Tag Archives: class

Fair and Equitable?

If one is to believe his appearances on news programmes recently, Our Dear Leader is a champion of all things ‘Fair and Equitable’.  In the government’s current spat with the ASTI Enda Kenny has resorted to a regular set of phrases designed to make the ASTI position appear to be, simply unfair (and possibly inequitable).

It really is a genius piece of spin.  Had we stayed within Lansdowne Road then younger members would benefit financially.  However, this is “contingent on the introduction of certain reform measures”  (have a look, paragraph 2 of the press release).  This all glosses over the simple fact that even with this increase, new teachers (within Lansdowne Road) are still paid a substandard starting salary in comparison to their pre-2011 counterparts.

The government is excellent at trumpeting good news in a manner to hide underlying facts.  The recent announcement regarding extra SNAs is really just a Cup and Ball Trick.

But I digress – Enda’s language got me thinking that if Fine Gael really is the arbiter of what’s fair and equitable in Education, then maybe FG policy is a shining example of how to treat the Education Sector with fairness.  So let’s have a quick recap of FG policies in relation to Education:

Repeated cuts in School Capitation

Capitation is the basis for a school budget.  Each school depends on capitation to pay the bills, hire the busses, get the books, repair the leaks, etc.  While all schools have had their capitation cut – this is inequitable.  Schools with a wealthier catchment area can rely on parents to subsidise some of the expenses.  Schools in a disadvantaged simply don’t have this option.

Increase the Pupil Teacher Ratio

In a larger classroom students don’t get the same level of attention.  It’s that simple.  Anyone who is claiming that a larger P/T ratio does not affect students is either untruthful or deluded.  Students benefit when their teacher can pay attention.

Get rid of Guidance Counsellors

It’s not easy to discern what you want to do with your life, and how to pick the best subjects and college courses for you.  That’s the job of guidance counsellors, and apparently one that the Government thinks we can do without.  Sure, they’ll argue that schools can now allocate resources as they see fit.  Really?  The choice is no guidance counsellor or yet larger class sizes.  Unless the school has the wealthier catchment area, in which case it may have the resources to fund a guidance counsellor.

Reduce supports for students with Special Education Needs

Fewer SNAs, fewer resource teachers. Think about this one – the group of students with the greatest challenges in school have had their supports cut.  How about that for fairness?

Strip resources for the National Educational Psychological Service (via the moratorium on employment)

NEPS provides huge support to schools.  One facet of this support is assessment – schools get access to a NEPS psychologist, and can provide some assessments during the year.  (Well, since the cuts, that now means ONE assessment for many schools).  Again, this is inequitable – some families can afford private assessments, some cannot.

Removal of middle management posts (Assistant Principal and Special Duties)

In any career people like to have the option of professional progression.  The removal of posts has removed that option for the vast majority of teachers.  Schools now depend on goodwill to get a number of jobs done – and this is putting more stress on principals and existing post holders.

Cut Teachers’ pay (in a number of ways – USC, Pension Related Deduction, Freeze increments)

Any teacher can look at his or her payslip and see all the extra deductions that are there.  The PRD grates as we have always paid into our pension, and have viewed a pension as ‘deferred pay’.  All workers suffer under the USC.  For a number of years we have had increments frozen.  The net affect of all of this is that teachers are still being paid less now than they were in 2007.

Cut Pay for the youngest teachers

I honestly don’t know exactly how this one happened.  Some say that the unions sold out the younger workers, and others say that this cut was done under FEMPI, beyond the control of the unions.  Maybe the unions were simply out-manoeuvred.  The simple fact is that our younger colleagues are on an inferior scale, and our government is unwilling to accept the principle that NQTs are entitled to equal pay for equal work.

Cut the rates and allowances for working for the State Examinations Commission

Just about every teacher has worked for a while correcting exams.  My first time doing it I was told I was about to undertake ‘the best inservice training ever’.  And it was.  The money was also pretty good.  However that has all been cut -and a number of experienced teachers have given up.  Come June and you will find the SEC posting ads for some positions that have not yet been filled.

