" I never predicted how the influence of violence in society would affect them and smother their critical thinking about violence."
When you raise your children you have hopes and dreams for them; that they will be kind, successful and happy. But what I never counted on was the influence of violence in our society on the way my three young women interact with each other and the world. There are times in our household where it feels like World War III has broken out. Vitriol surges out of them.
In 2005 I wrote a winning letter to The Weekend Australian in response to an article entitled “The Triumph of the Airhead”; at the time my biggest concern was making sure that my three little girls grew up to know they were more than their beautiful faces and bodies. I wanted them to think critically and challenge the societal norms about beauty. I think I have been successful in that, but I never predicted how the influence of violence in society would affect them and smother their critical thinking about violence.
I’m not talking about physical violence (statistics show violence is decreasing form of assault.), but the violence with which humans now speak to each other, not only on social media, but in the community. Road rage has escalated; Australia now ranks ninth for road rage worldwide. The winning song by Kendrick Lamar of the Triple J Hottest 100 in 2016 included lyric references to women as “bitches” and tomurder: “If I kill a nigga, it won’t be the alcohol, ayy” and people lap it up without any question.
Finally, the disdainful way that humans talk about each other in politics, media and entertainment, including social media has hit new lows, with the norm being the vilification of people on mediums such as Facebook and Twitter for their opinions and appearance.
American author Arthur Brooks suggests we are speaking to each other with contempt. I would go further: we have lost our regard for our fellow humans and society is teaching our children that violence through words is acceptable. We are told the old saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is untrue. But words do hurt. Contempt hurts. Disdain hurts. And it’s time we talked about it.
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4906.0~2016~Media%20Release~ABS%20survey%20shows%20decline%20in%20rates%20of%20violence%20(Media%20Release)~3 accessed 18 Feb. 18
 https://practicalmotoring.com.au/car-news/australia-ranks-9th-global-road-rage-league/ accessed 18 Feb. 18
 https://genius.com/11593217 accessed 18 Feb. 18
 https://www.facebook.com/harvardkennedyschool/videos/10154251688431403/ accessed 18 Feb. 18
"There are some outstanding teachers out there. They are hard-working and are making an impact every time your child walks into their school. They do their jobs without complaining about the workload or the abuse that some young people give us daily. And we show them compassion and give them boundaries and ultimately, we see a part of them that parents rarely get to see; how they interact with their peers."
After 20 years in and out of the education system, I have come to some conclusions. I have taught in four Australian states, in Catholic, Islamic, State and small private schools and across many learning areas and from Kindergarten to Year 12, but what I have learned is that the most important things we should be teaching young people, we are not, and we don't celebrate it when we do.
The Curriculum is a full and expansive list of what the Government-of-the-day collates as the things that they want all young people to know by the end of their schooling; English, maths, science, history and social sciences, arts, health and physical education, information technology and foreign languages. It is hoped that during their schooling, young people will have the minimal required exposure to all of these things. I, for one, love curriculum. I like its comprehensive nature of all the learning areas and it really does create a level playing field whether you are in a private or public school (but that’s altogether another debate). I like the fact that there is flexibility for individual schools and/or teachers to add their own spin on it. I like it for its order.
And yet, within the curriculum, there are cross-curricular priorities: Sustainability, Australia, Asia and the Pacific and Indigenous Australia – all integral parts to creating a wonderful future as well as the General Capabilities that teachers need to integrate into their planning across all learning areas: literacy, numeracy, ICT, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. Teachers need to integrate all of these formalised ideas into the curriculum in our daily interactions with your young people and for most of us, we do our very, very best. Phew! Still think teachers get paid too much??
Yet, underlying all of this is the most important job of a teacher. It’s not delivering curriculum, it’s not making sure they pass all of their subjects, it’s actually two things:
1. Building honest and open adult-child relationships. That means, we build relationships with young people. How do we do that? By sharing who we are and being ourselves but also valuing and asking about the lives of the young people in our care. There are some spectacular young people in schools and in 20 years of teaching there have only been three students who I could not find any redeeming qualities in. And all three of those needed professional psychological assistance and/or diagnosis for sociopathy or psychopathy as a result of severe trauma. So many young people do not have responsible adults in their lives and they come from homes where abuse, drug use and violent conflict resolution reigns. These young people, in particular, need honest and open adults in their lives who genuinely care for them and have access to services that they need to heal and grow into honest and open adults.
