Education, Uncategorized

My open letter to a parent – Why I have no choice but to strike today

Dear Parent,

I am truly sorry that I am unable to teach your child today but it would be unfair and hypocritical of me to do so. You see I base my teaching on some basic principles and it is important that I remain true to them. I truly love being in the classroom and helping young people to achieve their potential and I hope that I do this in a constructive way by praising what they do well and helping the to develop the areas they struggle in through modelling good behaviour and helping them develop the skills they need academically and for life.

I try to teach the young people in my classroom that they get out of life what they put in, that they need to work hard but equally that they need to balance that with their own passions and the things they love and that it is always important to stand up for what they believe in. Today I have had to take my own advice by joining the strike and standing up against Michael Gove and the changes that are eroding the quality of education your child receives and my ability to stick to my own principles.

You see, I try to teach them that you get out of life what you put in, yet over the past few years, teachers have seen a progressive erosion of their salary in real terms. I am being asked to pay more into a pension each month that will now be worth less and my colleagues that are joining the profession are now being asked to pay up to £9000 for the privilege of training as a teacher. Every fully qualified secondary teacher has spent at least 4 years at university and has a good degree, and a postgraduate qualification. That investment of time and energy into education surely deserves to be rewarded effectively otherwise how does this country have any hope of attracting good quality teachers? Careers aren’t chosen solely on monetary reward but with £36,000 of student loan debt just to cover fees (let alone living expenses), the next generation of entrants to the profession will have no choice but to consider if their chosen career pays enough to justify this debt

I also try to teach the young people I work with that it important to develop a range of interests and hobbies, that sport and exercise is good and that they need to work hard but also to have time for themselves. With some of the proposed reforms, it will be hard for teachers to practice what they preach. Teaching, despite what the media tells you is not a job that starts at 9am and finishes at 3pm. I am usually at my desk for 7:30am and Lucky to get out much before 5pm. I take work home most weekends, and not a day goes by where I’m not considering some aspect of my job but I don’t do this because I have to, I do it because I want to. In return though, there are also things I want to do, I want to run, I want to have tome with my family, I want to go to visit galleries. I can only do this by creating my own work-life balance. If school holidays are reduced, contact hours in the classroom are increased then that means there will be less time in the day to create this balance, something that is unhealthy. Once your child has left my classroom I still have to mark their work, plan for the lessons I will teach them next time, write reports, plan trips, organise resources, make phone calls, send emails and attend training sessions and meetings, and no, I can’t do it all in the 10% of timetabled planning preparation and assessment time on my timetable – no teacher can! Something then has to give, either less time has to be spend on these essential tasks or the work life balance is altered. One results in less effective teaching through lack of planning or quality feedback on progress, the other in increased stress and therefore also less effective teaching

So I am standing up for what I believe in by  striking to day in the knowledge that to do anything else would be hypocritical of me. I truly love being a teacher, I love those moments where a young person finally understands a concept, or begins to develop into a well rounded adult, or just simply smiles when they realise they have created something amazing themselves. The changes that are being made to education are, however, making the stresses of uncertainty outweigh the benefits and have ultimately contributed to my decision to leave the classroom. Just because I am leaving the profession at the end of the year doesn’t mean I have stopped caring, in fact I care more because ultimately it is the way that Gove and the current government have destroyed the profession I have enjoyed being a part of for several years that has forced me to make the difficult decision of leaving classroom teaching.

Education, Uncategorized

Is futurelearn really the future of learning?

Having had a previous foray into the world of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs as they are known, I was left dejected and less than impressed at the much hailed future of lifelong learning. Previously I attempted an Introduction to Philosophy through Coursera. Whilst it had excellent material, it failed to suck me in for several reasons, firstly it was paced in a rigid way, I could only plough through the material at a pace determined by someone else. Secondly, the pace of interaction in the social fora was so rapid due to the number of participants that I found it impossible to keep up and finally, the lack of incentive to persevere with it.

When I discovered that through futurelearn the OU were developing their own platform and system of MOOCs, whilst cynical from my previous experience, I was also excited, having been an advocate of their open distance learning education and the way it has changed my own life. I have signed up for a number of courses over the next few months and will share some of my thoughts and feelings on how these sit with me, my way of learning, and the gap left by taking a break from formal study. 

The first course to open that I signed up for was The secret power of brands. I’ll admit to having a passing interest in brands from my initial degree in multimedia design and later work within sales and marketing. Honestly though, it is not something I would have chosen to study formally, and that is the big plus. I have found myself being limited in my choices so it has forced me to consider studying things I have a marginal interest in., who knows, maybe these small tasters might open up a whole new field that I hadn’t encountered before? Incidentally, I have also signed up for Web Science, Muslims in Britain and Causes of War. quite an eclectic mix really and i’ll be interested to see how each makes use of the platform and tolls futurelearn has to offer.

Looking specifically at the Secret power of brands and having made it through the first weeks material, I have to say there have been some pleasant surprises. Firstly the material seems to be in more manageable chunks, 5 minute videos, 5 minute audios, single pages of text. This allows for dipping in and out over morning coffee and in breaks during the day. For me this was something that let the previous MOOC model down, I often don’t have half an hour to watch a lecture in one go.  The other great thing was the variety of media used and the simple yet effective multiple choice quiz at the end of the week that caused me to go back and check some bits I wasn’t sure of.

