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Articles for teachers

European Trade Union Committee for Education

EI European Region

The ETUCE, the European Trade Union Committee for Education is the European Region of Education International. It represents 135 teacher unions in Europe, i.e. 12.8 million teachers from all levels of the education sector in 45 countries. The ETUCE is a social partner in education at EU level and a trade union federation of the ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation.

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ETUCE CALLS FOR ACTION IN SOLIDARITY WITH GREECE
 
Statement from The ETUCE Committee assembled to meeting 10-11 October 2011

Since last week, the set of austerity measures imposed to Greece by the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) as a pre-requisite for releasing a new financial aid has crossed a yellow line, requiring a strong reaction from the whole trade union movement in Europe and worldwide.

The team from the Troika informed the Greek government, in an e-mail message, that the aid would be released only if the National Labour Collective Agreement is legally overturned, never mind the opinion of the Greek social partners. The National Labour Collective Agreement, a provision in the Greek Constitution is the kingpin of industrial relations in Greece. It establishes the collective bargaining mechanisms, the minimum salary and other working conditions for all sectors. In clear, the Troika is requiring that all national and sectoral collective agreements would be cancelled and that no more would ever be implemented, both in public and private sector, paving the way for any type of work contract to be set through individual negotiation between the worker and the employer.

It is to be underlined that this “measure” had never been discussed on beforehand, neither with Social Partners nor –as far as we know- even with the Greek government. The Greek Social Partners, including the employers, have immediately and unanimously denounced this incredible proposal. The Greek General Confederation of Labour (G.S.E.E) jointly with the trade union centre for civil servants (ADEDY) has called a 24h general strike on October 19, following the successful strike in the public sector that was observed on the 5th of October. The GSEE notes that this move came as a final blow following months of pressures from the Troika to suppress national and sectoral collective agreements. Having failed to do it one by one, the Troika decided to simply erase the whole collective bargaining system. At the same time, a new set of cuts of public expenditure was announced, hitting the pensions once again and raising the amount of direct lay-offs in the public sector up to 30.000.

One year of austerity in Greece has demonstrated that what is presented as a cure only worsens the disease. Austerity leads to recession, itself leading to more austerity, leading to deeper recession. What the Troika imposed has established a vicious cycle in which the weakest groups in the society pay the highest price. One over two young Greek people is unemployed. The unemployment of active women now reaches the historical rate of 17% (for 11% men) and the gender pay gap has risen by 20% since the first austerity measures were applied. Exceptional taxes were put in place, e.g. through the electricity bills, regardless of the income and wealth of the people, hence making life impossible for thousands of families.

International institutions that are supposed to act for the common good seem to care only about the financial markets; just like if the only response to the crisis is the uncontrolled financial system where speculators can drive a country to default. The unwillingness of European leaders to put in place a stability system that effectively would help Greece and other countries at stake shows to be the biggest threat to a European recovery. Instead the call is for more of the same medicine. Despite the austerity measures there are no hope of decreasing the dept. for Greece, on the contrary the dept. will soon reach 200 % of GDP which will make it impossible for the Greek population to pay back. The default is looming around the corner.

What is currently at stake in Greece regards all workers from all sectors in all countries, especially in Europe. It is our duty not to let a failing financial system taking the opportunity of the Greek case to test their ability to impose the wildest form of capitalism to the people of a sovereign country.

The ETUCE is calling on all member organisations to show immediate solidarity with our Greek colleagues by support letters and letter of protest to Governments.

The ETUCE is calling on the ETUC and the trade union movement in Europe to organise without any delay an exceptional conference in order to deliver a strong and united response to the attack on Greece.

APPENDIX: THE IMPACT OF AUSTERITY ON EDUCATION IN GREECE

Since the spring 2010, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have put in place several “taskforces” composed with staff from the three institutions, in charge of conducting the austerity reform processes in Greece. Following the recommendations of the taskforce for the education sector, the Greek government has implemented a series of austerity measures. Below are listed examples of the impact of these measures on the education sector in Greece (the figures were provided by the Federation of Secondary School Teachers of Greece, OLME).
– Funding of Education: the public expenditure for education has dropped from 2,94 % GDP in 2009 to 2,75 % in the 2011 Budget, with a commitment to reach 2,23% in 2015. It is to be underlined that the average public spending in education in OECD countries in 2008 was 6,5% GDP.
– Funding of School Committees (boards): the funding for the School Committees was reduced by 60%
– Foreclosure of schools: 1056 schools have been closed, among which 851 out of 10.798 (7.8%) in primary education and 205 out of 3.185 (6.5%) in secondary education.
– Non-replacement of retiring teachers: In 2010, 17.500 teachers retired and only 3.400 were recruited.
– Teachers’ salaries: were cut from 18%- up to 40% (the latter being under the new pay scale law)
– Pensions: the age for retirement switched from 60 (women) and 65 (men) to 70 years old. The amount of working years to claim pension rights switched from 35 to 40. Pre-pension for teachers is no longer possible.
– Teachers’ working conditions: amongst other measures; certain teachers are now paid on an hourly basis, classroom size as reached 28 to 30 pupils, mobility is imposed country-wise (some teachers now have to work far away from their residence); some unemployed teachers are forced to take non-teaching underpaid jobs for the municipalities.
– Curricula and schoolbooks: the Troika education taskforce has extended its influence to the contents of curricula in Greek education; recommending to take a more “market-oriented” approach of education; to abolish art and citizenship courses; to reduce the offer of foreign languages and to eliminate counselling and orientation. The school year has started in September 2012 without any new schoolbooks. The public institute providing schoolbooks to secondary education schools was foreclosed. 800 school libraries are to be foreclosed as well.

