Back to School (Again)

The smell of spring hung in the air. The street was almost deserted and the school zone signs lazily flashed for the couple of cars slowly rolling past. For some reason the smell strangely reminded me of summers at school in The Netherlands. Wednesday was my first day of work placement at an Education Support Centre.

For the past nine or so months I have been studying to become an Education Assistant. Why an EA and not a teacher? Well, an education diploma would have taken a lot longer, and as a teacher you are a lot more involved with lesson plans and curriculum demands. Never say never, but this is a good place for me to start. It is also nice to (soon) have a proper Australian qualification, so I no longer have to explain what my Dutch diploma is an equivalent to.

Schools in Australia are very different from Dutch schools…

I got there early. I woke up around four o’clock when the cat wanted to go outside. Although I wasn’t feeling nervous the day before, after waking up I realised I wasn’t going to get any more sleep. I tried to take my time getting ready to leave home, but it didn’t help, and I found myself standing in front of a locked classroom door, looking out over an empty playground. Schools in Australia are very different from Dutch schools. Instead of a hallway there is a verandah, and the buildings are all single-story bungalow style, with lots of open spaces. We didn’t even have our own sports fields at school growing up, but here every school (as far as I know) has its own oval.

Besides those obvious differences, classrooms have come a fair way too. Smartboards are the norm, and each classroom has its own computers and Ipads. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, we only had computers in the IT classroom and we only ever played games on them as far as I can remember. It is a possibility that the Ipads are more specific to the ESC, and perhaps mainstream classrooms don’t have these, but it is a good resource to have.

I basically don’t know anything at all anymore…

This brings me to ESC. An Education Support Centre. I don’t know much about how ESC’s work in The Netherlands, and when I hear about my nephew going to school, things have changed so much that I basically don’t know anything at all anymore, but here in Australia, you go to whatever mainstream school’s catchment area you are in. For Education Support Centres this is slightly different, because we work with students who have additional needs, and therefore we have students from a much bigger area. There are many different forms of additional needs, but the children I work with are all diagnosed with mental disabilities. Two have ID (intellectual disability) and the other four are diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). One of the ID kids is also non-verbal, which adds another layer of complexity to working with him. For obvious reasons I can’t really go into a lot of detail or discuss too much.

That first day I was a little worried about the children being scared of me. However, it took them all of 30 minutes to accept me in their classroom. And before I knew it, I had toys driving over the back of my head. The kids call me Mr Ray or Mr R, and one still struggles with having a Mr instead of a Mrs for a change, so he sometimes calls me Mrs Ray. Honestly, I couldn’t really care what they want to call me. It has been a long time since I felt as tired as I did when I got home after the first day. Working with these children, although sometimes heartbreaking or difficult, is so rewarding. Emma said this might be the making of me, and after my first week, I think she might be right.

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