Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Strike Three! And Being A Versatile Teacher

I'm on strike today as a member of UCU. My husband decided he couldn't walk past his colleagues on the picket line today, and so despite being on a fixed-term contract and therefore not likely to be able to benefit from union membership, he signed up for UNISON. We stood side by side on the picket line this morning outside college, and I think my students were highly amused to see me there. My hope is that they've seen that, having spent the week explaining why I'm striking, I'm not all mouth and no trousers.

I've been plagued by a black dog for a few days. In my previous jobs I'd have found it impossible to do any work, and would have been mindlessly surfing the net. That isn't an option anymore. Everyone's experience is different, and some find teaching makes it worse, but it's been a life-saver for me. I have to walk into that laboratory and teach, and I have to deal with the students, and I have to get them comfortable enough with the topics that they can cope with the exams and advance to university.

Coming out of the funk, I decided I would call the black dog Fenton. Mainly because when Paul and I see it running wild in my mind, we both sit there and cry "Oh Jesus Christ!"...


I got pissed off with the BBC News - in a story on MPs anger as science proposals are 'rejected', there was the following quote:
A survey published by the Wellcome Trust on Tuesday found too many newly qualified science teachers lacked the specialist knowledge they needed to teach the subject effectively.

The research showed that half of trainee science teachers are in fact biologists, who often struggle to pick up chemistry and physics knowledge during their one-year post-graduate teacher training courses.
I've looked at the Wellcome Trust press release, and I fail to see where they say that us biologists struggle with physics and chemistry knowledge. Seems like crap journalism to me.

I'm unimpressed with the accusation levelled at biologists. Mainly because, in my department, I am by far the most versatile of the teachers. Sure, I teach A-Level Biology, and the BTEC Level 3 Physiology, Genetics and Plant Sciences units. But I also have to teach units at level 3 (KS5, sixth form, or 11-12th grade for the colonials) on law, media studies, politics, philosophy and psychology. At level 2 (KS4, 9-10th grade), I regularly teach chemistry and physics. And I do a damn good job.

I've been tutoring AS Chemistry - my inorganic chemistry is a bit rusty, but my organic and physical chemistry is pretty fresh still. I've also started tutoring AS Physics to the same student - one of my biologists who is really struggling. I can't remember much of my quantum physics, and I rather suspect it has changed a bit in the 13 years since I studied it. However, projectiles and viscosity don't change very much, and in the space of two hours I achieved more than a colleague had in six weeks. I'm pretty sure I am just one of a large number of biology teachers who are very happy with chemistry and physics. Maybe there are biologists who shy away from maths. There are certainly physicists who find biology repulsive and respond viscerally to the thought of teaching it - every physics teacher I work with is like that. But I also know physicists who love to teach the other subjects too.


Maybe I'm lucky because I did Natural Sciences. I got to study aspects of all the sciences, and to develop a holistic view of the subject. I've done more chemistry and mathematics than pure biologists. In doing HPS as a second year subject, I learnt about philosophy, and some of the more interesting "How Science Works" bits of the course. The stress v strain and viscosity calculations I did in geophysics are beyond anything the A2 physicists have to do. Yes, at the moment I'm bragging. Because teachers are degraded and reviled at the moment, and now the BBC is trying to say biology teachers in particular are rubbish.

I'm one of many science teachers comfortable teaching any aspect of science. As Taylor Mali says, the miracle is education - I'm just the worker.

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