Sunday, 19 June 2011

very brief update

Just a quick update, have not blogged for a while now due to being under the pump at work, but will make a concerted effort to do so in our holidays (end of this week). Been working full time which has been great in a cool school which is a facscinating place to be involved with, hence the difficulties in getting some time to get my blog on! In the upcoming blog,topics will include teacher training- australian style, how I am finding teaching every subject under the sun and looking forward to the challenges ahead! I'll get thinking of some interesting stuff.Hopefully.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Geography in Australia

Firstly, my apologies. As is clear, I have neglected writing anything on here for a while for two main reasons, one was our families visiting, which was great and the other was me actually having work to go to!and perhaps even more shocking was that the work actual involved Geography teaching!
It has got to the point that when people ask me what kind of teaching I do, I feel obliged to tell them that my profession is ever so slightly useless in Australia as so few schools teach it and all the Australians I have spoken to agree with me! I have been lucky enough to be doing some social sciences relief work in a very good all girls private school in Brisbane and they were kind enough to let me do what I liked in the subject as long as there was progress in the areas they required.
Finally teaching Geography was a massive delight as I could actually no go into a classroom with the confidence that I knew exactly what was going on. Funnily enough, the teacher I was covering for is also English and we talked at length about the problems that the subject faces in Australia and its differences to home.
The subject matter itself is very similar, especially as the main exposure to it is within years 10,11 and 12 and it follows a similar pattern to GCSE and AS level teaching. Familiar themes popped up such as Flooding, River profiling, Global Warming and the carbon cycle. These elements were not surprising, however, how the pupils reacted to them was interesting. The lack of a base level knowledge in Geography was evident. Even though the majority of the girls were very clever and grasped the main issues quickly and could understand them clearly, nearly all the information was brand new to them and I feel that it could create an overload of facts in such a short space of time. This reminded me of the worries that the same group of girls had the last time I covered at the school, which I mentioned in an earlier post.
The girls seemed, and I emphasised the element seemed, to be focused on the completion of the tasks and collecting the correct information rather than the enjoyment or interest in the actual subject. I wondered whether this may be a result of packing a large amount of information into a already hectic schedule. I think the girls who were in year 12 seemed to enjoy the subject a great deal more than those in younger years, possibly because they have had longer to learn more about the subject, possibly because the subject matter at that time was more engaging, but they definately seemed to appreciate the fact they knew more about the subject and as such could engage in more open questioning and debate than the younger years. Personally, I feel that the base Geographical knowledge that is given to pupils over years 7,8 and 9 in the UK allows pupils to enjoy the Geography they choose to undertake in the GCSE and A level and this could be an area where the Australian curriculum could extend itself. Especially in a country with such varied Geography and wonderful geographical interactions as Australia, I do feel it is a shame that the pupils do not get to experience much of this before they are tested in it.
I had a very interesting conversation with a set of year 12 girls, of whom, 3 were considering going to University in England. All 3 were very worried that the learning that the Australian system had given them would leave them unprepared for the English system. This was an informed opinion after they had read what was contained in a A level paper and curriculum. In this regard, I was unsure about their worries as they were very intelligent girls and would no doubt flourish under the circumstances but it did highlight the prestige that an English education still holds in many countries and even though thousands complain about the lack of rigour in UK testing, it still worries the very bets of other countries that they will be unable to cope with the standards expected. Geography, particularly, for the girls was the big worry and I can appreciate that, from what I have seen, the subject is not as thorough here as it is at home, which may be down to the lack of time that is put into the subject.
The Geography teaching was easily the most fun I have had teaching here and it hammered home the notion that although I do love teaching, no matter what the subject, it is most certainly more enjoyable to teach your own subject and project your own passion and interest to the pupils when you are fully aware of most possibilities within the realms of the subject.
I am now applying for jobs to start at home in September, but there are a few stumbling blocks, namely that due to financial restraints, I will be unable to fly back for any interviews I secure, which may limit my opportunities. Of course I hope not and I would love to sort something out to come home in August to start work in the new term!
Hope everyone is well and not long til the end of term now!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Things I have never seen

