Ask me why I’m voting Yes

Ask me why I’m voting Yes.

For all our friends in crisis.

For all the nurses, midwives and doctors I know who have to carry a copy of the Constitution when caring for my pregnant friends.

For the shade in legislation, not the black and white of the Constitution.

For all the parents who have to make decisions they’d rather not make.

For all the women I know who travelled to another country for their medical care, and never said a word.

For any woman who has ever felt trapped in her own body.

For all the taxi bus and train drivers, ferry workers and pilots who brought our sisters abroad for care they should get at home.

For shame to go away.

For Ireland to face its self.

For the bereaved.

For the anonymous.

For empathy.

For the truth.

For the raped.

For the women who can’t share their stories, who can’t voice their pain.

For anyone who can change their mind when faced with the reality of the 8th.

For my wife and daughters.

For listening to women.

For Savita.

For Ann.

For repeal.

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Top 12 headlines in Irish education this summer

Here’s the news in Irish education:

Schools are for drilling

Points are for counting

The Leaving Cert is a fix

Maths was too easy, but now it’s too hard

Everyone’s an entrepreneur 

Change is a bad thing

Education is a means to an end

Teachers are disposable

Teachers are on the gravy train

Embarrassing the Minister is the only way to get to college

Schools are churches 

Schools aren’t churches
Those are the headlines, have a happy return to school…

Teachers know best

Let us go then, you and I,

When the Junior Cycle is spread out against the sky

like a teacher etherized upon a table…

(with apologies to Eliot)

One would be forgiven for being bored by the length of time we have spent discussing Junior Cycle, I sometimes think it would be best if I just changed the name of this blog altogether to something like HERE’S ANOTHER POST ABOUT THE DEBACLE OF JUNIOR CYCLE REFORM. So here’s another post about the debacle of Junior Cycle Reform.

An article appeared in the Irish Independent today, written by two academics who throw some mud at teachers on their way to suggesting that if only they shut up and accepted that their masters have their best interests in mind. Sit back and relax teachers, it’s just that you have no confidence in yourselves, if you allow the yellow fog of reform curl around you and help you to sleep, safe in the knowledge that you were wrong and they were right.

The article accuses teachers and their unions of all kinds of badness: censoring members’ access to professional development, having limited confidence in their own assessment skills, or failing to consult their members and anti-intellectualism, imagine!

To take these charges one by one, as a teacher likes to do: I’m not sure of the use of the word censor (censors I suppose assess don’t they?), direct might have been better, and if either of the authors had been following the story of this train crash from the beginning, they would know that there was CPD for English in the Spring of last year and it was a disaster. Those charged with the invidious task of informing teachers of what lay ahead were unable to answer questions on the way the English specification was to be implemented or indeed taught when it was introduced last September. The ASTI/TUI decision to ban attendance was taken after ballots of members, no CPD was offered for English or any other subject until last month, and when it was held no union members attended. Teacher unions would of course support CPD if they had confidence in the reform, in the absence of agreement on assessment and of standards, equity and fairness, issues introduced to the debate by teachers, by the way, that confidence is obviously undermined.

Saying teachers have limited confidence in their own assessment skills’ is bordering on, well ignorance, because it is because teachers have absolute confidence in the job they do assessing their student as whole people, not just exam candidates. As for assessing for state exams, we know the argument, and our teachers view has taken hold, passing assessment out of the state system into schools will not work in Ireland, even the Travers report seems to concede that point.

I won’t waste too much time on the charge of non-consultation, I wonder sometimes who consults these experts for their opinions, we know where we stand with our members, with 30,000 teachers on strike for two days and just this week they went out again on their lunchtime to show their support for our position.

It is their charge of anti-intellectualism that made me most angry when I read it earlier today. It is condescending for a start, but for a finish it suggests that teachers have their heads stuck in the sand on reform. Teachers are engaged, responsible, informed professionals, we know the ground we have marked out has not shifted, and that the Minister for Education has conceded that ground at every negotiation (no wonder she doesn’t want to engage again).It is pitiful and beneath contempt to suggest teachers fear change when we change all the time. Do we constantly need to justify ourselves? The ban on CPD isn’t about fear of the process, it is about wanting the reform to be thought through to a conclusion before we start to accept training for it. There will be time yet for a hundred visions and revisions, when they are done, will be ready for CPD.

This brings me to the suggestion made in the article that the DES would have been better served introducing the whole range of subjects at once, instead of piecemeal as proposed. There is something to be said for that. It would mean that all the preparatory work for all subjects would be ‘front-loaded’ and training on an agreed programme could be completed before it was introduced. that would require some forward planning of course, not the strong suit of Irish government, I’m afraid.

The final proposal in the article for ‘an intense, accredited course in the principles and practice of assessment in the service of teaching and learning for, say, three people from every school’ is so wide of the mark it undermines any credibility the authors have. Trickle-down CPD, where teachers are required to train their colleagues in what has been handed from on high is a recipe for division in schools, work overload for these intermediaries, who are teachers after all, not intellectuals (!?), but seriously, it shows their lack of understanding of how pressed schools are without the resources or supports required to give students the education they deserve and desire in 2015.

