Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

April 29, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Ten years ago the internet was an amazing and ever expanding resource for teachers it still is.  Even the least engaged students often remember when you put the two minute clip from youtube on that showed the strange situation experiment in action.  The kid with no ability to analyse can still get a grade from obsessively learning key words on memrise to try and beat their friends in the ratings.  And most importantly – when a teacher has had no time to plan Thursday morning’s lesson because on Monday night they got called into an unexpected progress meeting, on Tuesday they lost all their PPA time to doing catch up with the students who were identified as not performing well enough in Monday’s meeting, then had parents evening all night and by the time they got home on Wednesday they just do not have the strength or energy to plan when they get home.

In the past you would go online to TES and look for a resource, produced and provided by teachers, find one you like, download it, tweak it to sort your style and class and then off you go.  But now when you do that on TES you are very likely to  find you have to pay for it.  Teachers are monetising their resources. And honestly I don’t know how I feel about that morally.  Of course it’s fair enough you would say.  Especially as this started mostly in the USA where teachers are paid so poorly they often have to take a second job to maintain a living (see Breaking Bad for a deeply factual portrayal).  But the real problem is not who is profiting from the resources but who is paying for the resources.  Others have made the point that it should be the school department who provide the money to buy lessons and resources but that is not the case or two reasons.  Firstly in the time it takes to get a school budget approval or reclaim petty cash you could have made the resource yourself.  Secondly UK schools have no money.  Seriously.  I don’t know how much you follow this but increases in contributions to national insurance and pensions, combined with no real funding increase means schools are broke.  Teachers are being made redundant, teachers who leave are not being replaced and CPD courses are not being paid for because schools do not have the money.  In that environment you cannot expect somebody to sign a document to give you the money to download a resource of TES.  As the costs are small it becomes like micropayments.  A drip drip effect means teachers end up shelling out more and more.

That is why I cannot quite be comfortable with teachers selling their individual resources.  By all means if you have a good enough load of resources – write a book, put the whole lot together into a package that a school department will shell out for but don’t use micropayments to get a little bit here and a little bit there for a worksheet or a powerpoint.  Excellent free resource sharing sites exist like Resourcd.com  – that’s what day to day resources should be going on, not being charged £1.50 for a powerpoint on TES.

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Nothing Compares 2 U

April 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Get in the sea 2016!

Did 2016 not pay it’s electricity bill?

2016 – the year everyone cool died

Etc. etc.

There is a shared consciousness on the internet that suggests this year is being particularly harsh in taking away beloved celebrities.  Stephen Fry must be checking his blood pressure daily as a result. The more interesting phenomenon that is happening is a collective fear of mortality.  More specifically a fear of our parents mortality.

The ONS states that 16-54 year olds are the most frequent internet users but you look closely at the data what you see is that the key group is 16-34 year olds as roughly 99% of them use the internet daily.  If we assume (rather offensively) that the 16 – 24 year olds are using it to boast about how much they drink and swipe along on Tinder then the content driven writing on the internet is dominated by people on either side of 30.  Which means their parents are roughly speaking on either side of 60.  And what do all the celebrities who have died recently have in common?  Prince (57), Victoria Wood (62), David Gest (62), Alan Rickman (69) and of course David Bowie (69).  Some deaths are older such as Ronnie Corbett (85), Denise Robertson (83), Paul Daniels (77), Frank Kelly (77), Terry Wogan (77).  But then again some of those hanging about on the internet are also older.  And with the exception of Terry Wogan the response to those deaths has been slightly different to the others in my list.

Average life expectancy in the UK is 81, across the globe it’s 71. Yes these people are dying young but not to the point where it’s unbelievable.  An average is of course an average – some are above and some are below. The peak age of cancer diagnosis is 69 to 74. Most of the deaths above were caused by cancer.  What were are looking at is stark normal facts about death in this day and age.  So why does the internet react so angrily?  It’s not just a response to the wonderful careers of these individuals (well most of them – I won’t be spiteful enough to point out which ones I’m pointing fingers at), it is an outpouring of grief that is normally reserved for those who are taken in a violent incident in their 20s.  Why the true grief response?

When I was about 7 or 8 years old I found my parents will in the filing cabinet (yes I was the sort of 7 year old who went through filing cabinets and could read what I found there and understood it.  I’m that nerdy).  It was the first proper understanding of mortality I ever had and I wept inconsolably for hours.  Luckily my mother (who does not ever want to be mentioned on the internet so don’t tell her!) is fabulous and said all the right things. Those of us who have lost a parent know how traumatic and challenging it is but we all at some point have known the fear of losing our parents.  The inevitable truth that at some point our parents have to die is upsetting and challenging to face.  So I propose that the collective 30 someethings of the internet, as they come closer to facing this truth, are transferring their helplessness and anger onto the death of Prince and David Bowie.  These figures they grew up worshipping, adoring and respecting for their wisdom and talent.  Sure they did stupid things at times but we still looked up to them. And in losing them we look at our parents and realise they will not be around forever either.

