leaving cert

Reduce teacher stress: Don’t look at your students’ results

Stress 39/365

Stress by Mike Hoff. CC BY-NC 2.0

Teacher stress is not something that many outside the profession think about. When it does strike we often feel that we can’t show it – certainly not to our students (which can be tough given that we need to ‘perform’ in front of them all day). But  we are also reluctant to acknowledge it to our colleagues – we are afraid of how it may be perceived. But stress is part of every single teacher’s life. My mantra for new teachers has always been to be very aware of stress creeping into your teaching and do all that you can to control and minimise it.

Eliminating stress is not an option. It is always there, lurking in the background, waiting for an opportunity to grow and fester. Some stress we may be able to do little about, but that which we can control we should.

And exam results fall into the latter category. Most teachers feel nervous coming up to exam-results day. Probably not as nervous as the students, but at least for the students it only happens once (or at most twice) whereas for teachers it is an annual event.

If it turns out that the results are not great then the specter of this hovers over the teacher all year.

Now comes the crucial question; does knowing the results increase the probability that you will become a better teacher?
How will you become that better teacher?
Now assuming (and it’s a big assumption) that you have identified what needs to be done to improve, why not just do this anyway?
By the way, I hope you don’t think that ‘working harder’ is a legitimate action. I was once in a school where we were told that we all need to work harder to improve results, without any follow-up or advice beyond that. Obviously instructions this vague only serve to increase stress and not efficiency. Maybe if our job was to dig a hole in the ground then ‘work harder’ would be self-explanatory, but teaching is a tad more complex. We need to work smarter, not harder. And usually it’s not at all obvious how to go about this.

The fact that you’re reading this blog suggests that you are interested (at least in principle) in being a better teacher.
There are many ways in which you can go about this:

  • One of the simplest and most effective is to encourage feedback from students throughout your lesson.
  • Another is to use assessment to enhance on-going learning of a concept (‘Assessment for Learning’) rather than what we usually do which is to use assessment as a dubious means of establishing whether or not a student has ‘learned’ something – whatever that means.
  • Read up on the psychology of how students learn (a relatively newand incorporate this into your teaching.

To see what else you could do, check out betterteaching.ie which was created as part of my own learning curve on this journey.

So repeat after me: “You don’t need to know your students’ results to make the decision to become a better teacher.”

Of course one other reason to look at students’ results is good old-fashioned curiosity.
You just need to offset the benefit of this against the possibility/ probability that knowing the results will introduce stress which could otherwise have been avoided and which will now most likely remain with you (albeit at a low level) throughout the year.

If you think I exaggerate then look at this extract from a recent post from Tom Sherrington – one of the most respected teachers in the UK today.

I woke up last Tuesday night at 2am with the worst headache of all time; piercing intense pain.  I had to run downstairs for the pain killers.  This was stress, pure and simple; subconscious anxiety in anticipation of GCSE results download day.   I’ve only been there a year but Results Matter – and in this age of hyper-accountability, they assume meaning far beyond the limits of their validity and reliability as measures of our students’ experience.
http://headguruteacher.com/2015/08/24/walking-the-tightrope/

Now here in Ireland we don’t have the pressure of accountability that hovers over Tom and his colleagues. We should take advantage of this and not go looking for stress when it can be avoided.

Don’t get me wrong – I do need to know that my teaching is going well. I need to know that my students understand what I am teaching them. I need to know that they are revising (throughout the year, not just in the final term ‘when we have the course covered’). I need to know that they like being in my class. I need to know that they are well prepared for the final exam. But I can establish all the above without ever knowing their final mark.

And of course knowing their final mark won’t provide the answers to all the questions above anyway.

I will continue to try and improve as a teacher. I do not need to know my students’ results to do this.
And I will not judge myself on the basis of their results in state exams.

 

Advertisements

You’ve messed up one of your exams. What happens now?

You’ve sat the exam. You’ve messed it up.
What happens next?

Contrary to what you feel at the time, messing up in one or two questions isn’t going to make much, if any, difference to your overall set of results. How you respond to the setback will however say a lot about your approach to overcoming adversity, not just now but in life in general.

What you’ve got to remember is that almost nobody is going to excel in every exam. So your ‘competition’ is the other students (the fact that we can use the words competition and education in the same context is an absolutely terrible indictment on what we do, but for now it is what it is). And they’re going to make mistakes too.

If you allow yourself to dwell on mistakes then it is going to adversely affect your ability to concentrate for later exams. You’ve simply got to put it behind you.
I like to use sporting analogies.
If you’re a footballer and you miss a penalty in a crucial game then you want nothing more than for the ground to open up and swallow you.
But that’s not an option.

