Thursday, 8 April 2010

I know I am supposed to be on holiday but ...

Before Christmas the Sixth Form where I work was inspected … and was found wanting. This has meant a lot of extra work for everyone, including me. We know that we will be re-inspected sometime soon (probably in May) and we have all been preparing for the inspection. It was therefore something of a shock to discover that the Local Authority has decided to ‘help’ by having its own ‘mock’ inspection to see if we are up to scratch.

This ‘extra’ inspection will take place two days after we return from the Easter holidays, and as a result I have spent most of my free time since Tuesday preparing a whole term’s teaching materials and the related scheme-of-work because the inspection team will want to see it when they come in.

Now for those of you who were brought up on the ‘turn to page 5 and read to page 10’ and ‘write an essay about … ‘ school of teaching this might seem to be a bit odd. After all, the courses have syllabuses, the student’s have textbooks, and loads of materials are available free to download form the Internet, so what is the problem?

Well … a large proportion of my students do not speak English as a first language, and so most of the textbooks and readily available teaching materials are just unsuitable. I have to re-write them before they can be used, and I have found that it is actually quicker to do the whole thing from scratch. In addition, we are moving to a more student-centred style of learning (not teaching) where materials have to be suitable for a wide range of abilities and individual needs; they also have to be available electronically so that the student can access them 24:7.

I have now finished my preparation for next term. The task sheets are written, the support materials (including the inevitable PowerPoint presentations) have been created, and the whole lot has been uploaded to the Sixth Form’s ‘learning gateway’. This process is very time consuming and mentally tiring, which is why my wargaming and blogging have been very much on the backburner for the past few days. I only hope that after a good night’s sleep I will be able to get enough energy together to play-test my new rules tomorrow.


  1. My sympathies. Making education "student-centered" is one of those ideas that sound just great, and it surely is important that all students be able to benefit from their education, but at least on this side of the pond it has meant dumbing down everything until everyone can excel. Yuck.

    Bilingual education is often worse. My wife has been a bilingual teacher (Spanish-English)for 25 years, with plenty of materials translated into Spanish. Her orientation has been towards helping each child learn English and be able to take part in mainstream activities. Her job has been made much more difficult by special interests who want schools to teach in Spanish until the kids get to the 7th grade (age 13 or 14). This of course ignores the fact that kids learn a new language better the younger they are, but who cares about that? She was also pressured to make classroom activities focused on Latin American culture, celebrate Mexican holidays, etc. Um, no, that's the family's job, but who cares about that either?

    She finally retired from her last school, whose children spoke English, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Vietnamese, Afghan, Hindi, Chinese, Tagalog--you name it. All of which is A-OK, so long as the kids are taught the language, customs, history, and culture of the country they now call home.
    Of course, the school is judged by how well the student body does on standardized tests--none of which take into account the fact that the school has become a mini-United Nations, where English being the second language is the norm, not the exception.

    I had wanted to teach history after retiring from the government, but I've decided not to. I don't need to trade one bureaucracy for another. I'm glad there are still blokes like you willing to stay in the trenches!

  2. My sympathies

    From my HE experience education seems to be putting the cart before the horse

    The technology that was meant to assist now seems to govern as teachers and students alike become the slaves

    The perverse part being the cost of the technology will directly impact on the F2F teaching budgets

    I hope you can work off the angst with some dice rolling

  3. Chris J,

    Thanks for your supportive comments.

    'Dumbing down' is very much the norm in a lot of what I see. Nothing can be too difficult or challenging in case the student feels that they cannot cope (and usually they cannot!). It has now reached the stage where I teach alongside graduates who cannot write a sentence without making basic errors.

    As to language teaching ... well my wife is a expert in dealing with pupils with special needs (including those whose first language is not English) and she cannot believe that all the teachers who deal with these students where I work all have English as their second language.

    I have corrected the very poor English written by a student, only to have my 'corrections' corrected by someone whose written English is also very poor. When I challenged this I was told that I was not taking the student's needs into account, which I find rather odd as they will not be able to get a job if they cannot write even basic English!

    The only thing that keeps me going is the fact that the students are - in general - hardworking and actually want to get on. They understand that I am trying to help them, and respond accordingly. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and it is something that I will miss when I eventually retire.

    All the best,


  4. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

    The technology is great ... when it works. It is a very helpful teaching and learning aid ... but it cannot replace the interaction between teacher and student. That is when real teaching and learning takes place. Nowadays there is no room for the individual who could inspire people to learn. Good teaching and learning is now all about 'ZAP! BANG! WIZZ!' (according to the experts we need to compete with the X Box and Playstation to keep our students' attention) and nothing to do with hard work and effort.

