A look inside the classroom at some of our most inspirational teachers.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

This week, Insight takes a look inside the classroom at how some of our most inspirational teachers engage with their students.  

While the declining academic performance of Australian school students in international rankings may have captured the headlines, for some students the influence of their teachers goes far beyond test results; teachers have changed their lives.

Denzyl Moncrieff grew up in a tough environment. By the end of year 9 he wasn’t interested in going to school or making friends. The moment when Suzy Urbaniak singled out his performance in a year 10 science test changed everything.

Donna Loughran was an absent high school student. She was bored and didn’t see the relevance of what she was learning at school.  By Year 11, Donna had a decision to make about the kind of future she wanted. Luckily, she had Steve Duclos for legal studies and he showed her the possibilities.

Omar Sawan was an angry student. He says he lost count of the number of times he was suspended from school.  At one point he challenged the principal to expel him. That principal, Jihad Dib, refused and managed to see potential in an angry school kid.

What happened when these students met the teacher that changed their life? This week, Insight hears their remarkable stories. 

 

Credits 

Transcript

 

VIDEO PLAYED:

 

CHILD: When you have to wake up to go to school at like 7.30 in the morning and you just feel like you want to sleep in.

CHILD 2: There was one time when me and my friend, we were speaking in class and we got in trouble.

CHILD 3: Sometimes like, my friends just joke around with me and then like, I get angry and then like, I just joke back with them and then they hurt their feelings, I accidently hurt their feelings and then the teacher gets cranky at me.

CHILD 4:  This is a common one, but like, it’s just talking, sometimes I’m a chatterbox.

CHILD 5:  Talking in class, sometimes I get caught but most of the times I don’t get caught.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   A lot of people relating to the chatterbox line, clearly. Good evening everyone, an entire audience tonight of students and teachers which is great. Welcome to all of you. Denzyl, you're 27 now, what did you think of teachers when you were that age? 

DENZYL:  Oh, when I was that age I think teachers were pretty much the enemy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why? 

DENZYL:  I think in the kind of the community that I grew up in there was a very us and them mentality. I'm indigenous Australian and I feel like there's always been kind of this little bit of a divide.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of things would you do at school? 

DENZYL:  I remember, you know, being maybe year 4 or 5 throwing chairs across the classroom, shouting, swearing at teachers, things like that, getting in fights as well. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Mmm. What was it like for you growing up? Describe for me the environment you grew up in. 

DENZYL:  So I was raised by my both my grandmothers, my mum and dad weren't really around when I was a kid. When I was younger there was, my, there was a lot of domestic violence  and I had uncles that were drug dealers, yeah, pretty tough place to grow up. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You stopped going to school all together in year 8, why? 

DENZYL:  So, um, in year 8 I was thirteen and my little brother passed away, he had an inoperable cancerous brain tumour, it was a really tough time.  I was going to quite a prestigious Catholic high school at the time and so I took time off just because I was so stressed, I couldn't focus, I didn't want to go school, I didn't want to do anything and my little brother had just died. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you were very close to him too, weren't you? 

DENZYL:  Yeah, very close.   Yeah, I used to walk him to school and help him get dressed and make him, you know, snacks after school and things like that and we ended up having, I had a conversation on-line an MSM messenger if anybody remembers that and a friend of mine said you know, at least there's one less boong in the world, ha, ha, you brother's dead. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Wow. 

DENZYL:  And it was really horrible. It hurt, it still hurts today, it hurt my whole family and we approached the school with a printout of this conversation and they said, they brought the family in and the father of the boy said that it couldn't have been my son because my computer, our house computer was away being fixed. I don't know if that guy realised how the internet works but you can log-on anywhere in the world and basically the school sided with them and didn't want to help us at all, so I left. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  By that stage what were you thinking of school as a place? 

DENZYL:  I never wanted to go back, it was a horrible place, just filled with, you know, I was so angry and resentful and I couldn't believe that, you know, the school was meant to be there to help me and they wouldn't at all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you have any ideas at that stage of what you might end up doing, like did you have any notion of what you might do when you grew up? 

DENZYL:  Well I, I had a lot of uncles that were truck drivers up in the mines a lot and interstate cross country, I think the mines because you know, they like indigenous employment and stuff up there so, and truck driver is kind of the entry level position. So that was, yeah, that could have been an option. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, Donna, what about you, what did you think about school growing up? 

DONNA:  Primary school I actually really enjoyed. Up until I went off to high school, I had a really positive experience of school. I kind of became disconnected in the end of year 8, beginning of year 9 and I was very bored and I had more interests outside of school, I got myself a part-time job. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How old were you? 

DONNA:  I was fourteen and so that part-time job became very important to me and I preferred to go to work. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How often were you going to work? 

DONNA:  Every day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Every day? 

DONNA:  Every day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:    You were supposed to be at school? 

DONNA:  So I would go sometimes for selected classes, one or two classes, and then I'd be going to work and so, yeah, and I didn't, yeah, my, my home life was, you know, my parents were, you know, very loving and you know, my brothers and sisters they were all at school. I mean none of them finished school, it wasn't kind of the done thing.  You know, they went off to work and my sisters got married and had babies and things. So my parents always encouraged school and always wanted us to be at school. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So why were you so engaged with this part-time job rather than school? 

