Interview: Teaching at Banksia Hill

Interview: Teaching at Banksia Hill

We were given unprecedented permission to conduct an interview with teachers at Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre. Their stories and opinions are inspiring and heartbreaking.

We believe it is so important to hear your stories, direct from you. 

As many of you know, publishing direct quotes from public sector workers requires a lot of work, but when it comes together, the stories we can tell are incredible. 

As are these stories from CPSU/CSA members teaching at Banksia Hill.

Through news headlines, the public often sees the kids at Banksia Hill as troublemakers with little hope, but these teachers see the raw emotions, charming personalities and hopefulness of these detainees.

Teacher C

I started off doing a primary teaching degree.

My first job was in Nullagine, which is outside of Marble Bar.

All the kids spoke Martu and only spoke English to me. And then I traveled around and did a bit of teaching up in the Kimberly.

I always funneled towards the kids with issues.

I always wanted to work with indigenous kids, and I couldn’t go back up north – so I thought where are the most indigenous kids in Perth? The answer is jail.

So I started off at Rangeview, I teach literacy, numeracy and art.

These kid come from such traumatic backgrounds, we try to give them a really positive experience with schooling because often in the community they don’t attend school.

So when they come to us we need to give them a positive experience of school. We need to build their confidence, so they can participate in programs on the outside.

They just are super cool kids. They are so resilient. They’ve been through so much and that’s just what impresses me about these kids.

They come from such traumatic backgrounds, they’ve experienced so much in their young lives, when it comes to disappointment and abuse.

They’ve slipped through every single crack in society, until they’ve come here. 

And here seems to be the one spot, where they have a structured environment. They can’t run away or behave their way out of it. So if we can make that a positive thing, then maybe they won’t re-offend.

Teacher B

This job doesn’t suit everybody.

It sounds silly but there is a certain amount of glamour teaching here. To teach the worst kids in the state, people are often like “WOW”.

But it’s difficult, it’s not an easy job to do. It’s really hard to develop relationships with these kids because they are incredibly guarded and we have to break down those barriers. 

I think for the first twelve months I was here, there wasn’t a month that went by were I hadn’t written up my resignation.  

But you hit this time where they accept you.

And I think that’s when the job starts to get a lot easier.

And then you get to know the kids and that’s difficult in itself because some of the information they may tell you about can be confronting at times.

You have to learn to not be judgemental, I think it’s really important that you’re not. 

And you need to be genuine.

These kids they come from horrific backgrounds, and they can pick you in a minute if you’re putting on an act. 

Teacher C

Best bullshit detectors ever.

Teacher B

But also we teach kids from Kalgoorlie, to Kununurra to Perth. So we teach kids state-wide.  

We have kids with English as a second language, kids with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and extremely high special needs, such as ADD and hyperactivity.

We’ve got kids who can’t form a letter and we got kids who are doing their ATAR.

So in one classroom you might have, three kids who are learning how to write a sentence and the use of capital letters. And then we have (young people), who want to go into the workforce and need to write resumes.

So you have to have very individualised programs.

And that’s another facet of education here and we need to be able to provide whatever young people need.

And basic numeracy and literacy skills, you’d be surprised how many young people these days don’t have it.

We come across so many kids who have just slipped through the cracks, not attended school, and have really low literacy and numeracy skills.

Teacher C

Every day they come into class and they might be going to court or they might have had a bad phone call. Some of them have their own children, they’ve got relationships on the outside that they are trying to sustain or build a bridge back to.

We have the biggest bullies in the state, as well as the biggest victims.

So when they come into class every day, you have to be able to go “Right, today you don’t look right. What happened?”

Because if you can’t pick that up, they might turn around and punch someone in the face.

And it can escalate extremely quickly.

So you have to be able to read these kids. And they need to be able to trust you enough to talk to you.

Just “I have a headache.” Fine put your head down.

Or “I’m not feeling well today. I don’t want to talk.” Ok put your headphones on and watch a movie. 

They're not going to learn anything, unless they’re feeling comfortable and happy.

And there’s so many outside factors that can affect them. They are also very emotionally immature, we have 17yr old boys who have the emotional maturity of a toddler, because they’ve never been taught.

Teacher B

There is a bit of a contradiction with these boys, in lots of ways they are incredibly mature, their street wise, they’ve seen a lot of awful things in their lives. And in other ways they are massively under-developed, especially educationally. 

We had a story the other day where an 18yr old boy went absolutely nuts, over a scratch and sniff sticker.

And that’s the contradiction we work with every day. On one level , incredibly mature, street wise, got kids themselves and seen horrible things happen. But in another way very very childish. 

Interviewer Question; Do you know what are these kids in here for?

Teacher B

I never ask, I never want to know.

You hear about things in the news, we know who they are.

But we put a face to these kids.

In the paper you don’t see their faces.

So when they come in  and you get to know them, you get to know their families, what they’re passions are, how bad they feel about something they’ve done. How they miss their mothers and grandmothers.  

How badly they feel when somebody dies in their family and they’re not able to go to the funeral. 

So we see that human face that the community don’t see.

It’s safe here.

Years ago, one boy was let out – and he was waiting for me in the carpark.

He wanted to come back in. There was nothing for him outside.

Teacher C

No one cares about them on the outside, I one boy say “I’m going to commit murder.” And I said “Why” – he’s just such a nice kid who has just had no consistent adults.

And he said, “Cause no one cares about me on the outside Miss. In here; I go to school, got my mates here, I get fed, I’ve got a safe place to be, I’ve got my own room.”

Interviewer Question; What about aboriginal kids coming down from remote communities?

Teacher C

They should never be so far from home.

If anyone understood anything about their culture, they wouldn’t bring them this far.

And that’s one thing I’ve learnt. They sit there and they’ll go and get an atlas and there will be a dessert with pictures of tumbleweed, and they are transfixed.

And I was like “What is in that?”

They are just so connected, it’s something that runs through their blood that connection to country. And you just don’t get it until you’ve seen it.

Teacher B

I haven’t met a young man yet, that hasn’t come from a very very complex family. 

The family interactions are very complicated. Sometimes when you first meet them you know them by (their first) name. But you then say “WHO are you?”  

Don’t even tell me your first name, I just need to know your last name and where you’re from.

You’ve got to be very trepidations about how you question them, because sometimes their relationships with their parents can be negative.

Interviewer Question: What about sentencing? 

Teacher C

They go to court and all these people are talking about them, and they come back and say “Miss I don’t even know what happened. I don’t know if I’m getting out or staying in.”

Because of the legal jargon and no one actually explains it to them in words they understand. And they don’t ask, because it ties into that “being dumb, uneducated and stupid” shame. 

And they come back here and they find an adult they like and say “Sort it out for me!”

They just latch onto you, because they know you can help. And you have to be onto it really quickly because of self-harm, (they can be) unpredictable, they might start a fight, the depression that they suffer. 

So you have to be really mindful of the stress they are under just being incarcerated, and everything going on outside on top of that.

We provided a full transcript of the interview to WA Today — Read the published story.