So you pick yourself up, hold your head up high and get on with the game – no matter how difficult that seems at the time.

You see nobody goes a whole match without making mistakes – it’s how you respond that determines whether or not you are a success.

So try to avoid the post-mortems, particularly if you’re not an optimist to begin with.

For what it’s worth, this also applies on a large scale. Reading about the anniversary of the Normandy Landings, a comment from one of the veterans resonated with me. In war, the side that wins is usually the side that makes the fewer mistakes.
So don’t compound one by making another.

Welcome to life.

 

 

Chernobyl: the legacy

348910187_58dea72f81_m.jpg

Photo from Jeremy Nicholl on flickr

I have mentioned this before, but it’s worth throwing it up again (and again)

Given the low radiation doses received by most people exposed to the Chernobyl accident, no effects on fertility, numbers of stillbirths, adverse pregnancy outcomes or delivery complications have been demonstrated nor are there expected to be any. A modest but steady increase in reported congenital malformations in both contaminated and uncontaminated areas of Belarus appears related to improved reporting and not to radiation exposure

Source: World Health Organisation

It is a similar story for the survivors of the Hirishimo and Nagaski nuclear explosions.

This is always greeted with (i) disbelief, (ii) scepticism or (iii) amazement (at best) by my senior students.

I guess it’s very to argue with our gut feeling. But this is ultimately why we have this thing called SCIENCE, even if it is warts and all.

Firewalking; a wonderful introduction to heat

I introduce Heat Capacity by asking the following question: How come, when you get up in the middle of the night to take a pee, and walk across both tile and carpet, the tile seems much colder than the carpet even though in reality both are at the same temperature (room temperature)?
It introduces the concept of thermal conductivity, and also acts as a reminder to why we need objective measurements in science.

This video on firewalking would make a wonderful follow-up activity, and might just make some a little wary of  ‘life-coaches’.

Thermal conductivity and Low heat capacity; Firewalking explained in terms of taking a cake out of an oven.

Would work at both Junior or Senior cycle.

So how could you design an experiment to ascertain who is right?

And then while we’re here at all, let’s look at an intertaining presentation by Michael Shermer on debunking pseudoscience.

From http://www.ted.com; part one of two. The second half is also well worth seeing.

Teaching Sound and Youtube

I’m teaching Sound with both Junior Certs and Leaving Certs at the moment.It was pretty cool to have ready access to these amazing clipsSonic Boom: very useful when discussing the Doppler Effect.As usual there are loads of related clips: Lyre bird imitating a chain-saw.Not sure about the relevance, but this has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.    Finally a quick search for ‘Teaching Sound” brought up some nice ideas here:We need more of this – it’s so easy to exchange ideas. Thanks Mr Noon  

‘Story with Global Warming not on the syllabus?

The nice thing about Global Warming is that it that it may very well wipe us out as a species in the next couple of hundred years.
It is the single greatest catastrophe to hit human-kind EVER.

And in the grand scheme of things we couldn’t say we didn’t deserve it, or that we haven’t been warned.

Because it’s effects are not affecting us directly at this moment in time we just choose to bury our heads in the sand.
It’s like the story of the frog in the pot:
If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out instantly.
Yet, if you were to place it in a pot of cool water and slowly raise the temperature to boiling point, the frog will unsuspectingly meet its fatal demise.


You want to know what the Junior Cert Science syllabus has to say about this calamity?
Consider the following.
Junior Cert Biology:
Consider and discuss how human activity affects the environment, both positively and negatively (two examples in each case).

Junior Cert Physics:
List the advantages and disadvantages of different energy sources of energy, including nuclear sources of energy, as part of the solution to national energy needs.

Actually scratch that last one.
Apparently we only need to look at energy in terms of out national energy needs, not in terms of the fact that we are the single worst thing to ever happen this planet.
So that’s allright then.

Junior Cert Chemistry:
Nada.
Faic.
Not a cracker.

So how about the Leaving Cert?
Well let’s see.
There’s nothing in Biology (hopefully somebody will prove me wrong here) and nothing in Leaving Cert Physics.
Leaving Cert Chemistry does go into it in some detail (for the small percentage of students who do it at this level):
The greenhouse effect and the influence of human activity on it,
and later;
Possible implications of the increased greenhouse effect.

Well here’s one Possible effect of the greenhouse effect for you;
Your children may very well be the last generation to live what we now regard as a ‘normal’ life, and it may very well be too late for us to do anything about it now even if we did want to.
And let’s face it; with the current demand for chelsea tractors in this country, anything we do will amount to little more than lip-service.

And we can’t even say we didn’t deserve it.

Sweet dreams!