Why I want to lead the ASTI

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I am today announcing my candidacy for the vice-presidency of the ASTI.

I run because I am convinced that the members of this Association should expect more of it’s leadership: expect more engagement, expect more consultation, and expect more unity.

I run to seek a new way forward for the ASTI, but first to bring the long running sore of ill-thought out reform to an end one way or another, to close the gap in pay between new entrants and their more established colleagues, and to restore all the cuts to education, including teachers’ pay. Most of all, when we are being told that ‘our efforts’ have fixed our financial system, paid for mistakes we didn’t make and elected politicians who ignore us, we are right to demand that schools and public services generally should get the investment they have been denied. I want to lead the ASTI through all this. 
The crisis in our country and in our education system, brought on by the austerity introduced by one government and ‘followed through on’ by another has ignored the expert in the classroom, ignored the teacher’s voice, introduced reform for no reason other than to save money and underinvested in our children’s futures. I want to help reverse all those mistakes.

I run for the Vice Presidency and ultimately the Presidency because I want the ASTI to stand for progress not inaction and for all it’s members above all. For too long the ASTI has been retreading the past into a vision of the future. Education is moving on, embracing technology, research and change. For teacher unions to survive they must exist in the present and be aware of the future, providing information, guidance and support for teachers now, but also navigate a way for teachers to move forward in this changing environment. The greatest gift a teacher can give to a student is to help them believe in themselves. Teacher unions should give the same belief to the professional in the classroom. Many teachers have become discontented, disengaged and disaffected with their unions, it is high time we brought those teachers back under the ASTI’s wings so we can all work towards a truly representative union. 
We should be talking about how to manage change, how to become more politically aware, how to provide research based views on what is proposed in education, how to reconnect with teachers in their schools and even how our unions can find common ground to support each other in their battles. I feel obliged to do all that I can to start this conversation.

I have seen some extraordinary people hold the positions of Vice President and President and know the enormous task it is to serve in those positions. But my service on Standing Committee over the last three years, and before that eight years on CEC have taught me something about both how the ASTI works and critically how the ASTI communicates its message. I believe I have the skills necessary to manage the first and improve the second. I have visited schools and branches that vary profoundly from my own, but in whatever setting, solving the problems teachers encounter with their students, with their colleagues, with management, and with the DES is the job of the ASTI, and it’s a job I’m proud to do.

I have taken a particular interest in listening to new teachers over the last three years, and I have heard their anger at the battles they have to fight to secure employment and equal pay. Meeting their expectations of good representation while impressing on them the necessity for involvement in their union will be a central aim of mine.

It is also time to reach out to other unions and other educational bodies, not with suspicion but with a desire for charting our common ground. It has always been my aim to use the power of our membership wisely, strategically and with the courage of our convictions. If we define our principles and make it known what we stand for it will be a far more comfortable journey for all teachers. But we have to believe in something first. Our path has to more than a series of calculations about what’s possible at any given time, but a set of principles that guide our every decision. At every opportunity we should try to present the ASTI as the voice of reason on pay, conditions, junior cycle and entry into the profession and I believe I have the skills necessary to make this voice heard.

I acknowledge the support and encouragement of many colleagues in this endeavour, and hope that many more can join this campaign. There is nothing personal in this declaration, only a desire to bring to the ASTI a new purpose.

Expect more.

If you want to get involved in this campaign contact me on Twitter, Facebook, or by email.

Solidarity, Unity, Strength: Three reasons to vote yes this time

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Last May the Central Executive Council of the ASTI adopted the following motion I proposed:
That in the event that the new Junior Cycle subject specification including it’s assessment component is introduced the ASTI will immediately ballot members on extending our industrial action up to and including strike action.

That ballot is now underway.

Why should you vote yes?

Solidarity
It has become very obvious that the current ASTI directives leave teachers, particularly English teachers, in a confused state. They have been directed not to engage with the reform but to teach the subject specification nonetheless.
You vote YES to protect those English teachers with the strength of the whole union. Leaving some to resist on the frontline without the backup of the whole membership isn’t what unions are about.