DONNA:  Um, I think it was the first time that I had a disposable income. I mean my family, we grew up in Housing Commission in Mt Druitt and so we didn't have a lot of cash and I loved going, I loved. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you love about it? 

DONNA:  I loved learning.  The boss at the, it was a milkbar, like I cooked fish and chips and just he taught me so much in the ordering and the cooking processes and the running of the business and I just felt so engrossed in learning so many skills and I felt, I guess, the connection that I was learning something valuable. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you didn't feel like that about school? 

DONNA:  I was just disconnecting from the curriculum that I was learning.  It didn't seem to be really relevant to me, so. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What options did you think at that stage that you'd have when you left school? 

DONNA:  Oh, well I wanted to own a fish and chip shop, that was the, I wanted to work and I just saw myself as a worker.  I didn't see the value in, in education or you know. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How many of your friends were going on to finish school? 

DONNA:  Very few, I mean that was, again in the area that I grew up in, that, you know, it was really about you finished as much school as you were requiring and then you either got your apprenticeship or your traineeship or your, you know, your full time job and you went off and did that. So there wasn't a lot of talk about, you know, further study or university and things like that until I got into my later years of school. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what happened when you turned sixteen, how were you going by that stage? 

DONNA:  Um, look, I had a lot of cash in my pocket from my part-time job.  However I, I had failed my School Certificate.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What options were you given when you failed your School Certificate? 

DONNA:  So I, I could return to the same school I was at and redo year 10 or find a school that would take me without my School Certificate. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you were asked to leave if you weren't prepared to repeat? 

DONNA:  Correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Omar, what were you like at school in your junior high school years? 

OMAR:   In primary it was more, I enjoyed going to it because I liked to set it up for myself, so I liked to, when I get into the classroom make myself noticed in terms of yelling, flipping tables, flipping chairs, sometimes flipping other students, it was just anyone in my way I made sure they weren't in my way anymore.  Even teachers became accustomed of me, they knew my name and I think they…

JENNY BROCKIE:  How often were you doing that? 

OMAR:   Oh, on a day-to-day basis from…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What, so just walking in and creating mayhem? 

MAR:   If it was a new class, if I just started the new year and we just go into the new class I had to make myself noticed.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Noticed. 

OMAR:  And make sure everybody knows who I am. That's how I just was. From kindergarten up to year 10 is how I was for every year. All the teachers knew me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I'm sure they did? 

OMAR:   Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE: But why were you doing that do you think? 

OMAR:   I just felt that I didn't want to be the person to get picked on. I didn't want to be the person to be lower than everyone.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You look, well you don't look like butter wouldn't melt in your mouth there but you know, you don't look necessarily like that much trouble in that photo. But you obviously were? 

OMAR:   You would probably just see my hand where it's been broken? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yeah. What was that from? 

OMAR:   The wall came in my way. Something happened to the wall and my hand, the wall won but I gave them the win. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Describe for me what it was like when got that angry, it sounds like you were angry all the time? 

OMAR:   I see red, so no matter what anyone would say, whether it be my mum, brother, or anyone, I would just, you know, continue my rage. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Mum's here? 

OMAR:   Yeah, she's always been there.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  That must have been fun for you. 

HOUDA: I had to cope with the phone call from the school, Mrs Sawan, meeting, for Omar so I'm used to it.  Once or twice a week. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yeah, I mean it's easy to laugh about this stuff. 

HOUDA: Yeah but that time was…

JENNY BROCKIE: This is serious, yeah? 

OMAR:   Yeah, for me it became a more, it became enormous, anybody got in my way I'd just get angry, move them out of the way or have a fight with them, have an argument.  Even if it was a teacher, there was one teacher in high school where her first day, she didn't know who I was, I was on my phone, I think was playing poker or something, not something you should be doing in class but she came and kept telling me get off the phone, get off the phone till I snapped and let everything out on her and from that day she knew exactly not to do that again, but then I got suspended for five days and had a lot of time to think about it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tell me a little bit more about your life, what was going on at home? 

OMAR:   No dad at the time. He was there during my early adolescence, so about eight to ten, eleven, and then he just disappeared. At school it was same thing every day, violence and just fights and swearing.  First time I got suspended I was in year 5, I told a teacher to go something herself and from that point, you know, I became aware that I could do whatever I want, there's repercussions but not as bad as I thought there would be.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what did you think of school and teachers by the time you were in year 8? 

OMAR:   By the time I was in year 8, before then I hated every day of high school. I dreaded it. I went to Punchbowl Boys High School and I just hated every day of it.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Lisa, you've got a different sort of experience. When you were in year 10 you were ask to leave a prestigious girls grammar school in Melbourne, why? 

LISA:  Not a dissimilar thing, I used to go to roll call and sort of disappear a lot. So I was always wagging. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why, why weren't you engaged?  

