The SATS battle of Parent vs. Teacher in 1 body.

So, today I had a conversation with my mother in law about SATS. She is one of those grandparents that anyone would be blessed to have. The girls have grown up with her in their lives not just as the lady we visit, but as someone who actively looks after them each week (frankly, without Mr Geek’s parents & mine we wouldn’t be in a position to work!). Anyway, I digress.

She told me about a conversation she had with Beanpole about the year 6 SATS that start in a week. My 11 year old child described it this:

“It’s like banging your head against a wall again and again and again and again [making banging motions against her forehead with her palm]. I just want to wake up and it’s all over.”

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As a mum, my heart broke. I’m meant to protect my offspring against shit like this. I’ve not protected her from.Ms Morgan. She’s got to my child with her long tendrils of testing.

As a teacher, I felt ashamed. How dare my profession allow a one woman army to make children feel like this? Bright, intelligent children who are left feeling like their entire worth rests on 1 week of exams. For the first time in my professional life, I’m not proud of what I do.

There are many parents removing their children from school tomorrow in protest. Except, they’ll just be tested on a different day. These parents are unlikely to get the backlash teachers don’t when they strike, they’ll likely get empathy from teachers, but just like striking, it won’t cause the current government to bat and eyelid.

So, as with all things inevitable like Sunday evenings ending too quickly & the resignation of Education Ministers, let’s just get this over and done with.

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Blasts from the past

Over the summer I had a crisis of confidence. I’d just agreed to take over as head of computer science and when the exam results hit, one particular set knocked me sideways.

There’s a lot recently about teaching kids to be resilient and stand up to failure, pick themselves up and carry on. Sometimes the teachers could do with those pep talks too. For a good few weeks there I felt awful. What had I done wrong? I’d put my heart and soul into that course & I’d failed. Or rather they hadn’t got the results that we had hoped for, but that became one and the same. I mused for a while about whether I was actually the teacher I thought I was. Should I walk away? I think I owed it to my students to think really hard about this. If I wasn’t up to it, then I shouldn’t be doing this. But, after a good mental arse kicking I picked my self pitying arse back up off the floor and started on an action plan to get things back on track. School started back and the more I’ve been back in the classroom, the more positive I’ve felt.

So resilience is hugely important. It’s accepting that I didn’t get it right, but I can’t take the exam for them. I’m just the one leading them to water. I will continue to work twenty times harder than they do on their exam preparation, stalk the corridors demanding coursework when they “forget” it, email & tweet them things that they might find interesting (ok, I’m living in denial there) and make such awful jokes in the classroom that they cringe for me. I will find a way to make this work.

Then I received a message from a past student… from a particular class that it broke my heart to leave them when I moved on. Timing there wasn’t great – just one more year would’ve seen them through (but would’ve probably finished me off). That class probably taught me more about teaching than I taught them about computing. Never before, or since have I had a denary – hexadecimal conversion showdown.

That message restored my faith in what I do. It reminded me that this isn’t about that one day in August where a piece of paper determines their fate. It’s about making a difference to an actual person, not a grade. It’s about knowing that this isn’t just a job – these are kids, and actually it’s ok to think they’re amazing (generally, because they are). It’s not a bad thing to feel like a parent seeing their child ride a bike for the first time when you see them get that lightbulb moment. Investing emotionally is ok. It means you care. It also means that when things don’t go so well, you grieve alongside them.

The difference is that I’m the grown up. So whilst I’m all swan at the top, the legs are furiously paddling under the surface.

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Exam Result Jitters

Tomorrow morning will herald the standard news coverage of teenagers crying with joy and disappointment and the usual debates on whether exams are easier, harder or both than the ‘good old days’. Yes, tomorrow is exam results day for A Level students, and for the A2 students, tomorrow is the day they find out if they actually have their place at their chosen university, or not. And if not, they get to join in the fun that is ‘clearing’, or explaining to parents what went wrong.

It’s the night before, the morning everyone has been holding their breath for. And it’s not just the kids that are nervous, the teachers are feeling a bit sick too.

I know, because I am already nauseous. I will arrive at work tomorrow at 6.30am to ensure that our IT systems hold up. It feels very weird, because I’ve already mentally moved on to my new school and all preparations are focused on my school for September, but I’m going back to the old school for results.

Why am I feeling so nervous then? What possible impact could this have? I’ve left. This is my old school. Well, it’s because I care about the individual students. Every single one has had an impact on me and the way I look at teaching. Each one of them is important as a person. I’m under no illusion, that these exams impact on their lives way more than mine, and as such I have a responsibility for this to be more than just a job. It’s a conscience thing.  Cue some of that Catholic guilt really kicking in.

I’m realistic, I predict that they won’t all get A*s, but I do want them to get the grades that they deserve based upon the work they put in. I’m reasonably confident that they will. But nothing is ever certain.

For the majority of them, I believe that they have listened to my advice, taken my teaching seriously and have done their best. This is the most I could possibly hope for in my students, and I can say with my hand on my heart that I will be as thrilled for the student who I am hoping beyond all hope gets that C, as I will be for the one who I am banking on breaking the 90% barrier. Why? Because I know that that is the academic best for those individuals. I just hope that my gut feeling is right for most of them, and the few that I worry about I am wrong and they worked harder than I thought.

Whatever happens, I know I did my best from a teacher’s perspective. Your best is good enough, because you can’t give anything more. Good luck guys.

Mock the week – practice exam survival for teachers

It’s mock exam week for our year 10s and 12s and I’m not sure who’s more stressed, me or them.

Being one of those women who fully expected my A level students to have taken heed of my advice and spent half term revising and preparing for the week ahead, I had to forcefully prevent myself from twitching when I asked to collect in the practice papers that they had been given and was greeted with a collection of ‘oh I only did it yesterday’ and ‘I forgot that you wanted me to compare it to the mark scheme’. I know that it is ultimately their exam. I know I can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink.

BUT.

I have to confess to being a total control freak. I can’t stand to see them waste this opportunity to learn. I want to do it for them. I want to drip feed them so they get it. I am personally wounded by each incident of lacklustre apathy.

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These are the rantings of a teacher on the edge. Maybe. Or, these are the rantings of someone who loves learning and finds it difficult to understand why someone would not want to do their best, go a little bit extra, get that teacher’s pet award. Was I always like this? I remember being a total nightmare at their age. A pierced and tattooed punk/ goth who insisted that she wanted to be a fashion designer (and who later ended up studying computer science and being a software developer…. ). But despite rebelling against my perceived normality with bizarre hair and body decoration, I have always hankered after academic achievement. I have studied in a variety of forms for 33 years and still strive for my best (if I’m honest, I would have been devastated if my recent review had been anything less than a grade 1. In person, I would never admit that.).

I’m actually not studying for anything for the first time in years and I miss it. I have a lot of other things to juggle now, and I’m still learning new programming languages and planning my next book. Oh, and teaching. I love teaching, which I guess is why I find it so hard when my students don’t take ownership of their own learning and give it as much enthusiasm and passion as I have for the subject.

Maybe I’m deluded. I don’t care whether they love the subject with a passion and study hard because they need to learn more, or whether they despise a unit and aim for top marks because they’re going to prove me bloody well wrong. What I object to is apathy. We are the result of millions of years of evolution, we really ought to act like it.