Crash! Bang! Wallop! What a Stricture!

Something I hadn’t anticipated.  I’m only four years in so maybe I was due.  I’ve seen it happen and maybe I was conceited enough to think I wouldn’t be ‘tarred’ by the same brush.  I pride myself on the relationships I have with my students.  I work hard at this.  It’s one of my ‘things’.  

A parent had to come and speak to me about a student I teach.  It appears that said student cannot bear to come back into my classroom even though there is only a week to go.  They only started around Easter.  They’re so upset that it’s affecting their general happiness;  losing the desire to socialise with their friends and of course this is doing no end of harm to their self-esteem.  Can we do something about this?

A first for me.

The reason, purely and simply, is that they ‘don’t get it’.  Coming to my lessons has become torturous.  It’s a ‘top’ set but achievement grades range from A* down to E so I try and differentiate – let the more able fly and concentrate efforts on those needing support.  Clearly this has not been a success.

Annoyingly, student was perfectly happy in their previous class which quite firmly puts the blame on my shoulders.  I’m not being a martyr about this, it’s pretty simple, student was happy in the other class (with a very good lead subject teacher = high standards) but has been driven to this by what goes on in my class.

I won’t deny it, I’m gutted.  I know we have this dictum – Wiliam’s “we fail everyday and we’ll never be perfect” [sic] but this isn’t some philosophical debate.  This is a cold hard parent telling me I’m making their kid unhappy.  I have failed a student – clearly and succinctly.

I met with the student briefly.  They stepped out of the classroom with tears in their eyes. I couldn’t bear to look at them. I was apologetic, “no-one should feel this way in a classroom”, told them of arrangements that would be made for the last week, and walked away.  That was it.  There was nothing to be gained from a heart to heart.  I think it was the right move.

There was much that I wanted to say and I think that’s why I’m writing now.  I have a little distance from those events, a tiny amount of reflection and maybe some clarity.

First things first, don’t take it personally!  No?  I’ll try.  Seriously though!  How can you not?  The relationships I try and build are exactly that – one-to-one, personal, individual and I’ve misjudged this.  The one key factor in Hattie’s pantheon of impact is the relationship with your teacher.  This is a big one.

If I look at this as a case study maybe I can retain some objectivity but it’s doubtful.  Inside a part of me is saying “It’s them, it’s not me.”

Student is not a high achieving student. Last significant assessment they scored an E.  However, she is surrounded by more able students and that has a profound effect on their self esteem.  There are other students in that class of similar ability, they recognise that there is a difference in ability and are accepting of this.  I’m very “growth minded” about it and encourage them to work harder so they can see the improvements they can make.  I think they believe me when I say “You don’t get it… …yet”.

Student is quiet, possibly painfully shy.  I’m not.  I’m gregarious, loud, shameless in my passion for teaching, learning, making mistakes in front of the class to show that learning is messy and never linear, never neat and tidy.  I take tips – e.g. “Teach like a Champion” and try and push for becoming a better practitioner.  No Opt Out, regardless of your nervous disposition. This probably explains the whole “feels like your picking on them” comment that I gently batted back to the parent when the point was raised. 

When student received their end of year assessment (the ill feted ‘E’) they burst into tears.  I tasked the class, took them outside for a breather and spoke to them at length about how this wasn’t a disaster but that sometimes people don’t get things the first time.  I gave myself as an example of someone who has to work twice as hard at what I do to be half as good as any other teacher.  Harder work would prove better results, make sure you speak to me when you don’t get things and I’ll do my very best to help.  Hard work is hard, not impossible.  

Maybe I should have seen the signs of someone drowning.

Student isn’t failing across the school.  They aren’t below target anywhere except in my subject. I checked. This boils down to ‘them’ and ‘me’.  I couldn’t inspire them.  I couldn’t motivate them.  I made it so that being in my class was ‘unbearable’ and in the end that’s what I keep coming back to.

Although it may not appear so, I’m strangely sangfroid about the whole thing.  There’s no easy answer.  It’s a combination of many factors, a ‘complex problem’ as they say.  At one end of the spectrum I have comments such as “Well if it’s the first time this has happened maybe you’re not pushing all your kids as much as you should.” through to ‘maybe they have an issue with you being a man’ and right the way through to my personal feelings which are a combination of “how could I make someone’s life so miserable?” to “they need to man-up” and “…let it go Indiana..”.

As easy to approach as I think I am; as friendly, smiling, positive as people know me to be, this time it wasn’t enough.  I believe I’m a good teacher in the sense that I try to be a good teacher and constantly work at being a good teacher. I’ll keep telling myself that.

A part of me wonders how I would feel if that were me and my kid and I just can’t see it happening.  I would help them, try to overcome the challenges.  Ask the teacher if they could help with extra tuition, buy a textbook, get to grips with the problem – mmm – do the teacher’s job for them?  Is the fault with the parent for giving up so easily?

In a way, I’m happy it happened when it did.  One more week, a bit of a break and during that time, some rebooting.  If this had been January then I possibly wouldn’t be so blasé about it all.

We ask that our students be able to shrug off failure and chalk it up, learn from it and try not to make the same mistakes again.  That’s what I will do.

It still hurts though.

Alternatively, maybe I should get a life outside of school and stop analysing my navel.  

Just a thought.

 

One-to-one! Huh! Who is it good for? Absolutely everyone?

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Clearly I’m no regular blogger.  Intimidated?  A little.  Standards are so high that it’s like being on a intellectual beach full of six packs and bikini babes.

baywatch-cast

As suggested, I’ve had the pleasure of a couple of one-to-one sessions this week and on reflection, they’ve been something of a revelation.

