From the category archives:

Schools

This is not some technical detail. It’s the basis of the entire mass education system, the social contract of teaching. In the past, wealthy people hired a tutor or governor, someone they could oversee and be sure exactly what their children were being taught. Poor people were grateful for whatever they got.

With mass education, parents no longer have direct control over what their children are taught, so there is an unspoken but very real agreement – teachers will teach what society has agreed upon, and not go off on their own tangent. That’s the entire point of the curricula, frameworks and testing that underpins education systems.

Choosing what teachers are allowed to teach is the reason for private schools – so parents have the option of particular pedagogies or religions. Parents don’t enrol their children in a Montessori school to have a teacher say ‘Sorry, I don’t like that philosophy, I prefer this one.’ Bad luck teacher – you don’t have that option.

And that is true for every single philosophy or opinion that teachers offer in the classroom. As a science teacher I’m sensitive to it, it’s the basis of the creation wars and the reason that science outcomes are very, very carefully written. There are certain things that you may not teach in a science class, except to demonstrate how they are not scientific. As a teacher you can believe anything you want, but the Big Bang, unchanging speed of light, and evolution are not options. If you can’t do that, then you cannot teach science. At all. Ever.

But what about the softer subjects? It’s incredibly easy, even there. You see there are three wonderful little words that need to be an integral part of every teacher’s vocabulary:

“Some people believe … “

Even better if they are followed with options, like

“Others believe …”

Because then we might actually get into comparisons and discussions of why and then even talk about tolerance! What an exciting, and empowering, thing for kids to learn.

This is an absolute pass/fail for any teacher, but it’s especially important in the Territory. You might get away with it when your students believe the same things you do, but the vast majority of students out here don’t share your cultural baggage. Blithely spouting your own beliefs might go against and devalue important beliefs of your students, which is not going to make school an engaging place or you an effective teacher.

It’s a slap in the face for your students and their parents every time you open your mouth – I wouldn’t willingly send my kid to a classroom with such a blinkered teacher, who blatantly fails the very basics of their job. How can I trust them to actually teach anything of worth when they show contempt for their own students and the agreement that is the basis of their employment? How can I trust a school leadership which not only allows, but as far as I can see as a parent, supports and encourages biased treatment and incompetent teaching?

Now the argument could be made that there are some things at such a deep level, such a basic part of your world view, that you don’t realise it’s an opinion and that others view things differently.

No.

While we all stand up at PD days and mouth that we want our students to be life long learners, to be curious and self motivating, that excuse doesn’t cut it.

Teachers are both the obvious result of our education system and its avatars, responsible for perpetuating it. If teachers are so unreflective that they haven’t thought about the differences between the culture they grew up in and the culture of their students, they are failing. If they are so lacking in curiosity that they are unable to use Wikipedia, they are failing. If they are so unmotivated that they can’t even make three little words a habit, they are failing.

Pathetic.

It doesn’t matter whether it is religion, or the value of having a job, or the relative abilities of boys and girls. The only word for a teacher who is failing so miserably and a school that allows them to is pathetic.

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Teacher

I know some states have already started, but the NT goes back on Monday. I thought I’d put together a little checklist of things that will help in the first few weeks, especially if you are new to teaching or in a new school.

School things

Most schools have a handbook which is not something to toss on your desk to read later, it is your Bible. It will have the answers to the questions you don’t know you should be asking yet, such as:

  • Who is your line manager?¬†Arguably the most important question, they are your contact for any questions or problems you have. They may direct you to someone else, but they are your first port of call and the person you need to keep informed.
  • What are the communication protocols? Are there daily meetings or newsletters?
  • What are your non-teaching responsibilities? Things such as handing in programs, class lists or other paperwork, yard duties, home rooms.
  • Do you have your own class or move around? If you are sharing with other teachers you will need to negotiate the things you can put up and the layout.
  • What is the school policy on hats/mobile phones/toilet breaks/buddy classes? The practical details that will come up in your class.
  • How are support staff managed – do you need to request them? Are they attached to students/classes or teachers? Do you get planning time with them?
  • Ditto for resources such as computers, laptops, iPads, cameras and specialist rooms such as the Library.

Class things

  • Are your personal systems ready? Diary or workpad, rolls, stationery, keys, water bottle?
  • How are you going to arrange the workspace?
  • What is your behaviour management policy or classroom philosophy? I strongly recommend you write it out to have it clear even if your school doesn’t require it.
  • How are you going to organise your resources such as books and stationery?
  • How are you going to incorporate activities for different learning styles? How are you using technology – this isn’t an option in the twenty-first century.
  • Names, names, names repeat them as often as you can.

School culture

This might be the tricky bit because it is unwritten. It includes things like

  • Are you expected to stay after school?
  • How are you expected to dress and behave?
  • How do you address students and how do they address you?
  • How does the staff room operate with things like tea/coffee and dishes?

as well as so many more. Often no-one can tell you these things because they have grown with the school and are just the way it operates. Many you can ask, but mostly you have to listen and watch.

If you are new to a school, spend the time listening and watching everything around you, the people there are the experts and your greatest help and support. And if you are an experienced staff, maybe there are some newbies you can keep an eye on. They don’t know what they don’t know.

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Cornflour goo

We have a local park in the middle of town that has a barbecue and shelters and is a very popular meeting place. Our school is having regular classes in the park to get more community interaction. We have different classes demonstrating things that families can watch or be involved in, school leaders are there and liaison officers and we run a sausage sizzle. It has been a very successful way of talking to families and showing them what’s going on at school. Cornflour

We’ve had sport, art and now science classes down there. We’ve been doing chemistry this term so we played with cornflour goo, made sherbet, put smarties into potassium chlorate and tried mentos in pepsi.

Cornflour

cornflour

chlorate

Potassium chlorate is an oxidising agent. When you add chemical energy, like say a Smartie, it converts it into light and heat. LOTS of light and heat.

As both a teacher and a community member, I highly recommend them. Once you have the logistics organised once they are easy and I think they are a great way of making links.

 

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