Tag Archives: teachers

Election Engineering: Five Top Tips on Efficiency Savings!

Efficiency Savings eezy peezy – don’t know what the fuss is about. Here are my five (tongue in cheek) suggestions to help, whatever government gets in,  apply some efficiency savings in education – specifically Further Education, but all teachers will recognise the targets.

1. Cut Parents’ Evening

If ever there was an event that was in need of a bit of blue skies thinking, it’s parents’ evening. Some schools and colleges go as far as wasting money on biscuits, and tea for staff and parents! Support staff is needed to serve the parents as they come in, in FE some of those are hourly paid, and for what? The usual scenario is that a teacher talks for 3 to 4 hours solid, the same thing over and over again: work a bit harder; learn the terminology; so and so is fine. The ones who really need to be there, have made a false appointment or haven’t bothered at all. The ones who are there, are probably at their best (wherever that is) and there is little to be added. There is the occasional bout of excitement when families argue, and of course there are always at least two – who declare that it is the teacher’s fault. I particularly like the ones who say the teacher should be “firm” with their child – like they are at home. Yeah – right – that’s worked a treat so far hasn’t it? A scared child, taught to be devious to survive and who regards all adults as the enemy – super! In short parents’ evening is almost useless for all concerned – my solution – electronic of course – hey I’m a blogger – what do you expect? Anyway, an individual link for each student, progress, grades, behaviour recorded and emails sent to parents straight away (letters generated if broadband is a problem – never forget equality and diversity). This should be possible – I get an email every time I forget to fill out a register – what’s sauce for the goose is ….If a parent wants a meeting they have to submit a request justifying it – problem solved – next!

2. Cut Holidays and Teaching Hours

Obviously, everyone knows that teachers/FE lecturers are lazy slobs, who only do the job so they can go on long holidays at peak season – ‘cos hey, who wants to go when it’s cheap – the beaches would be deserted – that would be hell! Teachers also complain that they do too many teaching hours in the week, there is not enough non-contact time for marking, enrichment and planning. Okay let’s cut those big holidays then and make teachers and, of course,  the students, come in 9 to 5 with only 4 weeks -ish holiday (with of course the suitable pro-rata pay rise). There would be appropriate breaks in the day, no more comforting upset children over a sandwich and cup of coffee before the afternoon session. No more evening work unless, of course, it’s done on double time and let’s say 12 hours teaching a week, with the rest for planning, marking and the occasional enrichment. The space and time that teachers would have – non-contact hours would make for delightful lessons, individual students would be given attention, staff would have enough time to eat and, of course, all that would reflect in retention and results. Anyone could go on holiday any time, regardless of the effect on the curriculum and the fact that travel companies could no longer squeeze those tied to the academic year for their holidays – tough!

3. Cut (kinda) Class Sizes

It is an abiding conflict between staff and government that class sizes must be reduced to increase efficiency, but government can’t afford it and claim that if teachers taught better then it would not matter – so here’s a radical solution – no classes. Yup, electronic again, but how about a huge warehouse classroom, managed by invigilators (possibly ex bouncers), each student with a laptop and a connection? Staff could be in a nice comfy, empty classroom (everyone knows how lovely it is to be on site when the students aren’t) web cam, skype and interactive software and teaching. Admittedly, it might be a bit sterile, but everyone could meet up for arranged enrichment and tutorials, in the end all you would need would be a warehouse building and mini classrooms (there are loads of empty office buildings that could house the whiteboards and software). At last teachers and lecturers could have a bit of individual space!

4. Cut Buildings

Actually, come to think of it, if all the students are in one big building – why not the teachers? How about a teachers call centre? Each teacher could have a cubby hole, with computer, whiteboard and connection, classes could connect and when they need individual attention. Obviously this call centre would need an appropriate staff room, a good comfort zone, to cater for all those statutory breaks that the teachers would now have – a sort new employer ethos, flexy working and good food on tap –there you go, no more classrooms just a hub, and a connection.

5. Pay Parity – to cut or not to cut!

And this is the clincher! In the bad old 90s Mrs T decided that FE lecturers were not as valuable as school teachers, so she hived them off to independent budgets, new contracts, longer hours, less holiday, less pay – that sort of thing – because – obviously teaching post-16 and adults was easy! Most of them were only doing crafts anyway, or some of those essential things like plumbing, but the teaching, that wasn’t proper teaching and you didn’t have to have a proper qualification! That was then, now FE lecturers, have to have a PGDE or PGCE, they are Ofsted inspected, they need lesson plans, schemes of work, they have retention and results targets, and internal inspection (painful!) Besides teaching A Levels, doing uni references and inset training, they teach GCSE and, more and more the under 16s are sneaking in – so now they do the same job as school teachers! Efficiency savings – eezy peezy – pay parity – make school teachers’ pay and hours and holiday the same as FE Lecturers – there’s the savings – sorted – comments?

Should teachers “friend” students on Facebook?

To Friend or Not to Friend?

