Wednesday, April 28, 2004

do not come into my class!

more excellent stuff at blackboard jungle. Quite funny too! Might have to give this one a go - although I have a couple of fellows who would love this invitation - I'd never see them again.

did i win?

Our young man in question repeated his paper today. I put him in a room (a kind of fishbowl of a room, surrounded by teacher offices), gave him a couple of sheets of paper and set him at it. In the end he went relatively quietly. They generally do. But not before ... (ah you knew there was a but coming didn't you ...) he tries to drag a few others with him. Frustrated at being 'victimised' he begins to 'name, names' - something he said he would never do - in relation to other incidents of cheating in these SAC things. VCE guy was there too and was accused of having this untoward behaviour occurring in his own classes (needless to say this cheered me up no end!) So now I might be listened too! I raised this as a possibility a couple of days ago - that cheating might be a larger problem that just English (or just me!), but this was played down (!), but when Mr cheat himself cries foul, VCE guy's ears prick and he's listening now. In fact he says it might even be worth mentioning at a VCE teachers' meeting! Crazy idea if you ask me ...

I'm presenting at this VATE Beginning Teachers' Conference and need some quality prep time! Ahhh, perhaps I have a presentation right here!

VET/Careers girl (Vocational Education and Training) is really annnoying me at present. We have a deadline next Monday for enrollement data and funding etc. I gave her a copy of some information (nicely copied and stapled and highlighted and annotated) about a month and a half ago, and the other day she tells me, 'it might be easier if you can make another copy for me .... ' Easier for whom?, you slacker! (I feel nasty saying this, but hey ... ). So when I had stern words for her today, she had the gumption to tell me that I was getting uptight because I wasn't organised or something (that was the gist anyway).


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

a joke mr rowe?

An article by one Kenneth J Rowe, The Importance of Teacher Quality as a Key Determinant of
Students’ Experiences and Outcomes of Schooling

I haven't read the whole thing (or even half) but I can tell you what it's going to say. Can you guess?

just buy it!

Well, I just spent (on paper at least) about a quarter of a million dollars! On Saturday, E and I saw a great house in a fair location, so I went back tonight to have another look and thought 'what the heck, I think I'm going to buy a house today!' So I did. Not really sure why, but it feels kind of funny. I cannot imagine this amount of money - even though by most standards it is a very modest house.

E is in Sydney for the rest of the week, so I might get some work done. Heaps of marking as I haven't really been keeping up with things (this always happens). I would like the benefits of marking without having to actually do the work. I'm very lazy and would rather be writing, reading or chatting to someone. I must get on to all this stuff.

Much better day today. CJ came back to work today - she was married on the weekend - and I was hoping she would look different in some way. No luck here - I mean she is great the way she is, but perhaps weddings do that - you kind of expect people will be suddenly different. We had a wedding lunch for her - yum. NV brought some homemade vegetable curry, I bought a passionfruit and lemon tart, and there were various other items. During period one (my spare class) I took KBs car up to grab the gift for CJ, but apparently David Jones doesn't open till 9.30! My other spare I sat with Nick and gave him some feedback on a text response essay (GATTACA). I'm not Nick's teacher this year (I have him last year), but it was good to see that he still feels comfortable coming to me for help. CW (his teacher this year) is an experienced teacher and student coordinator, but is not well at present, and has also been under pressure. It's good to be able to lend a hand where possible.

Staff meeting was interesting (as always) - worthy of a paper or two these meetings - most probably are, but English faculty meetings ... I'm sure KB is going stark raving mad at the lack of interest that most of our colleagues show in most of what she has to say. Of course, it's a complicated issue - bad meeting times, tired, overworked teachers who are 'boxed in', under valued by the administration, and treated as semi-professionals (at best). It's no wonder there is not much left over for faculty meetings.

I need to think through this one more carefully, but I'm sure somethings can be done. For example, KB has flagged the idea of some kind of 'English Newletter' to keep everyone up-to-date. This would free the meetings up to disc the important, big ideas and leave the administrivia to the pinboard. I think this is a great idea - or at least the idea that the style or running on these meetings needs a rethink. Rather than being an information swap, it might be possible to run things a different way. Who knows.