Unity
Our colleagues in the TUI have already put this issue to a ballot and received a strong mandate to act; it makes sense that the two second level teacher unions should be on the same page on an issue we agree on.
You vote YES so that all of us can act together, at the same time, for a change.

Strength
Negotiations at an impasse. No practical solution to bridge the gap between teachers and the Minister has emerged. So far our action is low level disengagement, extending it will focus minds and bring about a more swift solution or at the very least the prospect of teachers walking out, unpalatable as that might be, might show how strong the feeling of teachers is regarding the proposed reform.
You vote YES to say you belong to a union that takes action when it’s members speak, action that gives our negotiators a strong hand when they hammer out a solution.

Teddy Roosevelt was first to adopt a policy of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, if the soft speaking doesn’t work, it’s better to have the big stick ready.

15 or 16 things that I do in my English class

This started as some self-reflection and planning for my Leaving Certificate English teaching. It’s an interesting exercise, to try to write down everything, or almost everything we do, and it takes ages! There may be something you can use here for your own class, or you may think I’m way off the mark, but here it is.

Timetabling
First we* take a look at the weekly timetable and break up the week. We make one day for Poetry and one day for Language. They also help as a constant: if it’s Monday it must be poetry! The other three are Reading days.

Poetry Day
On the dedicated Poetry day, we read one poem a week, six poems, with biography at the beginning and an overall exercise to finish. This might not sound like a lot of time on each poem but it works. It means I need to know everything I can about the poems, in case of questions, and I need to draw in the poem from the previous week to build an picture of the poets work. (This is a type of Comparative exercise too, comparing poems as texts). At the end of each class I set an exercise and they build up a collection of these which we discuss before they write a piece of their own.

No Notes
I don’t give notes though. They’ve got to listen, write and contribute to make the poems come alive, not everybody likes it, but everyone has to think or sink. I like to read four poets’ work in 5th Year.

Language Day
On the dedicated Language day (or Paper One day as it’s called), we begin with some basics around how a paragraph works. We look at the marking scheme very early on and very briefly to see how their papers will be marked and we always do a marking exercise with an exemplar (usually from the Examiner’s Report, or something I’ve copied from a previous year) for homework. This is always fun. I keep a file of things I’ve read that we can use and I’m turning more to Instapaper to keep some track on these. For example I have two reviews of the same restaurant which are wildly different (an unavailable online, sorry), I use them to teach language and register as well as how to include, or exclude, readers in your audience.

Blogging
The latest and greatest innovation on Language day is our blog. Each week someone is given the job of writing something either from an exercise or topic that we’ve been talking about or something that’s been on their minds. I read the post to the class on the day and they’re a great source of pride for the writer and inspiration for the students who have still to write. These posts are not marked. I insist on this because the Leaving Cert student is over-marked today, marked into oblivion. It’s good to have a place where they can escape this constant judgement and still know they’re doing something that helps their writing. It keeps the writing steady and helps us ‘build from the back’, writing more as the months go on. And everything they write counts.

Going Online
The students have access to the blog from home so they can log on themselves. We have a class gmail account and that’s useful for Google Docs too, more on that later.

Reading Days
On the Reading days in Fifth Year we read all the texts with the fewest pauses necessary. We do this because we can read them straight through for pleasure, not study.
When we’re finished reading them we spend a class or two talking about them and do an exercise called ‘What’s it all about?’ which is really about drawing out some general ideas on themes we can see or motifs we liked. It goes on the whiteboard and we photograph it.

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Comparative Work
Comparative choice should be up to students to a point, I chose the single text always, but the girls chose at least one comparative text. Often it’s the movie.
We always do a movie. It fast, it’s something with which most teenagers have a language fluency and you can see three easily if you’re being very strict about your planning.