In an effort to adhere to my New Year resolution, which is to blog more (notice I said “more” not regularly) I would like to add my two pennyworth to the debate on social media and students. Josie Fraser, upcoming cyber guru, cites a report she contributed to, that advises us not to friend pupils or students. (Sigh) once again, I find myself on the wrong side of the tracks (or the status updates). Perhaps my biggest plea in this area, is for a proper debate and proper guidance, which, to be fair Josie Fraser is offering, but at ground level, it can seem as if the discussion is dominated by slightly alarmist reference to extreme consequences and predictions of doom. I sometimes wonder whether the authors of such advice really do have an interest in supporting teaching staff rather than berating them. There are issues, issues which centre on the possibilities of cyberbullying and professional boundaries, versus the benefits or not of allowing students or pupils to be “friends” on Facebook or MySpace or other social media, or, for that matter the implications of teachers blogging or twittering in public.

I joined FB maybe three years ago and was immediately requested by students to be “friends” there was, and still is, no guidance from my institution, other than “be careful”, which I am, and the advice from any other institution seems either paranoid or noncommittal. I have no favourites, I take all who ask, I never request, and they are on a separate list, that I rarely look at and I don’t have to inform, although everything I place on FB I would happily share with pretty much anyone, it is truly bland!

There is no doubt that cyberbullying is a problem. It is a worrying trend that extends from the offensive responses that the likes of Stephen Fry’s followers may receive on Twitter to the calculated construction of social sites that target individuals, create false and offensive identities or simply write rude things about them. What bothers me about the issue, is how does not being on a social media site stop cyberbullying or other types of inappropriate behaviour? In fact if you have no digital presence, whilst ignorance might be bliss, it might also be damaging. A greater presence might seem to lead to greater vulnerability, but it is a false idea to think that you are not already online in some way. If you have money in the bank, some part of you is online. You maybe on Youtube, and if you have an Facebook, you could be tagged in someone else’s album, tagged by  someone you barely know and who is not your “friend”. When it comes to social media, if you liken it to the playground, what teacher in their right mind would leave children to play unsupervised in the playground? What responsible parent says “Here’s a box of matches – go play.” Supervision, modelling, leading by example, these are aspects of adult responsibility.

Fear dominates the debate, fear that children’s attention spans are lessening, that they are exposed to grooming, that teaching staff are allowing access to personal details that would not have happened a decade ago. Fear often led by an ignorance (and don’t those two always go together) of how to use social media and manage your digital footprint. There is the preconception that as soon as you place your identity online, everything, including the size of your shoes and the colour of your underwear becomes public property. First of all, you don’t have to put your full name, date of birth or house name on your public profile, you don’t even have to put your picture on your profile. You can lock access to your pages and your tweets, you can make lists so that only selected people can view certain wall posts, you can send and receive private messages.

Admittedly, social media is immediate and public, like conversation and, like a conversation you can do a Homer Simpson and say things you don’t mean. The students I teach are 16 – 19 and a lot live locally. They serve me at Waitrose, I see them in the street, some of them are friends of my own, similarly aged, children. Believe me, my contributions on FB are much more likely to be measured contributions to culture than my reactions when I’m in a rush at Waitrose, or standing in the queue at the cinema or the pub, or, for that matter, struggling with the photocopier, and yet all of these activities are public acts my students can witness. The fear that social media exposes teaching staff to more personal access than they might want is largely unfounded and the idea that you will not be cyberbullied or cyber exposed because you do not have a digital identity is an illusion.

One of the main problems is that the technology outstrips the ability of educational institutions to use it. There is an obligation on staff to employ IT in their teaching, but, in my experience, few go further than PowerPoint and few want to go further than that. Obligations to meet targets, in my area of FE to keep up retention figures, success rates and meet the requirements of impossible amounts of coursework, means that time for learning new software and develop an appropriate digital footprint is marginalised to the outer limits of summer training and the occasional twilight session. That being said, I have not always been a teacher and I am frustrated that teachers seem to think that IT is not something they need to be aware of, or to deal with in the classroom. I am fond of saying that I wrote my first book on a typewriter in 1984, good old fashioned cut and paste style, by 1985, I wrote my second book on a computer and my work has been digitally conditioned and adapted ever since then.

There is no doubt that staff who like using social media and VLE (or MLE) need guidance, there are pitfalls, but in the time I’ve been using it I have found only positive benefits. It has been particularly useful as students have left, to receive news of their progress, their chosen HE option and knowledge of their courses. No doubt, some of this would be considerably easier if institution VLEs were more savvy users of social media. Some institutions are on the case, some not so much. In some, it is hard to find senior management or IT technicians who really understand the principles of managed online learning, or even the use of IT in classrooms. Hence, whilst it continues to be a problem for staff to find satisfactory ways of managing learning, and fulfilling a need as a role model, if not as a friend, on social media, those of us who do risk it, are still on our own – such is pioneering.

Further reading: http://www.slate.com/id/2239560/pagenum/all/

Further Viewing for fun: