Written by Michael

I am an Irishman living and teaching in the beautiful city of Edinburgh. After many years travelling I am now in my third year as a maths teacher. I love teaching, discovering and exploring with students. If there are two ways of doing something and one is more fun I will take that route every time. Work hard, be happy and be awesome, always be awesome! For more stories from the chalkface see my blog; http://goddividedbyzero.blogspot.co.uk/ @Chuckieinalba

Do or Do not, there is no try..

Friday was a busy day, last of a short week thanks to the Queen and I hope she enjoyed her party (must be tough being in the same job for sixty years without promotion but I sure she gets by). It all started with the first of five interviews on my continued search for the Holy Grail that is a permanent post. The interview was very similar to most: three interviewers and six questions. Two questions in this interview stuck out for me and to be fair I did not answer them brilliantly.

The first was on a CPD event that influenced your practice. I have to be honest most of the CPD we are made do is pure crap; I remember one particular event where a lady started by showing a picture of the learning pyramid and proclaiming that this was her favourite picture.  This pyramid illustrates the best ways of learning and retention of information. The irony of this was that she then proceeded to lecture us (5% retention rate!) for the rest of the session. Death by powerpoint is a cruel and slow way to go! The Royal Society of Edinburgh in its advice paper ‘Schooling in Scotland and its fitness for 21st Century purpose’ does specify the need for high quality CPD in order to overcome the challenges that we face in schools today but how will this be achieved? And can they please stop sending people out to talk about powerpoint’s they themselves have not even written? One can only hope that it does get better.

I remember another CPD event on Glow, the world’s biggest white elephant. I am not a fan. Glow is like walking into a huge mansion that looks good and promises loads in all its hundreds of rooms, until you realise that you can’t find anything and your mansion suddenly looks like it was built in the 70s! The Scottish Government needs to let this one go and instead of wasting money buy new computers for schools. I asked the man presenting the talk on Glow what positive things he had learned whilst researching for this talk. His answer was that Glow was already behind the times but the programme he had used to make the presentation was class. I agree and if you are ever looking to make a cool presentation start by going to www.prezi.com; it’s brilliant. Not saying that not all CPD is bad; I have been to some great talks and demonstrations. In my opinion it’s mostly compulsory CPD that sucks like an industrial vacum cleaner!

The second question was on equality and diversity in my classroom. How do you go about explaining that everyone is equal in your classroom and not only that but you diversify for all students as well? I find it easy to do but very hard to explain that everyone is treated the same. You have to be 100% fair in class; you must take into account every child’s needs, their different learning styles, the fact that they may be living in two separate homes that they might be a child carer or the fact that on Wednesday mornings they might be alseep because of a medication they are on, and on Friday evening they are higher than a kite. It’s hard to explain in 5 minutes that all are treated equally whilst taking into account the individual. You have to get to know each student; you have to get to know their background and find out all you can. It’s also about building good working relationships with students, working in conjunction with other teachers, SfL, other professionals and then facilitating to the best of your ability. I suppose it’s fair better to have a classroom of equality and diversity than to be able to explain about one!

After the excitement of the interview it was back to the chalkface and my S2s. I really like this class as they are a mixed group of characters. They are a busy bunch; they have to worry about looking cool, about pleasing their teacher, about the boy who has a girlfriend who is in the class. Some have to worry about staying busy and you must know what’s going on out the window. They also are busy trying to chat whilst also trying to give the impression of work. In the early days of a new class many students go with the tried and tested strategy of ‘I have NEVER seen that before in my life!’ A quick ‘Are you sure?’ normally works though for the die hard tricksters, then it must be followed up with ‘I will just check with Mrs S..’. God loves a trier but me not so much! I have only taught them twice and after getting the names right, which is hugely important, it’s on to the difficult task of taking the word ‘try’ out of their vocabulary and mentality. Yoda taught me one of the most important lessons in life when he said..

(The other important lesson from Star Wars is that if you are ever in a film always get a percentage of the merchandise! Bet Luke wished he had worried more about that than the identity of his father!) It’s a lesson for life: if your going to do something, do it properly, if not, don’t bother. So when a student says ‘try’ I tell them not to bother (reverse psychology is one of the most important weapons in a teacher arsenal along with the sticker – students may own iPhones and magic game consoles but they would crawl over glass for a colourful sticker!) Sure enough after sitting there for a minute or two, as everyone else is working, they promise to give it their very best effort. One of the hardest things in a classroom is to get a student to put in their best effort and understand that it is in their best interest; this can take months and sometimes years but when you get there it’s a beautiful thing.

The final action of the day was taking the rugby team. I coach to the Edinburgh S2 7s competition. I have the privilege of coaching, along with a friend, a very talented bunch of young lads. We have a great team at both 15s and 7s. Their main foe is laziness and mindset. Confidence grows slowly in these boys. We have only lost two games all year: one was to a better team and one was the worst day at the office that 22 boys can have. They are very good but every time they take to the pitch they foster the idea that the other team is made up of demi-gods or supermen. As soon as we have let in a try and found out that they are human, probably not as good as us, we can kick on with our own game and normally win. Today was no different. The first obstacle was to get the 12 man squad organised. The weather was a typical June day in Scotland, slightly overcast with drizzle and no sign of the sun. (No one comes here for the weather!) This did not appeal to some of the lads and when I asked three of them were they coming they started ‘if’ing and wondering. They did not like the weather but said they would try, so I told them it was ok they did not have to come.

Reverse psychology works wonders again and sure enough they were back to me by break to say they really wanted to play. There is no try and there are no passenegers on this boat. The draw did us no favours as we had to play the favourites first. The boys were still not eager or excited despite my best efforts but I knew as soon as they started playing and got involved all this would change. We lost 2 tries to 1 but the boys were now excited; they knew they could have won and this gave them great confidence. We won our other group games easily and were ready to challenge for the title but the format was changed due to the rain and instead of a final round-robin all we could play for was third place. We won but the lads were disappointed that they could not have another crack at glory. I sat them down and we talked about the fun we had, the great day out and finally we talked about the importance of starting off on the best foot and giving it all. Yoda summed it up for them and I believe they have turned a corner. Next year they will go from strength to strength hopefully. It was a great day and mighty fun, as for myself I have four maybe five interviews, as always onwards and upwards..

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