A story about Jill

There are some students (and classes) that you can not wait to get rid of. You do everything in your power to never teach them again…. And then you get them for three years in a row.

Then there are other students who mean something to you and you have a soft spot for. I had the biggest soft spot for a student called Jill. I became a year advisor and she was one of my little munchkins, I never actually taught her.

My first memory of Jill was when school had just started for the year. She was wearing a uniform that the school gave her, but her hem was not sewn up and embarrassingly long. I had to work out a way to get it sewn up. I never thought that would be part of my job description. Couldn’t she just get it done at home? I had to teach all day so there was no way I could do it myself. I used safety clips to temporarily pin it up and eventually convinced an extremely kind SASS staff member to sew it for me. Jill was happy.

She used to chat to me all the time in the playground, before she realised it was not cool to talk to teachers. “I’m moving in a few weeks. I’m going to have to change schools. They have found a unit for us.” Us was her family, her mum and younger siblings. They, I assumed, was a government department, or maybe a charity organisation. “That’s great, but we will miss you,” I replied. 

She kept coming to school every day. She never moved. She was friendly and smart. She won an award at presentation day. After some initial teething problems, she made lots of friends.

She was rarely in school uniform though. The school had provided uniforms, but Jill would not always go home to the same place every night and they would get misplaced. There was a very strict uniform policy and enforcing it was by far my least favourite thing as a year advisor. If a student was out of uniform they got a uniform pass, that is, if they had a note from a parent, otherwise they had to pick up litter.

Jill would refuse to pick up litter, once I forced her to do it during roll call time when there was no other students in the playground. It was horrible. She would never have a note from home. We made a deal, she would come to me in the morning and I would write her a uniform pass, no questions asked. She came almost every day, that is until she stopped caring.

Jill had many problems at school. I had no training to be a year advisor, apart from one day of professional development that taught be almost nothing. I did not know what to do with her. Most of her problems got dealt with by the higher powers in the school. I just tried to be a friendly face that she could talk to.

She would often complain she was hungry. The school did give lunch money in emergencies but it was a pain to organise. Sometimes I didn’t have the time, because I had a million other things to do, I just gave her my own money. I would then feel guilty because I knew this was absolutely not allowed under any circumstances.

I wanted more than anything to see Jill finish Year 12 and to congratulate her at the ceremony. I thought education could change her life. She only made it until the beginning of Year 10. She told me she was pregnant. She got kicked out of home. She stopped coming to school.

She returned one day, not to go to class, but to organise a place for her at some sort of alternative learning centre. She was too young to drop out of school. She appeared stoned. “I had a chicken pie for breakfast,”she told me. “It was so good, my baby loved it.” She pulled up her top and asked me if I could notice her bump. I stared awkwardly. I could not notice anything. I had never seen a pregnant bump before. I wasn’t even confident she was pregnant.

Since that day I have not seen Jill again. I never found out if she was really pregnant. I never heard if she had a baby. I don’t know what happened to her. I just hope she is OK.

Obviously Jill is not her real name.

Flower Sustayable Me

A story about Jocelyn

Jocelyn was in my Year 11 class one year. She was a new student who had spent her maximum nine months at an Intensive English Centre. She had come from an African country that had experienced civil war from the 90s. We were told by the Welfare Team to never ask her about it. She lived with her cousin now in Australia.

At first she was quiet and shy but soon became a class favourite. Everyone loved Jocelyn. She was bubbly and friendly. She was two years older than the rest of the students. She would greet me with a massive smile every time she entered the room, “Hello Miss!”.

Jocelyn needed one on one support. She would fail every assessment task. I had a full senior class and it was mixed ability. There were gifted students I was meant to extend. There was the middle range students I had to engage and keep interested. Then there was Jocelyn and another girl who needed a similar level of support. I was in my second year of teaching. Jocelyn did not get the attention from me that she deserved.

The class moved on to Year 12 and a few students dropped the subject. I wanted Jocelyn to drop, there was no way she would cope. She didn’t because she couldn’t. She had done an extra english class in Year 11 and that meant she had to keep all her other subjects.

I used to give the class practice papers to prepare them for the HSC. I would find past exam questions on the topics I had just taught them. They would take them home and answer them. I would mark them and provide feedback. This was optional and on top of their homework. Some students handed them to me for marking every time whilst others never bothered. Jocelyn handed hers in every time.

Her spoken english was good but her written academic english was very poor. She could not understand the questions. She would find a familiar word in the question and look it up in her textbook or class notes. She would copy a paragraph for her answer, often it was a definition. I would try to mark it along with the rest of the class. I would often give her the same feedback. “Jocelyn, your answer does not relate to the question. Try and write your own answers.” I was not a literacy expert. I was stumped as to how to best support her learning. Sometimes, I would help her answer the exam style questions after school. It was never enough time. I didn’t have the time to give her the help she needed. I barely found the time to mark the papers for the class. She didn’t give up though. She finished Year 12.

Jocelyn found me after the graduation ceremony. “Miss! Take a photo with me!” I hated taking photos but I could not say no to her. After a 10 minute photo session with her entourage I congratulated her for finishing high school. We hugged and said goodbye.

The HSC results came out on the last teaching day of the year. “We got three band 1s”, I was told as soon as I entered the staffroom. Our school hated Band 1s. They made us look bad.

I looked at the list and sure enough Jocelyn received a Band 1 in my subject. I didn’t care. I knew she had tried her absolute best.

*Jocelyn is not her real name

*HSC stands for Higher School Certificate. It consists of standardised exams all Year 12 students in NSW, Australia sit for at the end of their schooling.

Flower Sustayable Me

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