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THE ETUCE CALLS FOR A MORATORIUM ON AUSTERITY POLICIES IN PORTUGAL

The recent developments in Greece have raised important questions on the legitimacy of the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) to impose austerity policies on sovereign countries. Nevertheless the Troika continues to experiment its ability to steer a country away from public mandate, for the sole short-term benefits of the financial markets.

Portugal is once again under fire from the Troika, whose requirement to drastically reduce public expenditure has led the Portuguese government to adopt a 2012 Budget that decreases the investment in education by 1,5 billion Euros. Since 2010, public investment for education in Portugal has dropped from 5, 1% of GDP to 3,8%, when the country was already below the OECD average in 2008 and 2009. By 2012, no less than 18% of the workforce in the Portuguese education sector will have been dispatched.

These reductions have a damaging impact on teachers’ working conditions and on the quality of education. Closure of primary school institutions, oversized classrooms, lack of equipment, loss of counseling and support programmes to tackle early school dropout have all been reported by the ETUCE member organisations in Portugal as a direct impact of the cutback policy of the government under the Troika’s pressures, not to mention the clear reduction of teachers’ wages and pensions.

Aware that Portugal is struggling with a high deficit, the ETUCE wishes to stress that sacrificing a whole generation of pupils on the altar of the public debt will not have any positive result. Since the launch of the Lisbon Strategy, for which the Portuguese leadership had been instrumental, and the Europe 2020 Strategy, it is widely recognized that a sustainable economy in Europe requires massive investment in education and training. The European knowledge-based economy needs a well-educated and well trained workforce to be competitive on the global scene. As this has been explicitly acknowledged by the European Council at various occasions, this is especially true in a period of crisis. Moreover, several years of austerity policies in some European countries have demonstrated that the cuts in public spending might momently calm down the panic of financial markets, yet are undermining the domestic demand and therefore blocking a new growth cycle to start.

Time has come to end the headlong rush of public authorities, pushed in that way by the Troika, towards austerity as the sole response to the public debt crisis. A major reform of the tax systems has to be undertaken at the EU level. For that purpose, a rational debate over alternative solutions such as Eurobonds, the harmonisation of corporate tax, a tax on financial transaction, the abolition of tax havens and a possible partial transfer of sovereign debt into a European debt has to take place, taking into account the basic public investments needed in Europe, among which education and training are a recognized priority.

Within this context, the ETUCE is calling for a Moratorium on the austerity policies imposed by the Troika to any sovereign state, in the present case Portugal.

Facing the absence of will from the public authorities to hear these common sense reflexions and open a constructive dialogue, the only choice for the trade union movement is to undertake industrial action. The ETUCE fully supports its member organisations in Portugal, FENPROF, FNE and SINDEP in their action, including their decision to join the general strike on the 24th of November 2011.

For the ETUCE, Martin Rømer, European Director, Brussels, 16 November 2011

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clip_image00133In Honor of Teachers
By CHARLES M. BLOW

The New York Times
September 2, 2011

Since it’s back-to-school season across the country, I wanted to celebrate a group that is often maligned: teachers. Like so many others, it was a teacher who changed the direction of my life, and to whom I’m forever indebted.

A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released this week found that 76 percent of Americans believed that high-achieving high school students should later be recruited to become teachers, and 67 percent of respondents said that they would like to have a child of their own take up teaching in the public schools as a career.

But how do we expect to entice the best and brightest to become teachers when we keep tearing the profession down? We take the people who so desperately want to make a difference that they enter a field where they know that they’ll be overworked and underpaid, and we scapegoat them as the cause of a societywide failure.

A March report by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that one of the differences between the United States and countries with high-performing school systems was: “The teaching profession in the U.S. does not have the same high status as it once did, nor does it compare with the status teachers enjoy in the world’s best-performing economies.”

The report highlights two examples of this diminished status:

• “According to a 2005 National Education Association report, nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years teaching; they cite poor working conditions and low pay as the chief reason.”

• “High school teachers in the U.S. work longer hours (approximately 50 hours, according to the N.E.A.), and yet the U.S. devotes a far lower proportion than the average O.E.C.D. country does to teacher salaries.”

