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?