LISA:  I was disengaged. I mean I found it hard to concentrate in a classroom, I found I always had to be talking to someone else. But I was always pinpointed year after year. I mean it started off, when I think about it, really in grade one and I was always in trouble, I was always at the back of the class having to face the clock, you know I'd done something wrong. I never really did anything major wrong, like I wasn't suspended for smoking or I wasn't, I didn't do drugs or, but in the end they told me I didn't fit in and they gave my mother a foolscap, two foolscap pages of all the reasons why I didn't fit in. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what were the reasons? 

LISA:  They were things like my socks, I refused to pull my socks up to the right level. I had my jumper around my waist.  I'd questioned some of the teaching practices, I'd question I think a lot of the teachers. I didn't like some of the way, you know, indigenous history was taught, things like that, and I'd sort of …

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you were quite opinionated in class? 

LISA:  Yes I was. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yeah, we're supposed to encourage opinions in kids? 

LISA:  And every year I'd start off and I'd think, you know, this year I'm really looking forward a few year, new class, new teacher, and you know, they'd do the roll call and then they'd stop at me and they'd go:  "I've heard about you, over here, you're going to sit there, I know about you", and then straight away I'd go back that spot I'd left the year before, you know, with the sort of right, it's you and me, it's we're against each other, and you know, it was interesting. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you think of teachers?  

LISA:  I always felt there was that sort of me against them feeling, you know.  There weren't many teachers that I really connected with. Some teachers I really hated I think, you know, and I think they hated me, you know? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Denzyl, when you were getting into trouble in primary school what were teachers saying to you about your future? 

DENZYL:  I had teachers say that I'd grow up to become nothing, you know, things of that nature, wasn't going to go anywhere. I'd just end up in gaol. 

  

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CHILD 5:  The good teachers are fun and the bad teachers are sort of boring.

CHILD 6: A good teacher loves the students, talks nicely and want to encourage them to do things and like a not quite good teacher would like be rude to them, not marking and not listening to their ideas.

CHILD 4: A bad one like sometimes rushes me, which is like nearly my mum, my mum usually rushes me a lot.

CHILD 7: A good teacher can tell you jokes and smile at you and also is never grumpy and a bad teacher is always grumpy and doing the wrong stuff.

CHILD 8: They aspire you and once they know your strength and abilities, they can use tasks to challenge you.

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Mmm, our students have now been joined by some people who've had a big impact on them.  Denzyl, towards the ends of year 9 you showed your science teacher a rock that you'd found, you've still got that rock? 

DENZYL:  I do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Can you shows us that rock? 

DENZYL:  Here's one I prepared earlier. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, so this is the rock, at the end of year 9 you saw that? 

DENZYL:  Kind of what changed everything I guess, yeah, so I found this in my travels around the state and I had a year 9 science teacher Mr Sodler, and I brought it into school and asked him if he knew anything about it and he said I've no idea but we've just got a new teacher and she was a geologist, let's go and meet her. And showed her this and that was the first time I'd ever met her. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Suzy, what were your first impressions of Denzyl? 

SUZY:  I just thought wow, this kid's brought me a rock and out there in WA no one wanted rocks and yet the whole state runs off rocks and so to have someone interested in rocks, and understand what a rock is and know about the earth and how it works, I just thought this is amazing and he wasn't shy.  He just came and said what is this?  Are you sure that's the same rock? Yeah, and I looked at it and I thought it was more like a chirt? 

DENZYL:  No. 

SUZY:  Yeah, no, so yeah, I just thought this kid's going to be a geologist one day perhaps so I just thought well, I've got to bring it out of him. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how did you go about bringing it out of him? 

SUZY:  Well it was tough because he wasn't in my class, my science class at that stage, but I honed in on him. I watched him around the school yard and he walked around, very withdrawn, hoody on, very isolated, would find corners and so I'd just go up there and you know, chat the him every now and then and just see what he's up to, how things are going, et cetera, et cetera, and yeah, and then he was in my year 10 class and that's when it really took off. I really made sure that I tried to give the best for him. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  There was a moment where your impression of Suzy changed where she had a big impact on you. Can you tell us about that moment, what happened? 

DENZYL:  So that was year 10, that was general science, and I remember doing physics and, we had this test and I'd studied pretty hard. I had my Nana's friend, Stuart help me who was a very good man and he was a physicist, a nuclear physicist, and he really helped with me physics homework. Because I'd missed so much school I kind of missed a lot of the basics and we sat this test and I think I got like 30 percent, 32 percent, something just abysmal and so Suzy's gone around and handed out all the test results and the papers and then at end of it she said, you know, what the average score was in the class and then said the very last section which was on dectageometry which was supposed to be the most difficult section she pointed out that only one person in the class got 100 percent right on that one section. 

SUZY:  Not that I can remember this. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Really, you don't remember it at all?  And that one person was you Denzyl? 

DENZYL:  And that one person was me and she pointed that out and I was there, you know, with my, you know I was like wow, this teacher…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did that do for you, that moment? 

DENZYL:  It, it just, I mean she didn't have to mention it. I got 32 percent but I got 100 percent in…

JENNY BROCKIE:  In one bit? 

