littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


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Slow down & Smell the Roses

I tried to say this on Twitter a while ago and managed to irritate people because I didn’t explain myself well enough.

The main point I want to make is that hard work is not is & of itself especially admirable

I have always worked hard at my job, I have testimonials from previous employers that say this. If you pay me to do a job I will do that job to the best of my ability. I will spend whatever time it takes to do the work properly to my standards. However my work has never been my life. I have never lived to work I have worked to live. This doesn’t mean anyone has been short changed.

I am unhappy if someone tells me I am not working hard enough.  It’s only happened the once.  The combination of working my socks off and being told that actually made me quite ill.

Since I left the job (and no, I haven’t started working again yet) I have heard so much from the government (and others) about the importance of working hard & not having a sense of entitlement that it’s starting to get quite depressing

Yes, do a decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay. I have always encouraged my girls to work hard

Work is generally good. It  means you can get a sense of achievement & you earn money to do other stuff. But it shouldn’t be the be-all & end-all of life. There seems to me no point at all in working your socks off so that you can buy lots of consumer goods that you won’t have time to enjoy because you are working such long hours. Slow down & smell the roses people.

Do not expect me to think it admirable simply because you work long hours. Especially if your sole intention is to become wealthy. I won’t condemn you for it either but it isn’t going to impress me. And don’t assume that people who do not have that level of ambition to earn lots of money aren’t prepared to do an equally good job. And don’t assume that if people haven’t “made it” to the same extent that you have that it’s because they are incapable or lazy. Maybe they haven’t had the opportunities or breaks, maybe they didn’t know the right people, or maybe their priorities are elsewhere. (As a brief aside don’t expect me to admire you at all if you got where you are by cheating or trampling on people – though I’m sure anyone I follow on Twitter wouldn’t do that)

I’m not depressive but there really doesn’t seem much point in life if all we do is work hard to make more money to buy stuff to save time so that we can work more……etc.  Professor Sharon Beder discusses it here

Anyway, off now to attempt to rejoin the rat race.

NB As part of my ongoing effort to reduce my procrastination & perfectionism I have not checked this post thoroughly.

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Just a few points about teaching

….you may not have thought about

….or you may.

Since I’m not doing the job any more so it seems less like winging I wanted to mention a few things. Forgive me if you have already thiought of all this, and I know there are similar things in other jobs, just wanted to put this out there as a slight balance to all the “Teachers should work longer hours & have fewer holidays” stuff that is popular just now.

I fully realise that all jobs have parts that the general population may have misconceptions about. Please feel free to share them, it’s about time we all recognised how hard other people ar working too,

If you are a teacher:-

  • You can’t book a day’s holiday to visit your sick mum in hospital. Or anything else for that matter. You have holidays, those are the holidays. No time off outside them. This means you cannot wake up one morning & think “I deserve a day off” or “Don’t feel brilliant, not ill enough to be sick, so I’ll take a day’s holiday.
  • You have to book non-emergency doctor’s, dentist’s, hospital appointments in the holidays, you will be able to attend things like outpatient’s appointments that are only available on (say) Tuesdays, but I have arranged things like bone-scans & colonoscopys in the holidays to avoid hassle.
  • You have to book your holidays in the holidays (well obviously) – no real issue with this, although it does mean you can’t take advantage of any bargains. It can be difficult if you have children attending school in another authority with different holidays. One year I had an overlap of 2 weeks when we could have our Summer holiday
  • You have to provide work for your classes if you are off sick. Not sure if this is common practice but it was the case where I work. You need to ensure work is available for your classes in a place that other members of staff can easily access and provide instructions as to how to administer that work. Of course, there is no guarantee that the work will be given or if it is that it will be done in the way you want.
  • You provide most of your own pens/stationery/files/USB/portable disk etc.  and in many cases you are expected to buy pens & rewards for your classes
  • You get used to the idea of not having “quiet times” in the day. There are none. You have to be on your toes pretty much all the time. Free periods (if you have any) are filled with preparation, marking, meetings, travelling from one classroom/site to another, admin, patrolling corridors etc
  • You (reluctantly) accept there are no bonuses, Christmas or otherwise

I’m not going into the whole working outside school hours here, that should be pretty obvious really.

