Archive for category school
It’s a heck of a time to be an online teacher/writer and try to stay ‘on leave’. With the global disruption caused over the past week due to the pandemic spread of the COVID-19 virus, social media networks and backchannels have drawn me in to the common story. Teachers and parents are reaching out to talk – to vent – about the decision to keep Australian schools open (so far) and the workload involved in shifting learning online. Parents are totally overwhelmed at the thought of having to simultaneously home-school their children and either work from home, or deal with issues like sudden unemployment. Teachers are tackling twice the workload, producing classroom as well as online materials, and crumbling in tears on their kitchen floors at the impossibility of the task – they were already working at capacity or burning out.
This post is to share some thoughts on…
Wow, teachers, you are in for an experience. That drawn, haggard look you have noticed hanging around your university teaching friends the past two or so years? That is in part because we have been increasingly moving our work online in ‘blended’ modes – teaching courses both on campus and via online delivery. It. Takes. Ages. To. Get. Online. Teaching. Right. It is hard and it takes ages. The tech fails, the learning curve is steep, you can’t produce everything you planned so are filling unexpected holes everywhere, all the time. It can take 10 hours to make one teaching video when you are still learning the ropes, is anyone factoring that in? In the university sector the mantra from the centre has more of less been: this is the way we work now. Deal with it, or find a new job. In higher ed, if we burn out, we’re just replaced. But there are SO MANY MORE teachers than academics! That workforce is irreplaceable. Education leaders can’t afford to have their heads in the sand on this one – teaching materials don’t just “go up online” like someone waved a magic wand. The labour involved is huge. Teachers, I would estimate you will need to take all your current plans for what can be delivered online, and start by halving it. Half the content, half the assessments, half the feedback, at least. Start getting real about this earlier rather than later.
Parents keeping their kids at home:
What a bloody disgrace to see some schools being heavy handed with parents and pressuring them to send their kids to school! Even this morning the QLD Education stance was that voluntary isolation is an “unacceptable” reason for an absence. Shame! And a shame to see so many QLD school leaders so completely under the thumb of their employer, so totally intimidated by the “don’t criticise your employer” mantra, that they won’t advocate in public for a softer approach on absenteeism. The NSW Department of Education had updated their absentee categories on Sentral by Friday afternoon to include an “acceptable” absence category for voluntary isolation, if QLD schools are to remain open they should also urgently follow suit.
Self care – it won’t be business as usual:
With the advantage of a month of LSL under my belt before any of this started, I can tell you I was already feeling unsettled by having to stop work. Although I had planned for the leave and taken it intentionally for the very purpose of slowing down, the actual slowing down wasn’t easy. We currently exist in a mesh of systems that are slowing down (working from home, businesses closing, grocery shelves emptying) and speeding up (keeping up with demand from clients/customers, panic buying) and it is going to feel as confusing as hell. I don’t know what Self Care in the Time of Iso looks like, but we’re going to have to work it out soon.
Yes, teaching is a social service:
A final thought about a common message I have seen this week – a lament that teachers are seen as “a social service, not an educational one” and that they are being used as “glorified babysitters”.
I do agree with the frustrated sentiment behind some of these laments and I think Steve Kolber summed feelings up well here in an article on 20th March: https://educationhq.com/news/another-stinging-insult-teachers-are-being-used-as-martyrs-in-covid-19-agenda-75456/. And yet… the phrase ‘in loco parentis’ plays on my mind. I’m not saying that teachers should feel obliged to work against their will or to put themselves at risk (they should not). I do think that school systems need to at least partially close soon, to allow a swathe of teachers to choose to work from home. But I do wonder why so many are surprised at the expectation that teachers act as frontline workers in a time of crisis, especially in public schools. In loco parentis – in place of a parent. It has always been my understanding that teaching is as much a ‘social’ service as an ‘educational’ one. I might have done more before now to make sure my pre-service teachers understood that too. I wish the government messages included acknowledgment of all this work and care without fear of the next enterprise bargaining agreement. They are so scared of having to pay teachers more if they acknowledge the depth of service they provide.
If you can support a teacher with a kind listening ear this week, please do.
