WINDING DOWN

This article was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on December 5 2017

 

WINDING DOWN

 

At this time of every school year, realisations dawn and reflections begin.

One of the key realisations as a teacher is that the 40 week school year has all but passed and you wonder why time has gone by so quickly. This is an issue also confronting students who need to be time conscious for the whole year. Putting off assignments and delaying the completing of work can lead to gaps in learning and progress. That does not augur well for exams and final assessments.

Another realisation is that during the year, distractions can make it hard to stay on track with what needs to be covered by teaching programs. Unplanned events and activities can creep into school calendars, overturning planned events. Staff absence through illness or leave can impact upon schools and classes. For young children particularly, the quality of rapport that builds between teacher and students helps them feel good about school and learning. Staff disruptions can be unsettling.

There is always a need to be careful that extras making up the frills of a school day and week, do not displace the time required for learning the basics. Time given to key subjects should be somewhat sacrosanct. Deflection away from core learning can happen and should be avoided.

A key realisation has to be that of all professions, teaching is the most scrutinised. Everyone wants to have a say about what goes on in schools. This might be formal, coming from directives on priorities from administrators. It might be the setting of school agendas by school councils or management groups. Media often magnifies what experts and interest groups feel should and should not be promoted or taught in schools and classrooms. Part of this is realising that everyone from system managers to interest groups, believe that schools should be responsible for filling a pseudo parenting role. Sadly this is due in some cases to families either not having the knowledge or not being interested in fulfilling their role in bringing up children.

Teachers and school leaders have come to realise that more and more is being heaped on schools, with compulsory curriculum requirements expanding like Topsy. Rarely are things dropped from school agendas in order to accomodate the add ons. Where does it all end?

It is almost time for teachers to draw breath and reflect on the school year that is about to end. There will be a lot for them to think about.

YEAR 12’S ON CUSP OF FUTURE

 

This articles was published in the NT Suns on November 14 2017. Written with the Northern Territory context in mind, it has applicability to Year 12 students all around Australia.

 

YEAR 12’S ON CUSP OF FUTURE

Several thousand Northern Territory Year 12 students have reached the pinnacle of their primary and secondary educational experience. Some have completed their publicly assessed examinations and begin the wait for exam results. By Christmas time they will have their results and can begin planning the next stage of their lives. Other students who have opted for school assessed subjects will be considering vocational careers. For some students, there may be disappointment but the majority will experience the joy that comes with success. Commitment and effort generally lead to positive outcomes.

‘Schoolies Week’ will be happening for our Year 12 cohort. Many students will let their hair down and chill out, possibly in Bali or at some other recreational resort. Celebration is fine and should be without incident if the cautions offered by parents and authorities are observed.

Within a few short weeks, the question of ‘what next’ will be exercising the minds of graduates. Apprenticeships and further trade training will be on the horizon for some. Contemplation of university entrance to Charles Darwin or interstate universities will be considered by others.

Gap Year

Graduating Year 12 students may elect to take a ‘gap year’. This period of time away from study is used by some for travelling and others for work.

A gap year gives students the chance to fully consider career alternatives. Many students who have opted for a tertiary program while still at school, have upon reflection changed their minds and chosen alternative career pathways. To go straight to university from Year 12 can mean commencing a course that is really not the most suitable. The options then become changing courses midstream or continuing with a program that ultimately may lead to a unsatisfying career. While jobs available may not be those of first choice, the chance to earn money and meet people builds confidence and helps develop independence for young people.

Those choosing to work for twelve months know their earnings can go a long way toward meeting HECS costs and other tertiary study expenses. Degrees are becoming more expensive as Federal Government initiatives impacting on university funding begin to bite. Accumulated HECS debts are burdensome and can take years to pay back.

To complete Year 12 is an achievement and congratulations are in order. I am sure we all wish graduates well as they contemplate and prepare for the next stage in their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

REMEMBERING ANZAC IN OUR SCHOOLS

Published in NT Suns in April 2017

REMEMBERING ANZAC IN OUR SCHOOLS

Anzac Day remembrances taking place in our schools this week are particularly poignant. Many of our students have parents or relations serving in Australia’s Defence Forces. For them, Anzac Day is more than a recall of historical valour; it emphasises the fact that they and their loved ones are part of today’s defence cohort. Anzac Day is very much a reminder of their present situation.

Anzac Day remembrances are very close to the homes and hearts of these students. That is especially the case in Darwin and Palmerston. Our schools and communities have enrolled large cohorts of defence children. They are members of families who have to live their lives around the requirements of Australia’s defence leaders. Family rotations and parental assignments are part of their life.

Contemplating these issues can result in children feeling both unsettled and worried about the future. For defence families the issues of peace and conflict and the way they can impact on home life are very real.

Defence School Transition Aides (DSTA’s) have been appointed to schools with significant numbers of services children. They help both students and families settle into new schools. They also support those about to leave on family rotation. Rotations mean that children will sever friendships they have built during their time at the school. Included is help offered children who may have learning difficulties caused by leaving one educational jurisdiction and entering another. Tutorial support is available to these students and can be accessed with DSTA support. This extra help is available at no cost to parents. DSTA’s help defence families and students come to terms with these and other issues arising because of relocation.

Multiculturalism

The nature of our multicultural society needs to be interwoven sensitively into Anzac remembrances. There are formalities including flag raising, the Ode of Remembrance, the Last Post and Reveille that form part of school ceremonies. They add both dignity and solemnity to the occasion. Delivery of the Anzac Message could be hurtful if it had a ‘them’ and ‘us’ theme. The theme should be about a desire for the betterment of all people. There are no winners and losers in conflict situations, rather a loss for everyone.

