Thursday, December 15, 2011

I must be an idiot

I'm an idiot.  I really must be, because I don't understand and I can't understand the logic of the criticism no matter how the concept of "Empire Building" has been explained to me.

We have an inspirational maths department (not my words but that of a teacher outside our department).  Kids say to us that they want to come to school to do maths and they're not always the geeky ones.  We have a high level of energy in the department, kids actively choose our subject and we have fewer behavioural issues each year than ever before.  Kids don't even look that embarrassed when we talk to them in the yard.  We actively seek to help other departments and we do our share of tasks around the school.

And for this we are accused of empire building.  By this (and I sought to get this clarified) it was meant that we have created a "cult" of mathematics where kids actively seek maths in upper school over other subjects.  Let me be the first person in history to apologise for having engaged kids.

Now if we were preventing students from completing work of other subjects by loading them up with extra work, you might think this could be true.  We don't.  If we advised them to take higher maths without having grades and work ethics to suit, it may be true; but we are diligent documenting how we justify our subject selections and unfortunately now have to turn kids away in upper school.  If we loaded up in school committees and ran an agenda (of any sort) and bullied them through, it may be said but we rarely volunteer for committees and are more frequently tutoring kids between classes than being in the staff room.

I don't think we're victims of tall poppy, but our relative popularity (??!!??) with kids seems to be threatening in some way.  If a kid selected Drama, Phys ed, Computing, English or any other subject because they liked the teacher group not an eye would be batted.  If this meant that they had to do a higher maths and they were motivated by their involvement in the other subject, we would work with them and find them a course that they could do.  Another student with a viable path to uni - that's fantastic.

If year 7 kids are choosing our school because of maths one would think that the collegiate group (not just the principal) would go, great guys, we'll get behind you and create a wider vision for us.  If kids are clamouring for a staffed and funded maths camp, what possible reason is to not get behind it.  Five years ago we arrived and the atmosphere was toxic towards the ATAR classes, I don't think anyone believed we had long left before we became a vocational school.  Today we have a growing group of TEE kids, a wonderful team that guides them into uni through ATAR and portfolio pathways and a teacher group that can and does support them in their final years.

... but we have a long way to go.  When asking our year 9 class, "how many students went to university from our school",  they said none and were shocked when we said close to 50% - they were more shocked when we rattled off the names from three years ago and told them how well they were doing.  There are a number of much larger schools in Perth that can't do this and can't even run stage 3 courses.

I suppose this is a cautionary tale, because sometimes we all are a little disparaging and I can say firsthand how demotivational this last week has been for at least two of the maths department - we both have thick skin (and heads) but it is annoying to say the least.  If others do not want to lead, get behind those that make the time and have the will to do so.  Be careful with criticism especially if it is only to assuage your own conscience about what you should be doing as it can have toxic effects on your school.  Be encouraging wherever possible.

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