Deciding to Learn from Home

So 2019 is holding some big new things, the biggest of them all being that I have left mainstream school. This is, as change tends to be, terrifying to me – and it certainly doesn’t help that I have no clue what my classes are.

There are so many reasons I could give for this decision but I’m not going to bother explaining that too much- instead I’m going to explain how I decided to do distance education.

Step one was realising that I wasn’t happy at school. I already knew that it was getting harder to motivate myself to get to school but it took me a while to even consider that it wasn’t just that my anxiety was getting worse. (Context: I came off of my anxiety meds in January 2018 after almost 7 years of being on them.) So I spent some time just using as many coping stategies as possible just to get through the day- this was roughly mid year.

Once I realized I wasn’t happy step two began- trying to find solutions. We talked to teachers, we asked for extension work, the whole shebang. This is where we got stuck for a while, we’d had meetings in previous years with the same issues and we always got the same answer “It will be better next year,” By the fourth meeting of 2018 I was so sick of hearing that phrase that I genuinely wanted to scream every time I heard it.

Step 3 was the worst part- looking at new schools. Mum and I spent a month or two researching schools. The one I prefered was too far away for us so we went and toured one locally with my dad. This is where it got hard, I was fine on the car ride in but for almost the whole tour I was either holding back tears or trying to cry as quietly as I could while dad tried to calm me down. It sucked, I felt so vulnerable and distressed and I didn’t have the right words to describe what was going through my head- I still don’t. But I knew that going to another school wasn’t the way to go. Thankfully one of my favourite cafes was nearby so we dropped dad off at the train station then got coffee and sandwiches (because coffee fixes everything.)

We took a break from looking for solutions for a bit after that, it was just too much to think about. It took about two or three weeks before I was ready to talk about school again.

Step four was figuring out if distance ed was right for me. We talked to our psychologist, psychiatrist, other doctors, family members. It was a lot. My sister had done distance ed for a year and had found it difficult so mum was a bit hesitant at first. I almost completely rejected the idea until we talked it through with the psychiatrist. But eventually we decided that it was best that I studied from home.

Step five, paperwork. So, so much paperwork. We had to get letters from so many people for me to even be allowed to do distance ed. I took a while to do my part of the paperwork. It felt very final. Like I was giving up on something and just leaving it behind. This quickly changed when I started doing work experience instead of going to school, I was significantly happier when I wasn’t at school and so I decided that it was time to finish the paperwork.

Step six was telling people. This was hard because they started to change once I said I was leaving. They were nicer to me and treated me as if they hadn’t been my friends for years already. I told as many people as I could either in person or over voice chat, it was harder than announcing it online but it felt like the more respectful thing to do.

I finished school on an ok note. I didn’t bother with a proper in person goodbye to my friends- I hadn’t been at school for a few weeks anyway. I sent them cards wishing them a happy holidays and thanked them for being there for me while I was at school but that was it. I was done with school and I was happy to move on.

Holidays are almost over now and it feels weird knowing that I’m not going back to school, at least not a physical school, and I still don’t know what my classes are. But I do know one thing; I can finally study Japanese after 3 years of asking to and I’m super excited. That and that I definitely made the right decision.

I’d also like to thank my mum for being there for me throughout this whole thing. I know that I was a pain in the butt for a lot of this process and I’m so glad we stuck with it.

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Screw NAPLAN

Yes, NAPLAN. For those who don’t know, NAPLAN stands for National Assesment Program Literacy and Numeracy. It is a standarized test that helps the government decide which schools to fund.

This year the government put NAPLAN online, this is great for the environment and costs less but makes it a lot harder for students to read and has many variables that were not accounted for, such as students not owning computers or headphones and poor wifi. This meant that many students missed the test or had to repeat it.

NAPLAN is the perfect example of an easily avoidable high stress situation. Even without the added variables that come with online testing, NAPLAN is known to be a hellscape for students.

Reasons it is a hellscape:

1. During NAPLAN all normal school work and assesments go ahead regardless of the added pressure. I personally had 3 assesments due the same week as NAPLAN and missed performing for another one because of the make-up sessions.

2. NAPLAN has no topic specific study areas. Given its broad assesment NAPLAN has no specific areas to study in, this causes stress for all students and teachers trying to prepare. Tests from prior years can be used but aren’t reliable.

3. The knowledge that your report impacts the schools reputation and funding. This is less of an issue for the early years of NAPLAN, however the knowledge that you are directly contributing to the judgement of your school and teachers is extremely stressful, even if your impact is minor.

4. NAPLAN is designed with no consideration towards the needs of the person assessed, whether those needs are extended time to read the questions or if the person doesn’t speak English as a first language.

5. NAPLAN is a standardized test with one answer per question, this leaves little room for critical thinking and the differences between student thought processes.

What could be done instead of or to minimise the stress of NAPLAN:

1. The attitude to schools survey. The Attitude to School Survey is used alongside NAPLAN to choose what schools to fund and what programs to use in schools, if this survey got further elaborated on it could make it easier to choose the schools that prioritized people, more specifically students, over their performance in the limited areas of literacy and numeracy.

2. More communication with classroom teachers. Many of the government officials who made NAPLAN aren’t classroom teachers or are teachers who aren’t in the same area of teaching as many primary and highschool teachers. The disruption of routine caused by NAPLAN makes a classroom harder to work in for students and teachers therefore making the voices of the teachers more important.

3. Assess schools based on the quality of student wellbeing and student encouragement instead of a standard grade. This was mentioned in the attitude to school survey however it could be brought up in regards to the schools’ wellbeing programs or the students’ access to help services within the school. Eg. Does the school have a safe space for students to go when overwhelmed or frightened? Does the school encourage the students to support each other emotionally and to get help when needed? Etc.

4. Accommadate the students during NAPLAN. Put regular test dates on seperate weeks to NAPLAN or have specials at the canteens for that week, let the students know that NAPLAN is optional and tell them that it’s okay to be stressed if they are participating. Remind the students that they are more than a grade on paper. If the student needs more time to finish the test because they read slower or can’t type as quickly give them more time to finish the test. It’s not hard to help the students, ask them what they need.

5. Look at the schools art, music, drama and sport programs. Promote creativity and self expression rather than fitting into the HB pencil shaded bubbles. Literacy and numeracy are important however they tend to draw away from the thing that will show student potential the most: passion. Literacy and writing in particular can show the students potential creatively and numeracy shows analytical thinking and pattern spotting, however the students who don’t excel at either of these components get left behind in school because there is a lack of encouragement from a governmental standpoint.

To conclude, NAPLAN isn’t a positive reinforcement of learning nor is it a useful for students. Please share to any Australians you may know to spread the message.

Written by Darrell, an annoyed student who very much dislikes NAPLAN.

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