Take Wisconsin, for instance, where a new law stripped teachers of collective bargaining rights and forced them to pay more for benefits. According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, “about twice as many public schoolteachers decided to hang it up in the first half of this year as in each of the past two full years.”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek to reform our education system. We should, and we must. Nor am I saying that all teachers are great teachers. They aren’t. But let’s be honest: No profession is full of peak performers. At least this one is infused with nobility.

And we as parents, and as a society at large, must also acknowledge our shortcomings and the enormous hurdles that teachers must often clear to reach a child. Teachers may be the biggest in-school factor, but there are many out-of-school factors that weigh heavily on performance, like growing child poverty, hunger, homelessness, home and neighborhood instability, adult role-modeling and parental pressure and expectations.

The first teacher to clear those hurdles in my life was Mrs. Thomas.

From the first through third grades, I went to school in a neighboring town because it was the school where my mother got her first teaching job. I was not a great student. I was slipping in and out of depression from a tumultuous family life that included the recent divorce of my parents. I began to grow invisible. My teachers didn’t seem to see me nor I them. (To this day, I can’t remember any of their names.)

My work began to suffer so much that I was temporarily placed in the “slow” class. No one even talked to me about it. They just sent a note. I didn’t believe that I was slow, but I began to live down to their expectations.

When I entered the fourth grade, my mother got a teaching job in our hometown and I came back to my hometown school. I was placed in Mrs. Thomas’s class.

There I was, a little nothing of a boy, lost and slumped, flickering in and out of being.

She was a pint-sized firecracker of a woman, with short curly hair, big round glasses set wider than her face, and a thin slit of a mouth that she kept well-lined with red lipstick.

On the first day of class, she gave us a math quiz. Maybe it was the nervousness of being the “new kid,” but I quickly jotted down the answers and turned in the test — first.

“Whoa! That was quick. Blow, we’re going to call you Speedy Gonzales.” She said it with a broad approving smile, and the kind of eyes that warmed you on the inside.

She put her arm around me and pulled me close while she graded my paper with the other hand. I got a couple wrong, but most of them right.

I couldn’t remember a teacher ever smiling with approval, or putting their hand around me, or praising my performance in any way.

It was the first time that I felt a teacher cared about me, saw me or believed in me. It lit a fire in me. I never got a bad grade again. I figured that Mrs. Thomas would always be able to see me if I always shined. I always wanted to make her as proud of me as she seemed to be that day. And, she always was.

In high school, the district sent a man to test our I.Q.’s. Turns out that not only was I not slow, but mine and another boy’s I.Q. were high enough that they created a gifted-and-talented class just for the two of us with our own teacher who came to our school once a week. I went on to graduate as the valedictorian of my class.

And all of that was because of Mrs. Thomas, the firecracker of a teacher who first saw me and smiled with the smile that warmed me on the inside.

So to all of the Mrs. Thomases out there, all the teachers struggling to reach lost children like I was once, I just want to say thank you. You deserve our admiration, not our contempt.

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Should teachers be accountable for their private lives?

 

After teacher Benedict Garrett was ticked off for moonlighting as a porn star, Barbara Ellen and Oliver James debate whether teachers’ extracurricular activities matter

A scene from Channel 4’s Teachers. Is what teachers get up to in their personal lives anybody else’s business?

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist

Teacher Benedict Garrett was suspended in July 2010, after being discovered working as a stripper, naked butler and porn actor. Garrett (stage name: "Johnny Anglais") was reprimanded by the General Teaching Council – but he is free to resume teaching, should he choose to do so. This seems a fair result: from what I can tell, there was no significant concern regarding Garrett’s demeanour in the classroom – though, away from school, some of his pupils discovered his activities via a trailer for a porn movie in which he was appearing. There are also some funny pictures of Anglais enjoying a bubblebath on his website, but joking apart, he has done nothing illegal. With this in mind, one wonders how this case got as far as it did. Since when were teachers morally answerable to the public about their out-of-school activities?

Oliver James is a psychologist and psychotherapist

If there was no chance of his pupils finding out about this second career, it might be easier to justify. The trouble is, there would always be a significant risk of him being exposed (sic), as, indeed, he has been. His porn acting would particularly carry that risk. Once the pupils know about it, it’s indefensible.

Because they are authority figures, teachers are offering pupils a model of moral and social conduct, as well as pedagogy. This is their role, whether they like it or not, and whether or not they are conscious of it.

It’s true that it is legal for an adult to earn money by exposing their body, whether that be Katie Price or a male stripper. But it is unacceptable for a teacher to more or less implicitly advocate it to pupils.

For one thing, he will lose his position of authority and become a figure of fun. For another, he should be encouraging scholarship and the life of the mind, and it is not part of his duty to encourage his pupils to believe that selling access to their bodies is a desirable way to earn money. And how far are you prepared to take your argument: what if his pupils were of primary-school age?

BE All interesting points. For no logical or legal reason I would feel differently if the teacher involved was primary-level. And I don’t know how I’d have reacted as a schoolgirl if I’d turned up at double chemistry to find one of the leads from Debbie Does Dallas standing at the chalkboard. Maybe said: "Hello sir, is that a blackboard rubber or are you just pleased to see me?" Then, again, maybe not.

