an older farmer who was desperately wanting a certain food for breakfast and I finally understood he was asking for something we call “grits” but is typical in the South, not the North (this all took place in Minnesota). So, my next question, and forgive me if this sounds ignorant, but do Australians do the itinerant work of harvesting in Australia?

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        1. Norah Post author

          Hi Charli, Thanks for your observations and for sharing the results of your research. Your description of the influences on the US system of education is very interesting and made me question my thoughts about the influence of industrialisation. I had to go check of course, as did you. I came across this part-article: Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification http://goo.gl/PHEXyj Which does talk about the rise of public education alongside industrialisation. (If you close the box with the section that pops-up in a window, you may be surprised, as I was, to see the price of the individual chapter and the whole book! It’s an education in itself!) Anyway, I was pretty sure Ken Robinson had more to say about industrialisation too, so I got side-tracked watching his presentations. Thank you. I love listening to Ken Robinson so it was a pleasant detour. I’ll probably share his video tomorrow.
          Thanks for looking at the crop charts. I was quite amazed by the variety of crops and spread of harvest times. Some of my cousins used to follow harvests, earning their living by picking whatever crop they could. I never had much contact with them, and never thought to ask much about it when I did see them. It was just something they did. What a lost learning opportunity for me. I think the seasonal workers are probably a mix of Australians, new arrivals, and backpackers; but that’s an assumption without anything definite to support it.
          I understand that farmer’s search for a particular food for breakfast. I had the same experience in the US. At home I usually have cereal for breakfast, possibly muesli or rolled oats (porridge). I don’t usually have a cooked breakfast, and don’t really want to start the day with anything sweet (-er than cereal). In the States I couldn’t find (in cafes or restaurants) something equivalent to home, so I had yogurt, granola and berries each morning. It was a great substitute and very delicious. I think your “grits” might be similar to our oats, though I didn’t get to try any.
          Thanks for asking your questions, doing your research, and sending me off on answer-seeking expeditions of my own. I love this blogging learning experience. 🙂

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          1. Charli Mills

            Oh, Norah — you need to publish e-books on education! It’s the same with marketing reports. One report can cost as much as $30,000! Of course, it contains “valuable” data that highly describes the market and informs what it specifically wants. I didn’t realize education had such expensive data sharing. Well, this is interesting, our delving and sharing knowledge and experience. I see you found the FB inquiry I posted! Tara has responded now too with more insight. In the US the majority of itinerants are migrant workers, mostly from Mexico. Not only do they work for less, they have more knowledge about agriculture. Our system would collapse if Trump built a wall to “keep them out.” He doesn’t even understand the value of what they do. Moses Lake is an agriculture community, so there are many migrant workers here. And the add the bonus of serving Mexican food that is absolutely divine! Not all bring their families. Many send money home where it’s cheaper to live than in the US. But many border states also have to accommodate non-English speakers. I like yogurt, bananas, blueberries and granola with nuts and seeds for breakfast most days! Oh, but give me a good chicken-fried steak and over easy eggs for special breakfast occasions! Todd would eat omelettes and potatoes every morning.

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            1. Norah Post author

              I don’t think I’d make much money from ebooks if I put that price tag on them! 🙂
              I do enjoy the exchange of ideas and constant push to find out more. Can’t do that being complacent gig.
              It was a fluke finding the FB post. I’ll have to see if I can find it again and read Tara’s comment.
              I think migrants may be a large part of the fruit and vege pickers here, but it is popular with backpackers too as a paid-for trip around the country.
              I don’t think Trump understands anything, does he? (oops, sorry, did I say that?)
              Snap to breakfast too. It sounds yum! What are over easy eggs? Are they fried, boiled or poached. Or other?
              Potatoes aren’t usually eaten for breakfast here, though hash browns are popular. They are shredded (I think) deep fried potato cakes. Very fatty but yum, like most fried food unfortunately. Why is that?

