Sunday 10 January 2010

It isn't rocket science

I had a moment of pride the other day. My husband is a keen photographer and attends a local club for fellow enthusiasts. Well, a few weeks ago, at one of these meetings, he noticed a young woman sitting alone and looking rather lost. So he went over to chat to her and found that she was with her grandfather and that she was a keen photographer herself. While revealing this information she also told my husband that she was a student at the school at which I teach. So naturally, he asked her who her English teacher was. When she told him it was Mrs S (Me!) he asked her what she thought of her teacher.( A bit dangerous I thought!)
She told him that she really liked my lessons and that all the students wanted to be in them. When he asked her why this was, she told him that Mrs S "talks to us." (He then told her who he was, which probably embarrassed her a bit and made her glad that she hadn't said anything horrible about me!)
When he told me this story, I was actually moved. It was lovely to hear such comments about my teaching style direct 'from the horse's mouth' so to speak. But it also puzzled me. Why is it so strange for teachers to 'talk' to their students? Surely teachers haven't lost sight of the fact that students are people too?
To answer my own question, yes, many teachers have. I've had horrified comments about my relaxed style of teaching and that I'm encouraging disrespect and misbehaviour. This is rubbish. I've found that students respond better if treated with respect. After all, how are we to earn our students' respect if we don't show them any? I've also found that if any student is rude to me, in most classes, they are chastised by their own classmates and told that they 'can't talk to Miss like that!'
Generally speaking, I've found that the majority of students respond well if treated like people...after all, that's what most of them are!
There's a fine line between being friendly and being a friend. A teacher should be one and definitely not the other, after all, no sane adult wants to 'hang out' with kids... I've found that being friendly with the students and talking to them pleasantly, encourages them to behave in the same manner to me, thus making discipline simple and my life easier.
With my Yr 11 class (the girl in the photography club is in that group) I talk to them, (actually, its more accurate to say that we talk) not only about the texts we are studying, but also about current affairs, new ideas about writers, films, psychology, fact, anything that will a) set the mood for my lesson, or b) make what I'm teaching more accessible and relevant to the students.
After all, this isn't rocket science. It's education.

Decisions. decisions!

It's been snowing heavily so school's closed as no one can actually get on to the site, or even anywhere near the place. so I've been catching up on 'stuff.'
The exam syllabuses (syllabi?) are changing, so we have decisions to make - as to what new GCSE syllabus to choose. So today I've been reading the different ones. We have to choose between either our current one or going on to the Welsh board.
The syllabuses are pretty similar, except in the finer detail. I actually like the Welsh board and there's more to this preference than the fact of my being Welsh (even though I admit that this could be a factor!) I think the Welsh one is more interesting and I feel that our students would benefit from it. But it's actually quite hard.
Now why is this a problem?
Well, a while ago, the time to choose a new A level syllabus arrived. On examining the various choices, I found that I liked the Welsh board syllabus. I thought it required the students to be independent learners and the breadth of the syllabus, I felt, would help equip them for University. When I gave my opinion to the department, I was overruled as it was decided that the Welsh syllabus was too hard. I questioned this and gave my argument about preparing the students for higher education and that surely we should stretch the students?
I was told that some students struggled with A levels and we should not make it too hard for them or they wouldn't choose to do Lit...I then said that perhaps the answer lay in being more strict with who we allowed to take the subject as students who chose EnglishLit as a 'fourth' subject because they couldn't think of anything else to do...I was told that my view was elitist! Apparently the argument that A levels should in the main, prepare students for University, and not just provide them with something to do while they decided what to do with themselves, is unacceptable. I've always felt that A levels is the ideal time to prepare students for the independent learning of Uni and not a time to continue with 'spoon feeding.' Apparently, I'm wrong. Perhaps they're right and this is an elitist view after all...
So, you can imagine what I think about choosing a new GCSE syllabus. I can see the same argument arising, because the Welsh syllabus again is harder. The thing is, I don't see this as a bad thing. We should be stretching our able students and any teacher worth his or her salt should be capable of making something potentially difficult, accessible to the others.
But with the emphasis that is placed on results and league tables, I can see the problem with this view. I and my colleagues want the best for our students, but as a department it is also important to get the best possible results, as schools are judged on them. So whatI see happening is the same as what happened when we chose the A level syllabus, we will go with the one that we feel will get us the best results. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in this, as after all, the results are what will allow the students to get to jobs or A levels, or whatever. It just seems rather strange that the results are now what matter not whether or not the students get a full and rounded education, one that will equip them not just for A levels or University, but for life. And in the long run, surely the result of a full and rounded education is students who can take exams in their stride...and get good results?