Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Life is about choices..

Life is all about choices but what choices did my S2 class make when asked to teach themselves Speed, Distance and Time. In my last blog before I choose to try and change inservice days I had been inspired by a great TED talk about children learning for themselves. It did occur in a different world but I took the basic idea and decided to run with it. It was awesome and they really enjoyed teaching, testing and helping each other. All I said was 'you will have two classes to prepare a 15 minute lesson on Speed, Distance and Time'. It was not the over arching question I was looking for but it did the job. I placed iPads, the Smartboard, graphic calculators, mini whiteboards and various arts and crafts at their disposal and off they went. I learned a very valuable lesson here and that was that the iPad 1 does not support mirroring though some Apps like keynote do. That means that wou cannot project whats on the screen of the iPad 1 through a projector which was a pain but we worked around it. They all wrote up lesson plans and each and very group produced a great lesson. One group sang the Roscoe H Spellgood SDT song and it was class. It was funny as well and I will enjoy showing that at their S6 graduation! A good few groups used Keynote to deliver their main points but none read directly off the screen. They also used mini whiteboards and did some fantastic formative assessment. One group used Prezi and created a really simple but effective lesson. 

I tested them on SDT a few days later and all of the class passed with flying colours. The next lesson I was absent due to development work on Lifeskills Mathematics 3 but decided to continue the trend of Peer teaching. I made up some notebook slides exactly like I would if I was taking the lesson and designated different roles to different students. One young lady took the class through the starter questions using the quadruple chocolate cookie pot to pick names at random, another took them through our daily logic puzzles and one more did the learning intention and success criteria. They then sat down and learnt how to graph equations and solve simultaneous equations graphically! It was brilliant, the classroom was there own, they helped each other, moved around and did not stop till everyone in the room got the hang of it. I did come in at one point to see 4 boys in green fluorescent football bibs but they said this helped with their designated roles and inspired creativity! One cannot get in the way of creativity.

This week they are working on presentations of famous mathematicians and again technology will be used. I am really excited because two groups have decided to make 'Word Art' Videos where they draw and do a voice over. It was inspired by a great Fibonacci video that a lady called ViHart produced. Presentations start tomorrow so I will let you know how they get on. Life is all about choices and so far everyone seems to be making the right ones.

As always onwards and upwards..

Monday, 6 May 2013

How high up is the school in the cloud?

It's the start of May already, the sun (I think it's the sun, its been a while!) is shining and exam leave is upon us. The fourths years left for exam leave a week ago and have already completed their standard grade mathematics exam. It will be a while yet till we discover has our labour really paid off but the vast majority were happy with what seemed very fair exam papers. The fifth and sixth years took their leave on Friday, some celebrated their last day of school by hosting an impromptu home economics lesson with eggs in the dining area and around the front doors.  There was also some colourful fancy dress and some less colourful and more scary in many different ways. I think one of the reasons some people could have a fear of clowns is the scary (or ugly) looking ones that turn up on days like this!

I am not a massive fan of the way the Scottish have constructed their school year but changing something like that is, way, way above my pay grade to such an extent it is but a dot in the sky to me. In Ireland school starts in September and finishs in May for the majority and those taking exams continue into June. Not so simple in Scotland, school starts in the second week of August and carries onto the end of June. Those sitting exams go on exam leave normally around now (the last week in April) and could sit exams anytime between the end of April and the first week in June. What complicates it further is that the new timetable will start around the start of June and in the space of a weekend, first years will become second years, second years will become third years and so on up the school. It is all very messy and very scattered in my opinion. There are pros to having the year structured like this. One of the massive pros is that it brings to an end the busiest time of year. At the moment there are loads of reports to write (for me first years and second years, about 70 in total), assessments, prelims and NABS to be done and marked, planning continues and must begin in earnest for next 'year' which starts very soon and things like working groups are finishing up and presentations and reports must be made. It brings a breadth of fresh air to the year and you can really focus on setting up courses. Last week was crazy and the week before that equally so. Every week since Easter has been full on and I have been trying in vain since then to catch up on my blog since then with no success. I am still 'developing' when it comes to writing this blog but forever the optimist I believe I can get a handle on it. It's not just this blog I have been trying to catch up on. I still have some work to do for my 'teaching and learning' working group and hopefully I can get that done this week. I also have to continue to develop the National 3 Lifeskills curriculum so we can implement that. Thankfully time has been given to get this done and each teacher has been given a days cover to help beat into it. Success on that front should come in the next three weeks.

