Tuesday, 5 April 2022

What do students want to learn?

This question seems like a simple one but starts to make you think if schools and education settings actually prepare our children for life after school. The fundamental requirement for our schools is to prepare our community's children for life beyond school and be prepared for adult life.

I am a secondary maths teacher and on a regular basis I get asked why we need to learn these things that we are learning in my lessons and I use the simple answer that the future is uncertain and the skills that we learn in maths prepare us for unknown problems that we may face in later life that we need the skills we have learned elsewhere and apply them to these new situations. I obviously like this answer and have been honing it for some time now.

But what do our students want to learn? What are the things that I left school not knowing, or what do our students not be prepared for?

I have a tutor group, a small group of students that check in with me each morning and I check about their wellbeing and cover any academic issues, who are aged 16-18 and these students are at the point of completing secondary education. Some are destined for university, apprenticeships, or work and so I asked them this year, "What do you want to know before you leave school?" 

They started to give me this list:

  • Personal Finance
  • Insurance
  • Tax
  • Cooking
  • Rent / Mortgages
  • Car maintenance
  • Stocks and shares
  • Pensions
These are things that may be touched upon in some of our personal development lessons but are really not covered adequately and they don't feel prepared at all for things that they will end up having to use almost immediately once leaving school!

I asked this same question to teachers/ educators from a Transatlantic Educators Discussion group and they added to the list the following:
  • College Applications & Finance
  • Media literacy - fake and real news
  • Cursive writing
  • Mental health
  • Meditation
  • CV
  • How to write an email/ letter
  • Covering letters for applications
  • USA health system
  • Local Government - What is it and what does it do
  • Personal Hygiene
  • Simple Sewing
  • Building and using a network for personal support
  • Social etiquette and how this differs in other countries
  • Jury Duty
  • Voting
This is quite a list and looking at it there are some similar ideas mainly about finance, employment, and health but a reasonable part about local society and these are really not taught in our school in the UK and some of this seems to be missed in other parts of the school.

So how important is this? How much time should school devote to preparing our children for adult life as well as pushing academic subjects and preparing for final exams?

This is an impossible question. Schools are measured by students' outcomes and in some countries that comes down to the individual teachers too. The pressure that is applied to academic performance is going to prevent schools from giving more time to cover this list. Our students have enrichment opportunities each year which are used for various activities, and school trips but is this enough time to give them the proper preparation for later life? What else do we need to teach our children so that they are truly ready for later life?

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

1 hour a week - Week 1

For anyone involved in Scouting or Guiding or another sort of youth volunteering program the idea of an hour a week is often said tongue in cheek and people are often spending far more than the simple hour a week.

I decided before Christmas that I would give my children 1 hour a week of 1-1 time with them. As any parent knows trying to get any sensible time that doesn't involve trying to prise a child away from a screen during the week or getting them to stay at the dinner table long enough for a proper conversation is hard enough to do. I remember at my childrens' christenings that as parents we are the first teachers of our children and I believe that my wife and I are doing a good job of that so far. It isn't as if we get a second chance at parenting! My eldest son Isaac, 16, is about to finish secondary school and he has a plan for college and beyond although it isn't completely concrete yet and I wanted to give him some individual attention to discuss the world at large, give him some chance to ask anything, and also devote some time to give him some life lessons. I had discovered that there are a number of simple things that he is unsure about so I want to ensure he is prepared. Cameron and Hattie, 13 and 9 respectively were also keen on their individual hours a week too. I didn't really have a specific plan as to how these hours were going to go, but I decided that I want to share with them about how the world changes. So my plan was hatched.

Week 1

Cameron and I went and enjoyed a hot chocolate in our local Starbucks which I used to work at when it was a bank. One of the old strong rooms is still there but apart from that, the remains of the old bank are long gone. We talked about how things change. When it was a bank with a cash machine the weekly turnover of cash and the fraudsters that used to come in, but also the regular customers that you would get to know over the weeks that they would come in. Are these relationships with the local community being lost with the changing landscape of our towns? Another topic for another time. We also talked about why do people buy expensive coffee in a coffee shop and looked around at the people in there and hypothesized about what they had come in for and what they were talking about!

We continued talking for well over an hour and then walked back. It was a lovely first opportunity to stop and just talk and see where the conversation took us.

Isaac and I also went through our local community shops and looked at how our local landscape had changed. We didn't go back to Starbucks, I wasn't impressed with my hot chocolate, but instead, we tried Costa, I struggled to remember what the shop was before it was Costa it may have been a bank or building society but for the life of me I can't remember. Isaac made a poor decision and got a drink without sugar, but he doesn't drink any hot drinks at all. From there we walked and talked our way towards the town center. We wanted to pop into a Lidl before making it bowling with some friends. The weather had other plans and before we got into town we got drenched completely and ended up getting rescued so that we could get changed. The bowling was great incidentally as I rocked the first game and he smashed through the second.

I had planned to just go for a walk with Hattie and get some ice cream. She also isn't that interested in hot drinks at all and so we walked towards our local ice cream parlor. I can say parlor as we are blessed in our town to have a number of really good places for ice cream. Hattie was brilliant and just talked along the way and she asked if I had any money on the way as she knew there was an ice parlor on our walk! She is so amazingly sweet and wasn't disheartened when it wasn't open. So instead we walked a lot further than I had planned and we went to another one in town. Our hour turned into an hour and a half and 5km walk. We were both clearly tired when we got back.

