*YOU* are Sepp Blatter
[please note that all references to Mr Blatter are in a light-hearted manner in reference to moderately recent media speculation. In the word of Have I Got News For You: "allegedly"]
When running peer assessment, it's common for the class to give a few "bonus" marks to their friends. I recently got a class to criticise each other's computer presentations and give them each a mark out of five. Of course, I also wanted to ensure that the genuinely best pieces of work bubbled to the top.
Using SurveyMonkey I drafted a quick questionnaire which allowed each pupil to give a mark to everyone else in the class after they'd seen all the presentations. The software collates the results and gives an average for each piece of work. There was no surprise to see that the boys dominated the marks as the class is roughly a 25/75 split favouring the male gender.
So I fudged them. A couple of percentiles here, a swapped digit there, a quick re-sort of the Excel spreadsheet and *voila* the top three made their way to the top of the list. Also, the bottom handful who'd not received very good marks at all found themselves far closer to the rest of the pack, although still in positions justified by their efforts.
In other words - it's my class, they're my rules and I'll adjust them so that the team I want to win gets the prize. I *am* Sepp Blatter (allegedly).
Think of those coming next...
It may not be the case for all of you, but my position is being filled by another probationer next year. Even if this isn't what's happening to your role as the year comes to a close, have a thought for whoever is taking over your classes if you're not being kept on.
Remember what it was like the first time you took that fourth form, not knowing who was being quiet because they were shy, and who was quiet because they were secretly plotting how to blow up the lab and blame it on someone else? Who would hand in one A-grade assignment after another simply by being provided with the syllabus and a handful of notes, and who would need sat over constantly to get so much as their name on a piece of paper?
Think how much easier things could have been if someone had given you a register, a seating plan (so you could recognise faces straight away and ensure they were sat where they were meant to be) and a quick rundown of who/what to look out for.
Now, spend an hour or so doing just that for the person filling your shoes, boots, high heels, loafers, etc. With a bit of luck and some karma, this may come back to you in kind!
I'm doing it all wrong!
A comment I overheard between two pupils this morning made me realise I had been concentrating my efforts in all the wrong places if I want my classes to like me as a teacher.
They were examining their new timetables and comparing staff when I heard the following comment:
"She's great - her room always smells dead nice."
So there you have it. If you want to be a success with your pupils, forget all those silly teaching methods, varied lesson plans and rewards schemes. Just get some (non-allergenic) perfumes in there!
I'm finding this all very bizarre.
I was taught mostly in England. At the end of the year we left and when we came back, we were in the year above. Not so north of the border. It seems common practice to elevate the pupils a year at the end of the year before. This means organising resources, timetables and so forth during term time.
It also means a barrage of "are we getting you next year?" questions from S1 and S2!
The thing is, I know I'm not going to be at this school after the summer but I don't want to let this fact out to the pupils. So the S3 class I'll get from next week will be mine for less than a month before I have to archive and mothball their work for another teacher to take over after summer, without letting the pupils know that this will be the case.
But why not let them know? Well anyone who's covered a class will know the answer to this. If the class are aware you're only there for a short while, they're less likely to make any sustained effort to behave or work hard. Why bother? They'll be starting afresh wish some other person anyway.
Having said that, it's quite heartening to hear so many of my S1 and S2 pupils asking if they'll have me next year and hoping they do. I can only assume I'm doing something right.
Or perhaps I'm just too soft on them!
And they're off...
...for exam leave. We're now down to just S1, S2 and S3 as the S5 and S6 pupils joined their S4 brethren yesterday, heading off into the wild blue yonder with only a handful of appearances left before the summer break.
It was a moderately emotional experience. I only had one class of "senior" pupils, a mixture of S5 and S6, who I go on rather well with. It was a struggle at times getting them to finish the work set, but at the end of the day we got almost all of them through the NPA course with three complete modules.
I suppose one of the nicest comments I got was "I'll miss you, sir. You actually made this class bearable. Actually, I looked forward to coming to your lessons."
I'm currently finishing grading some past work for S1 due to the parents' evening coming up shortly.
Each pupil has a card which lists each module and the tasks within those modules that they have done. These get a mark out of 4 and the module assigned an overall mark based on that. Essentially:
- Very good work
- Just about ticks the boxes required and no more
- Not good enough
Now this seems nice and simple until you're marking work that's partly creative. With a set of questions it's easy - 80% gets a 1, 70% gets a 2 and so on. But how do you grade a web page, or a multimedia presentation?
I guarantee if you go for gut feeling or impression you will have at least one cry of "how is that better than mine?"
The solution is simple - give quantitative targets. Also, if marks are to be lost for extra assistance from the teacher (which will affect them during practical work later in their academic life) ensure they are aware of that before they get the help.
