Saturday, May 30, 2009

Career development & Half cohort musings

Today I was thinking.. what's the best way to get better early in your teacher career and do the most good in the community? Is it better to stay in one place surrounded by people that are supportive and appreciate your contribution, developing your own ideas with a small group or move amongst a range of schools, view what they are doing and use that to cross pollinate ideas whilst developing your own skills?

The half cohort is a critical moment in state school teaching in WA, with DET very late realising that it is having a negative impact on both school morale and student intake. For Ms O'Neil to release a missive saying the half cohort is being managed properly is to ignore the fact that it is not! Something that is being managed properly would not endanger subject delivery at schools, would not reduce student numbers over a five year period (which to my knowledge is not happening at private schools), cause further loss of teachers, leading to a loss of teaching knowledge (both about content, cohort, process and individual students) and further loss of confidence in your employer.

Schools are contemplating busing students between schools such that they students will have access to courses that individual state schools will not be able to offer due to small cohorts (this includes core subjects, Maths, English, Science and S&E). This means that students are taken out of their social settings, have reduced access to their teachers, lose contact time due to travel. Teachers lose access to certain courses for periods of time, have to teach more often across learning areas, have to teach subjects with gaps or years between offerings (eg. 3A subjects offered in 2010 & 2011 at one school, would move to another school for 2012 & 13), teachers may have to flit between schools with all the associated issues with managing split shifts, marking, load and travel time (equivalent to moderation issues 8-12 all subjects, all year round). Schools have to manage timetabling across multiple schools reducing the flexibility for change and development, manage attendance, manage the different acceptable behaviours/pastoral care, the consistency of assessment requirements and manage differing academic, literacy and numeracy standards.

Other options include merging 8/9, 9/10, 10/11, 11/12 classes.

There is more potential for students to fall through the cracks; it is an awful lot to deal with.

Subjects with low numbers (typically academic subjects such as maths specialist, physics, chemistry, lit, politics, history, economics), drawcards for students when selecting schools, all of a sudden may not be offered by a school unless under the busing students model (parents will really need to read the fine print!).

Busing students could be positive especially when tied to more options for students - with adjacent schools specialising in areas such as aeronautics, dance, LOTE, drama, specialist science courses, maths enrichment, sporting initiatives, computing, shed work, VET courses and the like that could not normally be offerred in a single school of 400-700. My concern is when schools are diminishing their offerings rather than enhancing them. Perhaps restricting busing to non core subjects and limiting it to one/two afternoons a week is the commitment that could be made by DET to limit potential issues. MESS teachers would need to take an option/specialist class or have all their DOTT at once. Anyone with VET courses at schools knows the timetabling issues caused by kids being out for half or whole days. Running specialist courses over schools is something that could have been done without the half cohort issue which leads me to think that more than likely it has already been tried with limited success.

There are other potential indirect benefits: in small schools, class sizes of 5-6 are more difficult to develop cooperative learning opportunities; it is also more difficult to instill some level of competition between students; (and the big one) these classes are more difficult to justify in terms of cost per student. Courses that may only be offered occassionally based on demand may be able to be offered consistently under a busing model.

So... going back to my original question, in amongst all this uncertainty, what is the best option for doing good in the community and developing my teaching skills? Sadly, it could be the private system for the first time in two years, especially with my family on one income and having a temperament like mine that needs a level of stability. I'll continue to think it through and seek more of the positives in my current situation as I love working in the state school system otherwise.

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