While we are likely to be more on edge than usual, many of us cannot help but enjoy exam season somewhat.
For me, the sense of camaraderie between staff, between pupils, and between pupils and staff, is enough to take away the dread of potentially disastrous results from Michael Gove’s new curriculum. The curriculum in which A-level is now GCSE, grades 7-9 represent A*, A** and A***, respectively (don’t they?!) Oh- and there are no grade boundaries. I think I used the phrase ‘Every kid in the country is in the same boat’ to my year 11s more time this month than Jeremy Corbyn said ‘For the many, not the few’ during Labour’s entire campaign.
For the past few weeks I – and most likely you too- have ran lunch time revision sessions, after school revision sessions, and I even told my year 11s that every day is a revision session- if they come to see me after school with something they’re stuck on I will gladly drop everything and help them. (Luckily, I could fulfil this commitment, as unlike some schools, my school wasn’t stupid enough to drop a year 7 book scrutiny on staff in the middle of GCSE exam season).
All of these sessions were something I did happily. After all, we’re teachers, we like to teach and we want our pupils to be successful.
Having said this, I acknowledge that there is a limit on my time. Intervention is limited to the working week only. Never Saturdays. Never holidays. Here’s why:
The exception becomes the norm
Saturday/Holiday revision sessions start off innocent. A charismatic Head teacher will announce that there is now budget available to pay staff for such intervention, strongly making the point that it is voluntary. Naturally, newer staff who perhaps value the income more than they value the free time, are keen to get on board, and why not? It’s only 3 hrs on a Saturday and the hourly rate is a good one. At this stage then, it really isn’t a problem.
But not for long. Over time, you will see the following sequence of events unfold: School magically has more money for more intervention, staff do more voluntary intervention; pressure to achieve leads to intervention becoming more forced, i.e. HOD approaches you with a clipboard, asking which Saturday you would like to do. Before you know it, you find yourself explaining exactly what you are doing which is preventing you from coming into school. (I knew a guy who once posted old wedding photos on Facebook because he felt so much pressure to explain why he didn’t want to be in on a Saturday). In short then, out of hours intervention will not be voluntary for long. Of course, the more you do the more your Head teacher will sit in conferences bragging about how ‘flexible’ his/her staff are- all the while insisting everything is voluntary. The reality is that obliging teachers -who already work 55hrs a week- to another 3hrs on the weekend is morally repugnant.
My advice? If you need the extra money, do some tuition instead. You have absolute tenure, it’s less stressful and it pays more. If I was asked to do an out of hours revision session now, at this stage in my career, I would give the person the same look I’d give someone if they told me they were once kidnapped by aliens. Then I’d not-so-politely tell them to never ask me this again. (I appreciate this is not easy, so in my book I have outlined how best to say no).
And of course, the kids. The kids who senior leaders claim to be doing this for, often end up with no holiday at all. In a given half-term for example, their schedule could easily be: Monday: Maths; Tuesday: Science; Wednesday: English; Thursday . . . I’m sure you take the point. In addition to this negative impact on their childhood and mental health, it’s also not good for them in the long run.
Entitlement and Resilience
A few months ago, the water supply went out in much of the South Birmingham area. As there was no water coming from any tap in my house at all, my cousin- also my neighbour- and I went to the local Tesco, which as it turned out, had a sign outside reading: ‘no more water.’ Asda was the same, as was the bigger Tesco. Finally, when we got to Sainsbury’s the queue was like the log-flume queue at Alton Towers: Brummies from all over . . . . Birmingham, were desperate for water. In the midst of all this, my cousin had the cheek to ask for Volvic as the only water that seemed to be available was Evian and he doesn’t really like Evian.
My cousin was entitled: He had the belief that he is ‘inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.’
From putting ones feet on the vacant opposite seat on the train, to paying fake paparazzi to follow us around, it seems that entitlement is a major modern problem. According Jean M. Twenge, Author of Living in the Age of Entitlement: The Narcissism Epidemic, much of the financial crisis of 2008 was due to Americans feeling entitled to supersize their homes with money they did not have. It seems my cousin is by no means alone.
Closer to home, in an article in The Telegraph in July last year, it was reported that one-third of employers were unhappy with graduates’ attitude to work, blaming their lack of resilience- resilience is the opposite of entitlement- and self-management skills. (They also complained of their constant need for ‘ego-massaging.’)
I cannot help but feel that I, we, you, have inadvertently perpetuated this lack of resilience. By offering such hook-or-by-crook intervention sessions, the message we are giving to pupils is Don’t worry we’ll do it for you. No wonder so many employers complain that too many young people are averse to hard work, yet expect success on a plate. Now, I’m not for a second arguing that all of the aforementioned is because we’ve all been guilty (yes, guilty) of the odd holiday revision session, but the weekend and the holiday is a reasonable place to draw the line to separate the expected from the entitled.
When I was at 6th form studying A-level Philosophy, I recall someone asking the teacher (who was actually my favorite teacher at the time) for an example of an essay so we’d know how they’re written. He unapologetically replied: ‘Do you want me to put the pen in your hand as well? No.’ (God knows what would happen to him if he said that in 2018).
My peers and I regularly spent 4 hours in the library on 10 pages of Chemistry only to still not understand it, but it was known that this is part of the learning process; this was resilience. There was no entitlement to the teacher’s time, no silver bullet revision session, in fact, even no tuition. The ultimate battle was ours and we were better people because of it.
Let’s not deskill our pupils by providing them with Saturday and holiday revision sessions.
Saturdays and Holidays are your time. Keep them as such.
By Omar Akbar
For more advice and guidance check out The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual: What they don’t teach you at training college. Available on Amazon £6.75/£3.99