Both students needed time to go through fairly difficult Science concepts (balancing equations and properties of short/long chain alkanes).  Both sessions were very fruitful and a lot of progress made.  In fact, the satisfaction of spending time with a student that wants to learn and the excitement of watching them ‘get it’ or the ‘landing’ (as  one legendary blogger suggests we call it) is worth missing whichever special the canteen had on offer (seriously though, you should try their macaroni cheese!).  It reminds me of a quote (did I dream it?) about the unusual economies of scale in teaching – 100 mins of frustration far outweighed by 1min of joy (misquote heaven?).

The real boon here was that the sessions allowed me to very much teach in the way I would like to teach in my classroom but often find it hard to do so.  It was such a buzz!  For example, I was able to let the students get things wrong then ask pertinent questions that made them question their original answer. I never have time to do that. There was modelling, cognitive conflict, synthesising, teacher led, student led – all in all an Oscar award winning session.  And no, I won’t be offering a grade – haven’t you heard?  I realise that I need to work on my behaviour management if I ever hope to recreate this effectively in the classroom.

Anyhoo, I came away with two very distinct thoughts;

Firstly, as an experience in terms of teacher (teaching?) development, I can’t recommend it enough.  I gained a great deal of clarity about the understanding/workings of the mind of these particular students and the challenges that these topics offered.  Surprisingly, it had a very profound impact on my approach to teaching these topics.  I’ve had a change of perspective in how to teach them and strategies to use in a way that might make it easier for students to understand.  With the benefit of hindsight there’s an almost audible ‘slap-of-the-forehead’ “Why didn’t I see that before?”

It got me thinking, if this is the impact a session has on a topic that I teach would there be any value in one-to-one teaching to the benefit of the teacher as opposed to the student?  Could this be a valid way to test your ideas of how well a student will understand a particular concept?  Map out misconceptions? Discover difficulties? Create conflict? (see what I did?)

Is there any merit in selecting a student or two to trial a teaching idea or even (god forbid!), bring into question or refine a ‘tried and tested’ method that you think works?  I think I might instigate a few more tutorials and explore this idea.  Does anyone have any experience of one-to-one tuition with this effect in mind?  Have you found that one-to-one has made an impact on your teaching?

My second thought is one of wonder and I confess, a little bit of fear.  I believe these are perfectly ordinary students.  By that I mean a good representation of the average student.  Is it wrong to presume that a lot of my students will have gone through a similar cognitive process in terms of learning this material to the same end? Can I conclude that actually they don’t really understand it and maybe did just enough to convince me they were able? Does that mean that generally a lot of my students have a similar poor grasp on these ideas? Maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit but I worry.  Then again, in spite of these difficulties, there’s a good handful of students that do make the grade, literally.   A part of me asks how on earth does this learning occur?

I’ve been told that at times I have been an outstanding practitioner.  In a Princess Bride ‘inconceivable’ stylee – I really do not think this means what ‘they’ think it means.

A final thought is that these two sessions will have, I’ve no doubt, a ripple effect on student’s perceptions of you as a teacher which will inevitably be a positive thing.  In a new school where you are an unknown this can be incredibly powerful in gaining ‘kudos’.

All in all, I’m a little bit pleased.  I might have found a new tool which will improve my teaching, help individual students progress and quickly get me some much needed ‘rep’ in great school with very challenging behaviour.

Expect my next post in around 12 months.

 

This is the way of things…

“If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs…”
​In the wake of the resounding clamour of finger pointing at our school I think it’s time to reflect a little.
One of the reasons I got into teaching was that I felt I had something to offer the students I would come into contact with.  In the simplest way possible I wanted to inspire them to greatness.  I felt that my experience of the real world had a few home truths for these youngsters and maybe some of them they didn’t have to learn for themselves.
Sure, there was a love for the subject but as well as this there are life skills to be learnt.  Effort, grit, determination, resilience, humour, creativity  – in a word ‘character’ – something that isn’t catered for in any curriculum.
“Hey Jimmy you’ve managed to achieved a level 6 in comedy.  In order to improve you need to work on your timing.”
Or “Georgia, What Went Well is the way you drew that picture. It would be Even Better If you could demonstrate more resilience and actually do the task.”
In a word you wanted to be an educator.  Not a nanny, not a babysitter an educator.
I spend so many hours reading and feeding my curiosity as to how I can improve what I do, how I teach and how kids learn that this week, my wife had to remind me that I’m not the bloody prime minister.
So when the false prophets come around with their declarations of what is great and good we are in an extraordinary position to see the Emperor’s New Clothes for all their worth.
To call it a travesty is an oversimplification.  Where I see teachers fighting for their charges, I see others pointing at obstructions.  Where I see individual students, I hear percentages.  Where observers see outstanding, I see juggling clowns on unicycles performing to the crowds.
The reality isn’t bitterness at my own grade (deemed fine) but rather the disparity between the depressing reality and the purported esteem it is held in.
In a nutshell, all we can cling to is some borrowed words from Rita Pierson;
When the kids are not in the mood; we teach anyway.
When the parents blame us for their grades; we teach anyway.
When students don’t hit their targets; we teach anyway.
When Ofsted say we’re not doing our bit; we teach anyway.
When the rest of the school happily hold us up to ridicule; we teach anyway.
We are educators.
We’re not held in high esteem.  We teach anyway.
When the chips are down there always someone who knows – the students.
They will know if we cared.  They will know if we paid attention.  They will know if we made the effort.
That will be enough to let me sleep tonight.