Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The end of the next part of the beginning of the end

On my (early) arrival at school I met Frank (from the School on the Hill) and had a chat which meant that the morning meeting hit me in the middle of my photocopying and caused a set of Year 7 material to go missing.

The thrust of the morning meeting was an announcement of, or rather encouragement about “Teaching Excellence Awards” which the company which runs the school has decided to institute.  This is a belated initiative following their introduction in England and Wales.  The headteacher emphasised that nominations could be self-nomination or for another person.

I totally reject such messy industry-driven initiatives.  These are out of place in a professional environment and are viciously divisive.  They cheapen the teaching profession and make it tawdry. 

The prize-giving ceremonies are pale imitations of the Oscar shenanigans, and the fact that there are various awards for films and filmmakers does not mean that they are a justification for teachers.  There are “good” commercial reasons for having a whole series of publicity heavy festivals in the film industry.  Education is not an industry.  The commercial incentive is not there and the teaching awards tend to accentuate (vide “Teach as though your hair is on fire”) the “dedicated” individual whose entire life is given over to education.

The link to recognition of pupils’ achievements not only academically but also in sporting achievements as a justification for teaching excellence awards is spurious because teachers are providing a professional service.  To my mind it is akin to instituting best patient awards for those individuals who get better more quickly than others!  And just as useful.  Teachers deal with living, sentient beings where there is a reciprocity of effort and the quantification of that relative effort is difficult.

Do we really want payment by results?  With the sophistication of statistics we are now given a series of predictions at Year 7 level which indicate the probably performance at Year 11.  With the use of “Value Added” assessment we can tell if a school is performing according to the outline direction and make adjustments – awards in this context seem at best irrelevant and at worst positively destructive.

Superlative individual teachers are wonderful human beings and their reward, surely, is the reaction of their pupils and in the way that they learn.  I am much, much more concerned about the sturdy professionalism of the majority of the profession who do a good job and also have a life outside education as well.

The presence of teaching “saints” in a school whose hallowed status is recognized by an award automatically turn the rest of the staff into a bunch of second class citizens and create conflict where a collegiate should exist.

And, to the question about what would happen if no member of staff nominated any other member of staff for an award, the headteacher said that he would nominate teachers himself.  A more certain way to sow discord I cannot imagine!

As one person perceptively pointed out in the meeting, she was more concerned about a general pay rise rather than the recognition of a single person or small group of persons.  Too bloody right!

My OU teaching materials have finally arrived and I have started the annotation.  The web sites are up and running and there is some communication between members of the incredibly disparate tutor group that my tutor, Roza, has to cope with.  So far, apart from residents of the North of England, I note that there are people in Malta and Italy as well as my good self in Spain.  I do not think that the tutor’s hope that we will meet soon is likely to be realized!

Today, Halloween is one of those depressing days when the rain and overcast nature of the weather make you think that the sun will never again shine.  However, I have faith in the way that the Spanish climate works and this cold snap must have its end soon – even if it is winter!

I have been told by the school that my presence will be needed next week so I will probably be here for another four days.  Not five.

Today, to add to the jollity of nations, there is a bus, underground and taxi strike.  Next week on Wednesday there will be a General Strike - hence my four-day week.

This school, like the School on the Hill will probably be open in spite of the horrendous conditions that will probably prevail.  In my view the school should be closed purely for Health & Safety concerns but, as David always took great delight in reminding me, “Remember Stephen, this is not Britain!”

Many of the kids have dressed up in various versions of what might pass as costumes for Halloween with some inventive and effective attempts – especially in the area of face painting.

My single student for my lesson second period is now ensconced in the IT room doing first hand material gathering from the web for a case study on cyclones and I with, I have to say an uncharacteristic selflessness have released a colleague from the durance vile of supervising the study area for the sixth form.  Her expression of astonished delight was something to witness when I actually had to encourage her to leave!

The only two other classes that I have to take today are, as far as I can work out, are during the parade of Halloween which should see me sitting pretty and doing very little.  I feel I deserve a little space after giving of myself so generously!

I did not, of course, have that little space.  I was dragooned into being a judge of the Halloween Parade which took over two of my teaching periods and was, I have to admit, very enjoyable.

The key factor in the whole enterprise was the control and restraint of the kids – high as kites at one moment and then brought back to reasonableness the next.  I shudder to think what the whole experience would have been like in an inner city secondary school in Britain!

My three-day week is now over and I am as exhausted as if I had been there since September!  Today has been one of those complex days when various things happen any one of which might have been sufficient to make the day interesting.

Firstly I have agreed to go back on Monday for a full week of supply.  This was certainly not my intention when I went there this week, but the request was made and it would have been churlish to have refused.  I think.

I also made the acquaintance of a part-time teacher was is a published authority on Art History and who has publishing links with David Hockney and who could talk about art and did.  She latched on to the fact that I could string together a few sentences on major artists with the sort of avidity that I would have shown if someone had said that they had been a fan of Nielsen’s orchestral music!  It was a delight to talk about art with someone who had worked in the National Gallery and who had also seen that precious jewel in exhibition terms, “The Post Impressionist Exhibition” in the Royal Academy.

My conversations with other teachers were valuable and refreshing and I feel as if I could have a place in the school – but an extra week will be more than enough.  And, in any case, I am off to the UK a day or so after the General Strike which is now in about a fortnight.

I even managed to get a scrap of learning done by making a few brief annotations in my first course book!

A day well spent.

Now to gird myself up to luxuriate in a four-day weekend!

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