I know a lot of angry cynical people – the type who will go on the internet and abuse these people for suggesting they are upset over the death of a celebrity.  Before they do so I think they should consider the deeper meaning for this grief.  In reality they are not just upset over the celebrity – they are fearing the mortality of their parents and that is totally reasonable.  So cut them some slack.

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Ready or Not

April 15, 2016 at 2:30 pm (Uncategorized)

When I was at school my long suffering friend Danielle used to make me go to gymnastics club before school once a week. She was very gymanstic.  I was not. However over time and through PE lessons I built up to a stage where I was able to take the B.A.G.A awards.  Fine I probably never made it past four but still I got one or two of them and I was very proud of that. In sixth form I took driving lessons for months.  My driving instructor was a very patient man and put up with me throwing tantrums when I did not get thiings right.  When I booked my original test he thought it was a hasty move and said it was probably too soon.  We will never know if he was right because it got cancellede same and moved back 6 weeks. He probably was right and I passed first time – largely because of the extra six weeks practice. It was the same with music exams.  I took graded singing and piano exams (you’ll note the lack of a number.  It’s not impressive enough to share) and I took them when my teacher thought I was ready.

You probably see what I’m driving at.  One of the biggest problems teachers face is getting thirty very different students all prepared for the same exam at the same time. Right now the date of the first GCSEs is fast approaching and most teachers will have given up at least one day of the Easter “holidays” to cram as much revision into students heads as possible.  If only they had more time.

Is it so impractical and impossible to imagine a system where students progress at the pace they are ready for and when they are ready for it?  As schools have progressed into giant factories with 1500 pupils being the standard for a secondary school it would of course be a logistical minefield to change to a system where students have individually tailored curriculum but is that a reason not to do it?  One has only to look at the 18 year olds who are still taking their Maths GCSE in addition to their A-Levels to see the devastating affect on morale it has to students to take an exam before they are prepared for it.  Having sat the exam six or seven times and still not achieved the grade C, while constantly being told they should have done so by their age leave them feeling it’s not worth trying and they will never get it when in fact all the research points that they can of course achieve it.

So is it feasible?  Could we ever have schools that allow students to take exams when they are ready and not when the exam factory culture says they should?  It’s definitely something worth considering.

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My Name Is…

April 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm (Uncategorized)

One of the most exciting things for me about leaving teaching is that I will be reclaiming my name.  No longer shall I be called “Miss” – a name I hate.  Finally I shall be an individual with a name that feels personal and specific to me again.

Firstly I must explain my point of view on the word itself. It is what the rather old fashioned of you will consider misplaced (yes I giggled while I typed that) feminism.  I consider it to be the height of ridicuolusness that women are still expected to designate their marital status on being addressed and have to change their name dependent on it. Call me a grumpy old spinster if you like, but I have (and always will be) Ms Hunt.  It sends a ridiculous message to young women that marriage is somehow a status that must be attained in order to “upgrade” your name.  Boys all grow up knowing they will be Mr forever and they do not have to be questioned about it every time they give their name.  Women find themselves in perpetual state of gloating, apologising, being strident or whatever suits them when giving their name.  The point is not the emotion they display but the fact they have to display an emotion to justify their status. On more occassions than should happen in the 21st century, me saying my name is “Ms” has led to the response”are you a lesbian or divorced?” as if those were the only possible options.

However I digress.  I will not begrudge a room full of schoolchildren calling me “Miss” as has been the tradition for hundreds of years.  It is how the convention goes and that is fine.  In the world of busy secondary schools with high staff turnover many students genuinely do not know the name of their teacher and so “Miss” or “Sir” is the only option.  Now say those two words out loud and think which would you rather be called.  One conveys a sense of authority, one does not.  I am with Captain Janeway on this one.  It is better to be called Sir any day of the week than Miss. Google has quickly provided me a definition of Miss “a girl or young woman, especially one regarded as silly or headstrong”.  It does not make you feel in control to be called “Miss” day in and day out.

But the real cuplrits are not the centuries of tradition or the small children too confused to remember a name.  No it’s the adults.  The other members of staff.  Now if you work in a large organisatin of course you do not know everybody’s name.  However you still smile and say morning in the corridor (or at least I hope you do!) but in a school colleagues will walk past and say “morning, miss”.  It’s not necessary.  If you do not know my name just smile and say morning. And if you do know my name USE IT! Yes there is a professionalism that dictates (for some weird reason) we do not say each other’s first names in front of the students but that’s no reason not to use my full “teacher name” in the corridor.