Cut mileage and conference allocations

Attending conferences is good for professional development.  However, new rules mean that many of these conferences now take place on weekends, and any allowances for getting there are cut.  The fact that the conferences are still taking place is a testament to the professionalism of teachers who are giving up free time to improve their professional practice.

Change the sick pay entitlements

Nobody wants to get sick – but it is nice to know that if you get sick then there is a safety net to help. However the length of time this support is in place for has been cut.  Something that adds to the worry and stress of any teacher facing a serious illness.

 

Add to all of this we have a Taoiseach who has repeatedly been unwilling to give a straight answer to the question if he would be prepared to accept the principle of equal pay.

So, it’s a bit rich when Enda talks about his government working constantly for what’s ‘Fair and Equitable’.  His policies speak far louder than his words.  Fine Gael has overseen years of cuts in education and appears to have no intention to reverse these cuts.  Fairness and Equality have nothing to do with their policies.  The only thing that seems to matter is to balance a budget.

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Labour & FG. Supporting Inequality

A lot of us remember the gloomy days near the end of the previous government.  Brian Cowen was in power, and was denying anything was wrong – even though every economic commentator was warning of a crash.  The optimists, God Bless ’em, were talking about a soft landing.

Around this time I became politically active for the first time in my life.  I joined FG, I canvassed for my local guy, went to the meetings and did my part.

My part included believing that FG would be good for people across the country.  They had a plan for free health-care, for better services, to turn the economy around.

It all ended as so many love affairs do.  With Disillusionment on one side, and confusion (What did I do wrong?) on the other.  I left Fine Gael in 2013.

As we face the final week of the latest General Election Campaign, I’ve decided that I cannot give a #1 to Fine Gael or Labour.

And why?  Well, I see inequality has greatly increased during the tenure of this government.  And, rather than put that in vague terms, lets look at how far this inequity has spread.  You see, despite the claims that the recession is over, Austerity still rules in Education.

In Education the cuts of the past 5 years have been brutal.  But these cuts have not hit everyone equally.

equity-vs-equality

School budgets have been repeatedly cut

But if you go to a school in a middle-class area, then the school can ask for “voluntary contributions” that will go a long way towards making up the shortfall.  In a poorer area schools don’t have this option, or at least the amount that they could legitimately ask for is far less.  So, a school in a disadvantaged area will be hampered in what it can offer its students.

Students with Special Educational Needs.

These students are hit in two ways.  The most obvious is that the number of Special Needs Assistants was cut.  The criterion were tightened up.  Think about this.  These students are already disadvantaged, and this particular cut could only affect those who were already at a disadvantage.

The other way in which these students were affected is in the area of class sizes.  Prior to 2007 secondary schools operated with maximum class sizes of, usually, 24.  Very often this maximum is exceeded, with class sizes of 27, 28.  At primary level it’s worse, with class sizes of over 30 being relatively common.  Again, those at an educational disadvantage are hit hardest by this.  Think of trying to give individual attention to a child with dyslexia when you have 27 other students to keep engaged.  Certainly they may have ‘access’ to an SNA, but the reality is that the same SNA may be working with a number of students across different class groups.

Access to Educational Supports

How do you know if someone has dyslexia?  Their teacher may suspect it, based on a student’s written work.  But a teacher’s word is not enough to get access to an SNA.  No, for that you need a report from an Educational Psychologist.  The National Educational Psychological Service provides these assessments.  And this assessment goes to the DES to get access to an SNA approved. But guess what?  NEPS have had their resources cut as well.  So a given school will be allocated a certain number of assessments each year – and students with needs may have to wait longer – and fall behind further – because of a lack of funding.

Being Ireland there’s always a back-door.  If you can afford it you could get your child a private assessment , then that assessment will work for the DES.  Those who are better off are less affected by the cuts.

