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Primary Education News
News Secret Teacher: where do teachers draw the line in helping students achieve?
The countdown to GCSEs is a time of extra lessons and revision sessions. But how much additional help is too much?
It is that time of year again. The countdown to GCSE exams.
The teacher's workload, always a heavy one, increases tenfold. Practice exams to mark, paperwork to fill in for submitting controlled assessments, round after round of data to complete, predicted grades - "Are you sure he'll only get a D?" - are just some of the joys to behold over the next few weeks. And then, the extra time put into the extra lessons and intervention.
I consider myself to be a good teacher. I mark regularly, I plan carefully and I think I know my students well. I've taught the spec, my students have sat, and resat, controlled assessments to ensure optimum levels of success. I have been holding extra lessons since November to targeted students who may 'underperform.'
In my school extra lessons are compulsory. Compulsory for students and (unspoken) for staff too. And at this stage there are rumblings of the possibility of coming in during half term; and every now and then someone will throw the word 'accountable' around.
I don't mind putting in the extra time, I may object to days out of my holiday, but really, I want the children to succeed; that is why I became a teacher. So I might give up a day out of my holidays (even though this worryingly no longer seems to be much of a 'choice' anymore) and I will, no matter how exhausted I am, or how much I may be repeating myself, put on a revision lesson every week.
Unfortunately, I cannot say I do this unquestioningly.
Because I do have a question. How much is all this really helping the student?
The concept of creating lifelong learners is one I really believe in. I hope the students I teach will continue to learn, and will want to learn throughout their lives. Sadly, I don't think I'm giving them the skills to do so.
I am telling them what the examiner is looking for, I am showing them how to answer the question, I am recapping knowledge they must acquire, repeatedly, from now until June. At what point are my students responsible for their own learning?
Why do I teach in this way if I think it is unhelpful? Well, it is a tried and tested technique for getting students to pass exams for one. And as it gets closer and closer to June the use of the word 'accountable' becomes more frequent. An interesting word that often makes me wonder at what point does it become acceptable to suggest the student may be responsible for their own 'underperformance'? The phrase underperformance used in the education context for a child failing to reach their target is not one I wholeheartedly agree with but is one I must work with.
During my time as a teacher, as part of intervention, my schools have taken students on trips in which they will complete some revision; to football grounds, cricket grounds, the zoo, out for pizza, the safari park, a theme park, on a residential with archery, and I have taught groups of students I have never met before, all in the name of engagement and raising achievement. Is this too much?
In a society that becomes ever more elitist in its approach to education, the pressure on teachers to ensure students perform is greater than ever and part of me thinks how brilliant it is that teachers are working so hard to close the gap, to ensure these students leave with their C, because for every child that doesn't achieve the elusive C grade, the future becomes increasingly uncertain. Indeed, the concept of students leaving with a C is arguably the reason why my questions exist at all.
But part of me can't help but wonder if we are in fact doing a huge disservice to the students we teach? What do they learn about self-motivation and independence? If we want them to become lifelong learners, don't they at some point need to learn how to teach themselves?
It is a dichotomy I face every year. How much is too much? Should we ever draw the line in helping students to achieve? How helpful is our help?