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.