Mathematics in MIE – A Summer Course Review

Every year I make an effort to return to Marino Institute of Education to do one of their summer courses and I’ve always been impressed. Two of the courses I’ve been most impressed with have been Brendan Culligan’s ‘Learning Difficulties – Literacy’ and David Ruddy’s online ‘Teacher and the Law’.

This year I decided to do ‘Observing Teaching, Children and Mathematics’, with Dr. Seán Delaney as course tutor. I originally tried to enrol in this course 3 years ago but that particular course ended up not going ahead that year. This year I was delighted that it did. If you ever consider booking this course in the future, here are a few reasons why you should do it:

  1. Participants get to observe real teaching for 2 hours per day. For 1 hour before and 1 hour after, course participants discuss what’s to come and what has been observed. This is not a 20-hour course on the theory of teaching mathematics. It is theory in practice.
  2. There is as much focus on the teaching as there is on how each pupil learns. The fact that primary school pupils attend these sessions means that course participants can immediately take note of anything interesting to discuss or make comments on later in the day when the pupils have left.
  3. Course participants can contribute to what shape the following session may take by raising this during the final hour’s feedback session.

Our course tutor was quick to point out this was not to be seen as ‘model’ teaching, rather it was ‘public’ teaching. This is an important point in that this summer course is a teaching ‘lab’ of sorts, and that participants are free to question why the course tutor did what he did, in fact this was encouraged by our course tutor at the beginning of our first day. We also had opportunities to discuss the pupils’ reactions to Seán’s various approaches to the topics taught throughout the week and how we thought they learned best.

What I noticed most from this course was that the tutor strongly encouraged ‘mathematical thinking’ amongst the primary school pupils present. There was very little ‘instructing’ them how to do something and the majority of the pupils’ learning came from their own discovery through collaboration, discussion and investigation. It would be safe to say that the course tutor allowed the pupils to do most of the talking. The massive benefit of this was that through the development of mathematical thinking skills, they could use this way of thinking to apply to future mathematical problems, as opposed to memorising something that they were being ‘taught’ by the simplest (and worst) of methodologies – explanation. Memorising something is very unreliable and does not encourage real mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills.

I would highly recommend this summer course to absolutely any primary school teacher. It is not something that could be done online, the benefits of this course can only be realised through an onsite environment. You’ll learn the foundations of mathematics knowledge and methodologies during your initial teacher training, but you’ll learn a great deal more about how children learn mathematics if you sign up to this course. It’s definitely worth it.

CPD in Marino Institute of Education

PME vs HDipEd: Should Postgraduate Teacher Training be at Level 9 – A Primary Perspective

From September 2014, any postgraduate trainee teacher just starting their course would have enrolled on a 2-year Professional Master of Education (Level 9 degree on the NFQ). Prior to this, the 18-month Higher/Graduate Diploma in Education (NFQ Level 8) was sufficient. The change for undergraduate trainee teachers was that all B.Ed. courses must increase from 3 years to 4 years (remains at NFQ Level 8). Overall, there is no difference to what each course trains you to do.

The change from Level 8 to Level 9 for the postgraduate courses raises some issues.

  1. From June 2016, the first cohort of PMEs will qualify. They will battle it out with other PMEs and many B.Ed.s for any bit of teaching work they can get their hands on. Will PMEs be deemed to be ‘higher qualified’ than B.Ed.s based on having their training set at a higher level on the NFQ? Will there be a visible divide on this basis? Interestingly, the PMEs’ teacher training will be of a shorter duration.
  2. Will PMEs, during the course of their training, be expected to pitch their work for assessment at a higher level than their B.Ed. equivalents, due to being one step higher on the NFQ? Will this result in making it more difficult to pass the PME or to achieve a good result?
  3. Will a PME be deemed to be equivalent to an M.Ed., M.A., M.Sc. etc. in terms of academic progression? For teachers considering doctoral studies, will the PME fulfil the requirement to hold a master’s degree?

This creates two-tier teacher training. Teachers qualified at both levels will be trained to do the same job but there will not be equivalence of experience, achievement or outcome. A master’s degree should have a strong research element and while the PME (and now the B.Ed.) will have a minor dissertation element, I do not believe that it is comparable. An M.Ed. requires a number of years of teaching experience as a pre-requisite to entry into the course so that students will have a solid grounding in educational practice, therefore they will be deemed capable of presenting their work at a higher level. This will be missing for PME students.

Whatever the arguments are for or against lengthening these training courses, the big issue here is the reclassification to master’s level. All these issues could have been avoided if the new two-year course was still classified as a Higher/Graduate Diploma in Education at NFQ Level 8. There is no reason why this could not have been the case. Next year we will begin to see the implications of this decision.