Student Supports

One of the bluntest instruments used by the current government was getting rid of Guidance Counsellors.  Another was the removal of posts of responsibility.  These posts provided teachers with the option of taking on extra responsibilities in a school, and getting paid for them.  Year Heads, Programme Coordinators, Special Duties.  They are all being cut, and other teachers have to pick up the slack, or the buck is passed onto school managers who are already being overloaded.  But, if you are in a school that can afford it, the Trustees will find some extra money to provide the needed supports for students.

This is nothing against these trustees. They are doing the right thing by their students.  It’s just that schools in poorer areas often don’t have these resources.

I could go on.  And on.  The point is that even though the same cuts have been applied across the country, the cuts have had a greater affect on the poorer among us.  Simply because they don’t have the safety blanket of spare money.

Suffice to say I’ve been disillusioned.

I look at the parties vying for my vote, and I find it easy to dismiss lots of them.

From what I can see only one party is actually talking properly about reversing some of the damage done to the public service.  That party is the Social Democrats.  I’ll be voting #1 for them.

As for #2, I’m open to suggestions!

 

Standing up to the Pesky Unions

Well done to our Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan.

She has had the guts to face down the Secondary School Teachers Unions and is pushing ahead with the pet project of her predecessor Ruairi Quinn.  (Junior Cert Reform, with teacher assessment)

So, she has faced down our strikes, and is holding fast. So she has courage – well done, Minister, take a bow.  Her stand is all the more impressive as she is adamant that all this for the good of the students.

Let’s ignore for a moment the implicit bit that suggests that teachers are not interested in students.

Instead let’s celebrate that we have a minister who is willing to stand up to vested interests.  A minister who is willing to risk popularity in order to do the right thing for students.

Therefore…

Minister, I look forward to the day when you will do the following to support our students:

Reduce class sizes.  This is an incredibly simple measure, but one that has a huge impact on the dynamics of any classroom.  I wrote before about how my daughter was for a time in a class of 34.  This is a ridiculous situation and one that should never be allowed to happen.  This does have the downside of costing money, but the minister has assured us that the evaluation farce was not about money, so maybe there’s room for maneuver. Call me cynical, but I won’t hold my breath.

Restore Guidance Counsellors.  This is another incredibly simple measure, and again has a huge impact on students.  Our guidance counsellors do incredible work with students.  Apart from the obvious help in subject and college choice, guidance counsellors sit with students in times of crisis.  Again, this one would happen to cost money, but I’m sure that the minister will stand up for what’s right, yes?  Actually no.

Restore School Budgets.  Again, a simple thing to do.  Schools get a budget to operate, and this budget is based on the number of students enrolled.  For the past few years this budget has been cut, with a further 1% cut due in September.  Another simple thing to reverse.  But again this isn’t about the money, is it?

Restore resources for Students with Special Educational Needs.  Another simple thing. Really, isn’t this not only simple but ethical?  Are those with special needs already at enough of a disadvantage in educational terms?

Have an effective budget for book rental schemes, and IT in the classroom.  OK.  This is more complicated, and requires some real thinking and procedures to go into place.  Some real work required here.  But it is so necessary.  Books are incredibly expensive, and each new school year brings stress to many families trying to dig out extra money for books and uniforms.

As regards IT – there is no cohesive policy, and what you get from school to school can vary radically.  So our students do not have a level playing field when we talk about ICT in the classroom, and technology in education generally.

So, so much is just about money, and we have a minister who is willing to stand up to others.  So surely she’ll stand up for these principles?

Surely, now that the Minister has shown her mettle in standing up to the unions she will show equal courage standing up to the bean counters?  She will stand up to those who have a view that education can be budgeted down to the minimum possible, and then blame the teachers for failing?

But let’s be honest – the minister is showing little enough care for the reality of life for so many students from disadvantaged areas.  It is about the money, and there’s no point in pretending anything different.  The Minister is failing us, is failing our students – and trying to shift the blame.

