Friday, January 20, 2006

The Post Formerly Known as 'I don't do modesty...'

That Morthos Stare writes:

In London the term 'mojo' is bandied about a lot, as are several other choice terms you know (and use) well. 'Mojo' is, at least, a term with something close to a glorious history, unlike 'Deferred Success ("You haven't failed, Smallings, you simply have deferred success!")' and 'A Chocolate Elton ("I've eaten so much; I feel like I've eaten a Chocolate Elton!").' Whether it be you sex life (and I mean your's as mine isn't up to much) or job satisfaction, everything that makes you you can be ascribed to a mojo... Or lack thereof.

My mojo is teaching, it seems. I actually already knew that in my mind of minds but, what with a serious illness last year. I'd forgotten its power. For I am a man reborn; my mojo, previously gone to ground, has re-emerged. Such a pity, then, that my teaching job is half way around the world and not mine for at least another year.

My rebirth pretty much occurred four minutes after the Critical Thinking course I laboured to overhaul began to be taught without me. The old cliche goes that you only miss something when you haven't got it anymore; friends become more important the less you get to see of them and, it seems, courses become much more vibrant when your back is turned.

But my back is not entirely turned. Being in tune with nature, a certifiable idiot savant and 'on the ball' I've fixed a number of issues with several of the first lectures this semester by use of the electronic telephone and numerous etheric waves betwixt here and there. I had made sure that when I left the lecturing materials we had used were so pristine that you could submit them as part of a teaching portfolio (which won a prize, just not for me). Issues, however, get raised; files fail to work on new machines or ou find out that a character you played has had to change sex due to staffing issues.

Then, of course, are all those new ideas that you never had time to implement. Except that now I do. Not that I'm abusing my time in the office, it's just that some ideas need more time No, I fixed new and exciting issues that were mostly the creation of a new computer running my digital presentations.

The upshot of which is that I really need to be teaching at the moment.

London is a big city and big cities have numerous teaching institutions. I've applied for a number of adult education roles (I'm very fond of adult education, mostly because of the students but also because its educational first aid (due to the state of the secondary education sector)). The semesters here are different to ours; just as ours map summer (albeit badly, as I am sure Jack will attest to; why we suffer the children to sit through sweltering February in a classroom I do not know) so do those in the UK. We're in the middle of term here and new teaching positions don't come up until the middle of next month. A little known fact but I have teaching experience in all three educational sectors (with Primary being my least experienced) and I was delighted to find that Philosophy is a proper A Level subject here, with a curriculum and everything. If I had the time outside my current job to go out and teach Secondary School Philosophy I would; the course structure is most pleasing and secondary teaching is a very different (but no less nor more difficult) challenge from that of teaching students in the teritiary sector. However my new boss, lovely as she is, will let me out for evening classes but needs me in the office during the day. Pity really; brokering a phone call between my boss and Billy Zane in the middle of class would have given me much by the way of kudos.

Anyway, all of the above is really just me saying I'm already missing teaching and I've only been off the job for two months.

Teaching is by no means an ideal profession; survey results in the UK indicate that only 8% of teachers across all sectors get any form of enjoyment from their work (surveys; got to love them, especially when they don't give sample sizes or error margins). Now, whilst secondary school teachers get all the angst-ridden kudos of the pedagogical profession tertiary educators have their issues and worries too. We have the usual student-related woes (will they come to class, why id this promising student do so badly, why are certain groups underachieving so consistently...) Most of our 'unique' issues stem from the fact that the secondary sector is a wreck, educationally, and that we are forced to spend most of our time (in the undergrad portions of our jobs) teaching students vital pieces of information such as historical context of ideas and thinking skills. None of this is the secondary school teachers fault, per se; it's the system that doesn't really work. Seven years of secondary education and it's so compartmentalised that many of its years are repeats of the same material presented only somewhat differently.

(An obvious retort to this what I've just said is that the tertiary sector is, at least partially, to blame as well. I agree; we're hardly on the ball when it comes to changes in the other sectors and we move at pace that even glaciers would think tardy when it comes to our our updating processes. However (there's always a however, isn't there?) the tertiary sector has parity; our qualifications must remain interchangeable with institutions overseas. Anyone who has done a BA (or is in the process of doing a BA) can transfer to almost any other undergraduate teaching facility. It took the sector a while to get to this stage and any changes to it to fit into a nation's secondary education sector would be disasterous if the parity was lost. I'll take the obvious counterexamples to this comment at the end, thank you.)

Our other issue is the Government. Academics are usually regarded (rightly, I will admit) as being left-wing but the current New Zealand Government's teritiary policies have chronically underfund universities in the way that the previous National Government did not. This isn't a New Zealand-only problem; the UK is suffering educational cutbacks that even the Tories would never have imagined. We have a situation where the Right would be more likely to fund a course in Samoan than the Left would, and that shows that it's 'crazy time' for the traditionally left-leaning academics, who are beginning to wonder exactly who to vote for (easy answer; the Left, but voters tend to worry about their jobs and Labour is threatening the Ivory Pagoda and its population). Now, Labour is clever; they have linked funding increases to the CPI (correct me if I am using the wrong acronym) when this isn't even remotely a good indication of how University costs inflate. That and the PBRF, which was, admittedly, a disaster for everyone, and I'm talking as a former member of staff of the country's second-best department. Performance based reviews sound like a really good idea, but what exactly performance is and how it is quantified has turned out to be a real bugbear, going utterly against what the Government thought would be the common wisdom of the day.

