Growing up, I don’t recall that there ever was a concerted push for students to have to learn English rapidly. This was in 1972 when I started school in a little 2 teacher school in the back blocks. The NESB children who joined our school were all very similar, no matter their home country background in that they started school with zero English! Those were the days of play being a huge part of learning and I’m sure that this play contributed hugely to the language development of every single student in the class. Our teacher was fresh out of teacher’s college (a 2YT teacher) and was in her second year in her first appointment. Somehow she coped and accepted all of us and established a strong desire to learn and to improve in all of us.
I remember, at an early age, my mother giving the teacher a kind of backhanded compliment in saying that although she couldn’t stand her (the teacher), one thing about here was that every child she taught came out of her class being able to read and write fluently. To this day, she is probably my greatest role model as a teacher and is someone to whom I will always look up as an example of a great teacher. Interestingly, 17 years later, I was teaching in the same school and the teacher moved back to the district and I taught her daughter in my first teaching job. This was stressful as I was so worried about living up to the standard I had created in my mind. She was so gracious in giving me support and guidance in my early teaching development.
Back to the playground……We, as English native speakers (albeit some of us speaking Aboriginal English) were in a huge minority in our playground. Almost overnight the school had gone from under 30 students in 2 classrooms to over 100 in the same space. Still with only 2 teachers. I’m sure that language development, at times, occurred more by accident than by grand design, but whatever it was, it worked. If you could look back over the roll of students who attended in those years in the early 70’s you would see that the vast majority of us went on to university study and won places in a huge variety of positions both domestic and internationally, which I am sure shows a success rating that most schools would be envious of.
For example: in my family we have myself, an engineer (military) and a pharmacist. A german family has a vet, doctor, banker and teacher. An Italian family has a wine maker, consul attache in Rome, doctor. A Spanish family has movie director and a doctor. Another family has a military weapons specialist. The list of professionals and their qualifications is extensive and I attribute it all back to that one teacher and an interesting set of circumstances.
Today there are very few of those families left in the district with the tobacco farms long gone and the crop and pasture land having been swallowed by big enterprise and becoming mechanised. The days of the multicultural school there have disappeared.