SUNS 84 and 85: ‘GOVERNMENT FUNDING NOT IMPARTIAL’ and ‘NAPLAN LANDS ON 2015’

SUNS 84 and 85: ‘GOVERNMENT FUNDING NOT IMPARTIAL’ and ‘NAPLAN LANDS ON 2015’

Both columns published in march 2015
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SUNS 84

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT NOT EVEN HANDED

There are many organisations which call on the NT Government for financial support and recognition. Some promote the performing arts and culture. Others are connected with sporting activities. These include motor sports, horse racing, football of all codes, cricket and periodic ‘big time’ sporting fixtures. They are all given government support to bring fixtures to the NT. The latest in a long line is tennis, with the NT Government ready to give big dollars to bring the Australian – Kagiistan exchange to Darwin. The government also provides $200 per school student each year, to offset family costs for their involvement with sport.

It seems that government support is not distributed even handedly. Arts and cultural groups struggle to earn government support. That has been the case during the lives of all Territory Governments. In an almost bipartisan way, sport is enthusiastically sponsored but arts and cultural needs are neglected. Those programs supported, for example ‘Bass In The Grass’ are about spectatorship rather than development for Territorians through participative programs.

The North Australian Eisteddfod has passed into history for lack of any long term budgetary assurance. Government support for this program was from year to year at best. The Eisteddfod’s demise has taken from students the chance to participate in music, dance, instrumental, speaking, reading and choral performance.

The Beat has managed to survive and continue. However, significant changes have been necessary, the major one being venue change from the Darwin Amphitheatre to the Darwin Entertainment Centre. The reduced venue is restrictive for both performers and audience size. The amphitheatre accommodated large audiences. The venue also allowed for many more children to participate for the two nights. DEC meant smaller primary school choir groups who were able to entertain for only one night. The second night involves a different set of primary school choirs.

It is thanks to the Darwin Rotary Club, its major sponsor and underwriter, along with other private support, that the Beat has been able to survive and carry on. The Rotary Club offers scholarships to primary and secondary school Beat participants who have career prospects in the performing arts. The NT School of Music and music teachers in school deserve plaudits for their dedication to the Beat. At least the Beat is still a goer, but for how much longer?

Sport and the arts responsibilities are now vested in the same minister the Hon Gary Higgins. I would like to think the Minister could see the need for a greater level of government recognition for the performing arts. Sportspeople endure for a relatively short period of time before being overtaken by age. Those preferring the arts, if supported, will offer a return to the community that is not end dated by age.
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SUNS 85

NAPLAN: FOUR ‘MAY DAYS’ EACH YEAR

Within a few short weeks, the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) 2015 will be upon us. At this time each year schools begin to focus with earnestness on the upcoming tests. Four school days in week five of term two are set aside for the administration of these tests. Three of the days enable attending students around Australia to complete the tests, with the fourth being a ‘catch up’ day. On that day, students who have been absent for parts of the testing week, can sit tests they have missed.

Once it’s over, staff and students should be able to relax a little. However, many school leadership teams and staff become anxious as they wait some months for results. It often seems that NAPLAN is the steering wheel that drives education.

Results are released to schools and parents. While the time between tests being taken and these results coming through has reduced, the Australia-wide analysis task means a lapse of many months.

The focus by schools and staff upon results often saturates staff meetings and professional discussions. Tests are taken by Year 3,5,7, and 9 students. However, contribution to NAPLAN testing is the responsibility of all teachers because learning is a continuous process. Principals business days with departmental leaders always have a strong focus on NAPLAN issues of testing, measurement and evaluation.

The efforts of school leaders and staff are regularly appraised and evaluated. NAPLAN Results including NAPLAN trends since 2008 are part of this program.

While NAPLAN is a measuring tool, there is a distinct danger that it can become the major focus of schools. Indeed, in the weeks and months leading up to May each year, children in many schools are taken through past tests, often with monotonous repetition. NAPLAN based text and exercise books have become major items for sale in bookstores and newsagents. This means parents as well as schools get involved with test reinforcement.

In reality , ‘teaching to the test’ has become a priority focus in the classrooms of many schools, both government and private. Some years ago Tom Chappell released a song about NAPLAN with a by-line pointing to teachers. ‘Your score is my score’ was the key lyric.

