From terror to teaching

“I vividly remember community alarms sounding, which meant find cover and protect yourself as missiles were on the way,” said Federation member Ferah Tobiya (pictured), who came to Australia as a refugee when she was a child.

“Refugee Week is more than just a Week,” Ferah said, “because for us refugees it is who we are every day. It is our story that we lived, and some of us continue to live, and will pass on for generations to come, to appreciate what we have and what generations before us did to get us to where we are.”

In 1995, Ferah’s family of five fled Iraq for Jordan by car and for two years lived in a one-bedroom home. American missionaries helped them with food and necessities.

“Jordan had a law in which refugee kids were not allowed to attend accredited Jordanian schools as they were only a privilege for the Jordanian people,” she said. For refugee kids, their basic maths and literacy education was provided by volunteers, organised by the missionaries.

Her family made their way to Australia as refugees in 1997.

“I was placed in year 3 in Warwick Farm Public School with Mr Lamberet who was a wonderful and patient teacher despite my lack of understanding in learning as well as basic Australian etiquette,” Ferah said. “I was also in an ESL withdrawal class with Ms Younis and remember one of the first texts she read to us was Hattie and the Fox which is one of my favourite texts even now, as an adult.

“Schooling was tough for my siblings and me, and being the oldest I always felt I had to protect my younger siblings from the unknown of language, people, culture etc.

“We are so grateful for the wonderful teachers in the schools we attended like Liverpool West Public School with Mrs Young and my year 5 teacher Mrs Smith. It is because of quality teachers and ESL programs that both my siblings and I were able to graduate from universities as teachers to now try and make the same impact for other refugee students.

“Now as a teacher I realise none of this learning for us as kids would have been possible without appropriate funding and training of teachers. I also realise that now this is even more vital as numbers of refugees in our schools have increased, which means that funding and training as well as additional permanent positions needs to also increase so that refugee students today can also receive the same opportunities we had the privilege to receive.

“Well-being support and trauma informed practice must also become a funding priority not just up to flexible funding or school decision making.

“It has been a privilege working at Fairfield Public School with refugee students,” Ferah said. “Not only do I get to make a difference for refugee students but I also have the opportunity through valuable equity loading funding for English language provision to be involved in professional learning such as Teaching English Language Learners, Teaching Refugees In My Classroom, Grammar in Teaching etc, to further improve my English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) pedagogy for all students that have English as an additional language.

“Colleagues such as student learning support officers and bilingual teachers have also been an asset to the EAL/D community and teachers at Fairfield Public School. I’m so very grateful that schools such as Fairfield Public School have EAL/D learners who are from refugee backgrounds at the forefront of all their professional learning and apply flexible funding to supporting the teachers and students. All schools should follow this lead.”

Refugee Week runs until 26 June.