The last thing I want to work on is the lessons I teach, some lessons I have taught this year have been awesome and really enjoyable for both the students and myself. I am pretty happy with the standard of lessons I am teaching but I still feel I can improve or at least do some slightly differently. Once you hit the May Bank Holiday you can take a breadth, reflect on what has been and think of what might be different if it were all to be done again. Since I have a month where I have no fourth, fifth or sixth years I can really focus on the remaining three classes and try and raise the bar again. I was watching a TED video by Sugata Mitra (http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html) and thought maybe I am doing to much teaching and it is time to hand some more responsibility over to the students. Sugata Mata believes that the education system we have today, based on the Victorian system used across the British Empire is no longer fit for purpose. He believes that children given the right encouragement and not burdened with assessment can, using the tools of today learn by themselves. He experimented by leaving computers in remote villages in India for children to access and though they did not speak English (all downloaded content was in English) or had ever seen a computer they achieved incredible results in learning by themselves. If you have 20 minutes spare the video is well worth a look. His main idea is that if you give a child a 'big' question they will be able through curiosity and the interweb be able to find an answer. What I am thinking of doing is not so grand or big at all but does involve the students doing their own learning and teaching. I will take the text books off my S1's and S2's, put them in groups and pose them their own big question. Something like 'How tall is the school and how could we measure it using mathematics?' Hopefully they would come back with some Trigonometry but it would be interesting none the less. They would have to go away, research the question, collaborate in their groups and then teach the class. It will take a lot of direction I think, but I don't want to do too much more than manage their time so as not to stifle their creativity. I could then assess both the students and 'teachers' to see how they have got on, this kind of goes against the idea a little bit but I will have to think of someway to to check for understanding. I will put the Smartboard and a class set of iPads at their disposal and encourage them to go nuts. Technology will play a huge part in their lives so it should play its part. Maybe they will make a video or a Prezi or a podcast or something?! The idea is still in its infancy, I have much to think about and better run the idea past the boss but I have high hopes that we could have a lot of fun and much could be learned. I also want to make sure that the questions cover the work and topics we still have to do and that we can get it done in the time left. If it all goes pear shaped we can always knuckle down and recover the work as time is on our side. I will also try to blog it on a daily basis so as to document it, I can now blog on my smartphone so it should make life easier. I am excited, onwards and very much upwards..

In other news last week my Curriculum Leader came to observe me, as is good practice, teach my S3 class. This is my most challenging class but the hard work has payed off as the working relationship no longer suffers dips after holidays, we are getting some serious work done and most importantly we are having fun whilst we learn. The lesson went really well and everyone was happy. What was humorous about the lesson was that every single student was present. I had not had a full class on one single day for a few weeks but Murphy knowing full well that this observation was taking place decided to use his law that day! It is never a dull moment in that class as there is a lot of issues to deal with but we have a lot of fun during our learning and I hope we all get back together again before the next observation!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

It is quite possible to work without results, but never will there be results without work

The run up to Christmas was immense and I was so tired when we eventually got to the holidays. I find myself sleeping deeper and deeper as the term ends and the holidays approach to the point that you are too tired to dream. It was incredibly busy with fourth year prelims, a parents’ night, fun time happy quizzes, Christmas concerts and some teaching for good measure. For the vast majority of time everything is awesome, students come to class, engage, have fun and leave happy, having learned something new. It’s been a fantastic school year so far with loads of highs and very few lows. What does one write about when all is going great? There are only so many times I can write about how awesome the first years are doing. Saying that, we recently changed the level they were working at: we started doing the same work as the top sets (I teach both first year second sets) and they are eating it up. They did a fun time happy quiz not so long ago and absolutely beasted it. I was very happy for them all and they were overjoyed to see the how the fruits of their labour paid off. They are a mirror image of the fourth years - they  did very little work last year, not a huge amount this year and bombed at their first prelim. As they say “you reap what you sow!”