Anzac Day remembers the valour of those who have given their all for others. If the remembrance can build oneness and unity, strengthening the resolve of our young people toward living good lives, it will have achieved its purpose.

THE SCHOOL YEAR ENDS (FOR 2016)

This column was published in ‘The Suns on 20 December 2016.

REFLECTION AND RECHARGE TIME

School is out for another year and the holidays are here. The immediate aftermath of the school year is a time when principals, teachers, support staff, students and parents have a chance to reflect on the year. During the past few weeks award nights and presentation assemblies have taken place. There have been graduations for students moving from primary to secondary and from senior secondary to tertiary level education. These are important milestones for students.

At this time of the year it is good to celebrate both individually and collectively. Northern Territory educators could afford to do this because of this and see a commitment they have to the educational tasks they are undertaking.

One of the major challenges faced by schools is that of of of offering “steady state” educational development, when educational systems seem to be always changing priorities. Very rarely during the course of the year is They’re good public city about education. Inevitably, students in Australia are compared with each other in terms of NAPLAN performance. They are also regularly compared with overseas students. For the most part it’s the negatives that get an airing. The way publicity comes across, gives the impression that most of our students are years and years behind their peers in countries with whom they are compared. This in turn leads to negative commentary about the quality about teachers.

While there are points of difference between Australian students and their overseas counterparts, the majority of our students are doing well. Comparisons need to be kept in perspective. Our students may be adrift in terms of some academic comparison. However, these “points of difference” are often fairly minimal.

The plus side of education for our schools is the concentration on holistic education and the development of personality and character within young people.
Our teachers are generally caring, concerned and empathetic. They consider students as people. They don’t regard them as being empty vessels into which knowledge has to be poured.

Reflections need to be positive as well as considering ongoing challenges. Of course it’s the time for those who could do better to reflect upon what they can do differently. No student should be satisfied with doing less than their best.

The 2017 school year will be here soon enough. Congratulations to our students and educators for all they have accomplished during 2016. Enjoy a great Christmas and New Year.

HINDSIGHT ON A CAREER

When one begins teaching it’s hard to predict how long a career will be and where it might lead you.

In formal, full time teaching terms my career spanned just on 43 years (beyond graduation).

Without doubt the greatest joy for me is catching up with past students and having conversations with them about the milestones they have reached in life. It is this catching up that makes life as an educator, one of quite regular rejoicement.

Sadly, there have been among those i have taught, a few who have gone off the rails. Thieves, perpetrators of assault, rapists and murderers have been past members of schools with which I have associated. But for every one person who has slipped, there are a thousand who have done well and who are making a quality contribution to life.

I mourn the few who have failed and wish them repentance and recovery. And I rejoice in the many who have brought blessing and joy to others,m to the world, and into their own fulfilled lives.

NAPLAN NEEDS A RETHINK

THINK AGAIN ABOUT NAPLAN

With the release of the 2016 NAPLAN results, education again enters a lengthy period of self-examination and study of outcomes. With results released a prolonged period of data analysis now commences. Australian, State and Territory level results will be dissected, followed by a examination of individual student performance at school level. Everything else about education may mark time, allowing this exercise to be pursued without interruption.

Every year, States and Territories are offered plaudits or brickbats depending on results. School results are minutely analysed with the publication of results online at the “My Schools” website.

By the beginning of 2017 this year’s study will be exhausted. Then it will be time to prepare for the May tests. Students in the testing years (three, five, seven and nine) will be subjected to trial testing programs aimed at getting them ready for the tests in May.

Of course schools are advised not to go overboard when it comes to readiness for testing. However, with so much attaching to NAPLAN outcomes, this advice is rarely heeded. In actual fact, systems want their schools to do well so they compare favourably with their intra-territory and interstate counterparts. Systems also seek and value kudos based on test results.

The costs of saturating Australia’s educational system with NAPLAN must be mind-boggling. It’s probably not an overstatement to suggest that since 2008, when universal testing was introduced, hundred of millions of dollars have been poured into the program.

A major flaw is the interpretation of NAPLAN’s importance. The tests measure narrowly defined academic competencies of four student groups, at the same time each year. The rest of the year and the successes of all students seem to count for little. This testing with its academic focus seems to imply that holistic education is of little consequence. Teacher quality is spoken of in terms of teachers having the ability to prepare children for these tests. There should be more to quality education than fixation on testing regimes.

What of the students

I don’t know if anybody has thought to ask students what they think about this program. If they were to be asked, there might be some interesting, enlightening and eye-opening responses. I believe there would be little appreciation of the weeks and months of pre-test preparation many of them have to endure. A student forum on this program is well worth considering. Whether notice would be taken of their viewpoint is altogether another matter.

GIVING BACK

I am entering my fifth year since retiring as a full time educator and school principal. Experience grows upon us all. It’s incremental and in line with the number of years we have been working along with the classification of positions we have held. As experienced educators, we should consider coaching, mentoring and retaining an interest in our profession.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who saw their way clear to help us during the years of our development. The best way of honouring that debt is to give back in the same way, to those who follow bus into the educational profession.

To walk away without considering those coming behind is almost unprofessional. As educators, both present and past, we are members of a fraternity. Education is a giving profession. There is joy in giving back and supporting those following in our footsteps.

Do for others what was done for you.