I’m sure there are others.

I’d like contributions from people in other fields. We probably don’t know what you have to do apart from our basic understanding.

Let’s share, And let’s respect others work rather than indulging in a pissing contest about who is working hardest. Maybe we are “all in it together” (at least “US”.


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Computing in Schools

I’m a bit fed up of the furore about how “ICT” in schools isn’t proper programming but just messing around with Microsoft products.

You know what? That’s right. Mainly because it’s ICT and not Computing. To be fair, I didn’t understand before I began teaching either.

To give a bit of background, my original degree was in Chemistry. In my first job, I actually used what I knew. Subsequent jobs moved further and further away from this. When we moved north I took a short course in computer programming. We learned Cobol & RPG. (I’d previously done some programming in ALGOL at uni – using punch cards submitted to the Computer lab to be run overnight (sigh).

After that I worked for ten years or so in programming or software support using various languages before starting to teach adults in FE. We covered CLAIT, IBT2 and a City & Guilds qualification. These were all designed to teach people how to use proprietary software to enhance employment prospects. It did. I was also asked to teach the now defunct Key Skills qualification when it came out. This was also about using IT and was designed to give students competence in using various bits of software to help them with their main courses. The evidence they produced for their portfolio was ideally taken from work for a main subject. (A piece of design work from graphic designers, an essay for English students, a spreadsheet of results for Biologists). Not all places did it this way. In fact I had to fight to do it like this where I was working. Management favoured a single task that everyone would do so that we had more control over output and that sort of shows what the problem has been with schools.

When Key Skill IT first started, a GCSE Grade C or above would exempt you from the course. All other FE students were supposed to take it (there were similar qualifications in English & Maths for those without the GCSEs) They were a proxy for the GCSE for some higher education courses and jobs. Same level as GCSE but more focussed on the stuff that was considered useful. In theory, High Schools were meant to provide IT instruction, though not necessarily GCSE, up to 16. In practice many didn’t, leaving students poorly prepared for using ICT to produce work for A Level or vocational courses in sixth-form. Over time, other qualifications appeared that could act as a “proxy” for this qualification, such as DIDA. These courses had units which could be taken in various combinations to get different levels of the qualification. but included no programming. GCSE ICT isn’t about programming either.

I imagine these qualifications were created with the average employer in mind. None of them required that you used Microsoft products but these were often used because that’s what the schools had installed. At my college, the network manager would not allow any other software to be installed. A teacher wanted to install Apache Extensions to help the students with the Web Design part of their BTEC course. His exact words were “Not on my system”.

Clear so far? All kids expected to do enough training in using ICT so as to be employable and be able to use ICT to do their other work. I did my damndest to do that (with very good results) & produced a whole lot of kids who could do reasonable word processing, spreadsheets, internet searching, file management and so on. What they subsequently did with that depended on their subjects which varied from Sport Studies, through Performing Arts and Art to A levels of all kinds.

You didn’t do this if you took a BTEC in ICT or did A level ICT or Computing though Computing AS level was not a proxy for Key Skills (it didn’t cover the same subject matter).

BTEC is a wide ranging qualification available at level 2 You can choose from 36 different units (GCSE level) or level 3 (choose from 43 units) which can be the equivalent of 1, 2 or 3 A levels (depending on how many units you cover) and have a different slant depending on which units. The full list of units is here. Not surprisingly, colleges choose units which will attract students and fit with the competencies of their staff. Games design units are very popular. There are also programming, networking and customer support units in this. Students are usually guided towards BTECs if they have less than stellar results at GCSE.

Some schools offer BTEC ICT at level 2 but the range of units offered is usually more restricted than in FE.

A Levels are available in both ICT & Computing. When prospective students came to look around the college we used to give them a handout explaining the difference between Computing & ICT. Basically ICT is using it Computing is understanding and creating it. My college stopped offering Computing A level a few years ago because it believed the grades achieved were not high enough.