 

 

Doublespeak

George Orwell’s ‘1984’ scared me.  Yes for the references to Big Brother, and yes, for all the totalitarian references and the image of a world at war.

But  1984 also scared me for the concept of ‘Doublethink’.  Orwell nailed it when he had his politicians twist words so as to make their constituents think whatever it was they were supposed to think.

One who had displeased the party became a ‘nonperson’ and all reference to them was wiped out; the Ministry of Peace tested hand grenades on prisoners; and newstalk was used to indoctrinate the population.

The book is listed as fiction, but seems to have been taken as an instruction manual in the political life of ‘The Best Small County In The World To Do Business’.

Take our successive Education Ministers.  To listen to them, life is only getting better for our students, and they think that we should be happy to swallow their bitter pill.  I think they are hoping for a version of the last line of 1984 where the protagonist, Winston, ‘loved big brother’

Why am I even talking like this?  Lets take a few examples.

Guidance Counsellors.

Guidance Counsellors, for decades, were an important part of Irish schools.  Guidance Counsellors have helped hundreds of thousands of students in subject choice, college choice, and ultimately, career choice.  But that is only part of the work they do.

For years now Guidance counsellors have also done a huge amount of counselling work.  They have helped students who have suffered abuse, bullying, depression, suicidal thoughts, rape.  They have supported, they have referred and they have grieved.

And just like that the government got rid of them.  2 years ago in the budget.  Hidden in the nitty gritty, with the stroke of a pen.

And now that we are told the recession is over, Minister O’Sullivan has no plans to reinstate guidance.  And she calls this good news.  She believes “that it is desirable to give schools some discretion on how to use these increased resources” .  She conveniently forgets to mention that to put in guidance, schools need to lose a teacher in another area.  But that’s ok, because the schools have discretion.

It’s pure Doublethink.  Change the story, and repeat it so much that you believe it yourself.  Minister O’Sullivan also referred to the 2015 budget as being the first budget increase in Education in many years.  More Doublethink.

Why?

Here’s the spin.  Yes, there is an increase in funding, but it’s in the capital spend.  There has been a raft of new building measures proposed (because we love property).  This extra capital is only to ensure school buildings meet increased population demands.  This extra spend does nothing to improve pupil/teacher ratios.  It does nothing to reverse cuts to those who have special needs.

The downside of the budget is that it was published in a year that schools have their capitation budgets cut, and have been promised, wait for it, another cut next September.

So the Minister talks about an increase in the Education Budget and hopes that we all forget the ongoing cuts and buy the party line.

Sadly, in our media driven society, those who can keep their message going loudest and longest will be the ones remembered.  Successive Ministers for Education seem to have taken this lesson to heart.

Striking Again?

I reckon Minister Jan O’Sullivan is beginning to think that us teachers are an ungrateful lot.  She’s in the job less than a year, and we’re heading towards our second strike.  Why?

Well that’s the core question.  Why should we go on strike again?  Why not just accept what the minister referred to yesterday as her ‘fair and reasonable compromise’?

Let’s take the question a step further.  Why go on strike when so many schools already had a day off yesterday?  At least that’s what this tweet suggests:

tweet

So there you have it.  The strike is about having a day off.

Seriously?

There is one core principle at stake in this strike.  That of assessment.  In Ireland the final assessment of a student’s grade is absolutely impartial.  It is a core value of our system.  And our government wants to squander this in a money saving exercise.  (more on that later)

Our state examination system is one of the few things in this country that we can truly say is impartial.  Money can’t buy grades or favours in the system.  When an examiner starts reading scripts, the only identification he or she will get is the exam centre number, and the candidate number.  Race, Gender, Ethnicity, Wealth, Sexuality or even Behaviour are not factors when it comes to having your exam corrected.

The same could not be said of a teacher correcting his or her own students’ work.  All of us teachers are human.  Any of us can end up liking one student over another for the simplest or stupidest of reasons.  And this could affect that student’s grade.