DENZYL:  Yeah, in one bit which I think was only two questions, the very last page. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how did it affect you?  How did you change you, that? 

DENZYL:  It, it kind of made me feel good about school again and made feel that a teacher could be a friend, or that a teacher could, you know, help me a little more. I felt happy, like I hadn't felt happiness for a while, you know, being told that I got 100 percent on two questions was pretty big feat just because of what had happened in recent times. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And so what flow on effects did that have, how did that change your attitude to school and learning? 

DENZYL:  Well, I kind of wanted to get 100 more then, more often so I think I applied myself a little more and things became a little more clearer. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Suzy, you don't remember that at all? 

SUZY:  No, I don't remember that but what I do remember is the process that I do use as an educator and that is education is about learning and improving in your learning and it's not necessarily about a mark which defines a child, a mark that is a connotation of their success. It's about their journey and how they feel and the confidences that they gain and so any, any point of improved confidence or improved selfesteem needs to be noted and give them positive feedback, that's what makes the difference. It's about building those relationships and then finding their passions and then working their passions, like I did with him, rocks. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What's it like though when you hear a student say that that moment, that you don't even remember, was a turning point? 

SUZY:  Um, well, I don't want to say, I'm too modest, but I get quite a few of them now. Like Denzyl was my year 10 student thirteen, fourteen years ago.  So I do get that reinforcement that I'm doing okay. So knowing that my reflective practice is going, is going well and that I'm changing the lives, or trying to improve the lives of these young people, trying to engage them in curricula that's pretty much, you know, doesn't suit about 90 percent of the students as far as I'm concerned. 

It's not about, um, prescriptive learning, it's not about setting tests, it's not about giving textbook work, I don't do worksheets, I don't do texts books, it's about authentic learning experiences, it's about learning theory in context. It's about applying it to real world scenarios.  It's been providing career pathways for them and it all stems from help, you know, developing their selfconfidence, their enterprising skills, their intrapersonal skill, their interpersonal skills and then they acquire the knowledge.  It's not about us delivering knowledge to them.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  I need to make something clear about your school situation Denzyl, you changed schools from where you'd been really unhappy? 

DENZYL:  Yes, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you had Suzy for year 11 and 12? 

SUZY:  Mm-mmm. 

DENZYL:  Yes. 

SUZY: We lobbied to get geology going at our school, so we…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What, the two of you? 

SUZY: The two of us, yeah. So, I was all about making sure that we had home ground talent service our industry and so this kid liked rocks so I thought well student and teacher going to the deputy's to say we can have it on the board for year 11, so off we went to the deputy's and if we could get ten we were right to go. We got nine I think. 

DENZYL:  Yeah. 

SUZY: But yeah, the rest is history as they say. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I want to throw it out to all of you, just listening to that story about a moment, you know, there being a moment where suddenly you feel like you're worth something, anyone relate to this? Has anyone had experiences like that at school with teachers? yes, Raymondo? 

RAYMONDO: Well, in year 7 and 8 I was a really, really, really naughty student, my Deputy here can confirm that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yes, yes nodding the head. 

RAYMONDO: In year 8 I was mostly into skate boarding, I didn't want to come to school, I didn't like school and I had a maths teacher, he didn't look like a maths teacher, he was into skate boarding and surfing and stuff as well and basically what he did, it sounds bad, it sounds like a bribe but it's not, he said if you get above 80 percent in your next maths test I'll buy you a cool pair of Vans socks. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Socks? 

RAYMONDO: Socks, you wear on your feet. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You're right, it's sound like a bribe. 

RAYMONDO: So I studied really hard for that, I came back at lunch and I did maths and he helped me out with that and eventually I got above 80 percent in the maths test and I don't think, I mean that was a good achievement for me at the time but what was really great he just helped me realise that you can do whatever you want, you've just got to put in the effort, put in the time, nothing is really that hard. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you expect socks every test you did after that? 

RAYMONDO: No. 

MALE:  He went for the shoes after that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Omar, you were in big trouble in year 8, a new principal started at your high school. How did you first meet the new principal? 

OMAR:   So something happened in the classroom, as usual, either had an altercation with a teacher or a student, and I got sent to the principal's office, and Jihad just looks at me and says, you know,  you're not in primary school any more so relax it, calm it down, you're going to be an adult soon so sit down and tell me what happened. For me it was the first time a teacher actually told me, you know, sit down and tell me what happened. And from that we started to build like a rapport together. So he was aware of who I was and I was aware of who he was. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I'm sure he was aware of who you were at that point. 

OMAR:  More than one occasion.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Jihad…

JIHAD:  He knew the way to the principal's office blindfolded, you were fine getting there.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you make of Omar when you first met him? 

JIHAD:  I remember that and the first thing he did, he wanted to try to assert who he was and I was happy to accept that but also to make sure that he knew that I had a role, but I think the really important thing that what I saw in that rage and in that anger was a person who I thought had just never been listened to. A person who hadn't been given the time to explain why he did what he did and I think, you know, it's touched on,  and every teacher will tell you, you see the reaction but you need to come back to the why.  Why do people do what they do and behind every reason there's something, behind ever action there's a reason for it and I wanted to know. I mean…

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what did you, what did you decide was the reason? 