The fourth years got a bit of a land when they got their prelim (mocks) results back. In fairness, last year was very unstable for these students; they had a few different teachers and not a lot of stability. This was compounded by the fact that they took advantage of the lack of stability and did absolutely no work last year. This was not idle preparation for their fourth year or their exam. Hopefully the prelim results will awaken them to the mountain of work we will have to get through to have any success this summer. Most of them totally bombed in their exam and some of them would have been better off using their paper to clean some windows for all the good writing on it did. All is not lost though - the upside of this is that reality is finally starting to bite and some of them are getting down to revision. We are not looking for 100%, we are looking to pass and since they can only get a 1 (>75%), a 2 (50 - 75%) or a fail (<50%), we will settle for a 2. A few students did very well and they have been moved up to the top class where, hopefully, with the aid of a great teacher and like-minded individuals around them, they will kick on and do really well. For the rest this is probably as fair as they will go in their journey in mathematics as higher maths is certainly beyond most. This is a good thing though, there is no point in doing higher maths unless you really like maths and have a good solid foundation as there is a huge workload to get through in the space of a year. For many of my students it would be too big an ask and since university is the goal for most of them they would be better off picking 5 other Highers that they would enjoy more and at which they are better. A good credit grade is almost essential to gaining university acceptance so I hope they now focus and get on with the job in hand. January is the month for the fourth year’s parent teacher evening and was a great opportunity to pass on this message. Armed with such strong statistics it would be easy to paint a pessimistic outlook for the majority of students but what would be the benefit of that? The message was simple: very little work has been done so far and there was a lot of instability last year but that is in the past, time to knuckle down and get on with the job. Everyone took this on board, we agreed strategies to help their sons and daughters and hopefully this will produce results. One lady did think that a miracle was her son's preferred option to hard work but eventually decided that it was not a good idea to bet on such odds and even if he was due a miracle it would probably be wasted on his maths exam!

It was my birthday this week and I turned 33. You would not believe the joy it brought to my students to find out that their Irish maths teacher turned 33! One young lady in first year could not stop laughing for about five minutes. The class settled down, we started to work and then she started laughing again. I asked her what was going on and she said with delight ”That means in May you will be 33 and a third!” This brought the house down much to my amusement. All I can say is she is mathematically on the ball! Onwards and upwards then...

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

We need to talk about Johnny...

Sometimes you get a feeling that a class is going to go pear shaped for reasons beyond your control, that no matter what you do things are just not going to go right. Monday was such a day. Four classes into the day and all was going brilliant, every class had engaged, learned and had fun. Next up was my third years and I had a very good lesson planned for them full of variety, challenge, fun and hopefully at the end we would have enjoyed ourselves and learned something new. That was the script but sometimes that's just not how things roll. As the students walked in I could sense a kind of negative energy off some of them, something was not quite right but I was excited about the lesson. I thought that once we got going the energy and momentum of the lesson would help them engage, they would start enjoying themselves and we would all have fun. We never got to energy and momentum!

All was not the same with the third years since we had returned from mid term. We had made great progress in terms of learning, social skills and behaviour in our first term and things has been going well. All students had completed their 'fun time happy quiz' and the results were very good. We had also been co operating better, helping each other, insults were non existent and generally the atmosphere had been very pleasant. the holidays had broken our routine and three or four of the boys had gone back into old bad habits. Interruptions were common during the first week back, students were speaking out of turn, wandering around and not really engaging in any of the lessons. I had thought about this and I was fairly sure that we could shortly get them back on track. One young man though had decided this was not going to happen. This lad does not have a great background and really has not been dealt the best hand. He is generally nice, is clever enough, works very well when he wants and had been making good progress. This was not a good week for him though, on Thursday he decided half way through the class he decided he was not going to listen to any reasonable requests and despite the best efforts of both the Head of Support for Learning and myself we had to ask him to leave. At the bell I wanted to talk to him to see what was going on but he wanted to walk away and off he went. Friday went no better and within twenty minutes he had caused so much disruption I had no option but to call for Senior Management and ask them to take him to 'Time Out' as he point blank refused to either go outside and relax or go to another maths classroom. Time Out is a facility in the school where students who misbehave badly or cause serious disruption can be supervised for a period of seven classes (the equivalent of one school day). Its voluntarily supervised by teachers (myself included) and works as an excellent deterrent for the vast majority of students. I thought about his behaviour and how we could help improve it, rethought about it and planned strategies over the weekend, Monday was a new day..

