> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: You may have to give up the day job

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?


sid said...

This recalls, for me, your earlier post "Is school a window on the world?" Is there any kind of opportunity to teach time-management skills in school? When I was at school in Scotland we didn't really have anything like this, but in London they did have something approaching it. Is this now part of the Scottish system?

Neil Winton said...

Hi Liz,
I'm back (!).

I remember being told that pupils who work (in shops/etc) for more than 6 hours a week might as well not bother doing their Highers. I wish I could remember or find the exact figures. I'm fairly sure they actually came from the SQA.

For what it's worth, I remember having a discussion with a pupil and her mum at parent's night and suggesting that studying was (in the long run) more important than a part-time job... especially as the p/t job seems to involve more hours than a full-time job. Anyway, the pupil in question chucked the job and duly passed her higher.

It was only one pupil, so absolutely no statistical validity, but she knows, and I know, that not working made all the difference.

I'll post my 5 things soon...

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...


I'm very interested in your comment about the number of hours. A colleague was concerned about the downturn in a higher pupil's work recently, and decided to enquire whether anything was wrong. He found out the pupil had worked 30 hours that week. They can't do it. Must check if the SQA have something on this.
Nice to have you back. Hope you've been having fun...

Chris said...

Liz, you've just hit on one of my perennial rants when I was in the job. Latterly, no-one used that excuse for not doing homework because they knew what my reaction would be. I found that poor prelim results often had the desired effect with seniors, who would then ditch the job - at least during the week. I used to point out that in my experience a Higher student should be doing 3 hours of study/homework per night, and a total of 12 hours over the weekend.

But then I *was* a dinosaur ....

olliebray said...

Hi Liz, I think this is a fairly common problem all over Scotland. Last year I had a couple of students that dropped out of their Higher geography course because they were not making the grade. I was convinced that this was because they were both working five nights a week, until 11 pm (or later) each night. The really frustrating thing for me was that the parents seemed more interested in their children having the part time jobs rather than getting a good set of academic qualifications under their belt. This year at the start of the year we actively discouraged our S5 and S6 from getting part time jobs during the week. I’ve recently reinforced this in assembly, by pleading with them to get time off over the prelims to allow time for revision. One of out students came to see me today to tell me that if they took the two weeks off at prelim time off they would get the sack, but their employer had agreed to letting them have the night off before each exam. Its crazy isn’t it! Don’t suppose you have any answers? Ollie

rach moran said...

Not being from Scotland, I found it really bizarre to see how many of my Scottish friends were working whilst being in school. At home (Ireland) it's pretty much a no-go to have a job while in secondary school.

I understand that our education system is very different (it's mental how the last school year is pretty much optional over there). We do two major state exams while in secondary school, after the first one, we go into Transition year (a year basically just filled with banter!!!) During that year it's usually acceptable to have a part time job, although most students are either 15 or 16. After that it's not physically possible to work and study at all.

I think the whole job situation isn't as big an issue here because our third level education is free, currently. There are very few students having to pay back student loans over here - in fact it's pretty much a foreign concept to me.

Could it all be a reflection of the educational systems!?!