JIHAD:  Look, I had to try to give him a context and say mate you don't need to blow up that quickly. You don't need to, the first thing you do is try to lock horns with somebody.  We need to learn to deal with things in a different way and one of the big things was, when I said to him, you're going to be a man soon so stop behaving like a baby and I think that might have been the first time someone actually just stood there and said I'm not going to accept this behaviour, but not in an angry way, you know, in a constructive way. We had many little battles in between then and now. 

OMAR:   Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Were you in the office a lot ,right, in the principal's office, in Jihad's office? 

JIHAD:   He knew what sort of coffee I had, you know what I mean? 

OMAR:  Had a black coffee. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  At one stage you dared Jihad to expel you? 

OMAR:   Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why? 

OMAR:   I just told him that listen, don't waste your time. Stop wasting your time on me like because we had this talk so many times that I memorised it and so I just told him listen, stop wasting your time, just get rid of me, one less headache to deal with and I'll do my own thing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was it tempting Jihad? 

JIHAD:  I mean for the headache I had plenty of Panadols in the top drawer so that was fine. But no, look, of course he wanted that, that was his easy way out. His whole school life had been about blaming somebody else and not accepting any, any responsibility for his actions. And I remember him saying that and I said mate, I'm not going to expel you, I don't care, and he said well I'm going to swear.  I'm not going to expel you because if I expel you, then that's giving up on you and I'm not going to give up on you and we don't give up on anyone and I needed to show him that there's actually a lot of people who love you and a lot of people who care about you and that's why, as tempting as it was, it was just going to be a line that I wouldn't cross. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Omar, what sort of things started having an impact on you that Jihad was saying?

OMAR:  Well, the way he would speak with me wasn't as just another student, so just another number. He would speak to me as an individual. The way he'd speak with me would be more of how a father would speak to his son when he's done something wrong, where you don't shred or hammer them, you try to guide them into the right way. You try and, you know, make them understand how the world works, that it's not how you want it to work. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what sort of things would he say to you? 

OMAR:   So say sort of things like if you weren't at school, how would anyone help you? You know, we're at the school for a reason so we can build you into a man, we can build you into an adult in society that has responsibilities. And as he said, like if he was to boot me out, what then? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did he say to you about your anger? 

OMAR:   Um, about the anger, he said it's just childish. This is a quote he told me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room and that's always been with me since then and I tell that to my mates now when they want to get angry.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And he'd ask you whether you would do some of those things in front of your mum?

OMAR:   Of course not, any sane person would never do what I done in front of their mother. 

JIHAD:  Can I just add just a couple of things just there with the mother? One of the things I admired about Omar, every one's got a redeeming feature and thing that I really admired is he was actually honest. So I would say “why did you do this?” and he would tell me exactly why. And as for the mum, I mean Omar put his mum through torture because it's very difficult for a parent to come to school and to have to listen to the sorts of things, but I actually saw in him the respect that he held for his mother because he would lower the gaze and I remember once when he actually raised his voice at his mother and I just really got stuck into him. Maybe I was the one who got angry then and said you do not ever speak to your mum like that. 

One of the most beautiful things I saw when you talk about the full circle of becoming a man, when you were engaged and I was lucky enough to go to your engagement, the most beautiful thing I saw was Omar actually knelt down and he kissed his mother's feet and it was as an apology for everything that he'd done for her and that's to me, that's what a man is, a man is someone who learns from what he does and that's what made me proud. More proud than anything else of you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Houda, you said you were going to cry, yeah, that must have been a pretty important moment for you, yeah? 

HOUDA: He become like more mature and more man on this situation, this day, you know, that moment I will never forget it.  As Jihad said, Omar's always honest, he just, he can't lie, I love you Omar. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So Omar, what happened to you while all this was going on, what happened to you? 

OMAR:   Well …

JENNY BROCKIE: Were you changing? 

OMAR:   I was changing a little bit for the better. It wasn't a sudden change, it was more of an easing into stage of change. Until I decided to wake up to myself and to actually do something, let's actually put effort into it and in 2012, that's when I was in year 12 that's when I put everything I had into it and as I'm going through, everything's fantastic, life caught me on a blind side and that's when I had a car accident and that really woke me up, and that made me realise the more important things in life like treating people with respect and actually understanding what other people's needs are rather than mine.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And meanwhile Jihad was giving you some ideas about what you could do with your life? 

OMAR:   Yeah. So he sat me down and told there's a million things you could do, you could do TAFE, you could do college, you could do work, there's whatever you want to do and so I sat down and had a deep think of it and I decided to do something. So I decided to actually become progressive and I went to college and did the one year degree in college and so with that one year.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Big change? 

OMAR:   It was a big change because I'd never studied before then. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Donna, you found another school to go to? 

DONNA:  Eventually, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you landed in Steve's class? 

DONNA:  I did. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Tell me about that? 