I am very aware when I write this blog that it is mostly people I know from home who will read it, but I am also very aware that someone rogue may give it a browse for interest and therefore I must watch my words and make sure that I do not offend anyone or criticise too harshly. I have been working in a school recently that is incredibly focused on one sport and EVERYTHING and EVERYONE at the school is geared towards it. It actually invokes memories of watching American high school teen dramas when I was younger and teachers would threaten sportspeople with missing a game or practice to make them work in their room. It actually happens!I have seen several pupils who have absolutely no interest in doing anything apart from trying to get a contract in their chosen sport and it is only when they are threatened with this being taken away that they get anything done. It seems odd that I have taught how to tell a 24 hour clock to year 10 pupils and explained what a femur was to year 11 by using examples from the current NRL injury list as they literally come off the field after a 90 minute training session before school starts-perhaps a little skewed in focus?. Even as a relief teacher, where pupils are almost expected to be a bit lazier and not get much done, the first lesson was insane. Thankfully, it has got much better and I can get a fair bit of work in whatever subject I am in now due to showing my face around the place and expecting a shed load of work out of each pupil. What has staggered me the most generally about working in Australia is the lethargy that most pupils have towards learning of any sort, anything new of slightly taxing is dealt with a "nah, can't do it", which only after much pushing from me is actually done. Although everyone, including the pupils, seems ot be very nice and pleasant towards staff and other pupils, I think this allows several of the laziest to get away with doing very little. At home, I have met some less than outstanding characters who have still had an energy to learn, even if they did not go aboutn it in the right way, here however, the pupils are very nice to talk to, interact well but have no thrust to do any work at all and get away with it due to their ability to hold a conversation. I'm honestly not too sure which I would rather teach, although I am erring towards the energy of a pupil who needs a little management to challenge their interest rather than the pupil who has no get and go at all to actually learn, whether it be in the classroom or on the sports field. For an anonymous blog, I think I managed to not give away anything there!Hope everyone is well and enjoying their easter holidays, which by the sounds of it are awesome in both England and Australia!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

