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A question for The Standards
02-24-2016, 07:09 PM
Post: #1
A question for The Standards
“But miss! Stanley is poor! How can he be so fat?”
“Well, junk food is actually quite cheap in America. Usually much cheaper than fresh fruit and vegetables. So if you’re really, really poor, sometimes you can only afford food that’s really, really bad for you. And when you’re really poor in America, you’re really, really poor.”
There’s a pause as this sinks in.
“Does that make sense?”
“Yeah. Thanks miss!”

I’m in my second year of teaching and at my second school. I’m still thinking that ‘my school’ is the school I was at last year as well as the school I’m at now. At times I still miss my old school, even though they treated me so poorly on the way out, and even though it’s one of those ‘tough’ schools where you’re lucky if you can get some content through to maybe a quarter of the class in a lesson. My ‘new’ school is very different. When I ask the students to get out their books and write something down, they do (1). Those few behavioural issues I deal with on a day-to-day basis at my new school would have all been in one classroom – at the same time – last year. And I had five of those classes.

Something else new about my new school is that they have almost complete, working curriculum documents. They’re conscientiously aligned with the current curriculum and we refer to them frequently. If I was in a little office all on my own and handed these documents (2), I could pretty much teach the whole year without speaking to another staff member. Given that I was lucky to get any content through at all last year and didn’t once refer to any curriculum documentation, the fact that I am now paid to deliver this official curriculum is terrifying. I feel that I am supremely ill-equipped to perform as required.

After being thrown in the deep end last year as far as behavioural issues are concerned, this year, I feel like I’m now at the deep end of the curriculum. I am confident that there isn’t anything even the worst student can throw at me behaviourally that I can’t handle, but ask me about the curriculum and I’ll do my best impression of a dead fish.

The staff at my school are lovely. Very supportive, and they all know what they’re talking about. Even the first year graduate who sits next to me rattling off curriculum metalanguage with the best of them. And that’s another thing: everyone speaks in metalanguage. I mean who actually does that? Why can’t we talk about what makes a story interesting, rather than dropping ‘literary techniques’ everywhere? Not knowing what ‘literary techniques’ actually are, I sheepishly approached the Head of Literacy – there’s no Head of English – who was, of course, lovely about it and very understanding, and gave me a brief overview (3), assuring me that I could ask about it any time.

It makes me think about what was said tonight about those teachers who are happy teaching to the standardisations; that they’re usually under 30 and have seen the NAPLAN and VCE ‘standard education’ work really well for them. Along with the first year graduate who sits next to me, there are two other teachers in my staff room who fit that description. And I feel like, in many ways, I am grossly under qualified (4) to teach when compared with them.

But if we’re talking about standardised learning. And testing. And teaching. Then my conversation with my Year 7 student was not really adhering to the curriculum. At least, not those documents I have been handed. Our conversation did not in any way prepare him for the massive project on 'Holes' we have planned for the end of term. Nor did it give him any pertinent information about anything related to English as a standardised curriculum. What I hope it did, was to furnish him with a greater understanding of the context of the text. A little tit-bit of information that he can file away and remember at some later stage. Maybe when he’s a fair bit older and confronted with the levels of poverty rampant in America. Or maybe when he’s reading another book – or blog, or vlog, or article – with a similar context, he just might understand the world a little bit better.

Does that still count?

1. Mostly. This is still a shock to me.
2. Including the corresponding resources, all available under the Staff Publications tab on the intranet.
3. Turns out I do know what literary techniques are; I just don’t call them that. Phew.
4. Scott, Graham, Narelle, you all did a marvelous job inspiring me to be the English educator I think I am sometimes, and hope to be one day. Thank you.
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