Chappell went on to sing about the fact that other subjects, including music, the arts and physical education were being sidelined for NAPLAN. He bemoaned the fact that ‘fun’ was being taken out of education.

Some educators and certainly the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority (ACARA) downplay NAPLAN as being only a small cog in the assessment wheel. The prime focus placed on these tests, including both elation and disappointment at school and system results would indicate otherwise. NAPLAN dominates the educational horizon.

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VIGNETTES SERIES 17: BE VISIBLE TO STUDENTS and PRESENT WITH STAFF

VIGNETTES SERIES 17

BE VISIBLE TO STUDENTS and PRESENT WITH STAFF

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VIGNETTE 50

YARD DUTY

In most schools, yard duty is a very important part of the “extra” the teachers and staff provide for children. The pros and cons of yard duty have raised themselves as issues over many years but this responsibility is still with us.

I believe that yard duty is important not only for insuring children’s safety and well-being, but to help teachers get to know children in and outside the classroom.

There are a number of things teachers on the yard duty should take into account.

* Cover all areas of the designated duty area. Don’t stand still in one place but rather be aware and move around the whole of the area to which care is designated. Children love to get away into nooks and crannies, not necessarily for mischievous purpose but because at times they like to be alone, and on their own. Be aware of where children are with in your area.

* Converse with children as you go but avoid staying in the one place talking to individuals or small groups for too long. It’s the whole area that needs your coverage during time on duty. To spend too long in one place talking offers distractions from the 360°”eye and ear awareness” for which you are responsible.

* School guards can become horribly rubbishy places. Children have a propensity to throw litter onto the ground rather than using bins, even if the nearest one is only 2 m away. If and when you see children using the bins, commend them on their tidiness and care for the environment. A little bit of praise can go along way when it comes to building the tidiness and civic pride habit.

* If a child has an accident or injury while you are on duty, and if you are unsure of severity, send somebody who is reliable to the office to report the matter straight away. It’s often a good idea to send students in pairs to ensure that the message is delivered. If you have a mobile phone, contact with the front office may not be a bad idea. When out on yard duty I always carried my mobile and if there was a need to contact the office, it was done Some schools have two-way (walkie-talkie) radios which are used for this purpose.

* If a child is injured while out in the sun, offer them shade if you can. That may mean you shedding a jumper, giving up your hat, or standing over the child in a way that prevents the sun from shining directly onto him or her. At the same time encourage peers to stand back and not crowd in on the injured child.

* It can be helpful and comforting for somebody who is distressed to have a close friend with them to talk to them. It’s usually easy to identify such a person. To allow that person close proximity to the injured child while keeping others back is a good idea.

* Most schools have hat policies and also students who at times either forget the hats or prefer not to wear them when out in the sun. When on duty, be aware of children who may not have hats and direct them into shaded areas if your duty is out in the sunshine.

While some teachers don’t like wearing hats (and therefor set a bad example to children by not wearing them) I’d strongly urge duty teachers to always have a hat on their heads when out on duty. Remember, we model for children. If we don’t do what they’re required to do that places us in somewhat of a hypocritical situation.

* In most schools, recess and lunch duties are shared between teachers. That means at any break period there will be two teachers who share the time to oversight an area. Always be on time if going out on the yard duty or replacing somebody already there. It’s important to not leave an area unattended, because if an accident occurs while supervision is not supplied, duty of care comes into question. There has been more than one court case as a result of poor supervision when children are at play.

* If your duty area covers toilets, make sure you keep an eye on activity around toilet doors and be aware of the behaviours of children inside. You may not feel comfortable (nor might it be appropriate) about going into a particular toilet block but eyes, ears and awareness play a very important part in this observation. Behaviour in and around toilets needs to be appropriate and not ignored.

* There is usually a five minute warning bell or chimes to alert children to the fact that recess and lunchtimes are about to end. If out on duty, make sure the children stop playing when the bell begins to sound. Directing them back to classroom via the toilet, hand basin, and drinking fountain is a good idea. Encouraging children to be ready and in line with the second bell goes can be a good habit to acquire in time management. Time awareness is very important. As well, duty teachers generally need to be back to take charge of their classes or groups when the second bell goes.

