Today I have a guest post by a friend of mine, Daisy Jane Bell, who is an English Teacher in Fife. So many of us got the reading bug from school, but with technology and social media playing such an important role in children’s lives I asked Daisy Jane to write about how English is taught in schools today, and the barriers she faces. This is a fabulous piece and it gives us all something to think about.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Daisy Jane for finding get time to write this piece for my blog. She also runs a brilliant Facebook book group Hens Hooked on Books , where we have monthly book choices that we discuss at the end of the month.
My name is Daisy Jane. I am a Principal Teacher of English and I work in a large Secondary School, in Fife, Scotland.
My main job remit means I have the responsibility for all pupils, within the years of s1-2, and this responsibility relates to their educational, learning, personal and behaviour needs. I also teach and am responsible for other children in our Dept, aged 11-18 years, and more specifically those who are in my classes. I am second in charge in a Dept of 12 and have been in post, since 2002. Since qualifying, I have been employed in only 3 High schools, yet I have worked with many colleagues, ranging from students, to newly qualified teachers, including Guidance Staff, and Depute Head teachers. I believe that working with many professionals and such ‘diversity’ of teaching styles, ages and experiences, has, all-in-all, greatly benefitted me n my many pupils and staff.
In my 19 years of teaching, having graduated in December, 1998, with Distinction in Education, I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with many professionals and teaching many different classes, ranging from low ability, smaller ‘set’ groups, to teaching larger, more challenging (learning n behaviour groups), to also stretching the needs of high flyers and gifted children/pupils. I have mentored many pupils, students n staff, as well as being a Personal Tutor, to many children, over the years. I have taught classes in the early broad, general education (curriculum years 1-3), right up to teaching, National 3/4, 5 and Higher and Advanced Higher. I have also been employed as a Higher English Tutor, one evening per week, at a local college, teaching and meeting the needs of mature students. I am currently also an appointed marker for National 5 and Higher, with the SQA ( SCOTTISH QUALIFICATION AUTHORITY.) Though my job is a demanding and constant one, I consider myself lucky n extremely privileged to have experienced teaching all levels n stages n that, I can and do, work in a job, which I still really, really enjoy. Teaching is a hugely demanding career, but a very rewarding one too.
Through my years in teaching, the teaching of English in schools, has changed and continues to do so. I personally believe that ‘change’ is good and is truly ‘part and parcel’ of effective teaching: we (as individuals and professionals) must change and develop, to consistently and constantly meet the diverse needs and ranges of our pupils. Society itself, is constantly changing, as is parenting n families within our 21st Century life and, therefore, continued change in education is essential to meet the needs of our workforce: the pupils and children we teach. This ongoing change often reflects in workload (in teaching, this is huge, not as some think only existent from the hours of 9a.m. – 3.30pm, Monday to Friday.) Preparation for teaching and the planning of our lessons and subject content is constant. Good, effective teachers, really, never stop, thinking and planning n researching n preparing! Ultimately, we have to be prepared to be ‘one step ahead’ of our classes and pupils. This input is driven by our initiative, passion and enthusiasm.
However, there are some issues, which we do become aware of and experience, on a daily basis. Teenagers today are extremely tech-savy!! Children today are involved in a huge technology culture. Their world is all: Mobile phones, Playstations and iPads! Technology is everywhere for them and it means everything to them. This reliance on and their addiction to such technology can and sadly, often does ‘hamper’ education, mainly shown via their desire to read books n review written language. Personal Reading is not a hobby or habit every child experiences, or enjoys. Ultimately, for many, their main daily need is to Tweet or Facebook or FaceTime their mates! The language they use for these sources is modified and simplistic and sadly, this often results in limited knowledge of and appreciation for language. Additionally, there is another word, many children detest: Homework!! That one word is laughable for and to, many youngsters today! Teachers cannot dictate that this additional study is completed. The choice to complete additional study, is a personal one. Also, sadly, in many modern homes, the environment does not lend itself to facilitating continued home study. For many, there is the issue of why they should do homework? Teachers continually face the issue of proving its worth in their overall education and it is a dilemma for many teachers, depts and schools. It’s an ongoing, never-ending battle!
On the other hand, many teachers, including myself have adapted and changed, to meet the demands and needs of our pupils. I now use more media sources in education, on a lesson or Unit basis. For example, audio recordings and other sources, support low ability pupils in many effective ways. Having such resources also support pupils who are prone to displaying high absenteeism. Radio, TV, adverts, film posters, trailers, newspapers, websites, comics, graphic novels, magazines and films are also, all used to support, deepen and enhance learning. Film is used regularly, to help pupils, visualise, appreciate and understand a written text. Due to many children not reading texts which challenge them, or books that are relevant to their age range, film can help them gain wider knowledge n a deeper understanding. Film, is a great asset to pupils n teachers alike!
Through the years, some ‘classic’ books and great literature have had to be shelved and are now perhaps ‘overlooked’ for more modern, relevant or topical texts. For example, only specific senior, ability levels, would perhaps enjoy books such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or Oliver Twist. Many of these texts are not chosen to be studied as much as before. However, other great texts, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm and 1984, still remain popular and are good to show social impact and modern ideas. I guess, once you know your subject and classes and your pupils, teachers with a diverse range of reading, will know which specific texts their class may or would enjoy. I regularly try to engage pupil input and give them a choice, by revealing a short synopsis of each main text, or a ‘taster’ lesson, before we study each larger text. We have also been known to review a film trailer, to help guarantee interest and enhance overall pupil engagement.
In relation to the study of literature there are many, many texts which I love teaching, but some of my personal favourites include: Matilda by Roald Dahl, Goodnight Mr Tom, by Michelle Magorian, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, Of Mice n Men, by John Steinbeck, Dead Poet’s Society by N H Kleibaum, The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
To conclude, I still love teaching n working in education as much as, if not more than I did, when graduating. I personally love reading, communication, language n words n I am very, very lucky, as on a daily basis, I am allowed to deepen my knowledge, in this area, whilst helping others to do likewise. One great bugbear I do have, however, results when people, who are not in the teacher profession, comment on the ‘great holidays we have!’ Sadly, they do not appreciate that our holidays are used primarily to help us refuel, then they allow us ‘treasured’ time to think about our next term/session n the stages n ages of pupils whom we will soon meet n become responsible for teaching. Someone once said ‘teaching is a work of heart’ and I do believe this quote is very true. For all effective teachers n professionals, it is our love of subject, our pupils, and our job, which remains at the centre of our desire to install our knowledge and love in others. There is no better feeling in the world than helping a child to understand, acknowledge or appreciate an issue or outcome: seeing the recognition and pride on their face, or noting the spark in their eyes when they gain understanding, or praise or recognition, as they celebrate their own success, is a joy others do not experience in their careers, which remains, to me, unparalleled.