DONNA:  I was very lucky that Cambridge Park High School allowed me to commence year 11 on probation for a term and I got Steve for my legal studies teacher in year 11. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Steve, what did you make of her when she arrived, what did you think of her? 

DONNA:  Be kind.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Be honest.

STEVE:  I probably should apologise.  I guess one of those thing as a teacher every day you're dealing with, when you consider the number of classes you're teaching, you're probably dealing with 120 or 180 different personalities every day and Donna was frustrating and I probably should apologise to the audience, I probably should say that she was a shit of a kid, she was. 

DONNA:  I have apologised profusely, Steve, all the teachers and, yeah. 

STEVE: But as for…

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you know her back story, did you know the trouble she'd been in? 

STEVE: I got to know that in speaking with Donna but as has been mentioned already, when you have that passion as a teacher you don't want to give up on any student. You want them to have the opportunity so you've got to find a way of getting to them. And there were times when I didn't speak nicely to Donna but it was the way of getting through to her because I felt that, I think there was a bit of a facade that she'd put up.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you make of Steve? 

DONNA:  I thought he was a great teacher. He, you know, he brought the content alive and it was of great interest, it was real world for me. He was very tough and didn't take any nonsense, which annoyed me at the time.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how did you connect with her?  I mean how did you turn this person around? 

STEVE: I think it even came down to nearly the end of year 12 and fortunately I'd seen a major work the day before that she had completed and I know the society and culture person had seen the work that she'd done there, it was all due for the HSC, and the next day someone stole her bag and she'd just gone into the office and someone pinched her bag and she came up and she was crying and saying well, what am I going to do? I'm leaving school.  I just sort of said get over it, you know, we can do this about it and we can do that about it. That is not the end of it unless you want to make it the end of it.  This is not, this is what we can do and why would you throw away what you've finally achieved? You know, the greatest opportunity for you is going to be a future.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Donna, why did you start thinking about going to university? 

DONNA:  It was absolutely the conversations that I'd never thought of it as part of my future. I watched, as I said, my brothers and sisters go straight…

JENNY BROCKIE:  So it was the conversations had you with Steve? 

DONNA:  Absolutely, absolutely, and even just conversations in class, like you know, about what the subject was linking to. Remembering for me I really needed that real world connection in all my learning for it to be relevant to me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what university did you want to go to? 

DONNA:  I wanted, it was interesting, I didn't do a lot of investigation of universities but Steve had mentioned that he had gone to Sydney uni.  At that stage I didn't even know where Sydney uni was but that was what I needed to fill out because that was the uni that I wanted to go to. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You wanted to go to the one he want to?  

DONNA:  Absolutely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Lisa, you found a school for year 11 and one teacher stood up for you at your new school.   Why? 

LISA:   I had taken on art as one of my subjects and I went to my first class down in this small little cubby hole that was the art room and met Libby and straight away I think you said to us we could call you Libby, and it was this sort of environment where I suddenly felt I'd reached some sort of home really. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why, what was different about it? 

LISA:  Well I think it was Libby, I think the way she engaged with us. I'd been doing art at my other school, I mean I know an art teacher I had previously saw someone I know recently and she said that she had no idea that I had any artistic talent in me, so. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you're an artist now? 

LISA:  I'm an artist now, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And do you attribute that to Libby? 

LISA:  100 percent, without a doubt I wouldn't be, for better or worse I have to say, I would not be making art if it wasn't for Libby. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you've been very successful at it? 

LISA:  Well, yeah, I suppose, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And Libby, who you did you approach Lisa, how did you go about engaging with her?

LIBBY:  It wasn't hard. Lisa had a passion and I have an enormous passion for the visual arts and it was in Lisa and anything, anything that was suggested she could explore, she would. And I encourage discourse in the classroom, I encourage discussion about ideas, Lisa loved that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So total turnaround for you? 

LISA:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Like a whole new subject area that you hadn't even kind of seriously thought about? 

LISA:  Never thought about as a career.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Eddie, you teach maths every day, not just in the classroom, let's have a look at you in action on what you call your Wootube channel. 

 

VIDEO PLAYED:

 

EDDIE:  The sort of mind blowing thing for me happens when you say “Okay, take this guy and just move him over here, right. So that is 5 and that is X and then take this guy and turn him around so that if it is on like this because remember the way...

STUDENTS: Oh, my God!

EDDIE:  You see it! You see it! Then you are like oh this shape! If only I could do something meaningful with this, what do I need to add onto make this thing? The answer is...

STUDENT: Wow!

EDDIE: I should square it, right. So you add on 25. Yeah, that is the thought I had. So you are like - this is X squared. The reason I half it is so I can do this construction.

STUDENT: Wow.

EDDIE:  Then the reason I square it is so I can complete the square, of course...

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I so wish I had a maths teacher like that, it would have been, it would have been, I may have had a completely different career. Your maths lesson, those maths lessons have clocked up millions of views, I think more than three million, right? So what do you think is the key to engaging with students? 