Tertiary sector jingoism rant begins: Universities are research institutions that deign to teach; they are the ivory pagodas because it is their purpose to research. Not for commercial interests, not for practical reasons but simply because knowledge is important and knowledge begets new knowledge that may or may not be of interest to one and all. To be sure, commerical interests should be involved in the funding of universities; every telecommunciations giant wants to be the first company to deploy broadwave internet, and what better way to get their by helping to fund a Department working in related areas. In the same respect Governments need to be involved because some projects will never look viable; no one thought Protestantism was going to be as mildy successful as it was; private concerns only get in the act and help fund the associated workethic well after the fact.

In the same way, to maintain the delicate balance of teaching and research we need to ensure that the students we take in to teach know enough to be taught properly and will, given time, be whittled down to the precious few who will repeat the cycle... Rant somewhat ends. When I return (which, if my mojo keeps its spirits up, will be sooner than I expected) I shall be sure to get on the band wagon that is actually doing something concrete about getting Philosophy into schools. I turn thirty in a year and an half. I'd like to think that by then my choices will make just a little more sense to everyone involved.

Because, you know, learning is good, and discovering that helping people to learn makes you feel good is even better. Sometimes lessons like that have to be learnt the hard way.

12 comments:

span said...

very interesting post, but please note that there are in fact four sectors in education - early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary :-)

Josh said...

Indeed - makes me want to teach Philosophy again. Hmm... The Addison & Dentith Philosophy in Schools Foundation -- "Injecting thought into your brainmeats!" shall be our slogan. Hear it and tremble.

The Hand of Morthos said...

Yes, the four sectors thing was something I debated over when I was writing the post. I suppose I'm coloured by my experiences in kindergarten as it was mostly a time-passing exercise for me (I learnt to write my own name but precious little). I'm sure things have changed since then but as it isn't a mandatory part of the educational sector (unless that's changed) I still think of the system as an unholy trinity where the only sector I think works is the Primary. That may be because the teachers who I remember best are those from my Primary school but that might only be the case because I knew them well during my Secondary and Tertiary carrers. Whatever the case, they were superb teachers and the number of good teachers I have met in the tertiary sector pales in comparison.

In re the Addison & Dentith Philosophy in Schools: All Areas Viciously Probed by Trained Professionals (By Royal Appointment) I concur. Actually, I think you should think about doing some adult education work through the Centre for Continuing Education. You'd be good at it and I can put you in contact with the organisers.

span said...

I'm not sure that trusting your own experiences of early childhood education is the best way to judge whether or not it counts as a sector. I can remember none of my time at pre-school or kindergarten, but I know that learning to read and write before I got to school gave me a huge advantage.

There's a lot more to ECE than baby-sitting you know.

Herr Dummkopf von Kranken-Brainen said...

wait, wait, let me just clarify something ...

Who's Modesty? And why not?

The Hand of Morthos said...

Oh, I agree. If I was teaching my Critical Thinking course at the moment I would be running exactly the same line, but I'm a corporate whore for the time being and it appears that rational arguments are a bit unseemly in this sector.

(Which isn't an argument at all, really. Well, not much of one.)

In truth, I don't know enough about ECE to pass comment on it. For me it was a time-passing exercise but I was a late developer; one of those students who underperformed throughout their Primary and Secondary years and only flourished very late in the undergraduate days of the tertiary years. Kindergarten really didn't do anything for me (pretty much an empty claim as we don't know how I would have turned out had I not gone to kindergarten). Actually, now that you forced me to consider it I suppose I will need to look into this a bit more. I don't really know anyone in the Early Childhood Education sector (well, aside from children who go to playgroup; I've attended a fair number of playgroups for someone who hasn't a child and isn't a stalker). Is it compulsory? Not that that should be too important; tertiary education isn't compulsory. I used to think it should be but I'm changing my tune on that.

Ach, I'm rambling. To get things back on track and return Brainstab to its natural order, let me answer Mr. Stupid's question with 'No, haven't you seen her vulva... Sorry, volvo. Actually, I was right the first time.'

span said...

ECE isn't compulsory in NZ, but the teachers have got a form of pay parity with their primary and secondary colleagues - it's not fully implemented yet, but in the next few years the pay systems for kindergarten teachers and some EC teachers outside of kindergartens (who are covered by the Consenting Parties agreement) will match schools.

there are still big parity issues about other areas - eg contact hours (primary is 24 hours a week during term, secondary 20) which is one of the big issues on the table in the kindergarten industrial dispute at the moment - the associations (and the Govt) want to shift to up to 35 hours contact (currently it's 22-28 depending on the kindergarten), while the teachers want a limit of 30.

there's more to it than that of course, but it's interesting that one of the main successful arguments for primary teachers getting an hour a week out of the classroom in their last settlement was pointing to the clear benefits non-contact time has provided in kindergarten education.

