Work

I am in a gym with upwards of thirty special needs students and the energy is palpable. We are ready to “Work” because Rhianna, Lil Jon, Britney and Missy sonically tell us to. Welcome to Dance Group. When Nike creator Phil Knight talks about the universal human goal of achieving “oneness” he is probably referring to the simultaneous “stanky leg” we are about to achieve.

This is our school’s first after-school program. We are a dual-mode special school where all students have IQs below 70, some functionally independent and others with complex needs requiring assistance with personal care. Roughly 40 percent of the school is nonverbal. I love being the self-appointed dance teacher almost as much as I love being the self-appointed Athlete Development Coach, a title I invented to justify my level of intensity coaching basketball.

Last year myself and fellow colleagues coached our school’s first basketball team to compete against mainstream schools. Few people will take anything as seriously as I took that team. Maybe it was because no-one believed in us in such a classic Michael Lewis underdog type of way that proving our potential became all consuming. It was nothing short of inspiring watching the students experience the camaraderie, drama, discipline and identity that come with being part of a team. It doesn’t matter what you know until you know what matters. At our school, basketball matters.

The adage “Whoever Wants It Most Wins” is true in sports and in life but not in the way one would expect. Our school’s basketball team is a group of winners because we want it. The win is in the want. We care. At the core of everything worthwhile is what we have in spades: heart.

I came to Australia five years ago with little money and even less optimism. Shortly after I arrived a sharp-shooting principal offered myself and a dozen other foreign teachers a job with one stipulation: don’t quit after six months. Stay the year. Our school is a challenging environment where if you are not committed you do not survive. Us foreign teachers were given a chance with the 457 visa and in turn we wouldn’t quit on the special needs students when the going got tough. The school has many dedicated Australian teachers but also a sizeable contingent of foreign workers. Best fit for the job.  It works.

In April 2017, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that the 457 Skilled Worker Visa was to be banned, the same visa that myself and a handful of others were initially given. He will be replacing it with two new visas, a Short-Term two year and Medium Term four year Temporary Skill Shortage(TSS) Visa, with the objective of creating more red tape as well as preventing workers from staying with an employer long enough to obtain permanent residency.

Turnbull’s announcement to Make Migration Great Again was accompanied by a two-minute video where he explains that Australian jobs belonged to Australians. The birther argument is compelling to even the most liberal of patriotic ideologues: what makes someone deserving or undeserving of their job is what’s on their birth certificate. Until you are waiting in an overcrowded emergency room, or your train is delayed, or your child has six different teachers in a month; then your priority is most likely finding someone who is good at their job. A 457 skilled worker is very unlikely to be taking an Australian’s job; they are merely filling in the gaps.

Turnbull’s 457 visa eradication has conveniently crystallised just as Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” has come into vogue. There are 41 times more undocumented immigrants living in L.A. than there are 457 skilled visa residents in all of Australia, but Turnbull asserts that 457 visas are a problem and need to be abolished.

It is hypothesised that Turnbull’s Trumpthink is an easy way to execute coded appeal to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Exclaiming “They took our jyoooobs!” (South Park, Season 7, Ep. 8) is easier than synthesising complex issues like bridging the ever-increasing chasm between housing prices and wages.

I would need to work at my job, which pays teacher market rate, for 486 years to have the property portfolio that Turnbull and his wife have. That’s 954,000 avocado sandwiches I could’ve eaten.

Days after Prime Minister Turnbull tweeted “Putting Australians first – the 457 Visa for foreign workers to be abolished”, he explained that he would be making the English Language Skills Test (a test that skilled migrants need to take for their visa and citizenship) more “meaningful”. He announced that he would be adding hard-hitting questions to the test such as:

“When is it appropriate to hit your spouse?”

and

“When is female genital mutilation acceptable?”

The addition of these questions such as these is quite possibility one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, and earlier in the day a student answered “ruler” to the question 7 + 3. But to be fair I was pointing to a ruler. The ruler was at least pertinent to the situation. There is zero evidence that any 457 visa worker believes in or practises domestic violence, female genital mutilation or any other extremist illegal practice.

Perhaps Turnbull has taken some sort of advanced English language class himself by effectively associating skilled workers with criminal activity.

But let me ask you this, Mr Turnbull: is it appropriate to kill baby sea turtles and use them as hair gel? Answer the question, Mr Turnbull, and try not to use the n-word.

See what I did there? I Turnbulled the tables and asked patronising questions to make myself sound like a paragon of justice when in actuality my accusatory questions had no basis in reality.

Last year our school had a class, Room 43, with all the staples of a complex needs classroom: nonverbal, PEG feeding, absconding, hitting, spitting, biting, nappy changes, autism, average IQ probably about 30. One of the students experienced anxiety that resulted in him frequently banging his head on a window or an object, scratching or hitting anyone who went close to him. Within the first six months the class went through maybe about 10 different teachers. Room 43 was chaos.

One substitute teacher, Natasha, stood out and was hired for the remaining six months of the year. With some stability and organisation the class became a settled, welloiled machine orchestrated by a skilled teacher and educational assistant. Natasha has an equally difficult class this year and once again is working miracles, day in, day out.

Natasha and I play on an indoor soccer team and before a match one night I mentioned how I had seen one of her former students having one of his violent meltdowns. I expected her to vent and mention how she was relieved she did not have to deal with him anymore. Instead she said she wished she had been there, that he was just misunderstood, that she was always able to enter his world, that she loved him.

Natasha will be returning to Canada at the end of this year because under the new visa policy there is no chance of her securing another visa to continue working. “This whole visa situation,” she says dejectedly.

Sometimes whoever wants it most wins.

And sometimes they don’t.

 

 

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