6 Reasons why we’re going on strike

Change. It’s all about change. Let’s talk about change.

The world is changing, we are told. Thanks for the heads up! The Irish education system needs to change too. No argument from me there, but anybody who actually teaches teenagers every day will tell you that change is everywhere in schools. Take my classroom: in the twenty years I’ve been dispensing wisdom it’s change a hundred times. The desks have changed, the blackboard became a whiteboard, we got a fire door, and I got technology. When I think about my own secondary education I think chalk and talk and that was still the way when I started but something else clicked for teachers over that time, my methodology has morphed from standing at the blackboard and telling the kids the story, to listening to what they say and letting them do the storytelling. This reform will mean re-placing the barrier between teach and student, creating the distance necessary to mark their work ourselves is a change we don’t want.

We go on strike because we want change, but not this change.

Protecting the student/teacher relationship:
Kids are already the communicative, involved, adept, sharp and worldly citizens we need them to be, no amount of tinkering with the education system will kill that or make it more evident, they’re kids, they’re not guinea pigs or robots. And teachers know them as well as most do. How can we take account of this knowing if we move from guiding them to judging them, from being proponents to evaluators?

We go on strike because changing the teacher pupil relationship is a change too far.

It’s a half-baked reform:
This reform needs to be exactly right, half baking something, as any home economics teachers will tell you will not get you an A, same with education reform. Good intentions are one thing, good policy is another. If teachers were to accept the current proposal from the Minister, the details would be unknown and liable to cause further rancour down the road. We don’t just know what moderation looks like, we don’t have training in how to do any of this. Here’s a picture of what this reform is like…
(pretty to look, sweet to the taste, but a bellyache after a full tub)

We go on strike because anything less than the right change at the right time is wrong.

Educational tourism:
I’m tired of ‘international best practice’ and the phrase ‘not fit for purpose': Ireland is unique, let’s devise a system that meets our social and economic needs without referring to Finland, England or Queensland.  Instead of cutting and pasting inviting ideas from other countries, couldn’t we just try to build the best education system here using what we know we want and what research here shows is doable?

We go on strike because someone else change is not necessarily the right change for us.

Any chance of some help over here:
The government is in ‘listening mode’? Listen to this: Consultation, training, resources, investment. Where’s the ‘education partnership’? Where’s the CPD? Where’s the detail on workload? Where are the resources for, and investment in change for schools? Not to mention the joke of ‘whole school guidance’ and the lack of psychological services. Or the cuts to special needs provision. Come to think of it, has this government invested in anything? Certainly not in teachers, most especially not in new teachers.

We go on strike because we know that this change continues the trend to cutting back on, not investing in education.

Nobody wants to go back, teachers aren’t change haters, we are on board with the need for reform. But we’ve been pushed and pushed and this is the wrong change at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.

We go on strike because we know good isn’t good enough, better is possible, best is all our students deserve.

Here’s something to sing on the picket line:


Fintan O’Mahony
ASTI Standing Committee


Facebook: Elect Fintan

The 39 Learning Outcomes for Teachers


Here's something my TUI colleague and fellow English teacher Liz Farrell sent me, it's worth a read:

The 39 Learning Outcomes for Teachers
Strand 1
Classroom Work
1. Planning , link 39 learning outcomes with 24 statements of learning keeping the 6 key skills in mind.
2. Increased workload. In First Year now I must cover a studied novel, with on going sustained reading of novels throughout the year. A variety of drama extracts, a variety of non literary texts including texts in oral format. A number of short stories, at least 10 poems. Too broad, how many?
3. Must ensure school buys one text book, three sets of novels, one set of drama texts and one workbook.
4. Must up skill in order to use Animoto, Padlet etc. Must ensure access to Computer Room at least once a week.
5. Must up skill on methodologies. Need to find out how to implement meaningful group-work.
6. Must find out how to teach a novel in three weeks.
7. Ensure Literacy and Numeracy are addressed in all classes, along with group-work techniques, learning outcomes, objectives and homework given and corrected.
8. Re arrange furniture to facilitate meaningful discussion. Return furniture for next class.
9. Ensure critical evaluation occurs in classes.try not to teach from the top. Remember students learn from each other.
10. Try not to worry about 2nd and 3rd Year. Keep focused on First Year.
11. Develop strategies to alleviate the transition from Primary to Post Primary. Liaise with Primary school, read Sten tests, alter teaching suitably.
12. Profile all First Years, collate data, adapt teaching to assist.
13. Tick all relevant boxes, daily.

Strand 2. Homework
1. Correct homework, correct edited homework, correct final homework. Return, repeat, store.
2. Give meaningful feedback .
3. Prepare a grammar booklet.
4. Teach oral skills. Google how to teach oral skills.
5. Up skill regarding AFL techniques.
6. Download digital material, multi modal material for use in class. Ensure access weekly to Computer Room, data projector, speakers. Buy external hard drive.
7. Ask an IT savvy friend to advise how best to by pass restrictions on the web in school in order to access YouTube etc.
8. Co ordinate classroom activities so students learn to engage in extended and meaningful discussion of their own and others work.
9. Find and collate a range of reading comprehensions including digital texts.
10. Find ways to ensure engagement in sustained private reading as a pleasurable activity.
11. Ensure students can write competently in a variety of forms, letter, report, multi modal text, review, blog, using appropriate vocabulary, tone and a variety of styles.
12. Ensure students respond imaginatively in writing.
13. Study film, develop rationale for teaching, prepare class.

Strand 3. Assessment

1. Gain access to Computer Room for three weeks to prepare for Oral Component, in order that the research mark can be allocated.
2. Video all students in 2nd Year before Christmas.
3. Bring video home for Christmas, watch, mark over Christmas holidays.
4. Present video to School Moderator, allow her assess. Discuss anomalies in marking!
5. Ensure Portfolio is completed, corrected. Select piece for assessment. Justify my reasoning with students.
6. Grade Portfolio Work according to marking scheme.
7. Repeat point 4.
8. Compare results with Sten tests, standardised tests etc.
9. Meet again with Moderator to ensure National Standards are maintained.
10. Store all data somewhere. Hope and pray results are in line with other schools in the ETB.
11. Try to do Instructional Leadership course to assist with AFL, Group-work, methodologies, pedagogical changes etc.
12. Check email to see have the CPD providers,( JCT English) responded to my email for assistance dated April 2014. And it wasn't sent on the 1st!
13. Tick boxes 1-39, Subject Plan completed. Feel smug momentarily. Then edit…..

Image credit: Flickr cc

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Why I want to lead the ASTI


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



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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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:


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.

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:


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:


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


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.

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In defence of teaching History



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!