There is also a new Instagram account you can follow to hear their stories: @from_teachers.
I thought I knew the Australian Curriculum for English almost inside out, but recently discovered a whole new box I had been leaving un-ticked.
It was the ScOT box.
What does ScOT stand for, you ask?
Schools Online Thesaurus.
If you go to their homepage (http://scot.curriculum.edu.au/) you can search for a relevant term to your field and see what you get. I searched for ‘literature’ and was directed to this:
…you can see some of the rabbit holes I’ve been down from there already.
I found such useful things in the thesaurus for the work I’m doing this week.
I also found the other data sets available in the Australian education vocabularies list:
For the English teachers still playing along – see ‘language modes’ in the list? Kinda specific thing to make a vocabulary about, I thought.
I clicked though and interestingly, the entry does not reflect all six language modes in the Australian Curriculum.
‘Creating’ has been left out.
Creating has been left out, despite being there plain as day in the Achievement Standards, the Aim, and the Glossary entry for ‘mode’ in English.
And there ends the list of all the things I needed to stop and show you.
Who I do I write to, to point this out?
Enjoy the thesaurus!
English for Queensland (OUP) – Book cover and preview
After many months of sweat, sleepless nights and tears, I am excited to announce that a book I have co-authored with Lindsay Williams and Sophie Johnson will be out later this year through Oxford University Press. English for Queensland Units 1 & 2.
Book 2 next year will be for Units 3 and 4 (year 12).
(I know, I’m not supposed to say year 11 and year 12, but I’m not ready to give them up!)
It’s always a bit funny to publish work for a profit when you are so used to giving things away, as a rule. The good news is that I have so many resource and planning ‘offcuts’ from this book project that I still have plenty to share freely in the network!
No reflection other than that. Just a proud-moment post for a project that took a lot of creative energy and is edging toward ‘tangible product’ stage!
Times are changing for senior assessment here in Queensland, and senior English has been radically re-written.
To catch you up if you’re just tuning in to this, some notable changes for English in QLD are:
- Reduction of summative assessment in Year 12 from 6 tasks to 4 tasks.
- The 4 tasks in Year 12 are all worth 25% each, and one of them is an external exam.
- There are five courses in the English suite: English, EAL, Essential English (replacing ‘English Communication’), and Literature (a new course in QLD). The fifth course English and Literature Extension, as well as the ‘applied’ subject Essential English, are still in draft.
- The external exam for English and Literature courses will be a single ‘analytical essay’ responding to unseen questions on their chosen text.
- Abolition of the existing Queensland Core Skills Test (the current method for scaling and moderating in-school subject rankings).
- We’re getting a prescribed text list (this is big news)!
The status and relationship of the five English courses is seen in Figure 1 of the English syllabus:
There are a couple of things I think the Queensland design has captured that make it an improvement on the HSC design I am familiar with from NSW.
For starters, the external exam is only one essay (not 2 x 2 hour papers), and it’s only worth 25% of the final grade. My hope is that reducing the weight of the external exam will see Queensland take up fewer exam-driven practices and less anxiety for students.
The next area that is a win is the retention of our work-and-community English course – now called Essential English – as an ‘applied’ course. Unfortunately the equivalent ‘English Studies’ course in NSW has been made ATAR eligible, which based on historical trends will see an over-enrolment in that course.
But wow there are some things that I miss about HSC English.
- I miss the way each module has a clear direction for the work – it’s a close study, a conceptual study, or a comparative study etc.
- I miss being able to choose what my internal assessments will be and how much weight they’ll have.
- I miss the terminology of ‘related texts’ and the sense that something has to be studied in a certain amount of depth to count as a core/prescribed text.
- I miss Macbeth and To Kill A Mockingbird being mostly left alone for junior English.
- I miss ‘persuasive’ being uncoupled from ‘speech’.
- I miss mandatory inclusion of multimodal assessment.
Watching both states redevelop senior English at the same time has been eye-opening. Lots of comparison work to come.