Joking apart, I probably wouldn’t have discovered sir’s extracurricular activities, as I wouldn’t have been looking at porn trailers. Doesn’t it say something about these pupils’ cultural life that they even caught "Johnny Anglais" at it? Surely this is a parental concern – it’s Mum and Dad who have the responsibilities here. We already ask far too much of teachers. They are routinely overworked and underpaid. Only last week, the government announced that teachers are going to be able to use more "physical force" in schools – whatever that means, though it sounds less like a boon, and more like another shovelful of stress and responsibility. In fairness, teachers have it difficult enough, and should only be responsible for the child’s welfare inside the boundaries of the classroom. What they do in their spare time must remain their personal business. We’ll be electronically tagging them next.

OJ It is indeed a big worry that they spotted him as part of their extracurricular internet studies. Alas, I fear there is nothing much we can do on a practical level to stop teens going on to websites, except, as parents, have a good relationship with them. But teachers should surely not be muddled up with the cybersex part of their pupils’ lives. There have to be boundaries and teachers must keep their sex lives separate from the classroom, in every respect, including arousing their pupils in any way.

There are grey areas, I agree. If a teacher regularly strips for his wife as a way of arousing her and she is an indiscreet person who tells this to the parents of his pupils or to them directly, that would be less cut and dried. It’s true that teachers get sucked into parental roles more and more, which should not be the case. But again, insofar as that cannot be helped, one would hope parents as well as teachers were not working in the porn industry.

Also, what would we be saying if the teacher were female – do all the same points apply precisely?

BE First, thank you for your vivid description of teachers stripping to arouse their indiscreet spouses. I sense a Channel 5 documentary in the offing. More seriously, concerning the possibility of a "Jenny Anglais", my stance remains the same. Indeed, where education and the sex industry are concerned, I ask you, with the savage government cuts, wouldn’t the true scandal be that vastly increased numbers of undergraduates are likely to be stripping (and more), just to pay their way through university? Isn’t that far more worrying?

Elsewhere, I feel that we are in broad agreement that neither teachers nor parents could hope to 100% "police" teens on sex sites. But does this mean that it’s exclusively Garrett’s fault that he was discovered? After all, his sexual activities played no part in his job – they were contained within his private life (less private than most, but that’s another story).

I’m not pretending that I want teachers to appear in porn films as part of their BEd, nor that I’m such an ultra-liberal I’m comfortable with the sexual lives of teachers taking precedence. No thanks. However, isn’t all this "shock horror" coming from the same mentality that used to force gay teachers to hide their "unnatural" sexuality, lest they be persecuted and sacked? To conclude, it seems that, even now, teachers are routinely burdened with additional, and, I would argue, erroneous, accountability for our children’s moral welfare.

OJ We do not begrudge teachers their sex lives. The problem is that Garrett did stuff that could seriously undermine his authority and offer a bad example to his pupils. The bottom line is I would not want my teenage daughter saying to me: "My teacher does porn films – what’s wrong with me doing it?", nor my son either. And if one of your nippers was his pupil, I think you would feel the same.

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What the teachers of the rioters know
Emma Jones, Guardian 11.8.11

In the aftermath of the riots, a Tottenham resident argues integrated schools and communities need to be developed

Water is pumped on to a smouldering building in Tottenham, after August rioting

Re-building the community after the rioting in Tottenham and elsewhere will take time. Photograph: Max Nash/PA

It took two hours, perhaps four, for the first people to start saying it, blaming "a lack of discipline in schools these days" for the recent riots in London and other cities. Predictable oversimplification.

It is frontline workers such as teachers in urban areas who really understand these young people, and have an idea as to what should be done. We are the ones that, day in day out, work with poor families, building relationships with them. From this, we know that most families are good, most families are honest and most families aspire for better, but we also know that many are leading very challenging lives.

It is clear to us that many young people in such situations grow up with an inherent anger, hatred, resentment and the feeling that the world is against them, coupled with a deep lack of self-esteem. These are environment-caused mental health problems on a mass scale. Even nursery-aged children can show the early signs.

If a person suffers from such lack of self respect, why would they have any respect for authority or their community? It is easy to believe that increased discipline will work, if you yourself fear exclusion.

So what should be done? Most importantly, there must be an end to ghettoisation of poorer communities and the schools within them. Living only with people who have the same problems as you breeds collective anger and mutual resentment of the better off – just as living only with people who are as well off as you breeds collective underestimation of your own privilege, and mutual negative assumptions of the poor. Truly integrated schools and communities need to be developed so people can begin to understand each other.

This is of course an enormous and long-term task. But things that can be done immediately include ensuring that children in urban schools attend frequent school trips. Too many young people never leave the square mile around their home, therefore it is no wonder that they grow up without prospects – they have no ability or desire to travel elsewhere for work or study. Teachers might occasionally take a class to Trafalgar Square, and are stunned to have half of their London born and bred pupils say they have never been there before.