EDDIE: We've heard it quite a few times tonight. I think people think of mathematics as a very abstract thing.  For me it's always been about it's the struggle for a human being to wrap their head around something that's confusing at first and requires a real change in perspective, but then more than once, and you sort of heard that moment when the kids…

JENNY BROCKIE:  There were numbers of moments, the oohs and the aahs and the recognition, yeah. 

EDDIE:  When you can bring people along with you, mathematics, people think it's about numbers or it's about shapes and they're there, but they're really about people trying to grapple with this world around us and why it is the way it is and why, why rainbows are round, what's up with that?  And a mathematician tried to work that out and we know the reasons why and it's beautiful. So for me, connecting with people and bringing them along in that journey is just endlessly exciting. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  We'll get to you explain why rainbows are round on-line for everyone, because I'm really interested in finding that out, yeah.  Emily, what did you make of Mr Woo when you first came across him at school? 

EMILY: Well, very energetic as you could tell and it's easy to dismiss maths in the fact that you don't understand why and someone who, you know, that I ask why things happen and you can go for English, you're encouraged to ask for why, society in culture you're encouraged but for maths it's a way of doing it and that's the way it's done and he was like the first maths teacher to ever explain why you do this. Like you saw it, it just makes sense.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You hated maths? 

EMILY: Oh, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How much, before you came across this? 

EMILY: I wanted to drop it because end of year 10 you can drop maths.

JENNY BROCKIE: And was that because you'd had teachers that hadn't engaged you in it?

EMILY:  Yeah, because I never thought I had the brain for maths, it just never sense to me so I'd get frustrated at it and the also teachers would get frustrated because I would get frustrated. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And Eddie, how did you convince her to keep going with maths? 

EDDIE: I think it's easier than people think because really, I think it's, as with anything, people get frustrated when if you play a game and you're just losing all the time that's no fun, and I've little kids that, three, six and eight and if they just constantly are never winning at a game, they'll just flip the table and walk off. But I think if you can get any child to that moment where they realise “oh, is that all this is? I can get how that works, I can see why these pieces fit together,” then it's sort of your eyes begin to open a little more to this is something worth spending time on. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Emily, why did you keep going with maths, what was the motivation once you got engaged? 

EMILY: I think he was kind of the motivation, sorry I'm going to embarrass you, I don't think he realises how much kind of changed my minds on maths. I want to make him feel like I was an achievement. I want to do better for him because I know he has faith in me and so I get really frustrated at everyone else in my class for not listening and don't you understand how much he's doing for us and it's just, it feels like he's making connection to us when other teachers don't and it's nice. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How are you going at maths now?

EMILY: I think I’m doing better, I want to do better, I’m striving to do better.

EDDIE:  She’s doing a lot better.

 

 

VIDEO PLAYED:

 

CHILD 9:   Without teachers, we would not be educated.

CHILD 10:  They teach you new things, they encourage you to do your best.

CHILD 11:  They are very nice and they help the children.

CHILD 4:  I like about teachers that they are very patient, don’t rush me that much, they can explain easily and there’s one more thing that they always tell you is to not give up. They nearly like…that’s why I have got all the words I am using right now, all I got my maths, multiplication, division…wait, most of my division came from UTube and I think they are important because like any question will have an answer, I learnt that from, yep I learnt that from a teacher I think. Never give up and each question has an answer, makes together like… nearly the main core of my life, the purpose of my life is just like … zoom forward and don’t give up, endless.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Fantastic, zoom forward, don't give up everyone. Meredith, you're in year 4? 

MEREDITH:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you're here tonight with one of your teachers, Mrs Asome, is that the right pronunciation, Mrs Asome who you call Mrs A? 

MEREDITH:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yes? How has she helped you? 

MEREDITH:  Reading, writing, when I, if I didn't have her I wouldn't, I didn't know like anything and she's helped me so much. I'm so happy to have her in my life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was it like for you before with the other teachers before you met Mrs A? 

MEREDITH:  I didn't really know anything, I liked my school because I had so many other friends and there wasn't really any mean people but I didn't really know anything and I always copied my other friends because I didn't know how to read and write. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You had real trouble with reading and writing, yeah? 

MEREDITH:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Sarah, how was Meredith's literacy when she came to you? 

SARAH:  So Meredith arrived at the beginning of grade 2, Meredith couldn't write her name, didn't know any letters, not one of the alphabet. She had huge gaps in phonemic awareness, see rhyming, syllables, alliteration, those early literacy skills so she'd been at school for two years but had the skills of an entering, basically an entering prep child, the first year of school so we were starting from scratch. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And is that what you'd expect from a year 2 student with dyslexia? 

SARAH:  No, even with dyslexia you would expect that they would have some of those pre-reading skills.  There were huge gaps in her knowledge so I worked with her one-on-one to try and fill those gaps as quick as possible. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how did you go about teaching her? 

SARAH:  I, we had to think slightly differently so we know what works for students with dyslexia works for everybody, but it's critical for those with dyslexia that they are taught through front phonics, phonemic awareness, basically the big six of reading.  So looking at the research practice and looking at how we implement that in the classroom. I was also really acutely aware that coming to me to fix the issues in learning support wasn't going to be the answer so I guess I then strived for whole school change so that she was getting replicated whatever was happening with me in the classroom every day as well because otherwise it wasn't going to have the impact. So we had to change the school, the teachers, train our staff, and do a lot of additional learning ourselves. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what can you do now that you couldn't do before?