Comparing
By the time we’ve read and settled on the three Comparative texts (a play, a novel,a movie) , we can start to find similarities between them. Here’s an example where we were still deciding which texts we’d include and the rough comparative exercise helped us chose. This is an Ordinary Level group where we were still deciding which movie to settle on and we’d chosen Juno and the Paycock and My Sister’s Keeper so fitting a movie with them was the exercise.

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I exert only minor influence on this whole process and it pays off when you can get a long conversation about ‘mothers vs fathers’ in the texts before they’ve even begun to think about Comparative Language. If we’re lucky we might have performed or seen the play in Transition Year if I’ve got my act together!

Comparative Sentence
What we’re driving at here is composing a Comparative sentence to draw the three texts together. It might look like this:

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But the picture doesn’t capture the discussion about what goes in an what we need to, sometimes reluctantly, drop.
It’s my job to keep the Comparative Modes in mind, or to fit the sentence with the modes later.

Marking
I always mark to the standard scheme, it’s a laborious task, and I’m very slow but I’m trying to improve! I sometimes hold on to work so I can return it when it serves a purpose, I might hold on to an initial response to a poets work and return it when we’re revising so the student can see the progress they’ve made or not made. The reason it takes ages it because good feedback is so important and I need to think about that and tailor it to the student. Without feedback, there’s no improvement, that’s all.

Single Text
The Reading classes are used to read the Single Text in 5th Year too. The first reading again is for enjoyment, there’ll be less enjoyment later, but I think we should try to enjoy one Shakespeare text before we pass out of Secondary School!
in 6th Year we use a double class (we’re lucky with the timetable in that we get an extra period in 6th Year) to read it for depth. It’s always a Shakespeare play, that’s a decision we made a long time ago and makes ordering books easier (we have a book rental scheme in our school). After reading it and probably seeing it on film in 5th Year we return to it for a close reading. I introduce character study and maybe a key theme at that stage. I like to have it read a second time by November. The third reading isn’t strictly chronological because we’ll cover characters, themes and motifs in more detail. All of this depends on which play we’re doing: Macbeth we can motor through, with Hamlet we have to take more care. It’s always better to get to see the play performed, but if it’s not possible, we try to see at least two if not three versions on film. YouTube clips can be great for character study and I put some of them up on the blog too.

Poetry Day Part 2
We also have a Poetry day in 6th year. If things go according to plan we should finish six poems from each of six poets by January of 6th Year. The we go back to each, the girls can decide the order for revision, and I give them some revision pointers and a seventh poem to tie some themes together. This is a shot of one Yeats revision class:

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Key Moments
When we reread the a Comparative texts in 6th Year we have that comparative sentence in mind, but now we’re search for key moments so it’s a closer reading. Each student has a list of key moments of her own, we can write better from our own work, I don’t provide a set list, it’s not my study, it’s personal to them. This almost always works, if the students are listening and contributing, but that’s teaching all over isn’t it?

Collaborative Writing
I’ve started to use Google Docs to collaboratively write sample answers. I used to spend hours writing them myself but now each student writes an opening paragraph on a topic we’ve chosen for practice. Then we switch everyone around, so someone different does the second paragraph. This can be done at home or in the Computer Room and I annotate it to sharpen the writing. Here’s a link to a sketchy, unfinished one:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-xLDYvJPmSICkB8sSjw7XF1iTHqzun8XPwKgJBwX49o/edit?usp=docslist_api

So.
This is what I do, and it works for me and (most of) my students but what I haven’t been able to put in here is how building a bond between teacher and student is crucial. I miss my classes when they’re finished, no doubt they don’t miss me but all of the above falls flat if you don’t include the students, give them a voice and make sure they’re comfortable expressing an opinion. I got very little chance to do that in school, my students will get every chance.

* It’s almost always we, hardly ever they or I, we’re in this together.

Feedback? It’s always good:

Twitter: @levdavidovic

Email: Natnif2@yahoo.ie

or comment below.