It is not all praise, i’m afraid, there still seem to be two big issues, one could be addressed easily, and one may be the elephant in the room with this form of learning. The fact that the material is drip fed is a big down side for me. I may have a spare Sunday this week in which I was interested in devoting to study but next week I might have a commitment. This is how peoples lives work in the real world and that flexibility is important if these sort of courses want to retain participants to the end without them abandoning them because they get too behind. In not sure this isn’t an issue that can’t be solved, yes it would remove some of the social aspects with people working at different paces but that leads me onto the second gripe. The model for discussion of issues is not right. Comment boxes with the opportunity to respond don’t make people engage and come back, they make the exercise feel like a ‘respond to question and tick off the list’ exercise rather than one in collaborative learning. I also doubt that with the sheer numbers of students whether this would be possible anyway given my previous experience?

From what I have seen so far, futurelearn is definitely a step forward but until someone wakes up to the need for flexibility in informal learning and ways to deal with social interaction on the scale involved I can see drop out rates still being one of the biggest issues in the world of MOOCs, however, I will keep an open mind as the weeks continue.

 

Education, Uncategorized

Book Review: Education under Siege

Having come across this book by chance in a mail shot from Policy Press, I felt I needed to write this review to help others actively seek out the book. This is the book I wish i had been told to read at the start of my career in Education. Not only does it highlight they key issues in education, but it also positions England in a global education landscape and pulls out what it does well and where it falls behind in comparison. In many texts, there is a focus on the historical, philosophical or practical basis of teaching, or a list of past policies and initiatives. This book educates the reader about what has been, what is and what could be.

Mortimore is well placed to write such a book having worked in both the English system at the coal face and in academia as well as having held a professional role in Denmark. The book ensures that no stone is unturned in exploring the nuances and challenges of our education system and how they sit with ideas of what education is for.After examining the purpose of education, Mortimore takes the reader through issues such as learning, teaching, schools as buildings and institutions and inspection before examining more closely the strengths and weaknesses of the system as is. It is the latter chapters, however, that really make this book essential reading as they are where the provocation and critique take place. What makes it essential reading for the practitioner is the way in which current failings of the system are explained in terms of how they impact upon the daily tasks of teachers.

Unlike some similar books, this is not one of answers. Whilst eluding to some solutions does not try to write a blueprint for the future of education but he starts to closely examine the barriers and challenges of the system and suggests avenues for work and research and for policy changes to start improving the system. It is a volume that makes the reader really question the underlying assumption of the field within which they work.  

 

References

Mortimore, P. (2013) Education under siege: Why there is a better alternative, Bristol: Policy Press

PhD

Re-writing the map: Questioning where I was actually going

Having recently been made a job offer for January, I have made the decision that starting a PhD at the same time would not be the most sensible decision. In working through various options, however, I have also come to a realisation that the proposal i had ended up with in some ways had moved from the real issues that were important to me. It took a good chat over a coffee earlier in the week to realise that this had happened and has resulted in lots of exploring, thinking and mind mapping to try to get to the heart of the problem.

Firstly, I would still dearly love to conduct the research I had proposed but maybe the timing and circumstances aren’t right at the moment. I was planning to look at how parents negotiate the ideas of risk in their parenting decisions with a specific interest in how they construct notions of risk. This came out of my own personal experience during a number of jobs working with young people where I was subject to CRB checks no less than 6 times in 24 months, reflecting on this showed me that all this actually flagged up was past arrests and was not an indicator of future risk and yet was used as a guarantee of safety in effect. The issue with this research will always be rooted in what it seeks to explore; issues that do not commonly get talked about. This makes opening those dialogues a lengthy process which would involve high levels of trust and acceptance from the parents involved before any data could begin to be collected. As a full time project it would have been doable but as a part time one, I fear it could never be realised in quite the same way. If there was the possibly of full-time funding it might be viable but this has put me in a position to consider exactly why i wanted to do a doctorate and what i’m trying to get out of it as the likelihood of being able to undertake one full-time is becoming less likely and less compatible with my current circumstances.

It is interesting how in just talking through your past and plans for the future, you often begin to reveal some motivations that were previously hidden to you. It was through my conversation with Katy Vigurs that the lightbulb moment happened. I hadn’t necessarily noticed it before but all my ideas and interests lead back in some way to education and most specifically the impact of policy changes on various aspects. Another key theme was the fact that my ideas involved participatory work and were interested in engagement with some forms of public not only as participants but as, for want of a better words beneficiaries of the findings. Once I’d worked out why I wanted to embark on a doctorate, I felt I needed to get all my interests down on paper.

IMG_2237

The actual topics and interests were disparate in some ways, but linked in others however these common themes linked them, I also keep coming back to the recurring idea that whatever research I do must have a visual element. Maybe this is my background as an artist, but the power of the image within the sociological is extremely important and something I would not want to exclude from my own work.

Whilst this thinking and these exercises did not necessarily give me an answer, they have refocused my mind on what is important to me which might help me re-consider where i go from here.