So in the instructions ensure they know that to get a 1 they need to provide 5 pages (an intro, an index and 3 content), that the content must include X, Y and 4 Z, that they must use a template, that the same colour scheme should be used throughout, that at least one images should be on each page and that all page transitions should be done using animation... something along those lines.
That way you can reduce it down to the scores again, just like the questions. Tick all the boxes - 1. Most of them - 2.... and so on.
Using this, I've even had (not many, but some!) children offer to finish work in their own time to ensure they get the higher grade. It also helps stave off the problem of "favourites" i.e. nudging a mark up because the pupil happens to not annoy you, or marking them down because of behaviour - or even just because it's one of those days.
You can't beat a bit of variety
So what's happened today? It's Monday, I have a short working day so plenty of lesson prep time and since the bell went at 8:30, I have:
1) Taken a register and had some banter with my registration group
2) Hurriedly drafted a Prezi presentation for my S5 class
3) Issued a referral to one pupil
4) Worked with a small sub-group of my "difficult" S4 class to get them through a NAB they missed while the rest got on quietly with written work - I'd not have believed this possible three or four months ago
5) Sat with the aforementioned S5 class and crammed a ridiculous amount of information into their brains which they took in good humour and fed back well on
6) Stood outside in the sunshine helping some P6 pupils at a nearby primary school learn how orienteering works
7) Had a staff meeting regarding a ridiculous array of topics, from post-mortem'ing a recent run of lessons to how we will fit in upcoming prelims before Easter while munching on cookies brought in by the PT
8) Worked on revision materials for S3, S4 and S5
I defy you to find me another job with this level of variety in a single working day.
I've not done the maths, but I'm reckoning that this is around the halfway point in the academic year (just after half term of the second term). However, don't rely on the calendar to tell you when you should have things finished without taking into account all the other events that affect this.
Main amongst these, particularly in the upper school, are work placements and exam leave. Here, we lose our S4-6 for approximately two weeks for pre-lims, and then again a good period before the final exams in summer. This knocks a significant number of contact hours off the time you may otherwise expect to have to teach them.
More to teaching than teaching
I'm going to delve into politics a little with this post, so do bear with me.
Recent decisions have been made, or at least proposals put forward to change the structure of education in the city in which I work. Obviously, this has fallen under the catch-all of "saving money" - obviously a good thing. However, the way it's being dealt with is horrific, inflamatory and badly thought out. In fact, many would go so far as to say that thought hasn't been a part of it.
None of the proposals make any sense to anyone within the teaching profession who I have spoken to. And you would think that the people who would know best about any potential effects on education would be those deeply involved with it. The ones who haven't been consulted.
The reason I'm writing this up as part of my blog is that it's something probationers and potential probationers need to be aware of. Your job isn't just affected by the kids in the classroom, the resources the school has to offer and so on. Other "powers" can change things radically - councils and governments are very much amongst them.
Don't assume that being a great teacher is enough. Councils simply aren't bothered about this. What matters to them is budget. Cashflow. Especially in these days of cutbacks and recession. The major issue with that is they then see fit to make cuts left, right and centre in areas in which they seemingly have no knowledge whatsoever. That's when you start introducing insane plans such as having heads of department who aren't trained in the subject which they will be overseeing.
Teaching is still a fantastic job. But there are challenges at every corner - within and without the school walls. Be prepared to deal with these as well.
Updates and apologies
As the Christmas holiday comes to an end I realise I've not posted on here for some time. I admit it's been fairly low priority what with everything else going on so it's time for a quick catch-up.
Also, apologies if you have spotted your comment on an earlier post is missing. I've been having some dreadful problems from two spammers and in while deleting 100+ spam comments, I may have inadvertently removed a couple of genuine ones. I've also, as a result, closed comments on earlier posts as a couple in particular were being hammered repeatedly. As ever, the lovely Angela has done all she can to help - the spam protection on this system just doesn't seem to recognise spam - but hopefully new posts will be protected.
Anyway, where do we stand? One term down, the longest one coming up (I gather), though thankfully with more than a smattering of holidays involved. The problems seem twofold for the S3 and S4 classes - how do I ensure they cover all the material required, while at the same time leaving enough time at the end for revision? In some cases, the problem is the reverse. The Int 1 course is rather sparse - how do I ensure I fill the remaining space adequately once the material is covered?
I guess this information will come with experience. In the meantime I'll start digging for a variety of revision exercises!
The break has been good, but not entirely work-free. I've been tasked with drafting the next 6-8 weeks of S1 activity ending in a school-wide cross-curricular exercise. I've had a lot of help from one other department member in particular which has been invaluable. Thankfully she's the kind of person to volunteer her assistance!