I understand that articles like this come and go, and that teachers will still be teaching in their classrooms. We all know that this debacle will end, as all disputes do. But teachers are in this for the long haul, it would do us all a service if experts without respect for or understanding of teachers’ concerns backed off and gave everyone room to listen to reason. Teachers know best.

Pic credit

6 Reasons why we’re going on strike

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

Changes:
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…
IMG_1222.PNG
(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’s 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.

Changing:
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:

http://youtu.be/pl3vxEudif8

Fintan O’Mahony
ASTI Standing Committee
0872353455
natnif2@gmail.com
twitter.com/levdavidovic
http://about.me/fintan
Facebook: Elect Fintan

English teachers: a change is gonna come?

Last Thursday I was among 120 or so teachers who attended a Conference on English in the new Junior Cycle programme for Irish schools.
Held in Dublin Castle, a grand setting, in the grand equals historic and impressive sense not grand equals alright in the Irish sense, the NCCA hosted event was set up in the Printworks building. We were told this was appropriate because of it’s former life turning out documents like postal orders and stamps, the importance of language then and for us now. It occurred to me that those long gone printing presses served the purpose of colonising Ireland with the English language that every Irish writer since Joyce seems to lament. Joyce asks, after meeting the Dean of Studies in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man What did he come here for to teach us his own language or to learn it from us. Damn him one way or the other! I stopped myself from making the leap to the teachers in the room being the colonised and asking who were the colonisers!?

The morning session opened with a moving tribute to Seamus Heaney capped by a reading of the final very fitting verse of Clearances (even if it did have many of us googling the word coeval! Gag © @Kevincahil5)

The job of setting the tone went to Finian O’Shea of Church of Ireland College, a job he took to with gusto and had his fellow educators in the palm of his hand by the time he had to cut his slides short to fit the time allowed. Daniel Pennac’s Rights of a Reader particularly struck me as both a teacher and a parent of a voracious reader.

Down to business then.
Several workshops were set up around First Year English, Poetry in English class, Assessment and Moderation, Oral English and English in the Digital Age, we each had to attend one in the morning and one after lunch. I chose assessment first and digital later.
The assessment and moderation module was heavily over subscribed as one might expect, though if the rumours were true it wasn’t part of the original plan to even have a workshop on this contentious aspect of the Junior Cycle. It was a great disappointment, seeking to replicate a marking conference among each of four groups by giving us one written answer to mark after moderation. It quickly became obvious that moderating a single paper from a single student for quality purposes wasn’t easy or desirable for most of the teachers in my group. This evolved into a discussion on the mechanics of replicating this assessment model in school itself and how the lack of any external moderation will mean the expected work done in a given school will probably differ widely between schools. When we were asked to draw up a list of positives and problems (or opportunities and challenges as we were asked to call them) it became obvious that all the groups had the same problems. Check out the pics I took of our notes.

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In these days when teachers are voting on an offer that will change their working conditions for ever by squeezing approximately four weeks unpaid work out of them, it is difficult to see when meetings to moderate will take place, or if they do how teachers will strike a standard without reference to other schools.
As an aside the piece we were asked to mark was about a recruitment officer trying to press young men into the British army. As we sat in Dublin Castle, the former HQ of the British government in Ireland, being asked to something we had grave doubts about, the air was thick with irony.

After lunch things improved.
I signed up for the English in the digital world workshop and it was much more successful.

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The ideas, possibilities and enthusiasm that followed Kevin Cahill’s thought-provoking rapid-fire introduction were beyond interesting. Given the resources we’d all love in every school and taking down barriers to the use of digital resources and social media in some places, there are huge possibilities here, if technology is not just grafted on to whateverelse is being taught and is properly embedded in the classroom work. Using Showyou, twitter, Facebook mock ups, film, YouTube, google docs and many others teachers are heading out to where the kids are, and I can’t say I’m against that; it’s not for everyone, but the positives were heartening.

The plenary session that followed was too long, with (guess what?) the digital stuff tagged on at the end. With that, it seems, the consultation on the new English Specification was over. Two weeks into the new school year. We can only hope the NCCA takes on board the worries expressed about resources, time, workload, external moderation and changing relationships with students and parents. There is no doubt that some of the reform is welcome and needed, but how the timeframe for introduction will be met if all teachers of English are to get the CPD they deserve in exchange for the trust they have to invest to ‘make it so’ I don’t know.

The best thing about the day was the teachers. It struck me on the train home how rare it is to get 100+ teachers in a room talking about relevant stuff like this, and, to be fair to the NCCA, where they’re allowed to be as positive or negative as they wish. I liked the set up, I liked the setting, the people were great, but some of the aspirations send shivers down my spine!

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ps As a bonus I met some old and new friends, some on them on twitter are worth a follow Evelyn O’Connor, Fred Boss, Kevin Cahill and Eoghan Evesson

pps I’m a member of the NCCA English Development Group so if you want to contact me about any of this you can use twitter or email me. The next meeting is on Tuesday September 17.