As well as this, existing schools must work together more closely. Instead of only competing with each other in sport, they can ensure that sport, music, drama and other activities are enjoyed together. This builds mutual respect and understanding, and a sense of community.

Furthermore, wraparound services provided by schools and children’s centres must receive resources to continue. Mental health and emotional literacy must be a priority. Part-time, fully-funded nursery education from age two should be compulsory in identified areas. Parenting classes should be seen as a positive.

Private tuition in primary schools for those underachieving must be brought back and extended to cover secondaries; this is essential to building self-respect. Youth services should be extended, not cut. And young people must be supported to stay in education or training until they are in work, and until they have developed self-esteem and a positive vision of their future.

Until we deal with the complex issues involved and people’s lives are changed for good, ensuring the next generation grow up in a different environment from their parents, the riots we have seen cannot be completely avoided. A less fractured society and a greater understanding of how to help vulnerable young people, not better school discipline, is what the teachers of the rioters know is needed now.

• Emma Jones is a former teacher and resident of Tottenham, North London

 
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As a teacher, I’ve realised Twitter has real potential

If Twitter can cause the casually wept lonely tear to reach the ears of a concerned peer, then it is a useful resource

Phil Beadle, The Guardian, Tuesday 9 March 2010

On Twitter you can pose a question to your professional allies and get an instant response

On Twitter you can pose a question to your network of professional allies and receive a reply almost instantly.

I signed up to bury Twitter. Not to praise it. The idea was to complete a trilogy of columns I had entitled the "wind up a spod" series, and deliberately elicit spluttering outrage about Twitter from educators who have been blogging about its noodle-boggling goodness.

My first "tweets" (and I still feel slightly bilious using this word as it makes me feel like an uncle dancing at a wedding to the happy teenage couple’s favourite grime track) were brief exercises designed to satirise the somewhat ridiculous narcissism I perceived in the Twitter user. Who on earth could be so assured of their own importance that they would think their 140 character dribbles would be of any interest to anyone with anything corresponding to a life?

My first utterances included, on 25 June, "Realising I can’t spell pheasant"; to be followed four days later by "Worrying about kidneys (mine)."

But then one day I got a response to one of my tweets that started to make me rethink. "Failing to be amusing on the subject of boys’ achievement on a Saturday night," I had written. "Work/life balance. I’ve heard of it."

The current UK Secondary Teacher of the Year, David Miller, on recognising a soul in partial torment working too hard on a Saturday night and missing Match of the Day, used Twitter to reach all the way across from lower Dumbarton and, with it, dispensed a bit of much-needed virtual empathy. And at that very moment, my feelings about Twitter changed.

If this is a site that can cause the casually wept lonely tear to reach the ears of a concerned peer then, in an education system that seems less and less to recognise or care about teachers’ humanity, it is a useful resource. It allows one to access the kind word, the piece of professional advice, perhaps even the readily located resource.

Twitter devotee Laura Doggett, director of e-learning at Westfield Community Technology College, has written an article available at www.lauradoggett.com that is held to be seminal by those inclined to witter about Twitter. In her "Nine Reasons Teachers Should Use Twitter", she lists, erm, nine reasons why it is a useful tool for professional development. Not the least of these is that, as a medium, it is instantaneous. You can ask a question from your network of newly minted professional allies and receive a reply almost instantly. The question could be about where to find a resource on a specific subject, or whether anyone has advice about how to deal with a difficult work situation, and it is likely it will receive a series of pithy yet considered answers within the hour from various sources.

Doggett also refers to the fact that Twitter gives access to experts both local and global. You have the option of following people you might see face-to-face, day-to-day or otherwise, or to follow globally recognised experts, who, given that it only costs them a minute to reply and there is no implication they will get into an onerous, protracted correspondence, will actually reply if you ask them a question.

As an example, following American educationist and former teacher Alfie Kohn has given me access to a series of articles that I would not otherwise have encountered; specifically, one about the results of the so-called marshmallow test that calls into question one of the central tenets of the burgeoning emotional intelligence industry.

Furthermore, having access to a ready network of peers means you have the ability to run ideas by people, get them peer-reviewed, so to speak. And if producing, for instance, a scheme of work, or an observed lesson, you can ask for and get immediate feedback as to where the best research has been done on this subject. All it takes is a cry for help, and such is the all-pervasive sense of fraternity on Twitter that you get a guiding hand on your shoulder within seconds of asking for it.

As a time commitment, getting something out of Twitter comes with negligible cost, and its potential benefits in terms of intellectual grazing away from the normal specific fenced enclave are manifold. Among the education bodies and professionals I follow, I also tune into the wisdoms of the two greatest songwriters of the late 20th and early 21st century: Cathal Coughlan and Mark Eitzel. Sadly, being wise, they have better things to do than sit in front of a screen three-quarters of their waking life recording every banal detail of their existence. But, y’know … as an idea, briefly engaging with the philosophical musings of the great on a day-to-day basis has value. As one twitterer puts it: "Following smart people on Twitter is like a mental shot of espresso." And if you have sufficient imagination to locate your heroes, then there is every possibility that just logging on would lead to a rewarding, transient engagement with a great mind.