Monday was the date of the full moon in October and low and behold on Sunday night there it was staring down in all its majestic beauty. Beautiful as it looks, the sight of a full moon always brings a tiny sense of apprehension. Having worked for over a decade in the service industry I would testify before a court of law that the full moon generally brings the craziness out in certain people. I have had to kindly ask a significantly larger number of people to vacate pubs on nights with full moons than the rest of nights I worked combined. Students are people as well and after only three years working in education I am starting to see evidence that the full moon theory also applies in schools. The class started well with two boys arguing over money. One claimed the other owned him the princely sum of £2 and he needed to settle accounts now. I was later to find out this was the result of a deal on one of the boy's Aunties flu tablets. The powers that be are looking into the whole thing and to date flu tablets with a street value of £3.50 have been seized. This was the queue for the young lad I mentioned from last week (we shall call him Johnny) to start talking and not to stop for the next twenty minutes. I am standing at the front of the class trying to engage the class in starter questions and I have two boys in financial meltdown, Johnny giving a running commentary and since that's not enough I can see two more boys ready to give their five cents. I remind them all that we can't all be talking at once and that we are doing starter questions. Another boy (lets call him Martin) decided that his civil rights were being infringed by being asked to do any work and that this was the time to vocalise this. Martin decided that he wanted to play games and he would like to play them now. I remind them again that we have agreed class rules and that we are being very unfair to our friends. Another boy is bubbling over with excitement in the corner. I asked him on the way in how he was and you could see in his eyes he was a little excited but he assured me all was good. He is the nicest young lad but has the attention span of a Dory from 'Finding Nemo'. I can feel control slipping here, five boys now talking and not listening to anything I am saying. James is getting excited because all the rest are acting up so I offer him the opportunity to go get a drink of water and calm down. He takes this and now I am down to four though eight more students are sitting in my class totally neglected, waiting to learn or do something and basically without a teacher as I try to stay in control.

What do I do, they are a couple of rules I have to adhere too otherwise all is lost. Rule number 1, I cannot shout, nobody responds to shouting, I really dislike anyone shouting at me and it would do little good in this situation. All it would do is indicate that I am surrendering control. Rule 2, I have to follow our agreed classroom rules. Rule 3, no bargaining (if you all behave we will have cake or games etc) or bribery  this also indicates you are losing ground and all my experience indicates this will only be exploited. Rule 4 and by far the most important be firm but 100% fair. As soon as James leaves the room Martin demands to be allowed out for a drink of water. It's not fair etc etc, I generally don't allow students out as most don't need either the bathroom but just want to go for a walk and see whats going on and right now Martin is going nowhere. Some students in my last school actually started to synchronise their walks so they could have a chat with their friends in the middle of class. We are now fifteen minutes in and have basically done no work. Names start going on to the board as the boys are warned and reminded of our agreed standard of conduct. Almost in unison they all start again, Martin thinks this is unfair and starts to tell me why, Johnny has started walking around the room opening and closing windows and pulling at other students, the two 'dealers' are arguing over money and James gets back in anything but a calm state. The lone girl in our class tells the boys to 'shut up', words which are banned in our classroom and Martin demands justice and her name on the board. Inside I can see I am losing this and I just want roar and order them all to sit down and shut up but that is the very last thing I can or should do. I address each of them in turn quickly but in a slow calm but forceful voice and ask all to sit down and be quiet. Finally order is restored and all boys receive a second warning and are moved seats which in this case constitutes a major reshuffle of everyone in the classroom so none of those causing grief are in touching or talking distance. Twenty five minutes in and I have to make a decision. For the greater good two of these boys have to go or this entire lesson will be a complete and total disaster. In the interests of fairness I cannot target anyone though if Martin and Johnny were gone we could salvage something. As it turns out by now Johnny starts properly acting up and has to go. Here I make a bad mistake. For some unknown reason he decides today he does not mind being put in another maths classroom instead of going to time out. What happens next is he disrupts the entire department for the next twenty minutes going up and down the corridor and in and out of his assigned class. The excitement is too much for James and he has to go to time out. With fifteen minutes left we finally have proper order in the classroom though I am feeling like crap inside. We process all that has gone on. Ten students have sat quietly whilst all this has gone on and inside I feel like I have failed them. The two money men feel lousy too but it's too late for redemption for them today. The lesson is dead so we practice our numeracy by playing some games they like. Johnny comes back and demands his bag and runs as soon as the bell goes.