Yard duty is central to the care provision provided for students by school staff. At times it might be a little irksome and you may not feel like doing it. However in the overall scheme of things here for children is paramount and duty of care critically important. Yard duty should never ever be neglected.
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VIGNETTE 51

STAFF ROOM CONTACT

If not on duty, my strong suggestion is that during recess and lunch breaks teachers spend time out of their classrooms, mingling with staff in the school staffroom is. It is important for teachers to have social contact with each other where that is not necessarily connected with professional learning and formal collegiate exchange. Sharing time together is important; teachers and staff members need to get to know each other.

Those who don’t intermingle miss out on a lot of conviviality and the sharing that goes with being in the company of others. Avoiding isolation and being regarded as an isolate is important.

Don’t focus conversation entirely on classroom issues. These matters will come up. However being away from the classroom physically should also support the need to be away from it mentally. There is more to teaching then classroom space and children within the class. If sharing outcomes, concentrate on the positives and things that have been good about a particular teaching session. It can be all too easy to focus on the ongoing challenges and continuing problems, therefore overlooking the good bits.

Avoid scandal, gossip and character besmirchment when sharing with colleagues. This includes picking children to bits and making comment of a negative nature about them. There is a time and place to have a conversation about challenging children. The social aspects of gathering together are important and again forgetting about what’s going on within the classroom for a period a useful device.

Cups and plates used during breaks should always be washed and placed in a drainer. Washing, drying and putting a way of utensils can help keep the class the staffroom neat and orderly. Many staffrooms provide dishwashers. Placing crockery and cutlery in them before going back to class helps ensure staffroom tidiness. There is nothing worse for support staff and those left behind to have to clean up after others. Messy teachers and staff quickly fall from favour with their peers.

Spillages on carpets and other floorcoverings can occur. To clean up any mess quickly is important. There are far too many school staffrooms where floorcoverings have been spoiled and the aesthetic affect of the room impacted because spillages have been left. Once dried on floors they are hard to remove.

Move on the first bell and aim to be back with the children when breaks are over and it is time to resume teaching activities. There’s often some distance between learning areas and the staffroom so giving yourself travelling (walking) time to get back and resume duty needs to be taken into account.

Mix with staff in a social context and don’t hide away from colleagues.
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VIGNETTES SERIES 16: LOCATION and TAXATION

VIGNETTES SERIES 16: LOCATION AND TAXATION

Where to teach and reclaiming costs
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VIGNETTE 48

REMOTE AREA SERVICE

The challenge for the Department of Education in our Northern Territory is readying teachers after training to undertake remote area teaching service. Very few teacher education graduates in the NT go to remote or very remote communities on appointment.

This is due in part to many pre-service teachers from interstate training by external mode. They intend to seek appointment in their home states. The other issue is that many of our local graduate teachers are mature age, with family or personal commitments that will keep them in Darwin, Palmerston and other major centres.

If interested about teaching in a remote community, it is advisable to try and organise a practice teaching round or two in a remote locality. Charles Darwin University has a policy of sending at least two people to aa community so they have the opportunity to talk, provide feedback to each other and generally share the experience.

It would be altogether wrong to go into a practice teaching round with romantic or “missionary” expectations or ambitions in mind. Undertaking a practice should be based on rational and logical pre-considerations. To consider indigenous students as a “special” group is often to under estimate them, their capacities for learning and their ability to make progress. Neither should they be regarded as unique in the context of being almost treated like special toys. They are people and need to be regarded as having the same expectations and abilities as anybody else.

If going into a community on practice teaching, it is a good idea to gain an understanding of the place by googling, reading, talking with people who may have been in that or similar communities in the past. Going in cold can be very unhelpful. Be aware of the facilities available within the community including accommodation, food, shopping, communications, and so on.

I believe it’s important if going into a community to maintain our cultural standards. In the past some teachers have let their standard slip in order to try and be like locals. They gain no respect but earn contempt if that happens.

