Summer School Work

I’m often asked what school work a child should do over the summer holiday, as parents can be concerned that the momentum of learning can be lost over the 5 or 6 week break. My answer generally depends on one key factor. Exams – but not in the way you may think. If a student is in a non-exam school year and is simply keen to achieve and get prepared for the next year, my answer is ‘students really need to take a break from school work’. If however, a student is about to enter an exam year, or time of increased workload/effort, my answer changes to ‘students absolutely must take a break from school work’.  Continue reading “Summer School Work”

Bring on the wonky!

Our local supermarket has started selling a range of ‘wonky’ foods. Apparently, a carrot has to have a certain degree of straightness, smoothness and texture to be acceptable, just as a banana supposedly needs a certain curve. This week I bought a tub of ‘wonky’ raspberries. Raspberries? They looked the same in colour, size and texture as the ‘regular’ ones alongside to me, but hey – I’ll take the cheaper tub any day.

So does value come with conformity? Continue reading “Bring on the wonky!”

Teacher Workload Worries

Today in my inbox, I see yet another article relating to teacher workload. That’s in addition to two similar emails last week and many in the last month or so. I can’t believe how much the teaching community goes on about it. It’s like the British talking about the weather – the default conversation.

Whilst I initially understood the position of those I heard complaining about their workload in secondary schools, increasingly I began to ask the genuine question ‘so what do you fill your time with?’. People’s responses include a number of things like meetings and marking, but the big one seems to be ‘preparing for lessons’.

This is where I become unpopular – sorry but I just don’t get it.

I came from industry into teaching a few years back. Previously I founded and ran a small business for 10 years, requiring prioritisation of tasks and making systems/processes efficient whilst delivering content to adults (rather than children). I did this without the need for therapy or pills because I was efficient – a skill that I brought into teaching and which enables me to feel totally balanced as a teacher today.

Yet those who complain seem to have one common trait – inefficiency.

I tell them about my digital library of class resources and homeworks and they look at me like I’m from Mars. I tell them about my use of peer marking of homework (which has many benefits by the way) or that I share resources with colleagues through network and cloud drives and they think I’m from a sci-fi movie. Therein lies the problem – a national if not global epidemic of duplication both personally and departmentally.

But the great news is that it isn’t hard to fix – school leaders need to teach efficiency to their staff. That’s it.  Yes we must tweak lessons to tailor to the needs of students and yes we adapt what has gone before in response to previous knowledge and curriculum changes, but apart from that, we should reuse and recycle the best of lessons we’ve delivered successfully already.

So my suggestion is that in the first years of teaching, ask your colleagues what resources exist already rather than creating from scratch. Then week by week, store materials electronically and methodically in an accessible system, then as tasks, worksheets, slides or homeworks are refined year on year, share them with peers and especially those coming into the profession below. This will not only relieve hours of preparation contributing to ‘teacher workload’ issues, but will likely increase the consistency and quality of teaching in school as well!  Businesses have learned this lesson because if they didn’t, they’d cease to be in business! Teachers (many who sadly haven’t worked in industry) need to go through the same realisation – inefficient means unsustainable.

So my workload worries are not related to my workload, they are worries that other teachers are making a rod for their own back through inefficiency which will cause many to leave the profession, and ultimately deter new people from joining it.


The White Stuff

I hear and read so much in education about supporting, assisting, nurturing and caring for students, and rightly so most of the time. Some students find themselves in difficult and sometimes cruel situations, largely outside of their control, and we care for those as best as we can. Yet I wonder if in some cases, we support, assist, and molly-coddle so much that resilience (backbone) is missing.

Today is a Saturday, but schools and businesses have been closed since Thursday due to unbelievable snow storms and blizzards. The country is covered in snow and after two days of lethal road conditions, the roads are just about passable if you can get off the housing estates. Therein lies the signs of ‘the white stuff’.

I live at the end of a cul-de-sac largely filled with hard working families who live no lavish life, but who are dedicated to their jobs.

I’ve just finished about 2 hours of snow-shovelling in the road outside my driveway, but I didn’t do that alone. Almost every house in my road had 2 or more people shovelling, and together we cleared that road. There were teenagers, parents and the elderly all mucking in to get the job done, and there was a great sense of community.

Yet to get to my estate you have to go through a street of houses containing a different kind of people. Not one of those families had anyone shovelling snow outside their doors. Not one of those healthy and able teenagers offered help, yet there were plenty watching whilst they smoked on their doorstep.  Some of these young adults are the same ones who demand and require lots of support and encouragement to attend school, bring a pen to class, wear the right uniform, and take an interest in their education. We beg and beg and beg them to take an interest in their future, and for some, the more we give the more excuses they find.

Exams are in many ways a flawed measure of learning, but they do one crucial thing for an employer. They expose attitude, just like adversity in the snow.  The sad thing is that not only will jobs and stability be elusive to people with a ‘do the minimum’ attitude, they miss out on the sense of contribution and achievement that my street enjoyed today.

We do students no favours long term if we indulge laziness in school. As students begin to prepare for GCSE exams once again, it’s not the school or the support mechanism that are the cause for particularly high or particularly low grades – it’s the work ethic of the students and it’s all too evident in the snow.