After this lesson as I stand there wanting to crawl under a rock in walk one of my first year classes all happy and cheerful. Their lesson is ruined as well. Why you ask? What did they do? Nothing is the answer but I can no longer deliver the lesson I planned for them as I feel lousy and have no energy. The lesson I planned required me to be full of energy and happy but I can pretend that all is good and smile but I cannot not pretend that much. We have a good lesson but it's nothing special. Lunchtime comes and I retire outside for some fresh air and run the third year lesson over in my head trying to see if I could have done anything to make it less of a disaster. I don't think I could have done anything to change the way it went and I think I did the best I could. Some days things just don't go your way and its extremely rare that so many students all misbehave in such a way at the same time. All you can do is your best and as I have said before with this class it's a marathon not a sprint, we will get there...

I do not write this looking for sympathy and don't worry I am fine, all teachers have classes like this that turn a great day sour but this is what we do. It also helps me to reflect on the great, the good the the not so good of the job I really love. I deal with young individuals who are human too, they like me have good days and bad and all I and all teachers can do is support them, educate and look after them as best we can. We are all in it together :-)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Work hard, be happy and be awesome...

All is relatively good in the land of jotters, whiteboards and silly cabbages. I am almost accustomed to getting up at stupid o'clock in the morning (officially anytime before 9am), I have managed to memorise all of the students names, all my classes are learning and most importantly we are having fun. All of my classes are making progress and taking on the responsibility of learning on their own shoulders all be it to different degrees.

The first years are progressing at a rate of knots that would make any sea captain happy. I teach two first year classes of 20 and 22 students, roughly balanced between boys and girls and both classes are working at the same level in their broad general education. Both classes have really blossomed and jelled together though the characters and personalities of the different students make each class unique. One of the great things about having two similar classes at the same level is that you can plan the same lesson for both, teach it to the first class and immediately reflect and adjust the content to make it even better for the next class. The classes alternate each day so both classes benefit from their teacher improving his craft and toning his lessons. We have practiced algebra every day in our starter questions since we came together and we are making definite progress. As one student said 'peace, love and algebra is the way forward!' and you have got to love that! Probably the greatest achievement so far in these classes is how they are well they are working together, how they help each other and how good they are at self and peer assessment. They understand that they will benefit the most if they take responsibility for their own learning and also help each other out. Class starts with three or four questions on the board, the first two students bring their jotters (copybooks) up to me and if they are of a quality and standard equal to the agreed class 'gold' standard they become the holders of the 'stamp'. Their job is to then go and check other students work and see if they are to up to standard. If they are they get the 'gold' stamp and praise from one of their peers, if not the student will help them out and point out the great, good and what needs a little bit of work. It is a high honour to be one of the stamp holders and they love it. As I have said before students will climb mountains to get a sticker or a stamp but to be the one wielding the stamp is next level stuff! The other day we had a young lad going around doing the stamping and next thing he starts roaring at this girl; 'The environment! Think of the environment!!, this is great work but the environment!!'. She had not folded her page and thus had wasted loads of space which is not good for the environment and this was against the agreed standard. It was funny because he could see she was a little unhappy so was trying to balance his praise with his environmental message. Both classes also asked if we could select two jotters at random each day and place them under the visualiser to project onto the board so the class can give them due recognition and also a help improve each others work. To make their independent learning 'official' they have each received a licence to innovate permit (as seen in the picture). It is a simple idea I got from another teacher but contains a powerful message. It gives each student the power to make mistakes and suggest or do anything that will help them learn be it to draw something, come up to the board or even act something out! Our new motto is 'Work hard, be happy and be awesome! Always be awesome!'