I used to think it was foolish to be promoting – in school – a means of social networking that limits the number of characters one can use. It was, I thought, teaching children that communication must, by definition, lack depth. I have revised my opinion. The brevity of Twitter makes it potentially useful in the classroom. Were it not one of the sites banned by the network manager, we might be able to use it to teach children how to write with elegance and simplicity. We might even, if we were imaginative, get students to write a series of haikus in a lesson that they can then publish immediately. We might. But, generally speaking, we don’t have the equipment for the 21st-century classroom, and where we do, it is usually broken.

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Don’t judge teachers by their degrees

I’ve seen too many graduates with first-class degrees die in the classroom. David Cameron’s ‘elitist’ policies would be destructive

Francis Gilbert, guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 January 2010

David Cameron launches education section draft manifesto

David Cameron launches the education section of of the Conservatives’ draft manifesto. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

So what makes a good teacher? Suddenly, answering this question properly seems to be of crucial importance. Today, with much fanfare, David Cameron, trumpeted plans to stop graduates with poor degrees from so-called "poor" universities from entering the teaching profession. Furthermore, he said that only students who achieved a 2:1 in maths or a "rigorous science subject from a good university" could apply to have their student loans written off. Clearly, Cameron feels that it is only high-achieving graduates who make good teachers.

Having been a teacher in various comprehensives for 20 years now, I know better than to judge teachers by the quality of their degree. I have seen too many graduates with first-class degrees die in the classroom: they’ve been chewed up by the demands of the job, enraged that their pearls of wisdom have been so rudely dismissed in a deluge of chatter and misbehaviour. Take David (not his real name): he had a first-class degree from Oxford and a penchant for oatmeal jackets and cravats. As his mentor, I observed him teach what I felt was a relatively well-behaved class of 12-year-olds; 15 minutes into the lesson, it was clear that none of the children had the slightest idea about what he was talking about. His academic language was way above their heads: the class began talking and then chucking his elaborate worksheets around the class. Ironically, it was his support teacher, who didn’t have a degree at all, who had to rescue the lesson by explaining in clear English what was required of them.

Indeed, sometimes it is the non-specialist teachers who make the best teachers during the earlier years. The best maths teachers I’ve seen at key stage 3 did not have degrees in the subject: because they had struggled with mathematical concepts, they were able to explain the key issues very clearly.

However, they had been extremely well trained by a subject specialist. The importance of proper training for teachers cannot be overestimated. At the moment, I feel the training provision for teachers is very poor. Too many schools and institutions take the attitude of David Cameron: they feel that once you’ve got your degree and your Qualified Teacher status, all you need is a few training days to top you up over the years and, bingo, you’ll be a great teacher. This is patently rubbish. Personally, I think I was too big-headed about my good degree from a so-called good university in the early stages of my teaching career: I felt that my pupils were empty vessels that I poured my precious knowledge into. This is an entirely false notion of how children learn: they only learn when they are actively engaged in solving "problems" – as all the great educational theorists from Montessori to Dewey have shown.

I feel I’ve become a much better teacher in recent years because finally I’ve received some excellent training. Above all, it’s a teacher’s ability to motivate their students which makes them effective. Here, even the most passionate and enthusiastic teacher can fall down if they haven’t been properly trained. My reading of theorists like Paulo Friere, the great Brazilian educational philosopher who motivated people in the slums of Brazil to become literate, has helped me considerably. Friere, like the best theorists, emphasises the importance of making sure that learning is firstly rooted in a pupil’s life: involving parents, asking questions about a pupil’s life experience is vital in order to motivate.

Furthermore, there’s now a great deal of research evidence to suggest that it is not your subject knowledge which is the determining factor of how well your pupils achieve but how well you use your assessment of their achievements to plan and shape your succeeding lessons. However, I am well aware that I still need further training in this area. At the moment, I am paying for that training myself by doing a doctorate in education; there isn’t any hope that I will receive funding from the government (believe me, I’ve tried!). Luckily, my partner works so we can afford it, but most teachers struggling with families and high living costs simply cannot.

Instead of demoralising teachers with his ill-informed comments about what makes a good teacher, David Cameron should commit himself to putting proper money and time into training the existing teachers in the system. Instead of unfairly paying for the training of his "brazen elite" of graduates, he should improve the wages of all teachers so that we are all treated like an "elite", not just a few of us. His policies, if implemented, will be extremely destructive: they won’t improve the standards of teaching and they will dishearten a deflated profession even further.

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Teachers to take pensions reform protest to parliament

Thousands to descend on the Commons to lobby MPs in joint action organised by all UK’s major teaching unions

Public sector workers protest

Public sector workers in Bristol march in protest at government cuts in June. Hundreds of thousands of workers, including teachers, are planning to stage co-ordinated strike on 30 November. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Thousands of teachers and lecturers are due to descend on parliament to lobby MPs over pension reforms in an attempt to stave off their biggest strike for decades.