Our young people need and want adults in their lives who will role model and live by their own values – not parade a false set of “Australian values” as laid out by the government. Australia is a diverse country and just as our students come from a variety of cultural, religious, socio-economic or just plain strange families, as do teachers. Students want to know what makes us tick, they want us to be ourselves (within the confines of professional behaviour), they want us to ask them about their lives, their story and their worries and their happiness. They want to know about how other people live their lives, especially teenagers who are experimenting with their identities. And yet, many teachers are so bogged down with the heavy curriculum (above), marking, meetings and other things to be able to spend time doing this, or indeed, don’t know how to do this. Our system has become so curriculum driven, thereby forgetting exactly why education exists, and that is to pass on our knowledge to the next generation and hope that their ideas sprout roots and become even greater than what has come before. The goal of a teacher should be to develop such a positive working relationship that the student is self-inspired to do well, which brings me to point number two.
2. Secondly, we need to teach young people self-responsibility. This means being prepared for classes, finding and asking for help if required for uniform, food, shelter, schoolwork, a shoulder to cry on. Self-responsibility means listening and learning and taking charge of their own education, by being attentive and doing the very best that they can. We need to teach them to be able to resolve conflict with others without violence, to not distract others who wish to learn and to learn the socially-acceptable behaviours – yet at the same time allowing them to be exactly who they are. It’s a delicate balance. I see so many people in our communities that take no responsibility for their actions – of violence, of crime, of poor relationships, of the struggles of life. A mature adult is one who has taken responsibility for their lives and their decision-making process that lead to the scenario.
Teaching self-responsibility starts when children are very young when we teach them to brush their teeth, comb their hair, use the toilet on their own and pack up their mess when they make it. At home, it manifests in helping with housework and cooking, finishing schoolwork and in school, this manifests in the ways above and so much more, particularly the responsible use of electronic devices (again, another topic altogether). Teaching self-responsibility doesn’t end in independence from the mother (or primary carer) it continues well into adulthood and we have a responsibility to teach young people strategies to help them to do this.
There are some outstanding teachers out there. They are hard-working and are making an impact every time your child walks into their school. They do their jobs without complaining about the workload or the abuse that some young people give us daily. And we show them compassion and give them boundaries and ultimately, we see a part of them that parents rarely get to see; how they interact with their peers.
Teachers teach so much more than curriculum. I feel honoured to be the teacher that students have come-out to, have disclosed abuse in their families and to themselves, and have sat with them while they cried through their frustrations and heartbreak. There have been many times that I’ve wanted to leave the profession, but something always brings me back to it, and it’s these big (and small) interactions with children and young people. Think back on your experiences of your favourite teacher; you will not always remember what they taught you, but you will remember who they were and how they made you feel. And this, is exactly what an excellent teacher should teach.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2017
"Yet, I know it is inevitable. So, I continue to try and create new memories in this time of transition as I realise my own additional freedom of time which comes with being the parent of young adults. I am trying so hard to keep them close that I know that eventually I’ll have to let them go as young people are destined to do."
My children are preparing to leave home and I’ve got to be honest, I’m struggling with it. I remember them as babies like it was yesterday, cliche, I know, but it's true. In my mind, they can’t leave home, they are still so young. My two eldest have recently started driving and talking about what’s next and I cannot possibly imagine our lives where we aren’t all together. It’s always just been me and the girls and things are changing so much, I’m finding that I’m not coping this transition.
I suspect that my eldest, who is about to turn 18 would have left home years ago, but I think she’s humouring me because she knows that it will be hard for me with her gone. I think she feels sorry for me and is holding off until I’m ready. I’ve been looking through the photographs of the past 18 years of her life and the life that we’ve shared together. I cannot believe how fast childhood goes, how very little time we have with them, how very little time that I’ve had with them.
I’ve developed a new appreciation for my parents and grandparents and the rapid passing of time as our children grow. I remember when each of them was just a 3kg baby in my arms, suckling, learning to walk, being curious about the world. I have found a fabulous quote from the outstanding novel: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes which sums up exactly what being a parent means:
“It’s just that the thing you never understand about being a mother, until you are one, is that it is not the grown man – the galumphing, unshaven, stinking, opinionated offspring – you see before you, with his parking tickets and unpolished shoes and uncomplicated love life. You see all the people he has ever been all rolled up into one.”
Full credit to JoJo Moyes, for I wish I had written those words, but it is exactly as she says. When I look at my children, I don’t just see who they are today, I see who they were as children, the adventures we’ve had, the tears we’ve shared, the songs we’ve sung in the care, and who they may possibly become in the future.