 The S2's are happy in there work and they too are starting to love algebra. They are working very well in pairs and have grown to really like tango music, Manu Chao and the Boss whilst doing their starter questions. The S3's whom have been a challenge at the start have also progressed well. Their behaviour and work ethic which we chart every day has got better though we still have work to do. In the first two weeks of September I had to ask students to leave on ten occasions for behaviour that was unacceptable and broke our learning contracts. In the last two weeks I have only had to remove four students though three of these were the same gentleman. The vast majority of this class have started working and are responding very well to the strategies that I have in place but this gentleman is just not getting there just yet. He is very immature and is certain that I am being constantly unfair to him and favouring the world and its mother over him. He finds it hard to talk to adults, is not great at expressing himself and often uses unsuitable language towards adults. He is also in my opinion lazy. He also has an amazing ability to be able to judge the difficulty of work at a seconds glance and more than often decides that the work set is too hard. He has good days and bad but finds it very difficult to work on his own. He is making progress though and all one can do is persevere. We got some sad news today though, the little lady who came from another school and who was with us on a hosting has left to go back to her original school. The sad thing is after two woeful weeks she had achieved a merit in every single class in the last two weeks. She worked really well, helped her friends and her behaviour even when things were not to her liking was excellent. She had grown to like her maths class and those in it but sadly the same cannot be said for some of her other classes. She was also a great influence and friend to all those in the class and we will miss her.

My fourth year credit class are slowly coming round to the idea that asking questions along with completing their homework could actually be in their benefit in trying to pass their exam next year. Our work in class is improving, they are loving their education in music as much as maths and have really taken to working in pairs with different partners every day. We even had great fun exploring quadratic equations whilst speed dating. We also learned that Batman is almost everyones favourite superhero and Danger Mouse never existed to this generation. They have also started attending homework club every week both during lunch and after school. 70% of the class have turned up twice in the last two weeks so we must be doing something right.

The fifth and sixth year 'advanced higher' Finance class are also coming along especially in terms of behaviour and language used in class. We no longer tell each other to 'shut up' (banned in all classes, on the first day each class roared shut up as loud as possible to cleanse our need for it and it has not been said in any class bar this one since) and if they do say something that might hurt the feelings of others even in jest they apologise though we decided on a margin of 10 votes to 2 that 'soz' was not good enough for an apology. One lad started taking the apology thing too far asking for an apology every two seconds for a week but I think some of the class had a word because all of a sudden it stopped. Another girl turned into a supergrass though and was constantly demanding warnings for people until the smallest girl in the class stood up one day and pointed out that she was hurting peoples feelings, ruining the class and was likely to lose friends if she continued interrupting. I really enjoy teaching and learning with this class. They understand the benefits that are to be gained from learning about basic finance and also how what we say and do can affect others in both positive and negative ways. They too are taking responsibility for their learning and whilst not yet in the same league as the firsts years are not a million miles away either. Its been a very good couple of weeks and I look forward to what the next three weeks bring, its never a dull moment so as always onwards and upwards...

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

When she is good she is very, very good …

 It’s a different world I woke up to on 15th August this year. A brand new school that’s only three or four years old, new students to teach and learn from, new colleagues to work with and new friends to make. It’s a great place to work but it’s a world away from my last school even though it’s only about two miles away, as the crow flies. There are many differences, some good and some not so good, but all create a slightly different dynamic in which to work. For a start we have loads more space and there is even a spare classroom in the maths department! The school was built to facilitate 1250 students and currently the roll is about 1000. Space allows for both learning and freedom and we are very lucky to have it. I once did a placement in a new school built in partnership between public and private organisations and, besides having very little freedom to do the simplest things (like stick a student’s work to the wall), the school was already too small the day it opened! The fire alarm has been tested twice already in the first three weeks so we never need to have an official fire drill! The janitors in this school understand that it is a building where children work and play and they are friendly! They are also incredibly helpful and smile. There are bells after every lesson so its not as easy to send your S1’s off ten minutes early but it is easier to get used to the seven period day. Most of these are cosmetic differences and besides the extra space don’t really add up to a huge difference if I am to be honest.

The real difference that I have found between my current school and those I have had the pleasure of teaching in earlier is the students. The students here, in the vast majority, are just like those in all the schools I have had the pleasure of teaching in, wonderful people, but they are already behind in terms of learning the moment they enter secondary education compared to their peers down the road. I have two wonderful S1 (first year) classes who are all happy, eager and ready to learn. They compare well to their comrades in both the north of Scotland and the west of Edinburgh in terms of social skills and intelligence levels but their algebra and numeracy skills are below those of same set classes I have taught before. I would like to point out that I am in no way placing any blame at the feet of their primary school teachers - I am merely stating an observation. Primary school teachers have an incredibly difficult job and I do not envy their task in the slightest.  The difference I believe comes from the behaviour of some students, which affects the quality of learning of others. If teachers have to spend more time maintaining order then it stands to reason that they have less time to teach. This is a problem of and for society but before I get into that I would like to introduce you to my classes.

