Pillar to Post

“You have to stick out the toughness of the business and form relationships with the people in it.”
– Attributed to Rocco DiSpirito

It is only week three of term three, and already I feel like I have been battered from pillar to post. I am struggling to get into this term, and a few colleagues across a few different schools have made similar comments, so I know it is not just me. There have been a number of issues early this term which been high on the urgent and important scale, the building project in our scale continues to progress and cause anxiousness amongst many staff members about the changes, there is the ongoing stress of not being a permanent teacher, a number of units of work I am planning for future use, ideas and things that I want to try in my pedagogical practice, our semester two programs are due shortly, and to top it off, Mrs C21’s due date for our first child is only a few weeks away (25th August), but we have been told it is likely to come early given its size (Mrs C21 is terrified the baby will be size of my brother who was 10lb 9oz / 4.8kg).

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A rough representation of how I feel.

I (rather foolishly, in hindsight), wrote late last year that I did not feel like I had had a proper first year out as a teacher, as I was in an RFF position. I should have kept my mouth closed. The conversations have already started about staffing for next year, as there is a huge shift going to occur in the school with the rebuild, a number of retirements this year bringing in different teachers, and a number of temporary teachers, including myself, who are going to be hoping for a new contract, some teachers going on maternity leave, and some permanent full-time teachers hoping to drop back to part-time. I do not envy our Principal his job, especially given that it looks like we are going to be on the threshold of crossing to having enough numbers for another staffing allocation.

 

I was away for the entirety of the first week of the mid-year holidays, acting as a referee coach and mentor, along with eleven others, to thirty-two teenagers at the Kanga Cup Youth Referee Academy, a part of my year that I look forward to, but which is incredibly draining mentally and physically. Week two of the holidays was essentially spent at school, planning with Mrs. W for the term. Of course, two weeks in, having been happy with what I had planned for my literacy sessions, I decided that it was not working the way i wanted it to, and have had to change it again.

Ugh.

Life is hectic at the moment. I am tired, frustrated, have too many things I want to and not enough time to do them in, am not sleeping, am eating chocolate like it is going out of fashion, and have not been able to get engaged with the term so far which is frustrating me a great deal. I have also not been able to get any writing done so far this term, and likely will not for a while.

Take care of yourself, especially in light of the 2015 Principal Health and Wellbeing Report which was published recently.

Welcome Back to Term Two

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
― Attributed to Lao Tzu

Welcome back for term two! I hope the mid-semester break was a chance to recharge and be ready mentally as well as within your program, for term two. It was, for me, a busy break, and the return to school has also been busy.

I spent the first  Monday and Tuesday of the break attending a Foundation Level course for THRASS, a phonics-based literacy system. It was an absolutely fantastic two days and I feel much more confident that I can have a positive impact on my students literacy levels than I did previously. I will write a THRASS-focused article  at a later date, as I genuinely believe that it is a highly worthwhile system which can have highly positive impacts for students’ literacy abilities and understanding of the use of English.

I spent some time planning for the upcoming term, getting my program in order, and after having attended the THRASS course, am not happy with it. I feel that the value in certain aspects of the program is not particularly high, and the course has made me question why I am implementing that spelling program in that way. I hope to be able to invest some time over the coming three days solidifying that program for the term. I also would like to spend some time revising other aspects of my overall literacy program.

Mrs Mitchell reached the halfway mark of her pregnancy during the break, and we attended the clinic for the appropriate scans to check up on Youngling. It is this scan where the ultrasound technician can provide high quality three-dimensional images of the baby, if, that is, the baby cooperates. Youngling decided to wave her/his hands a lot while we were there and so the arms covered the face. We have elected not to determine the gender, and so will have quite the surprise in a few months time.

I spent the entirety of the second week of the holidays working on an application for a full-time permanent position, which I will be submitting this afternoon. I have had some incredibly valuable and useful feedback from my Principal which has helped me refine and strengthen the application and as a result, I feel that I have a good chance to reach the interview stage of the process.

Yesterday, I returned to school for our staff development day, and discovered that the school rebuild progressed significantly during the break, with foundations and footings now being in place for a number of sections. I have included a short video clip below.

View this post on Instagram

There's been a few changes! #PCPS #buildingsite

A post shared by Brendan Mitchell (@c21_teaching) on

The day was quite productive overall, with the whole staff meetings completed quickly after the relevant sessions had been delivered, allowing us to break into Stage meetings. Stage Three have a large number of events occurring this term, with PSSA Knockout events, the annual Year Six Canberra excursion, weekly coding being lessons delivered by ScopeIT, a bicycle safety and awareness excursion, a First Aid course, planning and preparation for the Year Five excursion to the NSW Sport and Recreation Point Wolstoncroft site in term three and planning and practice for the school athletics carnival. A busy term indeed! That is all before you factor in the semester one student reports.

I have also been successful in gaining consent for pre-conference interview from a number of speakers at the Education Nation conference in June which I am excited to conduct. I have already completed one, with some others in progress. If you have not yet completed your registration for Education Nation, I would urge you to do so, particularly if you are interested in the Elements portion of the conference as registration numbers for that aspect are limited. Click here to register.

I spent some time yesterday rearranging the room in an effort to improve the flow and functionality of our learning spaces, which has been received well by students thus far, and was excited to hear that my sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl yesterday morning.