“Empty nest” or when our children launch themselves into the world, is a time for celebration, it means that we’ve done all that we possibly can to be the best parents we can and to be in joy with them as they take off. Yet, there is also sadness at what we have shared together and the knowledge that what we have shared will never be the same again. It will be different.
Yet, I know it is inevitable. So, I continue to try and create new memories in this time of transition as I realise my own additional freedom of time which comes with being the parent of young adults. I am trying so hard to keep them close that I know that eventually I’ll have to let them go as young people are destined to do.
I have to trust in the fact that I’ve done all that I can to help them be kind, responsible global citizens and trust them to make good decisions for their lives as they step out into the world. I have to learn to let them go and be who they were born to be. I have to create plans which enable them to come back to me whenever they need me. I need to trust the process of life.
In my heart, I know that I need to let them go, but at the same time, I’m excited for them and the possibilities that lay ahead and the new adventures that await us all as a family of young adults, and not a single mum with three little kids.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2017
"I have learned about the survival mentality and how, when you feel that you have no choice, you make desperate decisions – like selling my home. I was so desperate to find a solution to my financial mess that I couldn’t see any other way out than selling the mess."
There have been times in my life when we have lived on pasta and two minute noodles for up to a week. There have been times when my children have missed out on basic supplies for school and they miss out on so much more that other children have. Yet, we are not and have not been in poverty, it’s all relative. We just have enough to pay for the basics, we have no disposable income.
I have never known anything else other than this financial struggle, yet I work my ass off, just like my parents did. I work so hard. At times I work multiple jobs in order just to keep my family afloat and the older they get, the more expensive they get. The other thing about this whole experience is that of poverty consciousness and surviving from pay cycle to pay cycle has been that it has been an incredible gift; for both myself and my daughters.
In 2008 I brought my lifetime home, a beautiful little cottage perched atop of a hill in Tasmania; it was minutes from my mum and sister and around the corner from one of my dearest girlfriends and her kids. It was the home that I saw our future in, the house I saw my retirement and grandchildren in and the house that my kids would always call home.
Then in 2010, I felt the urge to travel, so I set my home up with some wonderful tenants, packed our belongings into a four-wheel drive and camper trailer and took the girls around Australia. We survived on a meagre savings and work that I could exchange on organic farms for free board (and sometimes food) and a minimal government family payment.
Eventually I realised I had to work to give us the lifestyle that we wanted. Meanwhile in my house, the tenants had moved out and new ones moved into our home. Thus started a downhill spiral of no longer having our financial future set with a solid investment and a home to return to when our travels finished. The next two lots of tenants were so bad that they caused incredible damage to our home that we had them evicted. The cleaner said it was the worst case that she had ever seen.
You can see the article and photos here. The second lot of tenants refused to pay rent and had one excuse after another. The combination of both of those tenants put me further and further in debt and I was basically working just to service the debt – yet, on the best income I ever had, we still had no disposable income.
Given no choice, I had to put the house on the market; our home, the place that still holds a place in my heart. The new owners created a wonderful renovation, but in my mind, I can still see all the things that I wanted to do to it, yet keep that beautiful cottage charm. But I was still servicing these debts that the tenants put me in, we just couldn’t survive. Without any options forthcoming, I entered into bankruptcy.
That was two years ago. I still have one year to go until I’m discharged from it. But it’s only now that I’m starting to feel like I’m getting on my feet. I still have to say no to my kids for their requests for money, not because they are being unreasonable, but because I can’t afford it.
Yet, there is light. There is goodness in this whole sorry mess. I have learned about the survival mentality and how, when you feel that you have no choice, you make desperate decisions – like selling my home. I was so desperate to find a solution to my financial mess that I couldn’t see any other way out than selling the mess.
Unfortunately that means I’m starting again financially.
But my children have learned so much more. I see that in their actions they do not want to have a future where they can’t provide for their own children, so I see them making decisions that help them to create their own independent financial futures.
I see them learning how to be frugal and how to save and when a purchase is an unnecessary expense. I can see them thinking about how they spend their money and I see them being grateful when I do have the funds to help them out. I see them learning from their experience of relative poverty.
I am so very grateful that my children know humility, they aren’t excessive consumers – in-fact they are extraordinarily talented op-shoppers. I am so very grateful that they know that I don’t need to show them I love them through money, but with love and attention and life experiences.
Even though we are still in relative poverty I no longer feel like I’m being punished for it, I feel
empowered by it. I feel empowered that I know the value of money and that I have taught my daughters the same.
May you find the good in whatever it is you are battling today.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2017