pressure for paying

I have just completed my first piece of relief/supply work in a private school.Wow. I was lucky enough to fulfil some Art supply in a top Girl’s boarding school in Brisbane and I must say, for first impressions of the private sector, it is a world away from all the work I have done previously in state schools.
From the outset it was a different vibe altogether, pupils were incredibly polite, focused on tasks and maintained a steely focus about the challenges they faced. The girls were eloquent, were able to hold conversation and offer valuable opinions on wide ranging topics, even outside the boundaries of what was being taught. There was no behaviour issue, something I realised straight away as there was not even a behaviour pathway in the relief teacher’s handbook that every visiting teacher is given! Admittedly, being only the second male teacher under the age of 30 in the school meant that I was viewed with some interest by the older girls especially, although this was quickly disarmed by myself and a colleague who had recommended me to the post with loud and clear references to my married state!
To be brutally honest, they were the easiest classes I have ever taken. Year 12 continued a coursework piece whilst being VERY stressed about a law studies exam the same day and within these worries, it was clear just how different this school was from the state ones I had been in. Every single girl, no matter how well prepared, was worried, some to the point of distraction, others to the point of silence. It was evident that from comments and their demeanours that their success had a great deal to do with whom it affected rather than their own personal grades. “My mum will kill me if I don’t do well”, “my sister got 100% in this exam”, “I don’t like this course, I’m only doing it for Uni” or similar were all comments I heard several times and they highlighted the increased pressure on private school students, a different pressure from state schools pupils perhaps. If there is a pressure on state school pupils to achieve, then there is a different pressure on the private sector- the manner in which they achieve, 75% is not as good as a 99% after all.
This pressure was etched on most of the girls’ faces, placed into a scenario where it is expected everyone will ‘achieve’ but the scale of their achievement is where they will be really judged. Having gone to a state school, the only pressure that I honestly felt was the pressure that I placed on myself and as such, seeing the worries before what was only a modular exam was a real eye opener. My colleague told me a story about how a girl got a high B in an exam and cried almost immediately, not because she thought she could have done better, it transpired, but because her parents would want her to do better. This attitude may be a widespread one, it may be an exceptional case, but I am led to believe, from colleagues, that the pressure runs deeper than a simple pride issue. Parents pay thousands to get their sons and daughters into private schools to achieve the very best, not pass at the same level as a state school pupils perhaps, and could it be that ‘value for money’ is at the base of the pressure exerted onto pupils, particularly in the upper years of their schooling?
This pressure could even be seen in the younger groups that I taught, where grades were the talk and the familiar hierarchy of pupils being friends with those of a similar academic level was evident, perhaps even magnified in a school where the distraction of the opposite sex is not on offer to tempt pupils out of their friend groups. Even in year 8, a year that I have heard described as a ‘nothing’ year on many occasions, girls were worried about their grades and how their parents would react, in one girl’s case, 5% lower than her normal grades.
However, I think it is narrow minded to assume that this pressure can just exist within the realms of academia. My other new job is that of Rugby coach at a leading boy’s school in the local area. To put this in perspective, I am one of 60 coaches.60. Last year in the UK, there were 4 coaches for the entire school, here, there are 4 coaches who coach the under 14s D side alone. This incredible emphasis on sporting prowess and in this example, Rugby, leads to a different side of pressure. Some parents may just see the sport as an aside, a bonus of the fees they are paying for their son’s academic education, however, I am sure and have seen in action, that some of the pressure applied is directly about the Rugby and whether their son will make it in the professional arena. This expectation that they will be at least given a shot is perpetuated by young men coming out of the school and playing professionally and playing well and progressing in their careers.
For decades now, the folklore of sporting pushy parents has been legendary and no more than at the moment, the pressure on some of these young boys to not just enjoy their sport but most crucially succeed is shocking and must inhibit their enjoyment of the sport. Even with their rugby education so far, this seems evident. Of the boys I have trained, a large percentage are drill robots, having done the same drills over and over again so the fun is sucked out of them and emphasis placed on big hits and weights. However, place them in a game format and none of these drill skills are used and many of the boys simply to play rugby with an ounce of intuition as they have been drilled to death and just like the terror on the girls’ faces before law studies exams, the terror etched on the boys’ faces in a game scenario depicts the pressure to succeed, not just in a simple game of touch but to succeed in sport generally and make a name for themselves. And to be honest, I am not sure if that is the way to go about things. A little pressure is a good thing but as I was once told “it’s fine to have butterflies, but the most important thing is to make the butterflies fly in the same direction”.

Monday, 28 February 2011

State (of) education and the privates.

Last Friday I read the article that prompted this heated debate in the pages of the Guardian and it really did get me thinking about state education and the private schooling on the other side of the fence. If this little foray into the world of Australian education has taught me one thing, it is that I don't think I would like a career in the private sector when I come back to the UK, although obviously, I am not going to rule it out completely, just in case!haha.

Sad as it seems, I actually do think about teaching a fair bit and at the weekend, I ended up having two conversations about state vs private at my cousin's wedding. The first was with a career primary state sector teacher who has been teaching for 30 years and genuinely made me enthused about getting to teach again out here, even as a relief teacher. She really saw the benefit of what she did and mentioned a sentence that I have heard on several occasions through my training from those in the private sector- that a for a large number of state pupils, coming to school, seeing their mates and possibly even their teachers is the highlight of their day-something that, even though people moan about the quality of state school teaching, both here and at home cannot be underestimated.

