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Things I cannot do June 12, 2009

Posted by Natasha in Life, Rants, The Daily Grind.
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There are many things I can do. Things that I even do well. Teach, take photos, cook.

However, I cannot seem to be able to concentrate on deadlines, even when they are looming close. Like tomorrow.

Part of the reason for this, and I am talking about the reports I have to write, in case it wasn’t obvious, is that I really have a problem with the way that we have to write them.

I was having a discussion today with an older teacher, and she was recalling when she used to write reports, they were one page, with tick boxes, and a whole list of skills that a student of that age would be expected to have achieved. There were little tick boxes, never, sometimes, usually, always.

Simple, plain english statements. Parents understood them, kids understood them, and most importantly from my point of view, they made sense. The fact that they wouldn’t take nearly as long as the essays I have to write, is a bonus.

In Victoria, it would appear that we have the best education system in the world. Not a single student ever fails!

This may seem incredible, and of course it is. The reality is, that as teachers, we have lost all power to actually tell a student or their parents that they have failed. Now of course if we’re talking Prep students who have only been in the schooling system for 6 months, of course this is perfectly reasonable.

The problem with this is when we’re talking about middle and senior years students, some of whom are willingly deciding which classes they attend, which teachers they choose to listen to, and which work they choose to do. The choices some of these kids make are none, none and none. The very worst thing we are allowed to say about these students is that they are performing 12 months behind their peers, and they have yet to achieve the expected level. In fact, I would probably be censored for phrasing it so bluntly, and much of the detail would be hidden in some averaged out, standardised ‘dots’.

When it comes to the comments, the style of which was phased in during 2006 in an effort to make teachers write plain English statements that parents could understand, things get even more obscure. The sheer verbosity of what we are required to say, borders on the ridiculous.

In 2007, I had a student, let’s call him Billy.  Billy was of average intelligence, and had demonstrated on one or two occasions that he could actually do the work required of him if he chose to do so. Unfortunately, this was not a choice that he often made. More often than not, he would rock up to class late, with his straggler chronie of the day, and disrupt whatever lesson I had started. He would then open the door (or climb through the window), burst into class, screaming, run around the room, yelling, knocking student’s books off their tables, before sitting down at his seat. There goes ten minutes trying to regain some semblance of order. He would choose this point for a repeat performance, sometimes managing to get another student or two involved. Some variation of this, happened nearly every lesson.

I’m sure it is fairly obvious what his actual achievement was.

His report comment was required to read something like this:

It is difficult to accurately determine Billy’s true level of achievement in Literacy as he has completed very little class work or homework. In testing, he has demonstrated average levels of understanding, and has displayed a limited degree of creativity in his journal writing. Billy discusses with other students the ideas and issues raised in spoken texts that deal with common challenging themes.

In Numeracy, Billy has not yet achieved a satisfactory understanding of the Whole Number, Measurement and Data Analysis areas of study. He has faced problems demonstrating understanding of basic number concepts, including multiplication. He also struggled to apply this knowledge to a real-world context. In class, he has demonstrated a basic understanding of multiplication and basic operations with numbers, and has shown that when he is focussed he can attain good results.

In our Integrated unit related to sustainability, Billy has made progress in his research and analytical skills, through participation in activities related to the *Unit Title* investigation, which examined the extinction of an Australian species. He was able to demonstrate his understanding through a limited range of activities including poster making, model construction and multimedia presentations. Billy is increasing his proficiency and confidence operating unfamiliar scientific equipment.

Now a teacher can probably read between the lines and get a fair idea that young Billy isn’t the best of students. His parents however, in an area of generational poverty, low literacy levels, and low community engagement in education, surely don’t have any understanding of what a day in the classroom with their son is like.

Billy was promoted to the next year level, and the next, and is now one of the most difficult students in the school.

The only thing failing in the Victorian education system, is the system.