Oh, one other thing, KH came in this morning and mentioned that the photocopiers were not accepting the English code, and not allowing any English teachers to 'imprint' or copy. Apparently the admin has set a daily copy limit and once this has been reached there is no more copying allowed!

We live in interesting times ...

Monday, April 26, 2004

permission to breakdown ...

Today was pretty rough. Sometimes things hit hard and we're unaware. I mean I have been feeling some stain, but how I attribute it is another matter. I'm not eating right (although when I do it's always healthy!), I don't exercise (well other than walking around all day - and I hear stressing is a kind of working out too!), I'm not keeping up with the workload. Lot's of stuff like that. Oh, there are things that I do very well too.

This whole cheating issue is still bothing me but seems to be coming to a close (famous last words?). We have scheduled a repeat piece of work and it should be done by Wednesday. I tried talking to this young fellow about the issue today and he was much calmer, although he is still threatening to so something to those who began the accusations. I would love to put this thing to rest.

I would love to rest.

Graham has written an excellent piece for IDIOM, re: Post IFTE and all those issues. I'm not sure where a piece by me might conceivably fit into all this - I have many of the same concerns but I have no way near the expertise, experience and eloquence. blah, blah. I would like to write something, but I just can't seem to find the headspace and time. I know all the arguments about finding vs. making time, but it is VERY difficult. blah, blah. I wonder if I sound as sad as I think I do. Sorry. Just one of those days.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

first week down

It's been an interesting week. It feels a lot longer than just five days, but 'beginning again' always takes more effort. It's great to see all the kids again and to catch up on all the 'goss' (theirs and colleagues).

The Y12s had a SAC this week (School Assessed Coursework). A text response paper/essay. They could choose b/w writing on Stolen (Jane Harrison) or GATTACA (Andrew Niccol) - most wrote on Stolen as we have not yet finished or covered GATTACA well enough, (although this didn't stop some attempting to write on it).

The big issue was a cheating incident. A young man took in a pre-written paper and attempted to pass it off as work completed in the SAC. Although it most probably was his own work - this is an obvious breach of the authentication process - i.e. I cannot truly say that it is his work only. Students are allowed three periods to complete the paper and must do the majority of work in class - individual schools set up the exact conditions - for example, we decided to give the students the essay topics before the Easter holidays so they could prepare and practice writing on the topics. They were instructed to bring only a pen to the SAC classes. in some ways the way we set up the task has made this incident possible, but we hope that it has also given those students who are willing to put in the effort a better chance at doing well. The young man in question began OK, but the trouble started when we took a recess break. On the way out of the room, a couple of students asked if they could take only a short break and then resume writing - this was OK with me. So while the students were off, I took a few minutes to enjoy the morning tea that the wonderful HN (!) had organised. As i sat and ate Neenish tarts, I watched as some of my students wandered back into the room to begin writing again (they're the ones I trust).

When the recess break was over, students resumed. I was cruising the room and noticed one student using a Novel study guide!

"I'm not reading it!" was his defence (this is not the guy above, but another). So after removing the offending book he contined - this one needs follow up - he'll need to repeat this work.

A the end of the class three students (female) approach me and I have a feeling they have something nasty to tell me. They wait till the others have left the room and then tell me they saw this young man bring in a pre-written essay and slide it into his notes (before I entered the room to resume the SAC). Further to this, while he was he looking back at those who were watching on incredulously, he said, 'Lick my balls!' while grabbing himself (yep).

Arrogance, underhandedness, full-knowledge and understanding, unremorseful.

I had the girls write up a 'statement' and sign it, then I checked his work and found that it was indeed written on different paper stock than that I had provided for the SAC (similar but still undeniably different). Later in the day the Senior School Coordinator and I meet with this fool (sorry) and layed the evidence out. He of course denied knowing anything about it. He almost lost control and threated to 'get his mates' onto those who were accusing him (we didn't even mention that anyone had accused him of anything!). He left very upset.

Next day he partly confesses to bring in a prepared 'introduction', "because I'm not very good at introductions to my essays".

It remains to be seen what happens in this case, but something serious needs to be done about it. Other students needs to know that we think it important enough to do something, he needs to know that this is a VERY serious offense (he doesn't understand this yet), and the faculty needs to ensure it sends a message to all students that this sort of action will get you nowhere - in fact it will jepardise your final year at school - and therefore also your plans for tertiary study. This young man wants to fly planes.