The second conversation was with a younger teacher, at the same stage as me in her career, teaching secondary home economics, she had just completed a year in a state school and literally could not stop talking about how much she hated it (knowing the school, it is actually one of the nicest state schools in the area as well!) and the lack of effort and impolite nature of the pupils. She has this term started work at a very exclusive private all girls school in Brisbane and waxed lyrical about the loveliness of the pupils and how polite they were to her, nothing about the quality of their work or their creativity, just how they were so polite and called her 'girlfriend'.Strange but each to their own I guess!

Whilst there are areas of the damning article on state schools I agreed with- one that comes to mind is the BTEC system. A good friend, a Science teacher and PHD holder is a wonderful practitioner and has the god given ability to make any element of the subject engaging and he has admitted that teaching the BTEC has sucked away his soul a little as pupils leave with the equivalent of 5 GCSEs but know very little about the subject he loves to teach and although I do not teach BTEC, I can appreciate his notions!-I feel that many/most state schools do their utmost to ensure that pupils achieve and have skills to help them in the real world and this extends to Australia where the divide between state and private is less obvious but it could be said has just as a definitive outcome on the successes of pupils. Even a school that would be considered a tidy state school would be fee paying over here and as such, it really does marginalise the pupils who just attend a state school, even though the teaching is, from what I have seen, good quality and the processes in place for the pupils very good and supportive.
After these two conversations, I realised that I would miss the banter, joys and the difficulties of state schools if I was to leave that arena and I would hope that as my practice progresses, every pupils will be polite to me, at least to my face!haha.It was lovely to see how enthused teachers can still be after seeing a fair number over here who although were delivering good lessons, sometimes did not seem the happiest with their jobs as a whole!
I really hope that after 30 years in the state system that I still carry the enthusiasm and poignancy of what I do on a day to day basis as much as the teacher I met at the weekend, or at least some of it!
Hopefully some relief work will come up for in the near future, else I am going to be applying to jobs for when I get back before I get work here again!Just to note that the jobs that I have applied for now extend to receptionist, librarian, admin assistant and sports marketing rep.It's all good!Hope everyone is well and fantastic to see my colleagues getting on so well (nice work on the trip mark!)

Monday, 14 February 2011


Religion is a very powerful subject and those who know me personally know that in an actual conversation, such a serious topic would be met with a glib remark from myself, usually moving focus towards an obscure footballer (think French ex Man Utd defender William Prunier or Arsenal wing wizard Glenn Helder) to ensure nothing got that serious. In the past few weeks though religion has actually impacted on my life and career.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Geography is a dying art in Australian schools and seems to be mostly the preserve of private, fee paying schools, whereas the state system has some Geography it is not very obvious. Now to the religious link- a large number of these private schools have some element of religious affiliation, whether it be lutheren, catholic or christian among others.
So, the majority of schools where Geography is taught and jobs are more likely to arise in the subject are also religious. I am not that much of a religious person. I was christened and attended church as a young lad but quickly established a scared approach to churches where I would run off crying!Whilst applying for some of the new Geography jobs I have been finding the last few weeks, I have noticed that there is one stumbling block in the application process that I cannot overcome.
It is usually on the last page and is only a name and address but I am unable to fill it. The section that asks for a church or religious reference, from the pastor of the church you last regularly attended. Therefore that application remains unfilled and due to the fact that by not filling in the section I do not meet the selection criteria for the post, am pretty much doomed to failure in getting the post.
I have spoken to several teachers out here who have applied to or work in such schools and they have mostly said that same thing-lie. But I can't do this, it does not feel right and I would feel a cad going to morning service or preaching the virtues outlined in the position specification when the only time I have visited a church in the last 10 years is for a friend's wedding and that was only for an hour!
I did contemplate bending the truth slightly, but the specification for the roles makes it so clear that you would have to undertake a massive array of religious tasks I felt it was unfair to lie in such a situation.
Conversely it seems, getting a child into the religious private schooling sector is a far easier process. I have spoken to several parents and pupils who do not really follow the guidelines of the religious sector of the school but happily get their child into the school and continue their for the entirety of their schooling. Could it be that the money that the child brings into the school means more than the perpetuation of the faith that the school promotes?
I feel that my difficulty in getting any work, relief or otherwise this term has meant that I have become even more determined to improve my practice through whatever means necessary and this evaluative process is standing me in good stead as I work through creating resources, reading journals and teaching myself new skills that I can implement in my future teaching, all good fun!
Hope everyone is well and I am still making my flood and cyclone resources!

