Archive for category university
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 created these slides to use next year in my English curriculum teaching. The idea I am using them to underpin is that an English teacher is expected to have ‘superpowers’ across a range of canonical/literary types of text (the traditional categories of study: poetry, prose, drama) as well as newer textual fields that have come up since that initial period (film, tv and other screen texts, media and new media).
At the same time as finishing these slides, I am audio-reading Wundersmith: The calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. It is Book 2 in the Nevermoor series. I love it and would love my pre-service teachers to think about what their ‘knack’ is, in terms of studying or creating texts, so they can focus on developing it during their degree.
Whether you want to think about textual expertise as a superpower or a knack…
English teachers – how many knacks do you consider you have?
Everyone – how many text areas from the graphics above would you say is desirable for an English teacher’s expertise to cover?
For me, demands to attend to the concept of ‘praxis’ in my work come from two main directions – my English educator community, and my Arts education colleagues.
This post captures my current ways of understanding praxis in relation to my work.
- Doing praxis means you are basically in a constant state of action research: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process)#Education
- Praxis describes practice that is informed by theory, not generally, but purposefully (and perhaps systematically?)
- Praxis is underpinned by the belief that theory is understood through its realisation in practice, that proof of and improvements to theory are found in application
- So basically, all your practice gets explicitly framed by theory (and it’s therefore interesting to notice the texts and contexts that this ‘explicit’ framing happens through…is this also self-governance? is action research actually a self-review and reporting cycle to check for theoretical ‘compliance’, to conduct strategic planning in line with ‘vision and mission’??)
- …and you can reflect on your theoretical position by observing and analysing it’s application in your teaching (requiring a personal plan or framework for collecting valid evidence)
- It’s part of the answer to “so can I just tip a can of paint on a canvas and call it art?” – no. Artistry responds to other art, to discourses. Teaching becomes ‘art’ when there are processes for reflection
- In Vis Arts the VAPD is offered as a technology that enables praxis – study art, respond and experiment, create new art, repeat. This process became internalised, the VAPD supported cultivation of a praxis mindset/discipline. What does English offer? What does ITE offer English PSTs?
- How do the ruling texts of an institution shape praxis? Good question. Thinking about this.
Questions that linger:
- How does praxis differ from “reflective practice”? (is it because the later divorces the elements ‘reflection’ and ‘action’, when they should always both be
- This reminds me of the Action in/on Reflection scholarship from my undergrad/accreditation contexts. How is this different to ‘praxis’? Is Reflection in/on practice just the language teachers need to comprehend and embark on praxis?
- How do practitioner inquiry and action research methods facilitate ‘praxis’?
- Does changing the discourse from ‘praxis’ to ‘reflection’ constrain teacher agency? i.e. maybe reflection can be limited to self-reflection e.g. to better meet KPIs, doesn’t necessarily involve system-reflection or critical reflection…or this is an artificial distinction (?)
- Do I vibe with project based learning because it scaffolds praxis instead of practice?
- How are the praxis intensives at Bianca’s school more praxis-y than PBL (I think she and I agreed they are not more or less praxis-y, just needed a different name)? Is it problematic to label the week-long intensive projects ‘praxis’ if the received meaning is that other pedagogies (e.g. PBL) do not require praxis?
- When you practice you are a practitioner, when you praxis (do praxis?) you are a …? Praxitioner? (note to self: praxitioner as #medium)
In semester 1 this year (just finished!) I undertook making a few vlogs about my teaching experience as a lecturer at uni.
The results are here:
- Week 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0S6VL2uCq8&t=1s
- Week 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xB0pCY7_lg&t=41s
- Week 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtTMBjFMi4c&t=1s
- Weeks 4-6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RzrDlj2O-g&t=2s
I’ll be using these vlog ‘reports’ as the source material for an end-of-semester reflection vlog. You are welcome to watch them in the meantime and add questions or ideas as comments to push my thinking.
One of the best parts of making these vlogs are the connections I am making with the Australian edu-tube community as I go. We have a decent sized Facebook group, a few of us are active on Twitter, and people are really good about watching and commenting on each others videos.
Some people are ‘teacher-tubers’, teachers who are currently working in schools and making YouTube videos about it (or for it). Others like me are educators from other contexts, from higher education, or community groups, the GLAM sector, public artists and art-based educators. We’re still feeling out the boundaries of this group, as a collective. It’s an energising space. A few of us are meeting up this year again at VidCon Australia.
One of my subscribers asked if I could make a video about how to do a 4-R style reflection, which I mentioned in one of the vlogs. This is definitely something I want to get to before semester 2 starts.
In the meantime, if you want to watch me trying to capture some teaching practice, be my guest:
- Eat a high protein dinner.
- Carbs for phase 1 – 10pm-midnight. Shapes are ideal. Doritos and salsa delicious, but hard to eat and type.
- Coffee is a morning drink. Try to hold out until 1am. But also don’t leave it too late.
- Keep the big lights on.
- Sugar for phase 2 – the between-coffees session.
- Coffee again if you are serious about this. At least a tea. Maybe at 4.30am. Or go get a few hours sleep, it’s not too laaaaaaaaate!
- (Big lights down and low lamps on 1 hour before you do want to catch a couple of zzzs.)
- Carbs and sugar crash means need water! Or fruit, or cereal with milk. Don’t worry about food keeping you up at this point.
