Next Teacher Please!

The “middle” year ten Science class, Term four, guaranteed by streaming to contain average, ‘c’-level students.

The end of a topic.

Test completed by the regular attenders, still chasing the ghosts on the roll to submit more of the work and complete said test.

To further asses the long-term retention of information and to aid with programming for the coming year, students are asked to provide course and teacher feedback.

Q1. What topics were studied this year?

Silence. Most can eventually agree that they studied something about space and that last year, there was something about electricity.

Q2. What was your favourite topic

Must have been the space one

Q3. What would you change for this course next year?

We should study some electricity like in year nine.

Finally, thankfully, the stupor breaks.

“A different teacher” says Andrew*, grinning at the other students, looking for someone to share his joke.

It falls flat, but I just can’t leave the comment alone, because I agree with him. I job-shared this class with another teacher, but despite two scientific intellects and two different perspectives on teaching, we failed them. They didn’t feel like a successful class at all. “What would you change about our teaching?” I probe. It was at this point that Andrew admits to his joke. “I just hate school.” The other students begin to nod, looking relieved that maybe the task of having to expend some brain power reflecting on their learning will end.

“Guys, this is important to me,” I say. “I am not going to get angry with you, please just give me some ideas for what to teach year ten next year, for how I can change the atmosphere in the room!”

Suffice it to say that the rest of the feedback session is just as flat, and it confirms my suspicion: I failed to connect with this class and to help them value learning Science because they refused to actively think about things. I cannot understand that in a person because I overanalyse every aspect of my day, and so, they failed to connect with me too.

So here I am now, overanalysing the results of my failed feedback session. I thought I was valuing my students’ opinions, helping my teaching to grow and assessing the relative importance of the different topics that we teach to year ten scientists. Instead, I was serving them more of what they have been rejecting all year: decision-making power and higher-order thinking skills. The two magic things we were told at uni to incorporate into every lesson!

Before the conversations in the room turned to endless complaints about the inferior intellect and poor fashion choices of past and present teachers, the only other tired phrase I managed to squeeze from them was “more pracs”. Now, the reason this truncated statement made me angry was that whenever we did “pracs”, the same students who made this statement fought me when I insisted that they perform practical tasks and analyse results. These same students failed to submit a take-home experiment and report until I buried them in N-determination warning letters. So you can understand my vehement rejection of this as a considered and valuable response. What they meant was “more lessons where we follow a recipe to burn something without searching for meaning afterwards”.

The final average marks of this class are indeed at a C level and their test results show exactly what you would expect of a middle-range class. Their results are also quite clustered. Apart from a few chronic work refusers/truanters and one or two hard workers, the students have all achieved very similar results. Most teachers would look at this and see that even though the students were uninspired, they kept up with a year ten workload and most achieved their average results. However, their lacklustre attitude and their continual laziness causes me psychosomatic chest pain whenever I have to teach them. I agree with my Andrew, who is a pleasant person when I get to interact with him outside of the Science classroom: they are ready to complain about me to their next educators, whoever they may be, because I had the audacity to insist that they think for themselves.

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