So 1 week in and managed to just about manage the first sessions. I feel that Isaac got short-changed this week with the weather cutting our time short and actually his choice of drink from Costa. I'll try and address this in the future.

Monday, 11 January 2021

The first week is over

A whole week has passed us by in 2021. Lockdown has returned although this isn't the same as last year. People are less concerned about following the rules and more concerned about earning money. This is obvious both from the government and from the amount of traffic on our roads. Whilst it is understandable what price are people willing to pay?

I guessed I had started the year hoping that I would write something daily and while that didn't quite happen these last few days I am pleased I have made time to return to it today. Personally Im feeling good. I have carried on running and I'm happy that this is becoming more of the norm rather than a chore.

I have also been to work today. Not remotely but actually in person. I went for a lateral flow test which isn't the nicest of experiences I have ever had but while it is a necessity I'll continue to be tested and go for it. 
My students that I have been looking after today have no real concept of the dangers and the need to stay in a bubble. Can't say I totally blame them as the bubbles we put them in aren't their choice of friends.
It was good to go in.

Another of my students contacted me today in their usual way of saying 1000 words when all they needed was 3. I need help. They aren't the only ones that needed someone as a good friend of mine was clearly annoyed and frustrated with the whole situation especially as he has been abiding by the rules and missing out on time with his other half. This is probably the hardest thing for anyone. To live close enough to see them but feeling obliged to obey the rules. We all miss the physical contact of others. The simple shaking hands of colleagues to the hugging if friends and family. 
Will we be able to get back to this in the future?

I will speak to both of them tomorrow!

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Cautious v selfish

I have been trying to pen this post for a number of days, but have struggled with it. I guess that's the beauty of writing I can chose to write something or not and publish what I choose. So this is a personal battle between being safe and selfish. 

Nearly 10 years ago we were part of a horrible statistic, unfortunately, the situation got worse and we became 1 in a very large number. 

I don't want to be that stat again. My boys 
are staying home with me whilst I teach remotely and they learn remotely. They wouldn't get anything different being in school so I don't see it as an issue. My daughter however went into her primary school and I guess today wasn't too bad. 12 out of 64 kids were in so not too bad. Tomorrow she will be in a bubble of 35. Government guidance is that you can meet 1 other person outdoors. My wife and daughter will be meeting 30 ish differe t households everyday from tomorrow.

This is giving me a bit of anxiety to be honest. Home schooling and the difficulty with Hattie's routine at home last time was really difficult.
This is the hardest what if for me ever. I don't really know the right answer. 

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Live remote lessons

All guns blazing, that's how I started today. Ready to deliver lessons almost as though I was still in my room where actually I was at home. A few minor glitches with students on the wrong call but 4 lessons delivered. I delivered what I had expected and gave the kids a chance to learn the technology and work through what they needed to do. 

It was hard. My plan of delivering constant for 25% of the lesson and the kids do the rest was unrealistic today. However, the kids said thanks and they really appreciated the interaction even if they struggled to be motivated at home.

Last year the biggest issues was the lack of interaction. It was too new and fresh and we weren't ready. This year we have got some skills and the tools have come on a long way we can do far better than we could before.

Tomorrow is a bigger challenge. 6 lessons worth and a couple of new classes to get through the process. It should get easier. My expectations aren't going to change and I want to continue to give my kids a chance to interact, ask questions, get some feedback and if they learn something then that's an added bonus. 

I need to remember that I can only fix things that I am in control of and leave others to fix the other things that I can't. 

Monday, 4 January 2021

Why we are teachers

This card from one of my more challenging year 7s was sent to me before Christmas. I found it again today and it just reminds us why we do what we do.
I will make sure when I speak to young man I tell him his card lightened my day.
The second thing that really boosted my day was an unexpected game of eyespy with my 8 year old daughter. The difference now is that adjectives seem to be accepted as part of the game! I'm waiting for the upgrade to subordinate clauses and fronted adverbials!

It was also nice being in work for the day. Lockdown again means that it will be nearer Easter before that gets changed but I'll see about going in a day a week both for my own sanity and the ability to focus 100% on work for a day.

Still managed to keep up the running and also writing so go me!

Sunday, 3 January 2021

My post on school opening

I teach in a secondary school and tomorrow is my first day back after Christmas. There will only be a few children in school and I will teach my classes online for now. I don't have any issues with this at all. I'll be in my room doing my lessons and recording additional lesson material for other classes this week.
My issues with this week is the primary schools. I haven't entered into any online debates about this and I am far from a hard political activist but here is what I am hearing rightly or wrongly.
This covid various strain is very transmissible. I guess that means it is airborne rather than touch dependent. So current restrictions outside of school are you are able to meet 1 other person outside. So in my well insulated classroom I can have up to 34 children from different families in there at once. During the course of the day that means about 200 students mainly from different families and so this means if one student has it within that group they run the risk of transmitting spreading it like wild fire. How can this be sensible? Mass testing in a week or two will clearly pick up this ridiculous increase in the virus and our schools will end up closed.
It puts me and my family in a really difficult place. We both work in schools we both appreciate the bubble system is far from perfect and there is risk of cross contamination all over but we are prepared to do our duty. This says who we are. We may not be doctors or nurses or health care professionals but we do our bit and we do our best to stick to the rules.

The question is should we be selfish? 

Should I take a stand and protect my family?

I don't know the right answer. What if going and doing the best ends up one of us getting ill?

It is a tough call and I don't know the right answer. I guess I'll see what tomorrow brings and then take it from there. I will have limited contact with anyone tomorrow and the students will not be in.