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….