Ten things the new Minister for Education should do, straight away

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1. Provide parents and schools with clarity on the provision of SNAs in advance of new school year, the marginalisation of special needs students is not something you want to be defending at the next election. Read this

2. Restore the full provisions of the EPSEN Act. The act has never been properly implemented and has been eroded repeatedly since the ‘crisis’ began, leaving those most in need least well off. And restore Guidance cuts while you’re at it.

3. End Managerialism in Irish education, a Minister FOR Education should be a minister AGAINST bureaucracy, business models or neo-liberalism.

4. Review the implementation of the Junior Cycle with teachers, managers, parents and students on board. The clock is ticking and you’ve been handed a time bomb.

5. Save History. Make yourself some good press.

6. Tackle teacher supply. Entry into the teaching profession is tortuous, look at matching graduates with imminent vacancies and obvious shortages. And give teachers a single pay scale.

7. Restore pupil teacher ratios at all levels to 2007 levels. That way you could claim credit for improving students lives at all levels and create employment.

8. Engage with teachers don’t send officials, deal with the education sector’s interests face to face, not at arms length. Being Minister is about more than announcing initiatives, it’s about bringing out the best in teachers, the talents of students and the support of parents and you can’t count on any of that if you don’t talk to them.

9. Place education at the heart of the recovery: without investment in education, there will be no long term recovery. Education doesn’t have a price, it has value. Fund a new ICT investment in schools and colleges for example, to drive the recovery (when it comes).

10. End the exploitation of workers on school buildings, practice what your government preaches about fairness, equity and employment.

And by the way…

Follow up on promises to Repeal FEMPI, legislation only applied to secondary teachers.
Delete Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, another promise you have to keep.

Remember education is for living, not to make a living.

Follow @levdavidovic

In defence of teaching History

 

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credit: https://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-i-m-a-history-teacher-16/

 

This is my response to this article from The Irish Times.

You bet Junior-cycle reform remains a contentious topic! You bet many history teachers think it represents a threat to the subject we love!

The problem isn’t the breath of the current syllabus, but that when we were asked a decade ago to clean up the vast course we made recommendations about shortening it. Those recommendations are sitting on a shelf gathering dust somewhere in Marlborough St. That’s what happens when you consult teachers, sure you’d be better off not asking them for their opinions at all!

Teachable moments come thick and fast in history class, we know well how to turn dry topics like Gothic architecture or French revolutionary peasants (to pick two from today alone) into gold for students. Long gone are the days of ‘learn the textbook of by heart girls and boys’. We use twitter in their classrooms, we do project work on people in history, and debate the Treaty: that’s active learning. Change the History course, but don’t hollow it out by introducing short courses.

Suggesting that students will love history because they live near a round tower misses the point of local history: it illuminates the broader narrative, it isn’t the whole story. Saying schools will provide  short courses in ‘historical geography and archaeology’ begs the question, what’s the value of those pursuits for someone who wants to pursue History at Leaving Cert? Breadth of coverage isn’t everything but it allows a student to defer specialisation to as late as possible, one of the best features of the education we provide now.

Teachers don’t misunderstand ‘knowledge’ and ‘skill’ either: without knowledge the skill is impossible to master, without the skill the knowledge is meaningless That’s the reality of facing a group of 30 students every 40 minutes.

Meddle with that at your peril!

The future of Teacher Trade Unions

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It’s time for the Annual Conventions of the teachers’ unions but I’m going to avoid the issues under debate and talk about some broader ideas that, as I see it, should be examined at the heart of Teacher Trade Unionism. With some luck we might discuss them on the edges of the Conventions.

First let’s mention what many teachers see as the problems their unions have. We hear about a leadership which is disconnected, unions that are unrepresentative and run a contrary agenda to members wishes, unions that cave at the sign of a government negotiator, unions that fail to communicate the real message of teachers.