 As I have mentioned I have two wonderful first year classes with bundles of energy and all are very good-natured. We are progressing well, though sadly this week we had to have a ‘fun time happy quiz’ (tests are dead to these children and almost a dirty word now!) to set the students. These classes will change slightly now and I will teach both second set classes. We are on the brink of a year of adventure and I am very much looking forward to it. I have ‘shares’ in three S2 classes and I understand why the timetable is written and the classes are shared but don’t really like the situation. It’s hard to bond with these students because I only see them once or twice a week. It’s a very stunted existence but we will make the best of it.

My third year class comprises of thirteen students and is not a top set class. They take up by far the majority of my planning time and they are also my biggest challenge. They are good kids but they lack every basic social skill, any motivation and have negative work ethic. They somehow are further behind than when they entered the school and have the belief that if they can do something its too easy and you are patronising them but if it’s the tiniest bit too hard they give up completely because its ‘solid’ (way to hard) and they can’t be bothered. I like this class but it is a challenge like none I have faced before on many different levels. These students have not had many advantages in life. Another lady who only joined this school last year is finding it very difficult to deal with the structure of the classroom, she does not like to listen, does not have the patience to wait to be heard and rages against the machine if reprimanded. When she is good, she is very, very good and when she is bad, she is horrid. She is never bad in an attention seeking way or in my opinion never seeks to deliberately disrupt the class I just think the poor lady is not used to a classroom environment and constantly feels like the world is out to get her. I have spoken to her guidance teacher but like her friend I only ask for information relevant to her learning. I feel its very important that I do not let my judgement become coloured in any way and give her the best chance I can to help herself. Its not always the good times though and four times I have had to place her in a different classroom so as to keep order. I have had to ask more of these students to leave this class so the rest could get some work done than I have ever had to eject in all my other classes combined. Every day with this class is a challenge and every last detail must be planned. We have done a week of team building to establish some rapport amongst the members of this class and to try and work on manners and respect. Most, with the exception of the last lady mentioned, have responded relatively well. We have set up a reward system to try and take the focus off sanctions and place the emphasis on effort, respect and work. The students of this class have had all sanctions, taken all punishments and it has not done much to improve their lot yet. This is going to be a long race with very slow progress but I think we are slowly going in the right direction. I have the patience of a saint but keep a daily eye on amazon in case I can get more, it might be needed. 

My fourth years are a second top set and are good fun though nowhere near as colourful.  We are enjoying our maths class, having lots of fun and will hopefully do well when assessment time comes round.  The last class I teach is my advanced higher finance class (self chosen title). They are a great bunch of young adults and to be fair are settling in well and enjoying finance which is all I can ask for.

 Classes also suffer because they get less time in S1 for maths than in other schools, in this school they only come to Maths four times a week and that equates to almost forty hours less in a year. This cannot be a good thing but a decision was made for the benefit of the broad general education so we work with what we have. Life’s not fair so there is very little point complaining. Behaviour can be a problem and does get in the way of learning but what do we do about it? We have great structure and support in my school and as such discipline is pretty good and for the vast majority of the time I can get on and teach. But somewhere along the line we, as a society, are failing these children. I was helping another member of the maths department out today with a low second year set. We were teaching very basic division and some were doing very well whilst others struggled. This just does not make sense to me, how can we be doing these students any good if, after almost a decade in education, they are still struggling with division? I am pretty sure if we asked their primary teachers they would swear by the closest members of their families that this has been done over and over again. Now I cannot fix society, all the people in my school cannot fix society and none of us can fix broken homes or family units but neither can we say society is screwed and this leads to bad behaviour which in turn leads to a poor education and that’s just the way the world works! I think for the foreseeable future I will focus on how I can help these students progress (if I can) and charter the growth of these S2’s and my wonderful S3’s. Onwards….