Friday, 24 August 2012

Significant Interventions

AS Biology ... has failed to make the required improvements in spite of significant interventions.
This was in this week's staff newsletter. A massive slap in the face from a senior member of staff, for every lecturer, administrator, support assistant to see, not to mention the ladies who run the canteen, the caretakers who check I haven't died at my desk late at night, and the lab technicians without whom I'd be lost.

I rarely criticise where I work. I don't want to do that (that way disciplinaries lie). I just want to wail about how hurt I feel about all this where I know I have a sympathetic audience.

I've been teaching for three years. I have been graded good or outstanding in every observation I have had (and I rarely put on a show for my observers because I want to be graded on the lessons I give every day). I took on a second AS group halfway through the year, and battled through the "we liked the other teacher better" criticism until I think, maybe, some of the group actually liked me and my teaching. I undertook a workshop to boost performance. I pleaded with the students who needed it to attend. I spent hours tutoring students after classes. I embedded literacy. I honed their bullshit detectors. I got them reading and citing peer-reviewed journals (and not just Biological Sciences Review and New Scientist).

In the end, this year, weak students just flopped. They failed physics, chemistry, maths, English, sociology, psychology, and so on. No student who failed biology only failed biology - they stuffed up everything. And yet here I am, as the only full-time permanent biology teacher, taking the flak in public across the entire college.

I am ashamed to see the people in other departments who I know. I can't bring myself to look them in the eye knowing that they'll have read that, and that they'll make judgements about me and my competence. Because they don't know that I eat, sleep and breathe this job. They don't know about the evidence-based teaching methods I use, about the high expectations I hold of my students, about the sheer energy I put into making damn sure the students understand the material. All they see is that I was apparently given "significant interventions" but failed to deliver.

It's enough to make me second-guess myself and my ability. Maybe I'm doing it all wrong. Maybe I've been lulled into a false sense of security by a history of good pass rates, excellent observation feedback, my name being passed around as "one to watch". Amazing students have got crappy coursework grades, and I'm scared a re-mark won't show up any errors of marking. Students who had effectively another block of A-level time for one-to-one tuition haven't performed any better than if I'd left them to teach themselves. I've been flipping between raging indignation that such words have been written about my subject, and self-doubt that I'm a mediocre teacher getting by on sarcasm and charisma, putting on a good show but lacking substance.

By Tuesday, when we return after the bank holiday weekend, I'll probably feel better. Maybe I'll play the video my BTECs made for me. Maybe I'll read some of the cards and e-mails I had over the years. Maybe I'll remember all the hugs from students whose lives I have apparently improved beyond measure.

But for now I'm hurting.


  1. I hope I'm not over-stepping the mark by checking back on (and commenting on) your blog, but it really made me sad that this was said about you.

    First of all, I'm curious as to what the 'significant intervention' was (?!), aside from losing a staff member. As for the coursework, I'm expecting to hear soon, so we will see, but if there is no significant improvement I will see it as the inadequacy of Edexcel's marking scheme, certainly not you as a teacher.

    I have never had a teacher that was so passionate and inspiring about the subject they teach. It is so refreshing to know that there are people out there that take such an interest in the quality of education they deliver, and are willing to put SOOO many extra hours in, just because they care that much. Your passion has definitely inspired me, and confirmed that I AM going down the right path. You are a wonderful teacher, and I won't have anyone let you think otherwise.


    1. Stacey speaks truth. Julia, you are fantastic at what you do. You know it, your students know it. Edexcel are outrageous and the college can stick its "significant interventions" scapegoating politics bollocks up its arse!

    2. Thanks both of you for reminding me why I'm doing this. I just have to remember that it's your feedback that really matters. You're both fantastic students. :)

      The "significant interventions" were the workshop. That was it...

    3. They're a long time off the front line if they've forgotten that you can lead the driest student to the sweetest water but you still can't make it drink.

    4. As one of Paul's colleagues said once, "we could be dancing naked on the desks and handing out £5 notes and they still wouldn't show up". I don't intend to test this hypothesis, but I support the sentiment.

  2. If you wouldn't have motivated me then, I wouldn't be standing with an A*AB today. The difference between someone who has proudly completed her A levels and someone who basically gave up on her life was bridged by you and only you. Be proud of yourself ! (You know who I am)


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