My GTCS online bumph is pretty much all up to date, although I'm slightly behind on observed lessons due to closures and cancellations during the snowy period in December. I'll make that up in short order when we go back.
Well, only a weekend left and then one in-service day until the "young persons" return.
In-house CPD vs external
Along with everyone else, I'm sure I'm finding some of the external compulsory a bit of a drag. The majority of it we have covered at uni, but I do understand that the council is mandated to ensure that we definitely have covered certain subjects regardless of which college we came from.
Out of the council-supplied mandatory/core sessions, I would say that two have been of any real use. Of those, one was excellent. I won't name names or courses, though! Asking around my peers, the concensus has been the same on which were more worthwhile and enjoyable.
The additional CPD outside of school has generally been good. Partly as the classes are smaller and partly as they're more relevant to me - because I get to pick them. Of course, I'm doing tons this term to get as much as I can on my profile, but I honestly think I'll be making the most of these courses right through the year.
What prompted me to put this post up, though, was the in-house CPD being provided to us NQTs. As well as the school-wide focus on CfE, our little group meets once a week. Usually it's with our mentor, but often we have a "guest speaker" - another member of staff with skills or experience in another area. This is a great opportunity to ask questions or be told about some aspect of the school we're in or the system in general.
My personal picks were the staff from Learning Support and a recent mini-lecture from a long-serving teacher with excellent advice on class discipline. Often it's hard to know just how far you can push on the discipline front without overstepping a mark. It's very useful to be instructed on this, knowing that these aren't just general guidelines, but how it works in this school
Although they take up one lunchtime a week, I really look forward to these meetings. If nothing else, than for a chinwag with the other NQTs!
I hope everyone else is getting this kind of support. I really can't fault the system here.
Stretching a bit too far?
I've just checked my timetable this week. As well as reports due for S1 and S3 in the next fortnight (we've recently submitted S4 and S5), I have four evenings, one lunchtime and a break taken up with other commitments related to the school. I'm even double-booked one night and will have to miss a meeting to run the diving club I've started.
At least I'm showing willing!
Which I will of course spend working on lesson plans, marking homeworks, and so forth (if you're a member of the council).
If you're not a member of the council, then I will be spending it relaxing, drinking, travelling, reading, playing games and whatever else makes you jealous.
Same class... different class?
I had an unusual situation yesterday. An S1 class I regularly take was foisted upon me as a cover class due to a school-wide project with S2.
Now, they're a good class. I enjoy taking them, though they're probably the most "boisterous" of my classes at that level. They still produce good work and we get on well.
As such I was staggered with their behaviour in my cover lesson. They were supposed to be in PE, and were instead transferred to me in a Computing classroom to do written work. It was chaos. Chatter, misbehaviour, failure to follow instructions, messing around, paper all over the place, "sir, he's stolen my sheet"... You name it. Absolutely unreal.
I had four of them out of the class to talk to, including one I'd never had to so much as had to point at before. One ended up going home with a punishment exercise for continuing to mess around immediately after I told him to stop and was still looking at him... then laughed when I took him outside for a lecture. Again, a child I'd usually have little issue with.
By quirk of timetable I had them in my room the next period for Computing. The lesson went very well indeed, although I did have a right go at them before we got on with the task at hand.
I don't know if this is common or not. Same kids, same environment, same teacher... different work to be done - and it all goes mental.
Make it easy... part 2
Just as a follow-up to an earlier post, I did run the tests mentioned and the results were mixed - also surprising.
Prior to the tests, I handed out some revision sheets which clearly laid out the majority of things that need to be memorised for INT1's core Computing Studies syllabus. At a glance, around half of them were taken home. One was scrumpled under a desk, the "owner" claiming it wasn't their's - later proven to be a fib.
Still, you can only do as much as you can do.
The test sat was the exact same one this class had sat around 6 months earlier - except for two pupils who needed to be "tested" to see if they needed additional assistance under exam conditions. For them I provided a new, equivalent, test so we could compare the results against the old one as per SQA guidelines. If their scores went up significantly, then they'd qualify for whatever aid they required.
Anyway, the results. Best news, the two who needed assistance definitely benefitted with marks that would take them from D/fail up into the heady realms of B-grade. The rest were a mixed bag.
A handful dropped a mark or two, but nothing that couldn't be put down to "day of the week". Others gained a mark or two. Again, on a different day they'd have dropped a couple of those and gaines elsewhere. On the other hand, I had a couple of others who vastly improved. One, mysteriously, did significantly worse. It happens.
The person who left their revision sheet scrumpled under the desk? Admitted they'd done so when confronted with their test score. Yes, they were one who did worse than the previous attempt. However, hopefully this will give them a kick up the backside. I can't guarantee it will, but I can't say I'm not trying!