Let’s talk about the money.

At our first strike I was asked if this was about pay.  Would teachers accept the change if more pay was offered?  It was a fair question, and I probably didn’t give the best answer at the time.  But I’ve had time to think about it.

The strike isn’t about pay – but resources are part of the picture.

Schools, have suffered a brutal regime of cutbacks in the past six years, and our most recent budget had even more cutbacks in store.

  1. Remove Guidance Counsellors from secondary schools
  2. Increase the pupil/teacher ratio
  3. Cut capitation grants to schools
  4. Again, cut capitation grants to schools (and again for next year)
  5. Reduce supports for students with Special Educational Needs

Supports for students are constantly being cut.  Resources are being cut.  Student welfare is being cut.  And in the middle of all this the minister is trying to sell us a flawed product.  And she is trying to sell us something when our resources are being decimated.

The new Junior Cycle Programme is flawed.

One of the sad things about this situation is that the unions and the National Council for Curricular Awards (NCCA) had agreed a new Junior Cert in 2011.  All this trouble could have been avoided.

However, even if the Minister accepts our principle that teachers should not correct their own students’ work, and proceeds ahead with a productive vision of a new Junior Cycle, then she would then need to provide the proper resources to implement it.

The Junior Cert is flawed.  It does need to be revised, rebuilt.  But it needs to be done properly.  The current programme is not the way forward.

And that is why we teachers will again go on strike next week.

Next week I will stand proudly with my colleagues and we will make our opposition to the minister’s plans known.

 

More articles on the New Junior Cert:

The New Junior Cert

I don’t want to go on strike.  I need to go on strike.

Now you see it…

The Narrow Focus of Assessment

Education and Equality

6 Reasons why we’re going on strike

 

Getting Started in Google Classroom

One of the tools available in the Google Apps For Education (GAFE) suite is Google classroom.  It gives the teacher the ability to set assignments, allows students to return assignments, and facilitates teachers’ engagement with students as they complete their assignments.

So.  How to get started with this?

If you are a teacher in a school / Institution using GAFE, then you need the administrator to register you as a ‘classroom-teacher’.

Next, go to classroom.google.com and sign in with your GAFE account

Once you are logged in, you will get a home page that will show all the classes you have created (but that’s a step or two later)

First, how to create a classgroup:

On your homescreen, near the top at the right hand side, you will see a + sign.  Click on this, and you should see a drop-down menu like the one here:

classroom1

Click on the ‘Create Class’ option.

That will give you this screen:

classroom 2

Give your shiny new class a name (and a section if you’re doing just one part of a course)

Once you click ‘Create’ you will be taken to this or a screen like it:

classroom 3

At this point you can take the (brief) tour offered at the bottom right-hand-side of the page, or you can dive in and add students to the class.

Here, you have two options:

  1. Give students the class code (listed at the bottom right of the page).  The students then log into their google account, go to classroom.google.com and type in the code.
  2. Invite students manually

To invite students manually, click on the ‘Students’ tab in the top centre part of the page.

Classroom 4

Click on the nice, blue ‘Invite’ button and you will get this option:

Classroom 5

The system will first give you the option of inviting students in your own contacts list.  This is actually limited unless you already have the students’ email address.  You need to click on the ‘My contacts’ button, and then click on ‘Directory’.  This will give you the directory of all the users with an account in your school (domain)

Classroom 6

The hard part now is to actually add students from the directory in the most economical way possible!

Here’s what works for me:

  1. Have your roll handy
  2. Type the first name of a student into the search box
  3. You will be shown all the students with that first name
  4. Tick the check-box beside his/her name
  5. Once his/her name appears in the box below, type in the name of the next student
  6. Repeat until you have all your students included
  7. At this point click on the ‘Invite Students’ button
  8. The students will now receive an email inviting them to join your class group
  9. They need to click the longer link in the email.
  10. This will bring them to their classroom account, and they will then need to accept your invitation.

