Archive for category school
I’ve seen a lot of teacher conversation about how much classwork they are going to try and continue running over the coming months during the school-at-home period across Australia. Most teachers in my network are secondary teachers and their approaches range from attempting a standard timetable live online with slightly shorter classes, to running new ‘skeleton’ timetables with large amounts of self-directed work to complete asynchronously.
I’d love to hear more about how primary school teachers are approaching this, and more from other parents about how many hours of school-at-home they can reasonably sustain each day.
In the second week of schools being closed, after I had a chance to feel out how a ‘school at home’ day might run, I penned this outline of a daily schedule for my five year old:
Keep in mind that this schedule is us living our best day. Trying to keep a day running at a pace rather than just watching Frozen II, again.
If my teacher asked me about this schedule and how much of it I thought I could give to ‘teaching’ at home, I would say:
- There are SIX activity slots in this day. You can’t have them all.
- If there is no school to go to, I am not running a ‘school morning’ to get anyone dressed by 8am. This will create tension and ruin my day. Your earliest activity slot is 9.30am.
- There are two hefty one-hour slots in the middle of the day, you can usually have at least ONE of them. Otherwise, only send activities of 30 mins maximum.
- After 3pm my kid is too tired and strung out to do school.
- Most days I can give you THREE or FOUR of these activity slots. Some days I can only give ONE or TWO. That’s a maximum of 2.5 hours a day, most days, to do school learning with.
As a professional teacher I am relatively comfortable with the idea of teaching at home. The curriculum doesn’t scare me – I will have to learn more to understand it but that’s OK. I only have one child under my roof to keep up with. I feel well resourced and capable of helping my five year old complete QLD-Prep (NSW-Kindy) activities at home. But that does not mean that I would ever agree to running a school-like timetable here. My home is already a place where learning happens of its own accord, where relationships are developing within an existing context. Emotions are fragile as we are existing in this pandemic-induced lockdown and everyone is going a bit stir-crazy.
I expect that many teachers who are new to the online learning environment are about to over-plan a lot of material that simply cannot be completed happily at home.
If you are a teacher who has not yet consulted with parents about how much schooling they are able or willing to lead at home, it may soon be prudent to do so.
If you are a parent who feels they are expected to do every activity set by the teachers, but who cannot do so, it may soon be time to think about how to politely say ‘no’. Think about writing up your daily schedule like I have, to help explain to your teachers the available spaces in your home-based day. Your home is not a 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.
I have been wondering what advice I should give to my pre-service teachers (PSTs) next semester before their first prac., about how many hours a week a new teacher actually works, generally speaking.
Here is my working so far:
- Each school day (Mon-Fri) you work your teaching timetable from about 8am-3pm. Or 8.30am-3.30pm. Whatever. A roughly 8 hour day, including roll call, teaching, prep periods, playground duty, and yes a recess and lunch break when we are probably meeting with students or colleagues or…ugh, so many things eat up the lunch breaks, don’t even try to suggest that teachers enjoy many lunch breaks.
- Let’s say you do leave straight after school, maybe you pick up your own kids and/or grab some groceries, make some dinner, eat and wait until the house is settled. Or maybe you crash into an epic nap to recover from the work day. You can probably start working again if you need to around 8pm.
- Experienced teachers perhaps don’t do as much work at this time of night as others (unless they are also in a leadership role or have taken up extra duties/further studies – thoughts?) but beginning teachers will generally do another 2-4 hours every night to keep on top of the workload. For new English teachers this work includes reading new texts they are planning to teach, marking assessment tasks and draft work, finding and preparing resources for upcoming lessons such as AV materials and student support strategies. Let’s say an average extra 3 hours per night. But perhaps this is conservative – I know I did more, and rarely saw bedtime before 1am.
- When teachers are new it takes them a long time to mark each piece of student work. This results in long weekend marking sessions. I’d estimate I did around an extra 4 hours each weekend day in my first couple of years of teaching. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Rarely none. Teaching has peak periods and slower patches, but truthfully there’s always something big on – half yearly or yearly exams, half yearly or yearly reports, year 11 and 12 assessment task marking sometimes double marked, year 10 and 12 formal, camp, debating finals, school musical…
That’s a 59 hour work week for new/graduate teachers.
I’d love to hear in comments below if you think I’m on or off the mark on this.
NB. The holiday clause:
Yes teachers get about 10 weeks of non-teaching time a year. Only a few weeks over summer break of this are truly ‘on holiday’.
In the three 2-week school ‘holiday’ breaks, new teachers invariably are sick for the first of the two weeks. Ask anyone, it’s true. Also true for many experienced teachers, but new teachers are still literally building up their immune system to cope with the range of nasty illnesses around a school, so are highly susceptible. The the second week is spent doing increasing amounts each day, until a final panicked frenzy of non-stop work in the weekend before school goes back.
Am I right?
So also don’t give teachers any grief about having ‘more holidays’ because although yes having respite from face-to-face teaching for a couple of weeks is essential and so so so welcome, it is rarely a relaxing or nourishing time. You may not rack up 59 hours of work in these weeks, but you probably would rather do that than be in holiday sick bay.
You really have to have some experience under your belt and work hard and be super organised to use your holiday time wisely.
I just think it would be best if PSTs prepared themselves for this. And realised that their prac placements are likely going to be just as intense. You know?
Chatting in the mid-year break with Bianca and some other PBL-peeps, this video was recommended to me. It’s only 15 minutes long, and now I’m recommending it to you too:
The video shows what can be done in a school where teachers and leaders are prepared to really let students design their own learning. Like, really let them do it.
The students in this alternative academic program design their own Independent Learning Projects (that they report on weekly to other students), as well as their own Individual Endeavours (ambitious term-long projects, e.g. learning to play the piano and putting on a recital).
Something that interested me was, about 1 minute in, one of the students explained that in the course they look at “the four main bodies of learning”:
- Social Sciences
- Natural Sciences.
Make no mistake – I was totally inspired by this video and even showed it to my students this semester. So inspired, that I changed our first assignment to be based on completion of an Independent Learning Project! But when those four areas are offered up as the “main bodies of learning”, I can already see points of tension for making this kind of program work across the board. What of the other learning areas? What of health and physical education? What of the arts? Foreign languages?
Without engaging with conversations about what is ‘essential’, ‘core’, or ‘fundamental’ in education – and working out some kind of common goal or philosophy to anchor us – I suspect alternative programs like the one featured here will (continue to) struggle to gain traction.
Although these programs aren’t (yet) the silver bullet we need to shed our teacher-centred shackles, I believe bringing these approaches into our teaching is vital.
Personal take-away thoughts:
- Students have passions and interests that they are entitled to pursue.
- Students are capable of designing their own learning, if we give them some parameters.
- Students are more motivated to learn when they have some control in devising the questions for investigation.
- Independent learning approaches seem an immediate good fit for students like this (this is is a class of nine Honours students, who self-selected into the program), but would disengaged or recalcitrant students need more scaffolding?
- Doing my own Independent Learning Project in high school was a transformative experience for me. It was called a ‘mini thesis’ by my teacher, and I chose to study the French Revolution. I did this for just one term in just one subject – surely this is achievable across the board without rethinking our whole approach to schooling?