Friday, 9 December 2016

Do you perceive this as the most difficult job in Education?

Amongst the tirade of unhappy staff ready for a break, along with unhappy students who are thinking likewise, it is very difficult to see where the satisfaction and job reward is in delivering compulsory English and Maths in Further Education.

This was evident today to me, when students are consistent in questioning why they have to do their maths qualifications. I struggle to tell them that they are a part of a system that makes them complete something that makes them feel stupid, however we have to see the real benefit to the students who try again, and again and again to complete these qualifications.

Within mathematics particularly, students are told very quickly if they are right or wrong. Any person doesn't like being told when they are incorrect in their thinking and often take this as personal criticism. I spoke to my students over the last few days who all struggle with the demands placed on them from their course, their english and their maths classes. Does this mean our students should prioritise us over what they enjoy, over a subject in which they excel compared to a subject in which they feel defeated?

This brings me to the crux of todays blog post, is this the most difficult job in education? My answer is that any job in education, regardless of sector or subject, is as difficult as you perceive it. I may be thoroughly biased as I enjoy my job, not everyday, but as an overall occupation. I feel a lot of reward throughout the day in the small victories that are achieved, this may be one of my students excelling in a recent Functional Skills assessment, to receiving a christmas card from a student saying how confident they feel in passing their functional skills Maths at Level 2, a notoriously difficult qualification for some learners.

My most difficult moment remains this, I stood in front of a class of construction workers and realised that a lot of them probably won't succeed in getting their Maths qualifications. I considered what the point of the whole thing was, I was only ever going to get grief from the group as a whole? Why should I continue to take the brunt of the group.

I then changed my approach.

Instead of viewing the whole group as one, I took it apart, person by person and aimed to get to know each student individually. Talking to students about what they enjoy, what they like about their course and what they intend to do in the future enthuses them, it makes them feel that you care about their whole course and wellbeing. When you consider a group as the sum of it's parts, you start to see the cracks. You see the students who are hiding their frustration with bad behaviour, you see the angst of the students when you tell them that they have an assessment coming up.

This was prominent most of all with one of my learners, who wanted me to tell her she was stupid for not understanding the assessment I handed to her. Did I reprimand her for not answering any of the questions? Did I tell her to get on with it and work it out? No. I considered her feelings as a student in a classroom where she has had negative experiences before. I sat with the learner, and instead of assessing her, I talked her through the assessment. I talked to her and taught her about the methods that we covered previously. Rather than thinking that our students just don't get it, maybe we have to react and think about how our delivery and attitude could win them over so they want to learn.

I want to share a video from YouTube now, I thought this was a clear message in how we talk with our students and give feedback. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7bGv7LPL4Y) This clip was made in 1947, nearly 70 years ago, and a lot of the messages are still relevant today.

Consider how we talk to individuals rather than groups, think about the individual motivations and what you say in how it will motivate and inspire the learners in your care. You are the difference in a persons maths or english journey and you can make a difference.

Is this the toughest job in education? Yes, but the students, laughs, staff and victories make it all worthwhile.

Enjoy your weekend teachers, onward to the christmas holidays!

- Matt