I hope that your break and the return to school has filled you with excitement for the coming term, and that you are filled with enthusiasm and excitement for what is to come. As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback via the comments section below, or via Twitter.

Student Mobility, Wellbeing and Academic Results

“Mobility can be really difficult for children and can often interrupt their learning, so it is important that we focus not only on their education but also their well-being…”
– Lila Mularczyk, President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, as reported here.

In early March of this year, I stumbled upon an ongoing Twitter conversation (storified here) about student mobility and its impacts on student learning that stemmed from this article published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author, Alex Smith (@alexsmithSMH), wrote an article with the summary of “Students who change schools several times do worse in NAPLAN than their peers and are more likely to drop out of school” and the ensuing Twitter conversation made for interesting reading, with the opening tweet in the conversation being this:

I agree with Alice, in that the reasons behind why students move schools are typically completely out of the realm of influence for schools and teachers, yet the impression that is left after reading the article, for myself at least, and I suspect some others in the conversation, is that the schools are to blame. It is an interesting article to read, and the statistics (based on enrolment data from 2008-2014) are not that surprising, in many ways.

  • Approximately fifty-four thousand students (representing approximately seven percent of the total student population) in NSW alone change schools each year.
  • Just over half of those moves occur during the school year, as opposed to during the holidays.
  • One in four students changes schools at least once during their school lives.
  • Around one in twenty change schools four or more times during their school lives.
  • Based on NAPLAN data, students who change schools three or more times between Kindergarten and Year Three typically return reading results around eighty points lower than students who do not move schools.

The reasons behind why students move schools are myriad, and are, indeed, often outside the sphere of influence of teachers or schools. Speaking personally, I attended six different schools (East Tamworth PS, South Tamworth PS, Orana Heights PS (Dubbo), Inverell PS, West Tamworth PS, Tamworth HS) in three towns (Tamworth, Dubbo, Inverell and back to Tamworth. I wrote five towns in my Tweet, however, I am not sure where I managed to pull five from). The moves, for my family, were mostly related to my father’s occupation, where he would be transferred from one office to another, across towns. The moves within the towns were typically related to the fact that we were renting and the house would be sold, or we needed to move to a bigger house as my siblings were born and we then grew up and needed more space.

There are so many other reasons for student mobility, as alluded to in the above tweet, more than can be covered in this article, but there is no way that any school or teacher would have been able to influence my mobility as a student. There are steps that can be taken by schools and teachers to help students settle into a new school, however, and that was the focus of the majority of the conversation.

Alice’s above Tweet provides an interesting insight into the importance attached to developing strong relationships with students from refugee backgrounds. The tweet implies that developing strong relationships, including characteristics such as mutual trust and respect,  plays a key role in the student’s ability to integration into the school community, form social bonds, and see academic success.

I do not believe I would hear too many opposing voices if I put forward the notion that those ideals form a key part of any teacher-student relationship, and that any student who joins a class after the start of the school year will require assistance. My recollections of changing schools during the year are rather hazy due to the passing of time, however, I do not recall any particular teacher who spent time with me to determine what gaps I had in my knowledge based on what the class I was joining had already covered.

I managed, I completed my HSC (poorly), found myself a job and worked for ten years before returning to undertake my initial teacher education (which I completed with far superior results in comparison to my HSC). I feel confident in saying that any teacher would tell that NAPLAN does not represent the students in their classroom accurately, that Student A gets incredibly anxious with time pressures, that student B struggles to articulate their thoughts in writing, or that Student C is living with a messy divorce, or came to school without having eaten that morning any one of a dozen other emotional, psychological or wellbeing issues that teachers see in their students each day.

The point was raised that teachers invest time and effort and heart in their students who need it, in order to support them, bring them up and the growth that is achieved, across a range of domains can be immense, yet at the same time they are being questioned about NAPLAN or HSC results.

I have a few students in my class who are new to the school, and I am fortunate that my class is very welcoming and supportive (the whole school is incredibly supportive of each other in general, to be honest) and I feel confident that if a student transferred tomorrow, that they would be made to feel welcome by their new classmates, and that myself and my teaching partner, Mrs. W, would also be able to support them and build a positive relationship with them as we have with our other students.

The questions implied in the original newspaper article, or what I see as the questions being implied, is what can be done to better support students and the families who are considered mobile vis-a-vis changing schools after the commencement of the school year, and beyond that, is reducing the need for families to change schools, something that can be impacted?

I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on this complex issue and the variety of factors that play into it.

Reflections on Teacher Life and Resilience

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio

What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?

I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.

This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z44hnvk 22nd February 2016

 

In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away.Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.

Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though  things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.

At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being  granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.

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How I feel this term. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hlsjwn9 22nd February 2016

I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.

As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis.  I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?

There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?

I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.

On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.

I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/guodvkf 22nd February 2016

 

Today did actually well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.

I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.

That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year.

As always, thank you for reading.  I do have photo of my new classroom to update the header of this blog, I just have not had time to upload it yet.

Super Duper Special Announcement!

AnnouncementMrs 21stC and I are super excited to announce that sometime in August, we will be joined by someone we are calling Youngling, and that all the scans and tests thus far have shown a healthy baby. The image above is from the twelve-week scan, which we had on Monday afternoon and it was amazing to see this baby live on the screen, waving two arms all over the place (clearly a boy, with the poor dance moves on display), hearing the heartbeat, and seeing the blood pumping around.