MEREDITH:  Now I can nearly read chapter books, I can do reading, writing, spelling, maths no, good enough, not the best but good, and yeah, really happy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Denzyl, you credit Suzy with changing the whole way you looked at your future. How? 

DENZYL:  Well once I found out about geology, I guess I had a focus in life. I had goals. I liked rocks and maps and I didn't know that there was a whole career out there where I could just do rocks and maps every single day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Let's have a look at what you're doing now.

 

VIDEO PLAYED:

 

DENZYL:  This is my third year working in the Pilbara as a geologist with Rio Tinto. Geology is a passion for me so to be able to do it as a career is such an amazing experience.

MAN:  Get you to drill from north to south looking to close out as we go into the well. You might find that you need to test underneath.

DENZYL:  We are out here looking for iron ore. We are drilling down one hole at a time. Drilling gives us a 2 metre composite sample and after we give it a good little wash it comes out looking like this. We put it onto our bash plate and crush it up with the hammer. That gives us a better idea of what is on the inside, what colour it is. Then we can do other kind of tests where, like in this when we put acid on it and it is fuzzing quit violently so that tells me it is calcrete. This would be considered waste. The brown stuff is iron ore. It is not very good. From there on it is pretty much drilling. Sampling. Sample by sample you get to build a picture of what is happening. I still look at my name under the geologist category and still get such a buzz out of it because it was such a long, hard road to get here and I am just so grateful that I am here working now that I am here. I think I will always be a geologist.

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Suzy, what's it like looking at that remembering that kid you met in year 9? 

SUZY: I was actually quite emotional. I think that's the biggest buzz, when you see your students actually attain their goals and realise their dreams and realise their talents and how they apply to the pathways that they've chosen. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Donna, you went on to study education at Sydney Uni, what are you doing now? 

DONNA:  I'm the proud principal of Doonside Technology High School where I did my prac with Steve in the very first, the last year of university. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And are there things that you learnt from Steve that you're doing now as a school principal? 

DONNA:  Absolutely, absolutely, and I think from even my experience at school I had some fantastic teachers, but what I am really passionate about, I became a careers advisor during my education career and not everyone fits the traditional school.  For me it was one size fits all. When I was going through it was standard for everyone. With the changes that are happening in the system at the moment, it's really about, you know, working out the personalised pathways, you know, there are different pathways available for kids, particularly in year 10, 11 and 12 and there are a thousand ways to get a kid from A to B and you've got to get creative and you know, and sometimes it's getting the parents understanding what those pathways would look like, getting the student to understand what those pathways would look like and I'm really passionate about every kid finding what success looks like for them. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you're married to a teacher? 

DONNA:  I am, who wasn't originally a teacher.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And Omar, you're getting married to a teacher? 

OMAR:   Yes,

JIHAD:  They're the best people in the world. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What would you be doing now, do you think, if you hadn't met Jihad? 

OMAR:   Oh, definitely wouldn't be anywhere near a school or any education building, probably in a correction facility or working in the family business, the fruit business. My uncle had a stand.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you do, what did you end up doing? You got a diploma when you left school? 

OMAR:   Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you do when you got that diploma? 

OMAR:   So first I got the Certificate 4, when I got the Certificate 4 I went to Jihad first one before my mum and I told him I'd done something. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You showed him the diploma? 

OMAR:   Yeah, and for me it was just a high that I actually got something, like it doesn't have to end with just your HSC.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what are you doing now? 

OMAR:   So and then I applied to university and concurrently doing a bachelor of Health Science and a Masters in Paediatric Medicine at the Western Sydney University in Campbelltown and so it's just, it's a massive jump, it's a massive leap from not doing no studies to doing a lot of studies. 

JIHAD:  Or the kid who wanted to get expelled. 

OMAR:  Who wanted to get expelled. 

JIHAD:  Don't give up, you just don't know. 

OMAR:   And the good teachers are found everywhere, from my high school, from my primary school even through my university, you know, I can't thank them enough, my university teachers.  I've never had that explosion with them but you know, when I need help they're always there for me.  Like there's always good teachers everywhere you go. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Meredith, how would it be do you think for you if you hadn't met Mrs A? 

MEREDITH:  I would struggle so much and I would never know anything, like I would just have so much, so much, I just wouldn't know anything, I'm just…

JENNY BROCKIE: And what do you want to learn next? 

MEREDITH:  Um, probably still reading, like bigger books. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Bigger books, longer books? 

MEREDITH:  Yeah, and maybe knowing some more maths. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You should talk to Eddie. Thank you so much for joining us, thank you everyone for joining us, it's been great to hear these stories.  I think a lot of people are going to relate to them at home so thank you very much for sharing them but that is all we have time for here but let's keep talking on Twitter and on Facebook.  Thanks everyone, it was great. Well done.