Because I am a masochist I got Trouble is My Business off the video store new release shelf on Thursday night and we watched it.
Trouble is My Business is a documentary about an Assistant Principal working at Aorere College in South Auckland a few years ago. The ERO report from 2009 tells us that the school has about 1400 students, is decile two, and that 2% of the students identify as European/Pakeha.
My first ever teacher placement was at Porirua College. When I was walking around the school with my associate teacher one day he said hello to one of the kids and then turned to me,
Associate Teacher: “That’s one of them.”
Me: “One of what?”
Associate Teacher: “The white kids.”
Me: “One of them?”
Associate Teacher: “There are seven.”
Which makes you realise that there is a problem with the idea that New Zealand is not a racist or segregated society.
Anyway, here is the director’s statement about her film:
After interviewing several women my age (30) about their lives as research, I realised all of the decisions that led them to their current predicaments had been made when they were 13 and 14 years of age. I took a job at a local high school Aorere College as the arts co-ordinator. The area of Mangere where I worked was very depressed. Although most of the parents had jobs, they tended to work long hours in low paid employment. This meant many of the kids were neglected by their parents; not by choice, but by necessity. The parents tended to have large families, and the older kids often looked after the younger ones. There were problems with condoned truancy, where parents preferred a child to stay home to look after the young ones rather than attending school. There were major health issues, language barriers, gangs, high rates of crime, all the issues associated with a low socio-economic area.
That first statement about your situation at 30 being based on decisions you made at 13 or 14 stings a bit when I read it.
Those girls I mentioned in my last post who had mugged another student are 14 or 15 years old. When a student is suspended their teachers and deans have to write a report on them. It was hard to. Even though my estimation of those students has sunk quite a bit after what they did, they are three students I like. One in particular. I have written about her before.
There’s this girl in my year group. I won’t bore you with the story about how she’s got potential, but she has. She’s a crack up, and good looking, and really quick on the uptake. She’s in for a detention for… for, what? Was it wagging that time? Anyway, she was tired, and the other person in my office was letting her have it: “Whose fault is it that you’re late? It’s your fault, isn’t it? You’re responsible for you.” That kind of stuff. Sometimes I say the same stuff, so don’t think I’m making out I’m better, because I’m not. Anyway, the girl said, “do you know what I have to do everyday Miss? I have to go and pick up the kids, and I have to make them tea, and I have to put them to bed, and then they won’t go to sleep so I have to put them to bed again, and then I have to get up, and get them ready….” The other person in my office didn’t hear any of this, but I heard it and it made me sad. I wanted to give her a hug.
Sometimes she would tell me things that made my hair stand on end. About how one brother punched another brother in the face and broke off his front teeth. That kind of stuff. Other times she would tell you things that would make you smile and feel sad. About how she hated it when her mum came to the school and had a meeting with the DP because her mum “was all smiles and all good with the DP, but when we get home… Mister, she ain’t all smiles and all good.”
Kids see through you.
Sitting in my office talking to another dean yesterday we discussed her case. How do you get out of a life where all of your role models are negative? Beats me.
Trouble is My Business is this kind of film. A film about a proactive teacher working with students in impossible situations. There is no comment in the film (outside the editing room choices of course) about what happens; it just happens. A few students are highlighted and their problems are complicated, and there are no long term solutions just short term ones. The short term ones – get them into class, patch things up with a teacher, stop them from punching each other – are part of the strategy of keeping them out of trouble long enough that they might mature a bit, and somehow find a place in the school that will sustain them.
It does happen. Students are resilient. Some of them deal with a lot and get through.
Some don’t, and in my limited experience what makes a kid more likely to fail to get though is the kind of support they get or don’t get from their family and friends, but good teachers help. They do make some difference. For some kids just finding one teacher who likes them, and takes them on, and goes into battle for them can make a huge difference.
I was cheered by Trouble is My Business. I got out of my office yesterday and spent three lessons walking around the school, picking up the stray kids, talking to them, taking them back to class. I found two boys over at the dairy during second spell. I walked them back over the road to school.
What are you doing over here, boys?
Shouldn’t you be in class?
I was hungry.
Smells a bit like smoke around here.
How many do you smoke a day?
(Looking sheepish) Not many.
That pie smells good.
You had a good year this year.
Better than last year.
By this time we’re standing outside their classroom.
See you, Mister.
See you, boys.
Problem of them wagging one lesson = solved.
Problems of their truancy in general, being off school grounds, bad diet, smoking addiction, low literacy?
Bro, every journey starts with a single step.