Respect is a two way street. While it’s important to gain the respect of community members, it is also important to respect that community and not to belittle the people or place in your thinking or actions. In the same way as we talk with each other, including aboriginal people in conversation if working at their place is important. A lot is learned through conversation.

There is a place for our local graduates in remote area education in the Northern Territory. At the moment significant number of teachers who do bush service are recruited from interstate. That is because locals are not available to take up appointments. Our aboriginal population is very much a part and parcel of our Northern Territory. An ambition of our University and Education Department should be to train teachers for remote community. Lots of positives can be gained in life’s world from undertaking teaching service in these places.

If interested in training or on graduation in teaching in our remote communities, don’t let that ambition lapse. Follow it up. It could well be an appointment bringing you rich experience and personal satisfaction.
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VIGNETTE 49

TAX DEDUCTIONS

Teaching can be a cost heavy profession. Keeping receipts of expenditure related to costs can help when it comes to taxation time. I am not a tax professional. Googling ato.gov.au or putting into your search engine ‘taxation deductions for teachers’ brings up the entry appearing below. It is good to be aware of what can be claimed because every bit helps when it comes to legitimate claims for taxation purposes.

Keeping documentation takes a little organisation. I keep an indexed notebook and glue receipts in against particular categories. Come taxation time, it is then a case of going through documentation and tallying expenditure against each deduction category.

I would never advocate dishonesty when claiming deductions. However, claiming legitimate work related expenditure can help with cost recovery.

What comes up when ‘taxation deductions for teachers’ is googled. (Australia)

“Teachers – claiming work-related expenses
About this guide
If you are an employee teacher, this information outlines some of the deductions you may be able to claim.
The work-related expenses include:
motor vehicle
clothing, including compulsory uniforms, protective clothing, laundry and dry-cleaning
self-education
other – such as phones, calculators, electronic organisers, computers and software, meals, and teaching aids
There may be other deductions you can claim that are not included in this publication. Refer to More information at the end of this guide for a list of resources.

When you sign your tax return, you are declaring that everything you have told us is true and you can support your claims with written evidence.
You are responsible for providing proof of your expenses, even if you use a registered tax agent.”
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End of attention

ON TEACHING – A PERSONAL REFLECTION

For teachers graduating into our classrooms, it is often not a case of what they know or what they don’t about teaching methodology. Their introduction is often one of shock when they realise they are dealing with increasingly non-compliant children. While teaching practices can be put into place, they don’t wash with children who are deliberately defiant and behaviourally dysfunctional. Some of that may be down to identifying ‘syndrome’ issues that can be worked on and corrected. Many children however, are knowingly and wilfully defiant.

I have talked with many teachers who report of having to spend most of every day on managing and disciplining children, with very little time left for teaching. Sadly, blame for what goes wrong is directly blamed on school leaders and teachers.

For teachers graduating into our classrooms, it is often not a case of what they know or what they don’t about teaching methodology. Their introduction is often one of shock when they realise they are dealing with increasingly non-compliant children. While teaching practices can be put into place, they don’t wash with children who are deliberately defiant and behaviourally dysfunctional. Some of that may be down to identifying ‘syndrome’ issues that can be worked on and corrected. Many children however, are knowingly and wilfully defiant.

I have talked with many teachers who report of having to spend most of every day on managing and disciplining children, with very little time left for teaching. Sadly, blame for what goes wrong is directly blamed on school leaders and teachers.

Some years ago, during a session in which school leaders were (again) be taken to task about classroom occurrences and teaching shortfalls, I asked a key leader whether Australia’s Prime Minister and Education Minister were aware of these issues. They answer was they were aware, but didn’t want to know about such matters. That day, as a school principal, I began to actively think about retirement. On reflection, it was this conversation and an awareness of political response and lack of concern for teachers and leaders, that placed a career end-date in my mind.

Some years ago, during a session in which school leaders were (again) be taken to task about classroom occurrences and teaching shortfalls, I asked a key leader whether Australia’s Prime Minister and Education Minister were aware of these issues. They answer was they were aware, but didn’t want to know about such matters. That day, as a school principal, I began to actively think about retirement. On reflection, it was this conversation and an awareness of political response and lack of concern for teachers and leaders, that placed a career end-date in my mind.