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              1. Steven

                In my (very limited) experience which I have observed around the NSW/QLD border, most of the more skilled aspects of produce farming (the sorting and packing) is derived from local labour, such as students or regular “long timers”. Having said that, friends in the business tell us that other aspects do tend to have more “transient” people. For example they tend to have a greater proportion of overseas workers who are backpackers (touring the country on the cheap).

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              2. Annecdotist

                One of the nice things about arriving late to the party is the opportunity to delve into the later stages of tangential conversations – so on the subject of breakfast, after travelling in South Asia and ending up in Bangladesh where we ate three decent meals a day, each one comprising dial rice and vegetables, I had a very time-limited phase (due to the hassle of cooking in the mornings) of eating lunch/dinner for breakfast.
                And I think eggs over easy are fried eggs turned over in the pan so that the yolk cooks solid – of the other way is sunny side up!

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                1. Norah Post author

                  Thanks for joining in, Anne. I’m pleased you made it in time for breakfast! Rice and vegetable sounds like a healthy choices.
                  Thanks for explaining “over easy”. I’ve heard the term many times on TV and in movies, I guess, but never thought to ask. I suppose I see the significance of “over” now, with the egg flipped over. I knew the term “sunny side up”, but we probably just said flipped or soft. That might be just a family thing though.

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  10. Pingback: Transience « Carrot Ranch Communications

  11. cynthiahm

    Norah, your post shows an honest understanding of the individual child and how it feels to move to a new school. Coming from that place of understanding is exactly what’s necessary for a teacher. I’m not so familiar with your school system but it sounds like it is facing some real challenges.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Cindy. I’m pleased I was able to capture the truth of the situation. I felt somewhat sad as I wrote it. I think many school systems have challenges for teachers and children at the moment, ours included.

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  12. Steven

    Your story packs a punch, filled with emotion and even tactility. Any parent reading this who didn’t feel the feet through the seat while reading this either didn’t own a vehicle, or must have had angels.

    You have also cleverly and very sparingly used gender-neutral pronouns, allowing for a range of interpretations. You could have lost another one (or added several more), but I think that would have made it too obvious – I think you got the balance just right for that.

    Your background information also provides insight into the difficulties involved in evaluating “transfers”. I had never given it much thought about how such situations are handled.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Steven, Thanks for your encouraging words re my story. I did try to make it gender neutral. It could just as easily be a father or mother and son or daughter.Except that I used the word “parent”, there could be any number of other relationships too.
      I’m pleased the background information put the story into perspective. It is an issue with quite a large transient population in Australia. The figures from the census this year will be interesting, if any are obtained!
      As a teacher I have been aware of the difficulties experienced by students and families moving interstate. There is always a period of adjustment, which is more pronounced when the move occurs during the year. I think most people wouldn’t be aware of it if they had not experienced it personally. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  13. thecontentedcrafter

    Hi Norah – your story hits a spot! It is a really sad one, for everyone involved – and I’m rather afraid no amount of tweaking or standardising of education does much to provide the vital help needed in this all too real situation. What child can learn when under such stress, always having to make new friends, prove themselves, find their way around a new home, new school, new neighbourhood? There’s little energy left over for learning formal lessons. And the mum in this little story is under just as much stress – how can she help her child settle and learn? It’s such a sad issue – we need a new world order……. Compassionate Communities!!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Pauline. It is a sad situation and difficult for everyone involved. Unfortunately, I think sometimes the needs of the child get lost when everyone focuses on the problems it causes them. Standardising education doesn’t solve anything when personalising is what is required. And these children probably need it more, but our systems are not set up well to support individuals who fail outside the “norm”.
      I like your solution – a new world order of Compassionate Communities. We may be building them one step at a time, but I think we need to start running and get more involved in the relay. I’m not quite sure how.
      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased the scene in my flash was clear. I’m sorry that it’s all too real.

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