Sunday, January 29, 2012

TAFE roles and stage 3 subjects

Classes where students are taken out of school for a day and then remain in stage three courses in year 11, in the majority of cases are setting students up to fail.  A student missing for a whole day each week, in a challenging course, lacking any evident independent learning skills is not destined to pass a stage three course.

The argument that they will make it up in directed study, to my mind, holds no water.  These students fail because they have to catch up multiple classes in these study periods, lack specialist assistance at these times (teachers have to keep teaching)..  and are generally borderline students in the first place.

I'm fully supportive of students participating in TAFE courses to complement their mainstream courses, I just believe that their mainstream courses should be kept at stage two levels to ensure that they can cope and succeed when year 11 reality and expectations kick in.  Stage two courses such as 2C and 2A MAT are better suited as these can be learned independently more easily.

If we think about it, it becomes obvious why they fail.  Firstly they lack a connection to the class, as better students tend to pair up with students that are regularly available.  Notes on the board do not replace the peer and teacher assistance that they lose from not being in class.  During directed study they cannot get immediate assistance from the teacher, particularly where the text is lacking in a particular area.  Students tend to shy away from them as the questions they ask are perpetually behind the level of the class and take considerable time both from the teacher and from other students trying to catch up on a regular basis.  This catch up process is exacerbated each week in multiple subjects.  It also causes issues with homework and assignments as that day is often lost due to travel commitments.

I have said this before and I will say it again.  We have to be careful with our subject selections and review them when students are out of class on a regular basis.  We should not underestimate the impact that this has on learning for the student.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Teacher in charge

Nothing like a promotion to bring in the new year.  One of the stranger structures in the public education system is the Teacher in Charge(TiC).  It's a position between teacher and Head of department(HoD).  The pay rise is minimal, the teaching load the same as a classroom teacher and the responsibility is similar to HoD(albeit not officially).

The main issue with the TiC role is that in many implementations the actual responsibility for traditionally HoD roles lies with team and year leaders, yet little is done by them in this regard as team and year leaders are swamped with administrative and behavioural concerns.  This has caused friction between the TiC and team/year leaders in prior years, as responsibilty is passed around like a hot potato depending on the amount of effort required. In particular, student guidance for non-performance is an area that is often neglected - particularly with students that are passively resisting work (work avoidant behaviours).

Secondly, early in the year, with full load, senior school teachers(the breeding ground for HoDs) are busy bedding down NCOS and small groups, leaving little time for assisting new teachers, examining curriculum, setting up IT structures(such as mathsonline/mymathsonline/matheletics), doing research on best practices (eg. IWBs, Tablets, NC texts, new pedagogy), entering competitions and addressing minor and niggling issues across the department.

TiC is a strange position as it is a promotional pathway to Head of department, which is a large pay rise and includes a reduction in teaching load.  Small schools use TiCs where level 3 FTE is not available for HoDs.  Unfortunately what this causes is a drain of talent from small schools to larger ones as TiC becomes a pathway to HoD - something prevalent in these times, as many maths HoDs are reaching retirement age.  Our school is on it's third TiC in three years.

So, here I am entering the fray of promotional positions, doing the TiC role this year.  It's exciting in that I have increased access to management thinking and can better understand the direction of the school.   The negative is that I am used to senior management positions where robust discussion is a part of the job - my experience is that robust discussion is not always welcome in a school.

Here comes the new year!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Summer school

Today was the fifth and last day of summer school. It's an event we run for students destined for stage 3 maths in year 12. Students benefit from being ready from the start of term, are more organized and are given guidance on material to be presented during the new year.  Teachers and tutors get experience working in a university environment.

Two of the presenters cancelled just before the first day, I had been sick for the majority of the holidays and I was left with the decision of cancelling the event or trying to do the event with a relief teacher, four pre-service teachers and some student graduates from 2011 that offered to help. I had three streams of students from year 10-12, 42 students and I couldn't do it on my own.

We went ahead anyway and everyone stepped up. The students were positive from the start all the way to the last day. Some had cancelled holidays overseas to be there. Brian, our ever ready math relief teacher, stepped in when I would have been overwhelmed otherwise. The pre-service teachers responded to each of their strengths - leading through preparation, personality, warmth and enthusiasm. They completed the tasks assigned to them with the year 10's and then stepped into the gaps left by the missing presenters for the 11's and 12's. It was a real team effort and awesome to watch. 30 of the 32 students that attended on the last day said that they would be back next year, with the 2012 year 12's showing real enthusiasm to come again and give the benefit of their experience.

All of the year 12 student helpers from 2011 were fantastic, but one really shone, as he showed the new year 12's how to navigate a wide range of problems. He stayed for the entire week and demonstrated what hard work could really achieve. He had nothing to prove by coming, he was our school dux in 2011, and I hope he saw what a difference he can make in the world.

With such a large number of people coming together and actively achieving something, (especially when I was at 50%) it quickly became another of the inspirational events of my career. To watch four summer schools, and then watch the benefit for attending students during the year and the growth in the pre-service teachers, it tells me that it is more than just another school event. Hopefully those involved understand the wonderful thing they have done. There's no doubt it could and will be done better, but that as they say, is a problem for another day.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Equation editor

The equation editor in activeInspire broke with the tickover of the year and a javascript error. This has been fixed in the latest update.