The mass lobby on Wednesday will be the first time in history that all the UK’s major teaching unions have taken action together over a single issue.

The unions are furious that the government has proposed to raise the state pension age for teachers in England and Wales to 68 from 65 and to increase their pension contributions by half in 2014.

They also object to changes to the way their pensions are calculated. Ministers want to uprate pensions and benefits according to the consumer prices index, which historically has risen by a smaller amount each year than the retail prices index.

The changes affect teachers and lecturers in England and Wales, but workers in Scotland and Northern Ireland fear the same reforms could eventually be made to their pensions.

The government says the changes are needed because the cost of teachers’ pensions is likely to rise from about £5bn in 2005 to almost £10bn by 2015 as more staff retire and life expectancy increases.

Seven unions are taking part in the lobby. They include the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Head Teachers and the University and College Union, which is the trade union for academics.

Members of the unions will meet in Westminster and carry placards to the House of Commons. They will also present a petition, signed by 130,000 teachers and lecturers, to the Department for Education.

The unions warn that unless MPs and ministers prevent the pension reforms, next month they will be forced to stage their biggest strike in a generation.

Members of four unions have already voted to carry out rolling strikes, including a co-ordinated strike on 30 November. One of the unions, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, is seen as the most moderate teaching union and has never taken national strike action before.

More than 20 unions are set to take part in the action next month. Millions of council workers, civil servants, nurses and firefighters plan to organise rallies, stoppages and community protests.

The National Association of Head Teachers is currently balloting its members over whether to join the action – its first strike ballot in its 114-year history.

Another teaching union, the Nasuwt, will open its ballot for industrial action on 4 November. The Association of School and College Leaders has given its general secretary a mandate to call a strike ballot if negotiations with the government over pensions appear to fail.

Union leaders said they had organised the lobby because their meetings with government officials were "not progressing well".

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the lobby was an opportunity for the government to "see sense".

"I see some real fear in the eyes of officials when we have our meetings about pensions," he said. "They know that the unions are voicing the views of teachers.

"Teachers don’t believe that they can take a full class of 30 14-year-olds or seven-year-olds at the age of 68. They are really angry. The idea of our pension contributions increasing by an extra 3.2 percentage points to 9.6% is an aggravating factor.

He called uprating pensions according to the consumer prices index "immoral".

"The government has just completely lost the confidence of the teaching profession," he said. "The meetings between the unions and the government are not progressing well."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said headteachers were "not naturally a radical bunch" and that it was telling that they were angry enough to hold a strike ballot.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said he wanted to ensure teachers had an excellent pension, while also being fair to the taxpayer.

"Teachers have long had access to excellent pensions, which provide a guaranteed income in retirement that is protected against inflation," he said. "I am determined that this should continue to be the case.

"The question now is how best we can secure those objectives, while being fair to the taxpayer. The government has put forward its proposals, based on Lord Hutton’s report. Our view is that the proposals are a fair deal for teachers, which will ensure their pensions remain among the best available."

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Teachers lobby MPs over pension changes

Schools minister Nick Gibb is given 150,000-signature petition urging government to scrap proposed changes to teachers’ pensions

Jessica Shepherd, education correspondent, guardian.co.uk, 26 October 2011

Teachers lobby parliament over pensions

Teachers lobby parliament over proposed changes to pensions. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Thousands of teachers and lecturers travelled from all over the country to Westminster on Wednesday to urge their MPs to reverse proposed changes to their pension scheme.

They presented Nick Gibb, the schools minister, with a petition signed by more than 150,000 colleagues, calling for the reforms to be scrapped.

The government has proposed to put new teachers in England and Wales on a career-average, rather than a final-salary scheme, and raise the state pension age for teachers in England and Wales to 68 from 65.

Their pension contributions could rise by half in 2014 and ministers want to change the way the pensions are calculated. This would mean pensions were linked to the consumer prices index, which historically has risen by a smaller amount each year than the retail prices index.

Unless the reforms are overturned, teachers are planning to stage their biggest strike in decades. Members of four unions have already voted to carry out rolling strikes, including a co-ordinated strike on 30 November. One of these, the Association of Teachers and Lecturer (ATL), is seen as the most moderate of the teaching unions and has never taken national strike action before. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is balloting its members, while Nasuwt will open its ballot next month.

Lynda Wood, a special needs teacher in Wokingham, Berkshire, met her MP, Rob Wilson, a Conservative who represents Reading East. Wood said she was worried that by the time young teachers had paid off their university fees, got married, and thought about buying a home, they would have no money to contribute to their pensions.

"A pension will be too expensive and will be seen as an optional luxury at a time when we are being told to save more for our future," she said.

Alison Lord, who teaches English at Tower Hamlets College in east London, said she wanted to tell Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who represents Walthamstow, that teachers’ pensions were "not gold-plated". She said she was worried that women would lose out in the change from final-salary to career-average pensions.