I would rather say our biggest problem is our lack of ideas. Ideas about where want to go rather than the warmth of where we are, about how we are perceived by others and how to confirm or change the views they have about us, we should be talking about the way a teacher trade union should operate in the future.

I am convinced the structures of our union are designed to be democratic but structures are one thing, engagement with democracy is another. We see few elections to Standing Committee or CEC and poor turnouts for ballots. Many of our members are discontented, disengaged and disaffected, they need to know what their union stands for more than anyone, yet there seems to be a reluctance to define ourselves in terms other than opposition to whatever is proposed by other educational bodies. Teachers need something to believe in. They need the comfort of ideas.

Here’s what Tony Benn told the TUC in Britain: “the unions have hardly made any serious effort to explain their work to those who are not union members, even to the wives and families of those who are. You have allowed yourselves to be presented to the public as if you actively favoured the conservative philosophy of acquisitiveness…”.Tony Benn said that in 1974 and I think applies to most unions today.

So, what can be done?

The questions I’d wish to raise are simple but, I believe, fundamental ones. Having a conversation on ideas and allowing for a variety of responses which would allow us to address members concerns on how we talk about education, how we talk about educating, and what will education be like in the future. Talking to members might uncover many other issues of concern, but if we don’t talk to them we will never know what they want to discuss. Deciding that we need only examine our own consciences to know what members want is a recipe for disaster.

We need to restoke the flames of our teacher unions, restore their collective soul and shape them into what we want them to be. When we ask those questions we can start to communicate our ideas. Some fine contributions to this debate has come from Howard Stevenson. In this blogpost he distills down the prospective route for teachers’ unions to organising in the workplace, becoming a national voice on professional issues, and teacher unity. He is right about the managerialism at work in education, economics dominates every discussion on education. The quote above from Tony Benn is worth rereading here, he said then that the prevailing view of trade unions was that they were about money, what the reality was didn’t matter, that was the perception. When education becomes wrapped up in economics we make the mistake of making economics the reason for doing or not doing anything. We begin to accept that we are part of a system. Instead we should focus on critiquing the policy decisions which alienate us, and turn us from teachers into disenchanted robots who feel we have no way out but to lash out at our unions. There’s nothing wrong with having an education ‘system’, but developing a bureaucracy where data is prioritised over student or teacher well-being commodifies education. Our professional lives become stuff that can be bought and sold when education policy transforms parents and students into consumers.

Education issues in Ireland such as Junior Cycle reform, or the plight of many newer teachers, or the effects of austerity on education are often presented to us as necessary because of, or unfortunate byproducts of, economic forces nobody really has control over. We are all victims of this sorcery: like the audience at a magic show we know we’ve been tricked, we don’t know how, but we all go along for the ride. This makes it okay that we don’t consult professionals on reform, or allow hundreds of teachers to leave the country or leave kids without the mental health supports they need, it’s not how the trick is performed, it’s the end result that’s magical and diverting, briefly anyway.

But I’d like to say that in order to deal with these economic or political sleights of hand teachers should re-engage and reclaim their unions. Our unions could become places where we could talk about the transformation of education, setting the agenda, instead of waiting for the latest initiative to reject; where we critically reflect on the place of education and educators in our society instead of rejecting intellectualism; where we draw on the skills and expertise of our members to inform reasoned change and training. If instead we allow our unions to be weakened by replying to non-engagement with a shrug or to the situation of newer teachers with apathy we surrender our unions to those who wish only to tread water here in the present.

Acknowledging that ideas and research, knowledge and experience are central to a trade union’s reason-to-be should drive us on. Taking every opportunity to enter into dialogue with teachers in their schools, at branch meetings, or wherever should be a prerequisite for elected representatives, this would greatly benefit policy decision-making. Taking to members makes a union more democratic in its actions and clearer when it takes action.

Teachers talk all the time, they have a voice. If they were invited to express themselves on the future of education or the future of their unions and if we, the leaders of our unions are willing to listen to them we can create and propagate an agenda which, if not listened to by outside bodies, will incur our wrath. Only when we have a counter argument to remove every bolder they throw in the road will we know our own strength.