- Coffee all day tomorrow, also a chocolate brownie around morning tea is ideal.
This semester I am attempting to demonstrate project based learning (PBL) in action by giving both of my classes an extra-curricular project to work on.
(More about whether these projects are in-or-extra to ‘the curriculum’ in an upcoming post…)
Pre-service teachers in my 3rd year English curriculum studies class are themselves focusing on how to use a PBL approach to design learning for junior secondary English. Their final assignment involves working in groups of 3-4 to create a PBL unit of work and assessment task/criteria sheets.
So, while we are learning about PBL, we are also doing PBL. And here is the project flyer:
We’re in Week 6 of a 9-week semester, and I already know that exploring ‘ways of speaking poetry’ is going to get squeezed out. That’s OK. My original goal of using the explore phase to offer a ‘smorgasbord’ of experiences has been usurped by getting to know the students and their needs – and they need to spend time going deeper into ways of reading and writing poetry. That’s cool – one of the things I am proud to model for my PSTs is they way plans have to change once real humans are involved. This need to teach in a responsive, agile way is understandably one of the things that new teachers find confronting, but ultimately it’s what effective teaching requires.
I’m at that critical stage of the project where I’m looking at the number of lessons left vs work that needs to get done to complete the project – eek!
My original plan was to get enough poetry artefacts to fill an entire display cabinet, but thankfully the cabinet has SHELVES, so our new goal is to fill 1-2 shelves only. Not a bad result it turns out, as it gives me space to run this project again next year and fill the cabinet progressively instead of all at once.
The whole project is supposed to take 6 weeks. By the second week I wished I had twice as much time! But that’s how teaching rolls, eh – PBL or no.
Will post pics of the finished cabinet display at the end of semester 🙂
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.
Something I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while is the unseen labour that goes into marking student work.
It’s semester 2 marking time in Australian universities, and I’ve just finished a stack of mine. ‘Stack’ in the figurative sense, because these were a combination of learning logs and and video blogging, all submitted and marked digitally, so there were no actual stacks of anything.
Being the audience and assessor for these students’ work was a privilege, and I don’t think any teacher should forget that having the authority to do this work is always a privilege. Sometimes it is also a joy. And it is always something that we do, knowing the important positive impact that quality feedback has on student learning.
It is a labour of love, but it is a labour to be sure.
Generally a student assignment takes 30 minutes to mark. So they say. Once I get my hand in, I can usually get through an exam response in 20 minutes (they don’t tend to require any feedback), and an essay in 30 minutes, but a set of professional plans (e.g. annotated lesson plans, units of work) takes about 45 minutes and you just can’t rush it.
A typical formula for university marking in my field is that formal assessment feedback and grading for each student should get an hour of your time each semester. That’s 30 minutes for each assignment if you only set two assignments. If you want to set more assignments, it’s on you to mark them quicker. If you’re in the edu-biz, you’ll know that this is where group presentations and short response exam papers start looking attractive.
In a typical semester I have 120 students. That’s maybe 90 students in one big unit, and 30 students in a smaller unit. As a high school teacher this was also roughly the number of students I had – roughly five classes of 25 (some with 30 students, some with closer to 20, e.g. senior classes).
Using me as an example: I set two assignments each semester. And we know that on average I plan to spend 30 minutes on each.
My semester runs for 9 weeks (because it’s followed by prac.), but they can also run for 13 weeks. You can’t really set an assignment in weeks 1 or 2. If the assignment is big, worth 40% or more, you can’t really set it in weeks 3 or 4 either.
Let’s say assignment 1 is submitted in week 5. We’re expected to get work back to students in 2-3 weeks. So they say. Which puts me giving their results back to them in week 8 (a very important deadline if the next assignment is due in week 9).
30 mins each
60 hours extra work
/over 3 weeks
20 hours of extra work each week.
Add about 3 hours for each of the following:
- getting your head around the task and long times spent on first few tasks marked
- moderation with a colleague
- administration of grades, uploading feedback to LMS etc.
Rinse and repeat just one week later if you have set assignment 2 to be due in week 9.
So if you’ve got about 120 students on average, and managed to keep yourself limited to your 30 minutes per assignment in all units in both semesters, then you will have worked about 23 hours of overtime for 12 weeks out of the year.
I say overtime, because the whole time you’ve been doing this, life, and other work, goes on…
Classes still need teaching. Emails still need answering. You still have to front up to important meetings. Research papers still need writing, grant proposals still need submitting, you may be collecting research data and attending conferences too. If you’re a school teacher, it’s classes, emails, meetings, lesson prep, school dance supervision, year 8 camp, sport coaching, bus duty…the list goes on.
As depressing as this exercise is, I think we should all do the math on this for our own teaching context.
People need to know the reality of what teachers mean when someone asks them how they’re going and the only response they can muster is a stoney-eyed “I’ve been marking”.
Spouses and family members need to be acknowledged for how they support the teachers in their lives during marking seasons.
Teachers need to grasp the reality of their workloads so they aren’t taken by surprise each time the overtime cycle hits, and help each other learn how to manage the physical, mental and emotional toll it takes (or collectively rise up and change this system maybe, hey?).
And beginning teachers need to be aware of what they’re in for.
I am so grateful to my boss for giving me lighter teaching load this semester (just 35 students!) so I can focus on my research publications, but next semester I’ll have 120 students again. I can’t wait to meet them, but I sure do wish their assignments would mark themselves!