Teresa Backhouse, a special needs teacher from Birmingham, came to see Caroline Spelman, a Conservative MP who represents Meriden in the West Midlands, on behalf of younger teachers.

"Younger teachers are going to have to pay more contributions and will have to work until they are older – and still get a smaller pension," she said.

Dilwyn Hughes, who teaches French at a secondary school in Pwllheli, north Wales, said the reforms meant the government was reneging on its promises to teachers. "This has really galvanised the profession," he said.

Union leaders warned that ministers had limited time to negotiate with them over the reforms before next month’s strike.

Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, warned that the reforms "condemned teachers to pension poverty". She said the average teacher’s pension was £10,000.

"After a lifetime of service to the nation’s children, these are not gold-plated pensions."

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said he understood teachers’ concerns and hoped that negotiations would lead to a settlement that was fair to taxpayers and teachers.

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MPs, teachers and academics criticise education reform plan

Education Committee report states that the Ebacc does not improve the prospects of low-income pupils
• Schools minister Nick Gibb stands by coalition plan despite calls to rethink

Jessica Shepherd, The Guardian, Thursday 28 July 2011

GCSE students

The Ebacc coalition plan was criticised for having little impact on improving ‘the prospects of disadvantaged pupils’. Photograph: Keith Morris/Alamy

One of the coalition’s flagship education reforms, the English Baccalaureate, has major flaws and there is no evidence that it improves the prospects of disadvantaged pupils, a powerful cross-party committee of MPs has warned.

The English Baccalaureate, or Ebacc, which was introduced into league tables in January, measures the percentage of pupils who have obtained GCSE passes in traditional academic subjects. To achieve the Ebacc, a pupil must score an A* to C grade in English, maths, at least two sciences, history or geography and a modern or classical language.

Ministers decided on the measurement partly out of concern that schools in low-income neighbourhoods were not encouraging their pupils to take traditional subjects, thus preventing them from obtaining places at top universities.

In May, schools minister Nick Gibb told MPs that the Ebacc was a "key component" in the "overall objective of closing the attainment gap between wealthier and poorer children".

But an Education Committee inquiry into the Ebacc found no evidence that the flagship reform will improve the life chances of low-income pupils.

The inquiry – which gathered evidence from more than 360 teachers, academics and educationalists – calls on ministers to rethink the Ebacc programme.

"The committee fully supports the government’s stated intention to improve the attainment of the poorest young people," the MPs argue. "However, the evidence is unclear as to whether entering more disadvantaged students for Ebacc subjects would necessarily make a significant contribution to this aim."

Japan and Singapore, whose education systems are lauded, have models that are similar to the Ebacc. But so does Germany, and its education system performs below the OECD average on some indicators, the MPs stated.

The report adds: "The evidence which we received does not suggest a link … between the prescribed study of certain academic subjects and improved attainment and prospects for poorer students."

The commitee calls for ministers to state how they will monitor the performance of children who receive free school meals in relation to the Ebacc.

The MPs warn that the reform could lead to teachers devoting more time to pupils who are most likely to achieve the Ebacc, which will "have a negative impact on the most vulnerable or disadvantaged young people".The MPs said the importance of school league tables is such that headteachers are likely to direct teachers to focus their attention on so-called borderline pupils, who may narrowly miss out on the Ebacc, rather than on brighter pupils or those struggling at the bottom. The government should focus on each pupil’s progress rather than whether they pass the Ebacc, the report argues.

Conservative MP Graham Stuart, the committee’s chair, said the Ebacc had generated a "mainly negative response" from teachers and academics.

The report warns that the suggested subjects for study in order to obtain the Ebacc are "fairly narrow" and likely to deter pupils from taking art, music and other excluded subjects."Academic subjects are not the only path to a successful future, and all young people, regardless of background, must continue to have opportunities to study the subjects in which they are likely to be most successful, and which pupils, parents and schools think will serve them best," Stuart said.

He went on to state that: "Our inquiry has uncovered significant issues with the Ebacc’s current composition, and there are certain subjects and qualifications where we are not clear on the rationale behind their exclusion. A focus on a fairly narrow range of subjects, demanding considerable curriculum time, is likely to have negative consequences on the uptake of other subjects."The MPs argue that ministers were too hasty to introduce the Ebacc, and teachers were outraged when ministers told schools that January league tables for last summer’s exam results would include the measurement. Their pupils had taken their exams before the Ebacc introduction had been announced.

Gibb said all children had the right to a broad and balanced education that included English, maths, science, a language and a humanity.

"These academic subjects reflect the knowledge and skills young people need to progress to further study or rewarding employment," he said.

"It cannot be right that children from the poorest backgrounds are significantly less likely to have the opportunity to take GCSEs in these subjects than children from more advantaged areas. Closing the attainment gap between children from wealthier and poorer backgrounds is a key objective of the government and the Ebacc measure plays an important part in helping to deliver that objective."According to the latest league tables, just over 4% of pupils on free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – achieved the Ebacc, compared with 17% of pupils who were not.

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