During this whole episode, I have been feeling fairly stressed. The pressure on me to explain my actions and defend my position; to put up with snide comments from this young man's friends - these need to be dealt with as well. These young 'toughs' are generally a law unto themselves and do not respest most women, let alone a new young male teacher. I will arrange a meeting with each of them and outline what has happened and 'lay the smack down'. I think this would be one way to get it out in thw open and quash any snide backchat about ramifications re: cheating and the uncovering of such things.

It's good to know I have the full support of my colleagues in the English faculty (thanks guys).

back at it - around the world

Below is from Blackboard Jungle. Some great stuff here. Interesting writing. Check it out.

Back to work after a holiday is always difficult. Standing all day, constantly on the move in the classroom, eyes everywhere at once, projecting your now dormant voice for five hours solid - it's like being an Olympic swimmer just returned from the desert.

You forget the details that have helped you survive:

  • the principle of juggling your duties - never take on ten arduous tasks at once,

  • always have at least two classes doing something that requires next to no preparation, another two classes completing work that can be assessed orally or by peers,

  • try to conserve your voice at all times by using your eyes to command, your gestures to encourage, and your voice only to praise,

  • don't write a kid up for exclusion the first time they swear or start a fight or you'll be interviewing parents all month,

  • give children choices of equivalent sanctions then gradually remove the options if they refuse to comply,

  • only agree to two extra tasks a week,

  • remember not to offer an extra homework help or revision class every day,

  • never confront a child in front of others,

  • don't agree to trips the day after parent's evening,

  • stop listening in meetings after the first 14 minutes,

  • make damn sure your lunch hour is uninterrupted

... all the small details that differentiate you from the forty people a year, every year, whom you've seen burn out too fast, in tough inner city schools like these.

You forget.
By Wednesday, you remember.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, April 19, 2004

first day back

O.K. so maybe over the 'holidays' (from now on I will refer to holidays as 'downtime') we expect that students will change and come back from the break all ready to work and excited and keen and wonderful ... so today was kind of depressing. not majorly but in a small way. This afternoon, my Y12s kind of got to me - some of them anyway - esp this one young fellow who is generally funny and easy going and all that - he just wouldn't let up - keep at it the whole time. Eventually I'd had enough and I asked him to take a couple of minutes outside the room. Now this young guy (his brother is also in the class!) is kind of a macho-tough-arrogant-endearing kind of person, so it can be hard to tell him how it is and to 'pull his head in'. We'll see how he is tomorrow.

Despite this, it is great to be back with the English faculty and with committed colleagues. Great to be back and discussing this really difficult job.

I was excited to hear that KB has started a blog and is becoming interested in their potential for a 'tool' in teaching literacy. Finally I am heard!

soooo much toooo doooo

Sunday, April 18, 2004

back to school

So school goes back tomorrow.

It's been a good break and I feel very rested; in fact I'm finding it difficult to contemplate going back to regular days and nights. Getting up before 8am is hard work as it is.

I have not done as much preparation as I should have, but I can't do anything about it now. E and I were at a wedding yesterday (Kellie and Brett) and after getting home in the evening I just crashed. I had planned to do a little planning - for the next couple of weeks etc. but I just couldn't stay awake. I'll be OK as soon as I find out what timetable day it is tomorrow! I feel kind of dodgy saying this, but anyway ...

Onward and upward.

Monday, April 12, 2004

easter reflections

I have just spent a couple of hours marking some Y11 writing. Generally it is pretty average stuff. A couple of stand out pieces and even these didn't really stand out in any 'standout' way - only that they were better than the average stuff.

