Member Focus: Michelle, Banksia Hill

Michelle is a former social worker but recently made a career change to teaching and has now been a Social Studies teacher at Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre for nearly a year.

"I was never attracted to a traditional school, I wanted to work with kids that need a bit more help and do it in a holistic manner and this seemed like a good fit.

“Here you cover many aspects of the young people’s education.

“Because of their background, you also have to consider the emotional side of things and make school a safe place. It’s harder but the gains are richer.”

You can tell the teachers at this unique school are completely dedicated to “their kids”.

“I think people are really quick to demonise our kids.

“I don’t look at what these kids did, it doesn’t affect my practise, it doesn’t affect my interaction with them.

"I choose kindness with all of them and I chose to develop a relationship with them regardless of what they’ve done.

“They are still kids and they aren’t hard yet.”

Their students have come from challenging backgrounds, but its little snippets of light that really make Michelle smile.

“I think every day you just have to trust that you’re making an impact. You have to trust that you’re making inroads and you have to trust if you remain authentic and chose kindness that they will pick up on that.

"You just have to trust that you are making a difference, because even though they’re not outwardly showing it, they’ve got so much baggage their trying to get through, you are making a difference.

"The challenges in the classroom are very prevalent, with the majority of students having suffered abuse, having learning difficulties and low education levels.

“Some cannot tell the time or don’t know how to use a calculator. Some can’t identify plus or divided by, or which is used for which process.

“I’ve got a kid in my class who hasn’t been to school since he was in grade three.

“I said “What do you mean you haven’t been to school since grade three? You must have gone for a little bit?”

“He replied, No Miss, I haven’t been to school since year three.”

“No one is looking for them, they’re all too hard. So, this is where they end up. This is the last stop.”

Michelle quickly points out, it’s not that the students don’t want to learn.

“These are the kids that haven’t been in good circumstances, that haven’t done well in school… but they actually want to learn. I think that it’s a huge misconception about our kids.

“They come down to school, and they might carry on like pork chops, but they actually do want to learn.

“They want to better themselves, it’s just about giving them that safe space in which to do it, because until here, school had always been a place of alienation for our kids.”

Michelle says one of the best parts of working at the Centre is her front row seat to one of the most ancient cultures in the world.

“One of the things I really love, is that I get to walk amongst the oldest surviving culture known to human kind, every day.

“I have boys come into my class and talk in language, and sing in language, and when they got released I shook their hand and I said Thank you, I could google for a million years and I would never find what you have bought to my classroom,” It is a true blessing.

It’s an amazing culture and I’ve grown to just appreciate it so much.

Banksia is an extraordinary school environment, where many would presume fear and danger are the primary concerns, but Michelle says it’s the bonds they have with these students and the hope that brings, which makes this such an amazing workplace.

“All we have is our relationships. Everything hinges on motivating, working with, interacting with these kids.

“The fact that, after everything they’ve been though, they can let that guard down and have a relationship with a teacher is remarkable.

“There are so many beautiful moments in here.”