"I can’t find an elder to come & speak to my class"

“I can’t find an elder to come & speak to my class”

This is a fairly standard question from teachers as we move into the time some schools are thinking about how they will celebrate NAIDOC week.

Let’s think about why it might be “difficult” to find a guest speaker and how you might consider your standpoint in relation to this comment.

1) Are you attempting to find a guest speaker for NAIDOC from your already existing relationships (professionally & personally)?
Or are you just looking for someone for the day? It will be much easier to find someone if you already have a fulfilling and equal relationship already established. This may be difficult if you are new to an area (location). However, the fact is, you’re more likely to get a helping hand from a respected friend than from a complete stranger.

2) Do you want an educator or just an Aboriginal person?
Its not really enough to just want an Indigenous face in your classroom. Think about what you want the speaker to “teach” your students first. Not all Aboriginal people know about Dreaming Stories, and the “cultural” practices that you might expect. (The majority of Indigenous People live in cities on the Eastern coast – just because a person grows up in the city doesn’t mean they don’t know about the Dreaming, but nor does it mean they do). You want to find the best person for the job you need, not just a body.

3) Do you have a budget?
If you think about how many classrooms are around the country and how many Aboriginal people there are, a person could spend their whole adult life “teaching/guesting” in classrooms. This would be great, if those schools were willing to pay $ for their speakers. This would allow more Aboriginal people to make an actual living (as teachers are doing when they teach) from their work. I would argue that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander guest speakers should be paid the equivalent of a relief teacher’s wage. More if they are expected to conduct activities – like art, artefact making etc (the cost of materials as well as specific technical expertise). The cultural knowledge and in many cases, years of working with children and students, means that they are “experts” in their fields. They may not have formal educational qualifications but they will probably have “community” qualifications. And will be more than four-year-trained educators in their field.

4) Are you clear about what key learning area you want them to explore?
Or do you just want them to look at “Aboriginal culture”? This is such an incredibly large topic (past/present; “traditional”; men’s business/women’s business; dance/story/art/lore). Be specific about what areas you want explored. You’ll get more value out of the time spent with your guest cultural speaker. Make sure that you do at least a before & after session with the students. If you’re not sure what your guest cultural speaker is talking about – then you have a responsibility to find out beforehand.

5) Is your guest NAIDOC cultural speaker request part of an integrated learning unit?
Or are you only going to look at it for one day while Uncle ____ is in the classroom? Rather than just have a one-off hour or session, consider that it is better for your students that you create a fully integrated unit about a topic – an incorporating a range of “voices”. How about a unit on “Celebrations”? Why do communities celebrate? What do they do when they’re celebrating? In relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, think about how “new” celebrations like NAIDOC, are as much about celebrations of survival as they are revivals of old celebrations and festivals? What kind of festival would the students like to create?

6) Are you treating the topic, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture/NAIDOC, like you would other topics? Using perhaps an inquiry-based model? Encouraging critical thinking? Or perhaps is your exploration more basic and cursory, with an over-emphasis on art?

7) Do you know what most Aboriginal organisations do? How they’re set up? Did you know that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations operate on shoe-string budgets? That they deal with some pretty hard-hitting issues? Have you considered that while you may only want “someone to come” for an hour or so, that that hour is an hour away from their communities. Why not explore ways that your school community (including parent community) can work to support local organisations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander). In what ways would you be prepared to create collaborations?

In summary –
* Consider your commitment or investment to doing your job well? Do you just want a “taste” of something, or do you wish to work hard to really making a difference?

* Think about your assumptions – what do you think Aboriginal culture is – just boomerangs and Dreaming stories perhaps?

(Originally published on criticalclassroom on TypePad on 12 May 2010)