Teaching writing is a funny game. I don't want to rehearse all the ins and outs now - but it is a funny game. I feel like I'm having some success with my Y8 students (13-14 yr olds) as we have spent most of term 1 (10 weeks) working on a range of different text types (a genre approach I guess). This has worked for most of the kids and most a creating some very good writing in a variety of modes. Y7s are coming on slowly - I guess I have not pushed as hard here. Y11 and 12 is the conundrum. These are the kids who you expect to have most of the skills, but the reality is that most cannot even spell and punctuate to a basic level - or they choose not to believing it's not that important. KB will tell you I have fairly lax view on the teaching of 'mechanics', and of course I would disagree with her, and I'm not trying to raise issues about the 'failing litercy skills of young people', but I would really like to read some interesting writing. I should be fair - I don't feel I can complain about uninteresting writing, because generally I enjoy reading my students' work. It's just something missing ... I'm not sure what it is. I could probably do much better at teaching and modelling writing and using good examples. Finding time to find good examples is frustrating. Anyway ...

A young Japanese student in my Y10 English class has another interesting story. She is on exchange for a year and speaks a little English, but her comprehension causes challenges for her and I in the classroom. This Y10 class is my 'blog class' and so there are other issues for ESL speakers too. Initially I struggled to understand how to help her and often did not do a very good job. In slight frustration (at myself) I asked her to post a message about something (anything, culture, difference, experience, etc) in her blog once per day during the holidays. She has been doing this and her posts are quite interesting, showing her conflicts with her host family and reflections about home etc. I hope this is more meaningful to her than what we have been doing in class.

A couple of other developments.

Terry Hayes wants me to write an article about the IFTE conference for IDIOM the VATE journal. Problem. There has been some discussion in the PIC group (our teacher collaborative group arising from the planning and aftermath of the IFTE strand 'professional identity and change') about the usefullness of continuing any conversations about IFTE that are purely nostalgic and uncritical. undoubtedly the issues live on and continue to have plenty of life, but IFTE perhaps not. There have been a number of publications arising from IFTE anyway and probably others planned too. So the question is, do I (or we as a PIC group) take the opportunity to write something or do we leave it, or do we subvert the opportunity and use it as a way to write about what has happened since? I feel much more confortable writing about how the PIC group has functioned and continued to operate as a working party to do a number of other things - like organise and run the recent VATE review day - and publish a number of journal articles (most recent English In Australia - AATE), and in doing so to illustrate how professional learning can happen in a dialogic, collaborative and intergenerational space! This approach seems to suggest our experiences together as a PIC team can function as an alterative type of professional learning - legitimate and powerful - to other modes advocated by the VIT and the like - PD that is psychologistic and individual, as if the individual learns and acts outside of the workplace and it's conditions, or the innoculation type of PD - one size fits all, 'once off all fixed' type of thing.

I think an article looking at the contribution that IFTE made to us in this regard would be worthwhile. I could also use this to straighten out some thoughts for my other article for EIA (the one I'm supposed to be working on for Brenton!)

Some other developments. I have had some interest in the blogging stuff I'm doing with my Y10s. The Highvale Cluster (two Highschools and 6 or so primary schools) have been given a grant (200,000 I think) to conduct a project based around 'innovation and excellence' (that's the department's catch cry at present). The cluster has chosen 'student engagement and learning' - an equally vague notion - as the focus. The lion's share of the money goes to pay the coordinator (called an 'educator') of the project for the cluster - apparently we teachers could never do such a job. Anyway, this person came to Highvale in the last wek of term 1 (first time at Highvale! - a little concerning)to speak to HN (a wonderful older colleague of mine who runs the literacy program). ED (the educator) also wanted to speak to me about this blogging stuff - in terms of engagement. I was immeadiatly concerned of course - ICTs as student engagers is always a dodgy line. But ED seemed genuinely interested in my perspective. That was encouraging - she also wants me to present at a combined curriculum day (across the cluster schools) sometime in June.

There you go anyway - a little update.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Should be marking writing folio SACs, but no motivation at present. E is out at some pre-wedding thingo for a friend of ours. Perhaps I'll watch 'girlfight'? It's been sitting there for about a month and is gathering dust.

There is a heap of great writing blogs out there. Teachers are the best types.

Having some trouble with my ipod battery! The dirty little secret has come home!

who's a grammar god?

Take this test ...

at least i'm in the right profession

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!

How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

a new article

I meet with Brenton yesterday to discuss ideas for a new article in followup to my thesis and all the other stuff that has been going on - IFTE, PIC, VATE review day etc. We threw somw ideas around and also thought about what publication we should aim for - we've decided on English In Australia.