And then finally in the ninth circle of hell are those members of staff (and yes they are largely male) who call you “Miss” behind closed doors.  In meeting or emails when there is no possible way they do not know your real name they still refer to you as “Miss”.  For seven years I have pushed down the anger I have felt every time I have sent an email to a male colleague, starting it with “Dear Bobby” and ended it “from Caroline” and received a response that starts “Miss”.  I have refrained (wisely) from telling members of SLT that I will not carry out their request until they address me by given name rather than a generic one that suggests they have no idea who I am.  But now I am finally free to stand up to people and say “please – call me Caroline” once more.

And it feels blooming awesome 🙂

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Another Brick in the Wall

April 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized)

I was a little annoyed when I read this article in the Guardian today as it covers a lot of the ground I have been wanting to write about.  Essentially the gist is a state school in this country cannot allow students to develop wider skills and at their own pace because they are nothing short of exam factories. Big surprise you say but the difference between state and private education is an area that is truly shocking but not very well understood by most people.  Mainly because most people do not have experience of both. A strange stigma exists in teaching that means once you start a career in state or private education you are stuck in that route forever. However I was fortunate enought to have a private education (I used to curse it but realise now how lucky I was) and have worked in state education for eight years.

The differences are not what most people think.  The general lazy assumptions are that private schools get clever students as they can be selective and have better teachers as they generally have masters or PhD qualifications.  The unspoken reverse being that state schools are filled with thick kids and that their teachers are barely literate eejits who scraped a bachelors degree.  Firstly these assumptions are not true and secondly even if they were they would not be the reason that state school teachers are not inspiring the top actors and politicians in this country.

The real reason is that as a state school nothing else matters other than hitting targets.  Incredibly challenging, aspirational targets. Not that the teachers and senior leadership do not care about the students as people.  They do – desperately and exhaustingly all the time.  But all that a school is judged on is the exam results and even more importantly all that a teacher is judged on is their class hitting their aspirational targets.  And this is the key point.

Whereas teaching used to be a job for life now it is very possible for good teachers to be sacked. Not outstanding teachers but good teachers.  Teachers who probably do the job far better than teachers in secondary schools did twenty years ago, teachers who work every hour that they can and give children their all.  However if the students they teach do not reach their aspirational target grades then they will be let go.  Or have exam classes taken off them.  Or be put under such pressure that they suffer mental health problems.

Excellent – says the Daily Mail reader.But they should be able to do that AND inspire tomorrow’s leaders and actors. Well lets compare the private school teacher and the state school teacher facing a GCSE class and see if it’s a fair comparison.  Private school teacher has class of around 20-25 students, state school teacher has 30 students.  Private school teacher gives each student a textbook that they can take home and work with at all times.  State school teacher has 15 textbooks that they can share one between two in each lesson.  Private school teacher can photocopy as many revision aids, worksheets etc. as they feel necessary.  State school teacher has their boss breathing down their neck about the photocopying budget and is told to do everything A5 and one between two.  Private school teacher sees a school trip opportunity or revision conference, sets up the trip, the parents pay, the students all go.  State school teacher sees a school trip opportunity or revision conference, works out how to make the trip as cheap as possible (coaches are out of the question for anything less than 60 kids), convinces SLT that they can take the kids out of school for the day only if it does not interfere with a core subject lesson, has to send home a letter saying the trp is voluntary and costs £25 per head, half the class can’t afford that, not enough sign up to make the trip financially  viable and then it’s cancelled.

But the most important factors are these: Private school teacher has a class of students whose parents are all motivated to support their students education.  State school teacher has a lot of students whose parents think anything beyond the basic required GCSEs at grace C is a waste of time. Private school teacher has a class of students who have parents that are able to (and do) feed, clothe and provide a safe warm envirionment for them.  State school teacher has a class where many of the students will not have had breakfast, where they can’t guarantee they have enough money for the bus (free transport only exists in London) and where they do not know if they are going home to dinner or not.  Of course abuse exists in all levels of society but deprivation is rarely seen in a private school.

Yet the target grades of both those class are based on the same primary school data (ok postcodes are taken into account but do not get me started on that) and the teachers are held to the same standards.  So as a teacher in those state schools where your pay, or even your job, depends on you hitting those targets are you going to spend time allowing students to explore their creative inner selves?  Let a lesson pass that is not devoted soley to passing the exams that you will be judged on?  Of course not.  Not only would it be self destructive, it is positively not allowed in schools where learning walks are a day to day event.

So why do state schools have no hope of developing multiple students who excel in an unusual walk of life?  Because they are too busy getting every student their targeted 5 A*-C GCSEs in order to keep their jobs. So our actors and politicians will continue to all be privately educated, maintaining the status quo until state schools are given some freedom and trust in how to educate young people.

 

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