And finally to Gove (you didn’t really think I’d forgotten him did you?)

  • Computing is available, usually in sixth form not in schools
  • ICT is using things not writing them
  • Schools delivered ICT because it was designed to help with other subjects & provide skills business said it wanted
  • Many teachers are not able to deliver good standard IT skills
  • Microsoft products are used mostly because skills in those are what employers want
  • Many IT teachers would love to teach more up-to-date skills but are prevented by what is available/affordable

What do I think? Change may be good. I am not convinced that everyone needs to be able to programme. I do think everyone needs to be able to use software correctly. I don’t trust non-ICT teachers to do this (yet) I’ve had to teach vast numbers of students that every formula in Excel doesn’t have to begin with “=SUM”. But that is improving.

I do think Computing in some form (like other specialist subjects such as Media & Music Tech) should be offered at GCSE level with appropriately qualified teachers to deliver them. How this will square with Gove’s desire for everyone to use up most of the space in their GCSE timetable with “traditional” subjects, I don’t know.

I just wish this was not reported as “schools letting pupils down” Schools are doing what they feel is most likely to meet the targets set by successive governments, and these are not always in children’s best interests.


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Prejudice

My previous post (in October, Ha!) was about procrastination & perfection. Since then, guess what I’ve been doing. That’s right, I’ve been procrastinating. Why? Because it was too difficult trying to make a post “just right” by saying what I wanted to say in exactly the right words to as not to annoy anyone.

Wow! So many hang ups in that one sentence.

So, here we go, instant, unchecked and imperfect

I annoy people on Twitter sometimes with ill-thought out comments. They respond. Often their views make me re-think and re-examine my views.

I don’t think my fundamental view of life and society will change but some specific ideas will and have done so. It’s worth getting into these discussions on Twitter. Often people’s responses will annoy you as much as your initial tweet annoyed them. Sometimes you will discuss, with each of you shifting ground slightly until you almost meet in the middle. And sometimes you will find you have had the same view all along but expressed it differently (thanks Thom). Sometimes you will agree to differ but respect each other’s views. That’s life.

I’ve seen a few exchanges of opinion that have gone sour, sometimes because one party is so entrenched they cannot accept an alternative, often because they don’t understand the background or the feelings behind what was tweeted.

So, all in all Twitter can be useful if it makes us examine our own prejudices.

Today I said I was unhappy with the idea put forward that all schools should have a cadet force http://t.co/sxXEQrv2 . Two people called me on this and I’d had similar discussions when I objected to ex-military personnel being given a quick route into teaching. Since I have no personal experience, I checked that I understood what it was all about on the MOD website and realised what it was that was making me uneasy. Three words stood out “parade” “drill”  “discipline”.

There seems to be a belief that discipline is what is lacking today and more discipline will solve all our problems, get people back into work, cut the welfare bill and prevent crime. I really don’t like the word. It holds connotations of unthinking obedience and I’m not happy with that.

I suspect this is the problem that has always plagued me. I don’t like unthinking obedience. I was one of those annoying children who wanted a good reason. I circumvented this with my own children by giving them the reason before they asked. I feel that discipline (though I dislike the word with all its current connotations) should not be unthinking and should be reasoned and most of all internal. I don’t like work where I am expected to follow the accepted procedures and methods because that’s the way whoever is in charge has decided it should be with no (real) better reason than that. Teachers are expected to follow whatever is the current idea, often ill-thought out and in reality only applicable to one set of circumstances, then criticised if it does not work. Teachers who ignore this because they have understanding or free-thinking head teachers, who break out of the mould and are successful, are praised for “innovative thinking”  without the realisation that most teachers are prevented from doing just that because they do not fit the current orthodoxy (double think at its best).

So, there I have it. My prejudice is against the requirement for blind obedience. That’s not too awful is it? Except I haven’t met any soldiers I liked either and maybe that has something to do with it too. And you can’t trump personal knowledge, can you?