> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: January 2007

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

School - Passing this way one time only

Every now and again I am struck by the enormity of what we are doing as teachers.

Recently I read a story in class, where a man goes to prison for stealing. His son is unwittingly responsible for drawing his father to the attention of the police. This leads to a conviction and imprisonment. My class had a lively debate on the subject of how much the boy was to blame.

In the course of our discussion, I had to quickly discourage pupils from talking about actual situations. At a certain point I became aware that I had, in my class; children whose parents were involved in the judicial system at several levels: policing, legal or social work; children who had relatives who had been in prison; children who had seen neighbours cope with family members being in prison; children who had never thought about the impact of prison on a family. The views of these different groups were on show, and being articulated in a lively, and surprisingly compassionate debate.

At what other time would people of these varied viewpoints be put together in such a setting? When again in their lives will these pupils be in quite the same situation? When else will they spend regular time getting the opportunity to discuss these issues within the safety of this unique environment? When will they ever have so much in common again?

It’s an enormous responsibility. It’s true that we are not the only source of direction for these pupils. It’s true, that the families they come from will impact them on a deeper level. But it is a responsibility nevertheless.

We’ve got the world in our classrooms. Are we up to it?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Headteacher Wanted

Our school needs a new headteacher. The post was advertised in December, but staff were informed today that the post was being re-advertised due to a lack of applications. Our local newspaper obligingly informed the community that there had been ‘only one’ application.

According to several different sources, it is getting more difficult to recruit headteachers. Browsing around the internet, I found several articles -dating back over the last few years -talking about the crisis in recruitment.

This year-old article from the Scotsman, informs us that half the existing heads are set to retire over the next five years. Our director of education, Fraser Sanderson, is quoted as saying "People are looking at the job and saying, 'I can live happily without that'. It's the workload, pressure, accountability."

I can well imagine being a head teacher is stressful. Do other fields have the same sort of problem enticing people into leadership? If it’s peculiar to education, is it global? And why?

This article from the Guardian looks at some of the questions we might raise.
Should headteachers necessarily be older teachers? Might they be younger? Do they
even have to be teachers?

I’d love to know, what sort of lateral thinking is going on about this situation. Is the model that is being used wrong? What qualities do you look for in a headteacher?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

You may have to give up the day job

Excuses pupils give for not doing homework are fairly predictable. It helps being a parent as well as a teacher, because you get to witness at first hand some of the peculiar manoeuvres students will embark on to avoid doing things.

‘Of course you can wash my car, but haven’t you got homework?’

Recently I have become aware of another kind of excuse coming from senior pupils.
‘Sorry miss, but I was working all weekend.’

My instincts tell me that this sort of excuse, when genuine, should be handled with a little more care than my normal ‘not good enough’ face.

It’s difficult not to be impressed with pupils who are willing to work at anything. This is especially the case when you’ve just had a ‘demented ringmaster’ lesson with 3B. You know, that lesson where you seem to be running round strategically placing fireworks. (I was struck by psychologist Alan McLean's thoughts at an INSET day on schools ‘being places where young people come to watch old people work.’ You can read an overview of his take on motivation here.)

I started getting a bit concerned about the jobs issue, round about the middle of last term. My thoughts crystallised when a number of pupils came back to school exhausted after the holidays. All night parties? Probably. But for many of them the reason they are exhausted is much simpler; they’ve been working. On farms, in hotels and supermarkets, in local restaurants and shops, they’ve been taking on hours that would tax most adults.

Holiday jobs are fine. Term-time a few hours a week can work. But when your senior school candidates are looking decidedly lack-lustre and missing classes so that they ‘can sleep’, things are not good.

I hope this settles down as we head towards our prelims.

This is the sort of area which might be worth discussing in the light of the present movement towards curricular reform - A Curriculum for Excellence. How do we balance the positive value of these experiences which help our young people become ‘confident individuals’ with the continued enthusiasm and wisdom they will need to become successful (lifelong) learners?

It has to be more than just frowning on their jobs as ‘interfering ‘ with school. That interaction with the wider world can change priorities and sow the seeds of ambition and hope in young people. It might involve discussions on work-life balance and thinking long-term about decisions. As teachers and parents we need to examine their motivation to work and ask ourselves why school might have failed, so far, to activate it.

Is this happening where you are?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What is blogging?

A few posts ago when I was complaining about not understanding technical people’s explanations, I fantasised about ‘dictating our blog’. I saw myself released from the horrid technology by some computer which did exactly as it was told.

Recently a pupil drew my attention to an article describing a new(er) voice recognition tool from Nuance Communication called Dragon Naturally Speaking. The software according to the makers will ‘make blogging easier and faster’. Bloggers are being invited to try out the voice versus typing test.

Being contrary, I read it and realised that I didn’t want to ‘dictate’ my blog after all. Yes, I would like to not worry about the html and so on, but I actually like writing my blog.

I think the blogging writing process is something special.

I thought writing a blog would be like keeping a diary. It isn’t, because this diary talks back. Which is wonderful. I also thought that it might be like writing little articles, but it isn’t because so often the thing you are writing about is still percolating away in your mind and not set in stone.

It’s true I am having to work very hard at understanding the technology. But it is starting to look a little bit less hazy. The gulf between me and the techies is getting smaller. I can actually hear them talking to each other. I am beginning to pick out words which mean things…

Gosh. All because of a blog.

What do you think blogging actually is?