The challenge unions face, not just teacher unions I might add, is to carve out a discussion in which members, all members, not just the most involved, the most informed, or the most willing, will be encouraged to take part. This requires a serious internal dialogue. Only then, when we know what they think and want can we turn outward with our clearest message.

Without developing a means of dialogue with those who oppose our view, we cannot get to a position where our might can be exercised, for as long as we refuse to understand them or refuse to allow them to understand us, we cannot be confident that our ideas are worth standing over.

If I could finish with a wish for our future as teacher trade unionists it would be to create a movement which can look outward to other educational bodies with the expertise and knowledge we possess inside our profession now. Only through dialogue will we be confident that our message, our clear message, is being communicated to those who need to hear it.

There are, I suggest, meaningful ways of not merely “communicating Education”, but of communicating as Educators.

 

 

Twitter @levdavidovic

email natnif2@yahoo.ie

I’m mad as hell!

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I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated and by the look of things I’m not alone. Educational change, needed, necessary, purposeful educational change in Ireland is being rolled out in an inadequate and disingenuous way.

At this stage I think we can all agree that the Junior Cert needs reform, no-one is proposing for a minute that the system we have now is ideal. Replacing it is a reasonable thing to do after 25 years, and you’d think after that length of time a well thought out and positive reform would be forthcoming but here we are six months before a new English is to be introduced and there’s no news on assessment, there’s one day of CPD in advance and the ‘toolkit’ for designing and producing the new content isn’t online.
I’m frustrated. Over the last few years I’ve attended ASTI meetings on Junior Cycle Reform, we even added an extra day to our Convention last Easter on the issue. I’ve attended NCCA meetings on course content, and even a grand day out in Dublin Castle. At all those meetings the issues have been discussed: consultation, assessment, resources and equality for students have all been discussed. There’s still no detail on how we will assess our students and it’s not coming until after we start teaching the new course. There are still no details on investment in schools, in CPD or in ICT.
It is not enough to outline an assessment model and tell those expected to introduce it that the fine detail will ironed out after they’ve started teaching the new syllabus (notwithstanding the huge concerns many have with the proposed model). Neither is it enough to tell parents, students and teachers that the moderation is fail safe when the intention is assess and moderate all subjects in-school once the standardised tests (don’t get me started) in English, Irish and Maths are ‘bedded in’.
The frustration comes too from the dismissal of teacher concerns about external pressures from management, parental involvement, the comparisons that can be made between schools that have come to plague teacher in the US and England with a blithe shrug of the Minister’s shoulders. All these pressures are possible under these proposals but impossible under present system.
And this week I attended my one and only day of CPD before the new dispensation begins. One day! I have no problem with the people delivering the CPD, we can only feel sympathy for them when they are asked to field so many legitimate questions about what we being expected to deliver without the answers at their disposal. There was no aggression, there was just incredulity and a refusal to descend into resignation when the fine detail can’t be shared.
Time is running out given reform begins next September.
There has been so little preparation or consultation that it is laughable.
The new English course is a big improvement, but I’m tired of being told that it’s reason for being is it replaces the rote learning I’m drilling into my students every day. That’s an insult to any English teacher who stands in front of students having a conversation with students every day: a conversation about poetry, prose or fiction, a conversation about what it means to be a good writer, or how do communicate with each other. Did I say I was mad as hell already?
It has regrettably come to the stage where only a deferral of the current timeframe to consult teachers in schools properly will do to make sure the necessary professional development is taking place, to outline the resources that are going to be put in place to implement the framework and to illuminate the fine detail.
It’s clear this reform doesn’t have the confidence of teachers even those of us with an appetite for the changes but still do not know what is required of them. We have to take whatever action is required to have these issues addressed. Both the ASTI and TUI will ballot members in the coming weeks on what they want to do about it.