Thursday, November 22, 2012

Teacher well being vs Student benefit

I have argued on occasion that teacher well being is as important as student benefit.  There are times that putting teachers first maintains teaching standards.

Many schools are considering moving the school year start to term three to overcome the issues caused by moving the ATAR exams closer to the term 3 boundary.  Couple this with many classes in year 11/12 being combined, it's an idea that has merit.

When it was floated at our school, I was very much against the idea - to the point that I raised concerns of teachers at school council (I was a council member at the time).  I was concerned that teachers that were tired after getting kids through ATAR exams would not have time to prepare courses in time for the early start and that reporting deadlines would become more onerous.  There was some concern that load was being shifted to senior school staff as year 8 classes would not run until the new year.

In the end, it was not an issue for the mathematics department.
a) The early start reduced the pressure on teachers delivering combined 11/12 courses by adding 8 weeks to the year long course (typically combined 11/12 courses with ATAR exams finish early).
b) The early finish provided extra time for students in year 11 that required re-tests or for collecting late assignments providing extra time for preparing reports (typically stage 1 students).
c) It did prompt us to start programming earlier.
d) It reduced delivery pressure on year 11 courses in other learning areas that were not combined (as they were able to run their exams later in the usually year 11 exam slot week 6 if they with reduced pressure on students as they had completed math exams).
e) Students appreciated the extra time for completing year 12 courses.
f) It reduced behavioural issues typically found in the final weeks of the year and increased attendance.

We finished the year 11/12 courses in term 4 week two this year and started new courses.  This was time typically lost to learning where students were sent home after exams. One stage 3 course is already over half way through the text leaving time for deeper exploration of topics.

This year the majority of teachers are strongly resistant to finishing early and starting the 2013 timetable in 2012.  There are issues with it:

a) Teachers that are joining the school only do so at the start of 2013 (thus classes have temporary teachers).
b) There is insufficient time to plan 2013 courses (it would normally be done in the holidays)
c) Small groups are not operating until 2013 (resulting in difficulties running assessment in 2012)
d) Teachers are tired.
e) It doesn't work for VET subjects (the preferred option is to send them home) because there is only make-do work available.
f) Puts considerable stress on administration to prepare timetables and complete course counselling.
g) Budgets are not accessible for resources required for 2013 programmes of work.

I suppose the only issue I have with the counter arguments is that none of them relate to issues of low student performance or raising attendance.  Many of the issues relate to a lack of planning and preparation time during the year.  I noticed a few teachers had booked planning time (and asked to be kept off the relief time) which seemed a sensible idea.

I doubt the school will continue with the early finish, but mathematics will continue finishing math courses week 2, term 4 if at all possible.  If that can be done without affecting other learning areas that would be great.  If it is deemed that the effect on other learning area and timetabling is too great that will be very unfortunate.

Since mathematics started finishing yr 11 in week 2, year 12 courses have been completed on time, with revision time available (something we had not achieved prior) and results have improved despite an increase in combined courses.  I maintain that we need to find creative ways to provide teaching time to students that typically mature academically later than in higher socio-economic schools and have lower levels of home support.  The earlier year end is something that clearly has made a difference to our mathematics teaching programme.

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