Monday, April 2, 2012

Transgender students in our schools.

There is a group of students in our schools who don’t fit in. Who are they and what can we do for them? I am talking about transgender, bisexual and gay and lesbian students. Many are given a hard time, sometimes leading to depression and attempts at suicide. They are often below the radar, hiding from their their real selves. Others are more out there, but can’t cope with the attention they draw. It is easy to say that we have a responsibility to these kids, to keep them safe and allow them to learn, along with their classmates. The truth is that we have quite a large number of the above students in our schools who feel isolated and unsupported.
There are schools that have programmes that help (for example, the Peer Sexuality Support Programme) but the nature of the students who would benefit from this, sometimes precludes active involvement.
Try to put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a transgender person. The world is not designed for you. All the messages you have received from a very young age, portray heterosexuality as the norm (well it is if you take a definition that equates the majority as heterosexual). Advertising, culture, religion, fashion, all push an ideal that is far removed from your reality. How do you survive in a world where you do not belong?  Now throw in the battleground that being a teenager represents and you have a pretty powerful mix that alienates you, just at a time when you need reassurance.
By now, you may well have decided it is all a bit much. If that’s how you feel, then once again, take a moment to ‘feel’ what it’s like for a young transgender person. It is hard enough for a teenager struggling with gay or lesbian issues, at a time when the mind and body don’t always follow mainstream patterns. A transgender person will have probably worked out that they are different in a real sense of the word. For gays and lesbians there is a lot more out there, in the way of support, literature and support groups that may help with self-realization. They still have a difficult pathway, but their access to positive role models places them in a slightly less precarious position.
Take the example of ‘what toilet to use.’ I am well aware that for a transgender person, this creates some particularly difficult issues. If they are presenting as a female, then one would think that the girls’ toilets would be the best choice. Not so---- it doesn’t take long for the ‘rumour machine’ to start its nasty machinations and before long, somebody may or will complain. It is not as simple as ignoring such complaints in a school. The same would apply if the person used the boys’ toilets. Can you imagine the implications and possibilities?
We need to take the pressure off the young person. This may well involve a bit of reorganizing the options. One could have the person use the nurses’ toilets, but that is not always possible. There may be other toilets around the school that could be redesignated as ‘unisex’ toilets. As a school, we must find solutions. If this involves finding the finance to achieve this, then so be it.
What about the issue of ‘correct uniform?' Some schools have allowed transgender persons to dress as they see fit, that is as a male or female. minus of course the tendency for some students to go ‘a bit’ overboard with their make-up. That can be sensibly addressed by having policies around make-up generally; that it must be discreet and not ‘scream out at us.’ I trust schools to have the common sense to find solutions to that problem.
Schools must actively build their support structures for all students as part of their ‘school-wide policies.’ For too long however, the issue of transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual students has been pushed into the background--- a sort of ‘ostrich in the sand approach.’  ‘Try not to think about it and maybe nothing will happen.’ Sorry---- those days should be long gone. We must help all students to reach their full potential and if that means that as institutions we face uncomfortable issue full-on, then do that we will.

Teacher Aides in schools.--an underpayed resource!

Teacher Aides in school--- what would we do without them?
There is a group of hard-working underpaid professionals who work in our schools that the public (and some teachers) do not fully appreciate. I would go as far as saying that school could not operate without them. This special group are of course our wonderful teacher aides. They work tirelessly to help students achieve better outcomes, sometimes being the difference between a young person staying in school or leaving, to face a very uncertain future.
Every year we seem to be receiving students from intermediate schools who have had a very unstable deficit ridden educational and social preparation. Many of them have diagnosable ‘labels’ and are totally unprepared for the challenges of a large secondary school. These students may have had teacher aides in primary school, but the transition to secondary school may see a gap where they can get lost. Funding is not always carried over into the new setting. (That is a mission in itself). The special work that the teacher aides have done with these students may not continue.
What is it that teacher aides do? They support the teacher and may do this with a small group of students or on a one –to-one basis. Some students come to schools with special funding already attached. That may come from the Ministry of Education or other sources, depending on the nature of the student’s issues. There are students who have been ‘mainstreamed,’ who have multiple issues and this is where a teacher aide can make the difference between a teacher being able to ‘teach,’ or conduct some sort of ‘holding regime’---- where little teaching can take place.
Even with the teacher aide in class, the nature of some of the presenting issues makes teaching incredibly difficult. For every student who has a teacher aid ‘attached,’ there could well be several more in the classroom who would equally qualify for this valuable resource, but the processes involved and the ‘goal posts,’  can be a minefield.
Many schools utilize their TA’s in an efficient manner, where the whole class can benefit from the presence of an energetic TA. What I have noticed is the depth of experience TAs bring into the classroom. They are practical, empathetic and skilled in the way they relate to the students. They are able to manage difficult and needy students, so that the teacher can get on with their key responsibility--- that is, to teach the class. Some TAs go well beyond their duty and are able to contribute to the learning experience for their charges in ways that teachers just don’t have the time to do.
How does the system reward (read, pay) these skilled TAs? The simple answer---- not enough. Most are paid at an hourly rate and that is not much more than the 'minimum wage, depending on the school, experience and any added qualification they may have. Even if they are paid at a ‘better rate’ they still fall well short of a reasonable wage because they will be stretching to get more than 20 hours per week. The implications are that it would be hard, trying to find a TA who is working in that role as a career, without having a significant other to boost household income. Imagine being single, working in a TA role and depending on that money alone. There would have to be a top-up in the form of ‘Family Support payments for them to make ends meet.
We need our TAs in schools, but until we pay them better, like a real salary with steps built in for experience, responsibility and added qualifications, we are doing them a disservice.