Classroom 7

 

There are extra options at this point.  You can click on the ‘About’ button for your class group to set more information (your choice!)

Classroom 8

Good luck!

If you are already using Classroom and have tips, ideas or more suggestions – I’d love to hear them!

Related Posts:

Sharing Documents in Google Drive

Getting Started in Google Drive

Google in School

7 Ways to use Google Classroom

The Aftermath of a Musical

In March our school held its musical, songs from Grease.  I wrote down some of my thoughts about it here.  Today, I’m in class and what’s next is a bit of a free for all with my TY class, where I’m asking for their memories of the show.  Just for the hell of it, I’m attaching their stage names to their answers!

What is your strongest memory of doing the musical?

‘Eugene’ getting to do my speech – loved doing it!

‘Sandy’ I loved working out Scene 5, and Scene 2.  They were good fun to do, some great songs.

‘Rizzo’ – my song.  Working together, having a laugh.  Roger’s ‘Mooning’ song with Jan.  My wig was very hot.  I was sweating under it.

One of the male cast ‘Sonny’ was shorter than the others, & was flung into the air a few times.

‘Frenchie’ – all the rehearsals. My wig made me  look like somthing out of ‘LazyTown’.

Building friendships with the directors. Jim & Co. from CADA

The Friday show was a surprise & one of the teachers had to fill in the role of ‘Frenchie’ at the last minute.

‘Kenickie’ – Jim (The Assistant Director)  was a top man.  Gave you confidence and got you into it.  He treated everyone nice.#

‘Doody’ –  The opening night stands out. We were all giddy backstage, but once the call came for 5 minutes we got all serious & everyone did their part.  I really remember the end of the show and we all started congratulating each other afterwards.

How much hard work went into it?

Everyone – lots & lots.

Learning the script was very hard.

Fast costume changes were difficult

You had to work during the mid-term break and over St. Patrick’s weekend.  How did you feel about that?

‘Rizzo’ didn’t like it, but it was worth it in the end.

‘Sandy’ it was grand. Just took it was worth it at the end.

Coming in during the breaks when your friends were off was hard.

What was the scariest part for you?

Doing the show in front of the school on the Friday.

The auditions were scary! (a lot of people said this)

‘Kenickie’ – my first time singing on stage was scary.

Tell me about the feeling of going on stage.

Nervous for some

‘Eugene’ says he wasn’t nervous!

‘Sandy’  I loved going on stage, nerve wrecking, but I loved it.

‘Doody’ – it was my first time on stage, nervous, afraid to mess up – and I never sang in front of people before.

It’s now nearly one month later.  What has the show meant for you?

We should have got a reward for all our hard work.

It built up my confidence in front of people.

We all get along better.  It has made us closer.

Surprised – I didn’t think I’d be able to get up on stage & speak.

The main director is scary!

I think there should be a musical every year.

‘Kenickie’ ‘Sandy’ & ‘Doody’ – it was the best thing in fourth year, made the year and it brought me much closer to a lot of the cast.  NO REGRETS

 Has it surprised you how much work has to go into gettting something on stage?

YES (from everyone).  The rehearsals went on for about 8 weeks. Especially in the little amout of time we had.  8 weeks really flew.

You managed to combine script, songs and dance in some scenes.

‘Rizzo’ I preferred doing the dancing & singing.  I didn’t really like the acting part.

‘Kenickie’ – it made the scenes, but it was much more difficult to do.  The acting was my favourite part.

‘Sandy’ I loved the singing and dancing.  Script was ok, but definitely preferred the singing and dancing.

And, from the backstage crew…

It was really, really dark!

Trying to move stuff backstage without making noise was difficult.

It was hard work.

Fin

And there you have it.  A little experiment during class with a group of tech-savvy fourth year students.  They loved doing the show, and I think really got the reward out of doing something so different to ‘normal’ class work.

And now, they can go home for 2 weeks of Easter Holidays.  Well done guys.