In terms of the article the initial idea is to look at the different modes and examples of professional learning that are available to early career teachers. This doesn't mean that I will ignore middle and later career teachers - as obviously these have had an important part to play in any professional learning I've experenced. The idea being to contrast and compare such things as the STELLA project and it's teacher centred, collaborative and narrative approach, with such things as the VIT standards for full registration of beginning teachers, where there is an emphasis on individual learning and progression.

My thesis has much to say about the value of a 'collaborative and dialogic' approach where teachers can construct knowledge together as professionals as they critically reflect on their work and plan for the future. There is so much research in this area - in terms of the benefits of collaoration and of viewing teachers as professionals who can do this kind of intellectual work, who do not need it done to them.

This term at Highvale has been an excellent example of this kind of collaborative, critical work. KB and I have (whether or not she would agree) managed to create a kind of dialogic space wherein we have began to look at the faculty and the hows and whys of our work. There continues to be challenges and outside stimulus, but rather than making our relationship or conversations more difficult it has made them more urgent and important.

The interesting thing is that I no longer engage in these kinds of conversations with another colleague. Things change and develop and this is usually always a good thing.

Anyway, I shall have a go at putting some thoughts together this week.

If anyone has any ideas or thoughts on these issues, please let me know. In fact I would be very interested in writing a co-authored piece ...

new laptop

I must say that I have been wasting a lot of time playing around with my new laptop - IBM Thinkpad R50. It's very nice and I can see a wonderful relationship developing. Last night at a friends place we tested the wireless capabilities by walking up and down the street while browsing online! The DVD player is handy too - capturing stills from films we are studying is also very easy. At first I wasn't to sure about the 'look' - we all know that IBM does not design the coolest looking hardware - I have my ipod for that.

Anyway, it's a good thing. We'll see what happens and how long it is before it's stolen.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Holidays or school break?

To the casual observer the difference between these two 'labels' may be merely sematic, but to the term weary teacher it makes a mountain of difference (I love mixing metaphors - there is something so reckless about it!)

E (and just about every other person I know who is not a teacher) has been ribbing me about the term 'holidays'. I have been exercising great patience with these unfortunate souls while attempting to explain what the term 'holiday' actually means to teachers (or those many committed among us).

While I do have sometime to myself - i.e. a break from classes and the pressures of preparation and marking and supervision and failing test scores and yard duty and jaded colleagues and ICT problems and late nights and tired early mornings, all the rest of it (well no break from teacher bashing!) I CAN NOW DO SOME ACTUAL INTELLECTUAL WORK.

Teaching is best when there is an intellectual foundation to what we do. I guess this is the same for many things. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a rationalist, there are many areas of life that probably work just as well going on impulse or lust or whatever, but I also believe that most people don't think deeply enough about a whole lot of things - that we leave too much to others who don't think much either. Most things are just too important to leave to the unthinking (which often includes myself).

Of course this is not a simple issue (there is rarely a simple issue is there E!). The way that many workplaces and institutions are set up works against careful and deep thought and reflection. Schools for example, are places where it is very difficult to engage in any kind of extended dialogue about the whys and wherefores of the job. Often it is very difficult to even talk to anyone at all - except kids - and even then the kind of talk that one enagages in is heavily mediated by structures that opperate within the school - timetables, curriculum, buildings, the normal pattern for relationships with 'kids' etc. This is leaving alone the issue of actually speaking with other colleagues in any meaningful way. It is very difficult.

This doesn't mean it is impossible. It's not. KB and I have shown this during this first term. It is possible with effort and when a number of colleagues feel they HAVE TO and NEED TO and MUST. But at this point we come to another issue; the fact that teachers are very committed people and will generally 'put up' with whatever conditions are imposed upon them, so governments, businesses, administrations, etc. can impose 'quality assurance', outcomes ideology, testing regimes, whatever, and generally teachers will continue to do 'their' jobs with 'their kids' and let the world go by.

Something in me wonders if this is the best thing in the long run? Perhaps yes and perhaps no. It seems very passive and weak - should we be more engaged in our own profession and it's directions? But when one considers the rate of change in education, why would anyone bother to do anything? Despite all the 'whoha' things tend to go on the way they always have ... or do they?

Anyway, I have do get busy doing holday things ...