Thursday, September 04, 2008

Apathy Jack writes:

I haven’t been bringing my “A” game to school for a while now. Various reasons, some legit, most not, but I’ve been trying to fix that recently, and there are signs that I’m doing it properly...

The Year 13s have lost their will to work: they’re lethargic in class; missing deadlines; failing to attend tutorials. Happens around this time every year, but this is the worst case I’ve seen in a while. The History Teacher decided to give her class a rark-up about it, and asked me to come in and support her, because in addition to having the same problems, twenty out of her twenty-three students were are also in my Classics class.

She spoke well, from her heart, saying that she knew most of them thought that she took History way too seriously, but that her subject defined a large part of her identity, so their lack of effort, and the lies they told her about why they hadn’t done the sundry work, not only upset her as a teacher but undermined and offended her as a person.

I led by saying that, being several years older than her, and some orders of magnitude more cynical, I did not have that degree of idealism and personal connection to their effort or lack thereof. However, what I did have was the better part of eight years experience preparing students to pass level 3 Classics exams, so I know how much subject knowledge one needs to succeed. I also know how much knowledge each and every one of them had. I pointed to each of my twenty students in turn:

“You’re going to fail. You’re going to fail. You’re going to fail. You’re going to pass. You’re going to fail. You’re going to fail. You’re going to pass one booklet out of the three. You’re going to fail. You’re going to pass with Achieveds – you’re capable of Merits but you won’t get them. You’re going to fail. You’re going to fail. You’re going to fail.” And so on.

After school I was talking to a delegation of those students. They told me that they were pissed off at me for what I said, but only until they thought about it. They realised that the History Teacher and I were right, but they weren’t sure how to process it, how to react to it.

“It’s just that we haven’t really had many young, vibrant teachers before,” said one. I reminded her that I was far from being either young or vibrant. “Well,” she continued, “teachers that were like, passionate about the stuff they taught. Most of our teachers are old, and it’s weird to hear a teacher actually saying they care about their subject.”
“Yeah,” added another, “And I don’t think any of our teachers have ever been as honest with us as you and Miss were.”

That might just about do as proof that I’m starting to do this right again.

But you know, if it doesn’t, I can always use the smaller and pithier example, also from today:

I pulled a student out of her Materials class for no good reason to rant at her about poetry. Having finished, and threatening to poke her with needles, I wandered off. As I left, she called me back.

“There’s like, a lot wrong with you, ay Sir?”

Yeah, I think I’m getting back into the swing of this...


Anonymous said...

Admittedly, when you threatened to poke your latter student with needles, the sway of the teacher threatened to strut.

But that was somewhat ruined by the begging students to study earlier... While you brought your A game to the guilt-trip (unlike the cringing pleas of the History teacher - as you say, put it down to youth), I would suggest more use of props.

Preferably a guillotine. Nothing sharpens the mind of a vacant student like the prospect of having unnecessary receptacles (like their head) detached from their body.

Still, at least you had the honesty and prescience to tell them they were going to fail. Always worth doing. If they pass, you attribute it to your magnificent teaching; the converse draws forth the suffering 'it pains me more than you' expression of 'told you so'.

Maybe your A game is getting back on it's horse... We could do with a gold medal in equestrian events.

Apathy Jack said...

You're raising issues. Broad issues. Important issues.

Susan Harper said...

I'd like you to post about the new curriculum. It calls bringing your A game to school effective pedagogy and says that students learn best when teachers
* create a supportive learning environment
* encourage reflective thought and action
* enhance the relevance of new learning
* facilitate shared learning
* make connections to prior learning and experience
* provide sufficient opportunities to learn
* inquire into the teaching–learning relationship.

I think I could make a case for any of those being present in your History-Classics example but more than that it made me think of the reciprocal and responsive interactions with significant adults from Te Whāriki. I have yet to find a place in The New Zealand Curriculum which owns up to the importance to a student's learning of an individual, strange and strong human relationship with the teacher.