This week I’ve given my pre-service teachers this ‘wicked problem’ to start a conversation about work-life balance:
Imagine it is dinner time on Tuesday and you have three things to do before school tomorrow:
- Grade papers
- Meet a family/friend obligation
You only have time to accomplish 2/3 of these things.
Which thing do you drop?
The decisions and justifications that ensued were sufficiently terrifying. Don’t worry – I also had an excellent follow up discussion about all the joy and fulfillment that teaching brings to your life…
Overwhelmingly, students chose to drop sleep (if they were the kind of person who could handle that kind of thing), or family/friend obligations. Many justified their choice by explaining that family and friends would be understanding, and they’d ‘make it up to them’ later.
Some home truths I needed to explain after we had our discussion included:
- This is a wicked problem that most teachers (and ALL beginning teachers) face down pretty much every single night. And every weekend. Basically, in every moment of spare time.
- You can only run on a few hours sleep a night for so long. Driving while overtired can be as bad as driving drunk. Your body will kick your butt come holiday time and you WILL crash. You will also cope less well with this as you age.
- Your friends and family will only put up with being neglected for so long. They will get tired of coming second best. Many will move on as a result. Where will that leave you?
- The assertion that “I will not get myself into this situation” is naive. A beautiful and important goal, but naive.
- The claim that you will get those papers knocked over in a couple of hours ignores the reality of many teachers’ work. English teachers especially mark long pieces of writing – like essays and short stories. You’re looking at around 30 mins per paper, so if you have even half a class to do, you’re looking at 7.5 hours marking work.
- When you’re not marking, you’re planning. There’s. Always. Something.
The follow up sharing has come thick and fast.
Here is an explanation of the Four Burners Theory that one student shared. She wondered if maybe women generally feel more pressure than men to keep all four burners running, and burn out as a result.
One student shared information about music that is purposefully constructed to reduce stress.
This article bemoaning ‘mindset’ culture and the way ‘good teaching’ is conflated with ‘tired teachers’ serendipitously came across my feed that same week.
And, just to prove that when a message is needed, it comes from all angles…Steven Suptic even made a video that same week about being BURNED OUT from making videos.
I’d love to hear from teaching colleagues about their strategies for solving the wicked problem above. Or their struggles in attempting the same.
Postscript, 12th May: And wow, this post from Tomaz Lasic this week with advice for new teachers is solid gold.
Each day this week I will be adding posts on this blog that share sections of my PhD thesis. They will be drawn from a section in Chapter 2 titled ‘Contested territory’.
The motivation to do this comes from speaking with a lot of English teachers this week, following the release of the new Stage 6 English syllabus in NSW. Many were eager to learn more about the background to some of the issues coming up in professional discussion.
In her ‘Unofficial Guide’, Bethan Marshall describes English as “a subject which is apparently so amorphous that it elides definition and yet it is sufficiently hard edged to provoke bitter controversy” (2000, p.2). A decade before this Peter Medway, in writing about the history and politics of English as a school subject, argued that the reason why “English is special [is because] certain characteristics generally attributable to academic subjects are notably lacking. The most obvious example is that English does not comprise a body of facts and concepts to be communicated” (Medway, 1990, p.1). This lack of a “body of facts and concepts” and the resultant “amorphous” nature of English as a school subject has indeed ensured that both the purpose and context of the subject continue to be hotly debated. This section will provide an overview of the ‘sticking points’ that have shaped contemporary debates and which endure in current debates about English, and the various (at times competing) demands that are placed on English as a subject area in contemporary NSW schools.
(McGraw, 2010, pp.27-28)
Stay tuned this week for the following elaborations on contested territory in English:
- ‘English’ and ‘Literacy’
- The influence of the canon
- Critical Literacy
- Literary theory and the postmodern turn
- Examination and Assessment
Marshall, B. (2000). English teachers – the unofficial guide: Researching the philosophies of English teachers. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
McGraw, K. (2010). Innovation and change in the 1999 NSW HSC English syllabus: Challenges and problems (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Sydney: Sydney.
Medway, P. (1990). Into the sixties: English and English society at a time of change. In I. Goodson & P. Medway (Eds.), Bringing English to order: The history and politics of a school subject (pp. 1-46). London: Falmer Press.