    Anyway, with a bit of luck I shall be turning cards, throwing dice, and pushing some toy soldiers about on the tabletop some time tomorrow, and that is something to really look forward to.

    All the best,


  5. "Their enthusiasm is infectious, and it is something that I will miss when I eventually retire."

    That sums it up why you teach Bob :)

    Always remember the better educationalists are on your side from Dewy, Roger Schank and Seymour Pappert

    After I get finished with my naval fad, mainly painting ships, I hope to get a chance to look at your card events and modern rules :)

  6. Bob
    You have my thoughts and sympathies. I teach too, albeit in the primary sector. I know the joys of the inspectorate also!

    I hope all goes well and I trust this little corner of imaginations/hobby stuff will help keep you sane...

  7. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

    You are quite right. Even now, after 38 years teaching, I still get a 'buzz' from seeing a student 'get it', if you know what I mean.

    And now on to other matters ... I hope to carry out a play-test of the latest draft of the rules later today but I have a feeling that my wife expects me to do something else first ... we shall see what happens!

    All the best,


  8. Tradgardmastare (or should that be Alan?),

    Primary ... wow! That is where the real work gets done!

    You have my both my admiration (I have yet to meet a good Primary school teacher who does not work incredibly hard) and my sympathy (You lot always get the blame for not turning out perfect little learners by those further up the educational food chain ... and you usually get paid worse!).

    As to wargaming … well it does keep me sane, although sometimes it seems more ‘real’ and ‘down to earth’ than some of the things I have to deal with at work. Surreal is often the norm there!

    All the best,


  9. What really gets me is even the Teacher's material is dumbed down or outright wrong and they don't catch it. My son's 5th grade history book stated "Virginia led the South out of the Union." Um, no, that was South Carolina; Virginia was willing to stay until Lincoln called out the troops. Even worse, "Stonewall Jackson was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg." Argh! I sent in a letter about both of these flubs, but they remained as is on the end of the year exam. It is to weep.

  10. Chris J,

    History! Obviously my favourite subject at school, and one that I originally taught ... until the National Curriculum came along.

    The final straw was the Year 9 course which was:
    Term 1: History of North American Indians (with an overwhelming amount of time spent looking at the Plains Indians)
    Term 2: History of Black People in America (with an emphasis on slavery and its abolition in the USA)
    Term 3: World War I (only the trenches, and with a major emphasis on how bad the British generals were), World War II (only the Home Front and Holocaust), and the Cold War

    To say that the content was biased would be an understatement, and at that point I moved over to teaching Information Technology and Business Studies, which were far less likely to cause me to have raised blood pressure.

    I still love history, and I am called in on occasions to help out where I currently teach because I have a breadth of knowledge the students (and some of the staff) do not have.

    All the best,


  11. I vaguely recall that they crammed a fair amount more at us and were happy to criticize us in the day, not sure it actually helped me in real life anymore than anything else would have me. What did help were some teachers who took a personal interest in the students, both promising and not, made learning things sound interesting and encouraged those who seemed susceptible.

    My hats off to them and the rest of you who are following in their steps.

  12. Ross Mac,

    We just do our best. It is all we can do ... and sometimes it reaps rewards for all concerned.

    All the best,


  13. Bob,
    Reading the comments about 'dumbing down' &c. reminded me of a SF story I read to my class years ago, in which parents are worrying about how their child - whom they believe to be quite bright, so hope he'll do well enough - will do in the important examinations that the state requires all children to take at a certain age...
    Then the telephone rings. An education department official regrets to inform them that their son exceeded the maximum permitted score and therefore would they be kind enough to say what kind of funeral arrangements they would like for him...
    My pupils at first wondered why on earth government would not want intelligent, thoughtful citizens, then the penny dropped - wonderful to see! Wish I could remember the name of the story...

    I came across this superb quotation from the Great Duke today:
    "So long as I retain an independent position, I shall see no officer under my command is debarred by attending to the futile driveling of mere quill-driving from attending to his first duty, which train the private men under his command..."

    I often quote his remark about the forthcoming battle of Waterloo: "I have no plan; I shall be guided by circumstances."

    Best wishes,

  14. Arthur1815,

    I love the story! If you ever find out its name and author, please let me know the details.

    The old Duke knew his stuff. Worry about what matters. The rest is ... not worth worrying about.

    Somehow I don't think that he would have understood the modern Tory Party. Can you imagine him being called 'Arthur' or even 'Art' like his modern counterpart David (call me 'Dave') Cameron?

    I think it would have been a case of 'Damn yer impertience! My second will call upon you later today!'

    The good old days!

    All the best,



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