Friday, August 15, 2008

2009 subject selection

Many graduate teachers and even experienced teachers feel some anxiety when it comes to subject selections. It's one of those times where your judgement can make or break the aspirations of a student.

Ultimately school should be a safe place where students feel comfortable to attempt what they previously thought of as impossible. Too safe subject selections will put students into classes that they will not be challenged in and surrounded by students with weak work ethic / too hard subjects will place students at risk as their self esteem takes a pounding.

Teachers feel this pressure. It is important that any conflict over what students should and shouldn't be doing be overcome before students are counselled into their subjects. The issue over 3A MAS/MAT (old Calculus/G&T stream) subject selection has caused much angst as this is a class in small schools typically with less than 14 students (the DET magic number for whether a class will run in 2009) yet also a draw card for top students entering year 8.

The plus side is that theoretically the new level 3 courses have a reduced difficulty level / the downside is that nobody really knows what the exams will look like and how the CAS calculators will alter treatment of certain topics. With very few true mathematics graduates entering teaching, it has been a concern for some time as to who will teach calculus courses in the mid term.

Cases where counsellors and administrators are counselling 'A' students out of level 3 courses due to misconceptions of course difficulty, available staffing levels, questions over quality of recommendations and issues with grades given to students need to be resolved well before the counselling process. Students being told to pursue higher maths by teachers and then convinced otherwise by counsellors is an avoidable situation that requires clear communication from administration what subjects can run and clear guidance on how to guide students forward.

I think schools need to consider whether the prime role of schools is to guide students into their first job (eg. narrow but job focused education) or into lifetime learning (eg. broad pursuit of highest possible education and widest vocational choice). Where schools assume a split role (eg schools with strong competing VET & TEE courses) close attention needs to be made over who is part of the counselling process and their mandate in giving subject advice and applying/overriding teaching or vocational recommendations.

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