Sunday, May 28, 2006

Teaching is a privilege

Often teachers, including me, talk about how overworked, underpaid and misunderstood we are. To be fair, though, most of the teachers I work with also have a sense that teaching is both a vocation and a privilege. To be part of the lives of young people can be an awesome experience.

Lately, I have had a sense of this privilege. The creative arts festival, to which I refer in the earlier post "every student has a gift", really showed me what a brilliant bunch of kids I work with. I also enjoyed their encouragement for my participation in the staff item. A colleague of mine wrote an entry in his blog in which he declared: "I pity the teacher who only gets to see his/her students from the other side of the desk".

On the same day as the festival, I received a letter from the principal confirming her approval for me to work on a part-time basis next semester. I had asked for this arrangement as I am trying to carry out a research project for my Master of Education degree. Our school has a high number of part-time teachers, and it was not easy for the administration to accommodate me in this way.

On Friday afternoon, the teacher who sits next to me in the staff room offered me the use of her holiday house over the Queen's birthday holiday. I did not even ask, she just said "you've been working hard, you deserve a break!" I have had other jobs prior to teaching, but the human interaction I have found in this vocation is unparalleled.

For my students, school leaders, and colleagues, thanks be to God.

Elias.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Every student has a gift

Lately, I heard about a former student of mine getting high honours for her achievements in drama. I remember looking at a colleague who, like me, had taught her Maths, and saying: "she was a scatter brain in Maths!" Of course, I meant it in a nice way. We had both spoken about that student and thought that she was very intelligent but lacked motivation to do well in Mathematics.

Earlier in the week, our college held its annual festival of creative arts. The talent on show was amazing. Over 400 students (out of ~ 1150) took part. Many students who have difficulties in academic subjects displayed great ability in music, drama or dance. Of course, there were also the all-rounders who excelled at everything.

As I sat and listened to the awesome orchestra playing Holst's Jupiter, I remembered my schooling years. I also attended a single sex Catholic school, though in my case it was a boys' school. Music and, to a large extent, sport were seen as extra-curricular. There is no way known that we would have put on such festivals that interrupted our "learning". Ironically, I remember being asked to write an essay in my year 10 (seconde) French class based on a citation which read something like: "an education system where a child has no time to learn the piano or classical Greek is a dead system."

To be fair, my schooling took place during the time of a civil war. It was a miracle that we got taught enough Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Arabic, French and English to pursue our choice of courses at university. In my case, I was able to emigrate to Australia and study Maths and Computer Science without taking time out to learn the language. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Elias

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The new "plain English" report cards and formative assessment

The former federal minister for education, Brendan Nelson, wanted schools across the nation to give students A to E grades on their performance in all subjects. The Victorian government's adaptation of the new system has taken this to the extreme - extreme folly, that is. Students will receive A-E grades on the following "dimensions" of Mathematics:
  • Number;
  • Measurement and Chance and Data;
  • Space;
  • Working Mathematically; and
  • Structure
While the government is advertising the new "plain English" report cards, I wonder how many parents know what "structure" and "working mathematically" refer to. So, my school will be doing the right thing by the parents and adding our usual very high to low ratings on each topic.

Getting an A in the new system is reserved for those who are working "well above" their year level. The majority of students will be getting a C, which means that they are working at their year level.

The need to assess for so many different grades can easily come at the expense of formative assessment. I am very interested in comments from any teachers in other countries that have gone before us into an assessment-heavy curriculum. I want to know how you make room for formative assessment.

Take care,
Elias.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Little time with family

Last week, I was on year 7 camp. This was a great experience. I got to challenge myself and my fear of crazy rides. I was quite sick going into the camp, which is why I packed cold and flu tablets. I ended up doing the ropes course, 18 metre high giant swing etc...

Back from camp, there was little time to rest. Saturday, I had a conference to attend. My head of faculty and I gave a workshop on digital portfolios. The audience seemed to have a lot of questions, which I guess is a good sign. Normally, we would have stayed for the next two sessions and then the finger food and social interaction. Instead, we just headed home to our families. After my daughter slept, I updated an article I had submitted to a peer reviewed publication and sent it off to the editor.

I felt good about the two additions to my resume, though I wish I had more time to spend with the family. I had made both committments last year, before I got so busy. A cartoon in our conference presentation showed a man pointing to a computer screen and telling his wife, "you said we had to spend more time with the kids, so I turned their photos into icons!"

Elias.