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.

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.



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.



Promoting Applied Maths in your school

Applied Maths is one of the few subjects that has no counterpart at Junior Cert level. As such students often have little idea about the subject, which partly explains its low take-up rate for the Leaving Cert. The following are some ideas I use when promoting Applied Maths in the school.
As teachers we don’t usually go talking to individual students about their subject-choice for the Leaving Cert but it’s important to note that many students may not consider doing Applied Maths simply because nobody has ever suggested it to them  Sometimes just a quiet word with one or two students who you know are comfortable at maths may be enough to make them consider a subject they otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.
I run two or three ‘taster’ classes around this time each year just so the students have some idea about the subject. I give them out a workbook and also a separate ‘Common Questions which Students ask about Applied Maths’ booklet which aims to answer many of the questions they may have about the subject (see below for the link).
I also ask their houseperson to forward on an email from me to the parents of all TY students and I attach the ‘Common Questions’ booklet for them to look through. I encourage the parents to get back in touch with me if they need any more information. Parents and students may be reluctant to sign up to a subject if they are unsure what’s involved, and sometimes just letting them know that you’ve available for them might be enough to make them reconsider.
Having said all that, I didn’t find last year’s paper to be one which would encourage the uptake of the subject.
I have attached the information booklet below – it would need to be edited to suit your own school.
I have copied and pasted information from both the IAMTA journals and website into the booklets so I make no claims as to their originality.

Applied Maths: Whats It All About? by physicsteacher

Just some ideas.

International Particle Physics Masterclass n UCD for 5th & 6th year Leaving Cert Students

I received the following from UCD and thought that the best way of getting the information out was to post it here.It certainly looks like something you should follow up on if you are thinking of taking Physics in college or, as they mention here, have a keen interest in computing:

Dear 5th & 6th Year Teachers and Students (Science/Physics),

UCD School of Physics is delighted to accept applications for our 2nd International Particle Physics Masterclass (IPPM), aimed at 5th & 6th year Leaving Certificate Secondary Students.

This is your chance to get your hands on real LHC data and analyse it to find W & Z bosons, and look for evidence of the Higgs!

UCD School of Physics as part of a worldwide initiative is inviting students from around Ireland to participate in a one day Masterclass to delve deeper into the mysteries of particle physics.

Last year’s IPPM event was a great success with students from 35 schools nationwide coming to UCD Physics for a day of hands-on-learning about particle physics. This year again we invite you to apply for a place on the UCD School of Physics International Particle Physics Masterclass 2013.

UCD School of Physics, will provide students with state-of-the-art computing facilities, specialised software, expert guidance and real data direct from the CMS experiment at CERN in order to allow you to look for W & Z bosons produced in the collision of two protons at the LHC.

This activity is open to 5th and 6th year Leaving Certificate students, with a keen interest in Physics. No advanced experience (beyond studying
physics or maths for Leaving Certificate or a keen interest in computing) is required, though an interest in particle physics and the
recent results from CERN is an advantage. This is an excellent opportunity for students who are considering entering a Physics focused
third level education path.

The UCD School of Physics International Masterclass 2013 will be held on the 20th of March. The activities will start at 9:30am and finish at
4:00pm. The day will consist of practical lectures, hands-on data analysis, and an international video conference to compare your results live with students in other countries. (If you can’t make it on the 20th March, similar activities will be running at Maynooth NUI on March 6th and Trinity College Dublin on February 26th.)

Click on the following link for the UCD IPPM Application form in .doc (MS Word) format.

If you or members of your physics class at school would like to participate at the UCD School of Physics Particle Physics Masterclass, please ask your teacher to send an email to the appropriate address (email address is available in the MS Word document) with the subject line ‘PARTICLE PHYSICS MASTERCLASS’ (or fax 01-2837275).
The closing date for receipt of applications is Wednesday, the 6th March, 2013.
Successful applicants will be contacted in early March.
This event is free of charge.

Further information at:

http://www.ucd.ie/physics/ppmasterclass/ [2] and
http://www.physicsmasterclasses.org/ [3]

Applied Maths Resources II

To go with the previous post on Applied Maths papers there is an accompanying set of notes on each topic here.
Many of these are 30 – 40 pages long so don’t print unless you have to; when I distribute these to students I use the photocopier to photocopy two pages onto one (A3 – A4) and also to go double-sided. This reduces the number of pages by a factor of 4.

Each topic has its own contents page at the beginning which breaks the chapter up into sub-topics.  Each sub-topic then has an introduction and some exam questions with worked solutions (or at least most do – it’s still a work in progress). There is then a guide to answering the individual questions (which also includes the answers), although I think this  only goes from 2010 to 1995. Every question from 2010 to 1970 is included in the booklet with similar-type questions arranged together.

If you’re a teacher feel free to copy any or all of this to suit your own purposes; life, as always, is simply too short for anything else.

There is also a 1 page guide to approaching the exam itself on the same page.

Hope it’s useful.

Excellent resource for Power points

I don’t tend to use Power-Point much. ‘Not sure why; guess I can never stay still long enough to give a formal-type lesson. I did however use Education Using PowerPoint a few years back and was very impressed. It’s a very extensive set of resources, put together and managed by Will Richards. A complete set (including resources for Junior Cert) will set you back £50 sterling (€75?). And naturally, having been designed for the British GCSE and A level system, may have to be adapted somewhat.

Still, if Power Point is your thing, this does seem like a useful resource.

If you do end up purchasing, please get in touch and let me know what you think.