The Hand of Morthos said...

Pay parity was a huge issue for the tertiary sector last year; although a great many of us went on strike at UoA due to McCutcheon's iron-fist approach to settling dispuates it was interesting to find that most of the lecturers I spoke don't think we deserve pay parity with the primary and secondary sector. We work for far less of the year as teachers than the other sectors (which is not to say that we work for less of the year as a whole). No, most of the striking by people around me was for people like me; part-time lecturers whose contracts were seen to be massively unfair (and that the University's employment tactics made it even more so; one year the University decided not to put me on a yearly contract allegedly so that they wouldn't have to pay me holiday pay).

I've always thought that contact hours was always an unfair way to judge pay rates in teaching; my official contact hours were always far below my actual ones. Aside from that quasi-paid immediately-after-class contact time my colleague and I encouraged students to drop in to our offices whenever they had problems, and, by and large, they did. This wasn't so much a problem for me but for my other-half in the course it did somewhat eat into his research time which, unfortunately, is considered far more precious than that spent on students.

But back to ECE. How long do people train for ECE teaching?

span said...

Generally three or four years. They are subject to the same registration criteria as school teachers and by 2012 everybody teaching in EC must have at least a diploma (most have at least a Bachelor's degree). In reality kindergartens in particular already have basically 100% trained and registered staff.

Sorry if I gave the impression that I thought contact hours were a good indicator for parity - I don't. But I do think that EC teachers deserve some parity with their school colleagues, in areas other than pay - there are other differences beyond contact hours, eg term breaks, access to more scholarships and teaching awards, and there is also some disparity around the maternity provisions (that's just what I can think of off the top of my head).

The Hand of Morthos said...

I can't say much about teaching awards; although I was instrumental in someone in my Department getting one the process in the tertiary sector doesn't really reward good teachers but rather academics who can present the best looking portfolio. There is also the issue of how many awards are offered; aside from questioning just what percent of the staff should be awarded (do we base this on a supposed A+ grade where we would expect X amount of the teachers to score) there is also the question of what, exactly, these awards mean? Relief from research? More pay? Cash bonus? Kudos for teaching means nothing in the tertiary sector (in fact, it is often seen as a negative mark. Good teachers are assumed to be bad researchers).

span said...

It seems to me that tertiary is probably less like the school sector than EC is. What are you views on a unified teacher training system that includes tertiary? Eg a three year course, the last year of which is specialised to the sector.

The Hand of Morthos said...

Ooh, you ask the hard question.

I am an unqualified tertiary lecturer in that I apprenticed to be a lecturer. I spent about five years as a tutor before I was offered a lecturing job and I was offered the role for two reasons. One, I was a very, very good tutor (if student evaluations mean anything, which is very debatable considering the sampling method we abuse) and two, I got on well with my prospective co-lecturer (although I did teach the course on my own the first time around). Having done time in the other sectors as a teacher (due to having, once become a lecturer become considered extremely good and thus wanted by forces outside my Department for teaching duties (I quelled a mutiny, but that is another story)) I think that... This is difficult, actually. I don't know that a course that trained primary and secondary teachers would be much use to a tertiary lecturer and yet, at the same time, I do. I think thart university lecturers and tutors should have some training (and, if you are a tutor, you do get some; about eight hours worth); there are basic pedagogical skills that are common to all teachers (and basic social skills; in New Zealand you don't sit on tables. It is offensive. In the UK you can sit on tables to your heart's content). I know a lot of bad lecturers and I've taught with bad tutors. However we have a very real sourcing issue; if you want to teach undergraduate Philosophy you need a graduate degree. You can't do a BA in Philosophy and then teach Stage I students. It just isn't possible (well, it is, but those students are rare (and yes, I was one of those students and I also realise this is turning into 'Brag-fest 2006')). To then ask a grad student to do another year of training before being able to teach undergrads whilst they are training as a grad student would bring the system to its knees. Now this just the pragmatic reason for saying no. I ended up being a good teacher because I had had years and years of training as a public speaker due to a serious speech defect. My years as a debater helped. I am the anomaly and not a yardstick.

This issue comes up a lot in the tertiary sector; we know just how lowly some of our staff are held. However no one is willing to fix the issue because it is seen as ingrained to our sector and also because we aren't meant to be teachers; we are researchers who happen to teach. Those of us who like teaching (and there aren't that many, really) think this is an issue. I don't think a unified teaching training system would work, although I do think that getting the pedagogue pedagogues in to do a substantial after hours teaching teaining over the year would be good.

Sorry; more rambly than usual. It's one in the morning here and I should have been in bed hours ago. Ice-skating takes it out of you, you know.