SCHOOL STAFFING A 40 YEAR OLD YO-YO

 

Edited version published in the NT Suns on September 5 2017

 

SCHOOL STAFFING A 40 YEAR OLD YO-YO

It’s on again! For the past 40 plus years, the issue of class sizes has occupied the minds of educators. The subject is one that has dominated the thinking of parents, classroom teachers, principals and system administrators. Documenting the changes that have taken place in both primary and secondary schools, urban and rural over the years, would fill the pages of a large book.

The argument about class sizes grows from educational theory and classroom practice. It includes issues of student age and ability. It differentiates between desk based learning and more practical lessons requiring the engagement of specialist teachers and equipment.

The current Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) between the Department of Education and teachers is due to expire in October. Among changes being sought by the Australian Education Union (NT) is for Territory class sizes to be reduced from 27 to 25.

The NT Government became responsible for administering Territory Education in 1979. During the 38 years since, there have been innumerable expansions and contractions in class sizes. These changes have been endorsed as part of the process attached to policy management and shifts in educational priorities.

The staffing formula once used to determine teacher entitlement took one side of an A4 page. In recent years, that has changed. Calculating exact teacher numbers for schools is no longer a simple process. It is one that has been made more complex by the fact that student classification (including special teaching needs and behaviour management) is taken into account when determining staff entitlements for each school. What was a simple process is now a complex issue.

Practical matters also cloud staffing considerations. When teachers are absent, it is not always possible to employ relief staff to cover classes. There are generally more positions in schools to be filled than relief teachers available for employment. Relief teachers will not always accept employment because of travel difficulties and other problems.

When causal teachers are not available, groups may have to be split, with students adding to the numbers in other classes. For primary, middle and senior schools, teachers may have to forego release time.
Assigning specialist teachers to general classroom teaching duties is another ‘solution’, that while necessary, is certainly not desirable. It can mean program changes and students missing out on art, music, physical education and other specialised subjects.

It is one thing to develop a formula for class sizes and another altogether to make it work.

 

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.

NEW TEACHERS, NEW BEGINNINGS

Published in the ‘Sun’ in the NT, in February 2017.

NEW TEACHERS FACE NEW BEGINNINGS

Last week marked the commencement of careers for over 100 new teachers in our schools. Some have been appointed to urban schools, others to more remote corners of the NT. ‘Urban’ includes schools beyond Darwin Palmerston and Alice Springs. Katherine, Tennant Creek and Nhulunbuy are classed as urban schools.

Then there are community, settlement and outstation schools. It is to all these places that teachers new to the profession have been assigned.

An induction program for beginning teachers offered some exposure to the situation in which they will find themselves. This program of several days duration, covered departmental issues and curriculum requirements. However, it is only after taking up appointment and commencing duty that specific learning and understanding will impact the teaching experience.

The ultimate for all teachers, following probationary periods, is the gaining of permanent status. That makes them eligible for home loans and can admit them to the mortgage market.

For teachers who are permanent, a career stretches before them that may seem to be quite endless. There is no telling the end from the beginning. New teachers are full of optimism and feel good about the future. All want to make a difference, helping children learn. This motivation holds, regardless of appointment location.

Successful teachers will develop strong professional relations with colleagues. Sharing experiences and learning from each other, school leadership teams, students, parents and community will be important to their development. May they do well in their chosen profession.

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.

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.

KEEP A CLIPPINGS FILE

There is deep and abiding interest in matters of an educational nature. Increasingly print, radio, and television coverage refer to educational issues. Some people pay little attention to what is being reported about education because they feel it to be inconsequential. There is also a belief that what is reported, misconstrues facts. That to some extent may be the case; however it is important to be aware of the way education is trending within the community.

Retaining information about education can be useful. There are various ways and means of doing this, but it works best if collation is organised regularly (almost on a daily basis).

Newspaper items can be clipped and pasted in a loose leaf file, indexed book, or similar. Indexation is important as it allows you to quickly refer to things you may need to recall.

Photographing news clippings using an iPhone or iPad, saving them to your pictures file, then creating an album for clippings is another method that works well.

Scanning clippings and saving them onto USB stick is a method that works well. Again, indexing the USB file helps. It may be that you choose categories to index under, rather than an “A” to “Z”approach.

Clippings files can be backed up on iCloud or otherwise saved onto computer or USB.

From experience, the use of newspaper clippings when it comes to social and cultural education, cruising for general knowledge, for stimulating discussion in class, are but three ways in which they can be of use. Clippings can also be used to stimulate the content of debates, the writing of persuasive arguments for older students and so on.

Awareness of issues can stimulate professional discourse including helping to shape the way in which members of staff develop collaborative programming to support teaching in schools.

I believe teachers would find a study of media and the establishment of a clippings file useful and worthwhile.

DON’T RUN – OR WALK – ON RETIRING

One of the changes that has happened for me in retirement, has been the opportunity to spend more time thinking about policies that are ‘shaped above’ and downlined onto schools. Maybe, ‘dropped’ or ‘loaded’ might be better descriptors, for those in schools feel a great deal comes down from on high, often with minimal notice. New policies (the words ‘reforms’ and ‘initiatives’ are often used) require those within schools to accept and implement new priorities, processes and procedures. Those in schools often have little time to respond to suggestions with meaningful input to the shaping of new ways forward, because they are too busy receiving and implementing.

Time to reflect upon and respond to draft proposals for change, feeding back into the consideration loop, is often denied. New policies often have to be implemented ‘tomorrow if not yesterday’.

I often wish, nearly four years into retirement from full time work, that I had been able to consider policy propositions then, as I do now. Retirement can allow one to become more proactive in response to issues than is the cases when working full time. To this end, I encourage those who have retired or are retiring, to remain affiliated with education. Consider proposed policy changes and developing priorities and make an input to those groups charged with their development.

There is really no need to walk away from education on the day of retirement.