Monday, 7 February 2011

An Englishman, a Norwegian and some Aussies walk into a bar

As with all the best last minute decisions, well at least a good percentage, they turn out the best. At midday Friday, after the car breaking down and our plans for a roadtrip going down the pan, we decided to do the obvious thing- go towards the cyclone to the north of Queensland.
We only travelled a little way up the coast to Noosa, where the secondary impact was evident.The majority of hostels in the popular coastal town were full to bursting where backpackers and holidaymakers had been evacuated from towns to the North to the safety of Noosa, well away from the weather system of Cyclone Yasi.
Cyclone Yasi ( a category 5 cyclone) was the largest cyclone to hit the land of Australia since 1918 and was a beast. It primarily hit the small towns of Innisfail, Cardwell and Tully, avoiding the main residential areas of Townsville and Cairns, which was little relief to many residents of Northern Queensland. The weather system itself was about the size of the USA with an eye containing winds of up to 320 km/h which decimated much of the towns/regions it hit and ruined several tourism areas, particularly areas around the incredibly popular Whitsundays islands, one of the jewels in Tourism Queensland's crown- another blow to the industry.
One of the craziest aspects was that places like Mount Isa, hundreds of kms inland were actually hit by Yasi, although it had been downgraded to a category 1/2 by the time it reached those areas, that fact it was reached at all was wholly unexpected for the area.

After meeting up with two Aussie girls who were staying in our dorm, they told us several stories about being evacuated out of Airlie beach, which in their words "was not any fun anyway, we must have been the only people in history who thought it was very dull". Possibly the best was the 5 Essex girls ( not perpetuating a stereotype of course) in their dorm who all slept in the same single bed for fear of being blown away by the high winds hundreds of kilometres away.
We had a great time in Noosa and the only physical impact of the cyclone that we saw was the strong winds that accompanied the weather system in more Southerly areas managing to blow in a load of Bluebottle Jellyfish to the main beaches of the areas leading to hundreds of people being stung and the surf club busiest day of the year so far!
The actual impact of the cyclone was brutal and has yet again meant that the tourism industry of the state has taken a battering (a good example was a pub in Airlie beach that has on average of 200 punters a night at this time of year but currently has an average of about 15) as well as the residential problems that have arisen. Many people's homes have been literally blown away, although those that have been built to cyclone standards were pretty much fine. An interesting sidenote is the clever get out clause that the state government are using about not all homes being cyclone proof- it was stated that after cyclone larry of 5 years ago that all NEW buildings in cyclone affected areas will be built to withstand cyclones of up to category 5 (which Yasi was), but existing buildings did not have to be upgraded. This has meant outcry in Innisfail, which was brutalised in Larry, as many residents were led to believe by local authorities that ALL homes would be made cyclone proof and whose homes were blown away again!
This new disaster has meant that the flood levy has been at the forefront of political thinking and has led to the Gillard g'ment having the lowest approval rating since it came to power, with or without Kevin Rudd. The levy has still to pass through parliament and some crucial people who decide whether the levy will pass are undecided on its future.
Couple all this wild weather with the bushfires in Western Australia that have destroyed 60 homes so far and all in all you have a country of incredible differences.
I am going to try and create a case study of the cyclone as well as the existing Brisbane flood one and have them both finished quite soon and possibly a bushfire one if I can manage it. This is all dependent on whether any school in Queensland actually decides they need an English relief teacher!Which I blooming hope they do!haha.
Hope everyone is happy and well!

Oh and the title of the blog refers to the people we went clubbing with in Noosa, although in reality it was 3 english, 2 norwegians, 2 aussies and a canadian!