Just go ot mu post and look for the books-- I will put up more chapters--- but click on the adverts so that I can finance the printing.

Casualization of the workforce-- is it for you?

There has been a great deal of debate over the last decade about the ‘casualization’ of the workforce.  (Actually I remember way back in the late 70’s, commentators talking about the coming changes to labour practises, but they didn’t use that term). Several examples that have featured in the news media recently spring to mind.
We all know about the debacle on the Auckland waterfront between the Ports of Auckland and the port workers and that has yet to run its course. It is difficult to get to the real facts that are driving this and I am not at all sure about some of the figures put out about what the workers are alleged to have earned. You hear numbers as high as NZ$100,000 per year. The workers dispute this.
Whatever the figures are, one must take into account the levels of danger surrounding this type of work. I am also not sure about the hours of work and other conditions that some sources claim. It should not be like this. We as the public need to know more, before we jump on the bandwagon that is harnessed to the publicist for the Port Authorities. Perhaps the union itself should find ways of putting the real (independently audited) figures out there.
There is another example that rarely appears in the news media; the hotel workers, consisting of a range of positions. Take room attendants---- those hard working silent people who keep the rooms clean. Most of them are on the minimum wage with a few on a few dollars more, by reaching the exalted position of ‘self-checking.’ That means that they do their work and it is not supervised unless there are a number of complaints, then it’s back to the basic again. Some of these workers have been on the slowly rising minimum wage for many years.
Not only is their pay poor, but a large number of them are ‘casualized.’ They are basically on call. There is no guarantee that they will get anywhere near the traditional 40 hour week. They may work as little as 20 hours in down periods. The management of course will say that such workers came into the industry knowing that the hours would be flexible. (I am sure that the management would not be in the same position!).
Many of the workers take these jobs because their choices are limited for a range of reasons---- there are simply not the jobs out there that the government always claims. A job is a job and people take the positions; not through a choice of a career, but to put food on the table.
These positions are casualized and this is what the implications are for them. In order to get something close to a 40 hour week they will be forced to work 7 or more days without a break, but possibly only for about 6 hours a day.
When these workers arrive at work (if they are rostered on) they get an allocation of rooms and there is a formula as to how long it will take these rooms. If they clean the rooms in an efficient manner and to the ‘correct’ standard, the time allowed will be fair (even if it is only 5 or 6 hours work) but there are often unforeseen circumstances re the cleaning of some rooms. I am sure you can all imagine what a room looks like after there has been an unofficial party taking place after a rugby game in Auckland.
Cleaning rooms is a hard physical job. There is lifting involved and also some unpleasant cleaning to do. I feel for these workers. They have something in common with the Port Workers--- that is if the workforce is casualized; they need to have certainty of income in order to survive in this world where bills are regular and never ending. How does one take out a mortgage if it is impossible to satisfy a bank that an income is consistent--- to the point that the income can support high payments, week after week? No bank is going to lend if there is even a ‘whiff’ of doubt around the ability of the customer to be able to meet the payments.
The bottom line is that for workers in any industry either facing casualization or already fully ensconced, there is a great deal of uncertainty that they can partake in an economy that treats workers as merely convenient ‘warehouses of labour’, sitting waiting for the call to work. How many of us (you) would consider this as a healthy economic option?
The signs are all there--- more and more of us will face that cruel world. The gap between the ‘fully employed and the casualized will get bigger and bigger and we will all suffer the consequences. Expect to see smaller uptakes in educational opportunities, poorer medical outcomes, as the tax take goes down and public hospitals cut even more services. We are looking at a society where large segments will feel alienated and no amount of crowing from our politicians about us ‘getting real’ and facing this new competitive world will quell the unrest that surely must follow.
A Brave new World? --- Not for me!