Why I’m Voting NO to LRA

I attended an LRA information meeting yesterday evening at 8pm in the Regency Hotel organised by the INTO. I had a rough enough idea before this that I’d be voting no. Despite the efforts of the CEC’s representative and with a little help from a ‘Breis Eolais’ leaflet distributed by Voice For Teachers, I can categorically state that I will be voting no to this government’s laughable attempts at pay restoration. Here’s why:

  1. The Lansdowne Road Agreement does nothing to address pay equalisation between pre-2011, 2011 and 2012 graduates. There is a minor increase of roughly €309 on Point 1 of the 2012 scale but this is it. People are under the impression that 2011 graduates have already had their pay equalised but that is not fully true. They started on Point 1 of the scale, regardless of how they qualified (undergrad/postgrad). I qualified in 2009 and started on Point 3 of the original pay scale due to having trained as a teacher on a postgraduate (consecutive) course. Others on this scale who completed undergraduate (concurrent) teacher training started on Point 2. So depending on how you look at it, the 2011 graduates with their pay ‘equalisation’ will always be one or two increments behind what they should rightfully be on. 2012 graduates are still on an entirely unequal pay scale and the LRA, if agreed to, precludes us from making further pay claims during the lifetime of the agreement. In effect, the LRA sets pay inequality in stone. If we agree to LRA, we are agreeing to pay inequality.
  2. The Haddington Road Agreement hasn’t expired yet. It’s supposed to run until 2016. The LRA incorporates elements of the HRA but we won’t see a penny of an improvement for at least 14 months. 14 months is a long time and a lot can happen in that amount of time. If we agree to LRA, we’re waiting around for another 14 months for something that may or may not happen. Who knows? We may be asked to agree to something new, what with the general election less than a year away.
  3. Croke Park Hours! We signed up to this in 2010 and primary school teachers are now required to work an extra 37 hours a year. This hasn’t gone away.
  4. The LRA does not end FEMPI. We are being led to believe that certain elements of it will be unwound in the form of improvements in the pension levy, but without a clear commitment on the end of FEMPI, I cannot in good faith agree to something that doesn’t give FEMPI a sell-by date.

I know that there are certain people who will claim that pay will be increased under LRA in the form of partial payback of the supervision payment, as well as a separate increase of €2000 spread over a number of years, but what they’re forgetting is that this is not a pay increase. It is partial PAY RESTORATION. And it falls short of what was taken from us since 2010.

If you haven’t made up your mind yet, think about what this deal really offers. Ask yourself if our unions could manage something better if we rejected it and told them to go back to the negotiating table. This happened with Croke Park 2, and we got the HRA instead, for our sins.

We deserve better. Vote No.

Teacher Probation – College or the workplace?

As we approach the end of another school year, many NQTs and some not so ‘N’ QTs are completing or have completed their probationary period in schools across the country. The majority will be engaging with probation in the traditional sense i.e. they will have visits from a Department of Education inspector. A tiny minority will have the inspection element undertaken by their colleague (their principal) as a part of the pilot programme Droichead. Assessment of professional practice aside, there are some induction elements that must also be undertaken (attendance at workshops) in addition to completing probation to gain full registration with the Teaching Council.

Examining the traditional approach, is this an ideal situation for the probationary teacher? Two unannounced half-day visits within a timeframe of at least 100 days, sometimes longer for teachers with longer contracts. These visits can happen at any time. Therefore the teacher is required to give it 110% every day just in case of a visit from the cigire. Planning notes are to be bulked up purely for the sake of not risking doing too little. Enormous amounts of time are therefore required for this planning – all in the teacher’s free time. Very little time is left for the exhausted teacher to have any sort of a personal or social life. At the end of it all, your fate is in the hands of a DES inspector who may or may not be consistent in his/her approach when compared with the rest of his/her colleagues. This is a challenging situation for the probationary teacher.

On the other hand, we have Droichead. It removes some of the issues with the traditional approach but brings in a rake of new ones. As flawed as the external inspector approach is, at the very least you are not being assessed by your colleague, a person who you’ll see in your staff room most days and who you’ll socialise with on staff nights out. Under Droichead, your principal is the person who’ll ultimately recommend to the Teaching Council whether you should be signed off for probation or not. This changes staff relations at a fundamental level. Probation is something that arguably needs to be done, in some form, but perhaps not in this way.

As the title suggests, probation should be firmly integrated into the 4-year Bachelor of Education degree courses. Only a few years ago, you could complete a concurrent 3-year B.Ed. and be deemed qualified to teach. The changes to the qualification are merely artificial, therefore there is huge scope to add a ‘Probation’ module (or something less daunting) within the final year. There is talk of 10-week school placements, where student teachers experience a variety of settings in one school. This would be suited to what I am (and many others are) suggesting. The colleges of education would be the ones responsible for ensuring that their graduates are adequately prepared for the profession, and rightly so. This is an opportunity for decent change. All the Teaching Council needs to do is change their policy and go for the sensible approach.

Teaching to the Test

It’s that time of year again when primary schools nationwide will focus their energies on the administration of standardised testing. As has been the case since 2012, parents have a right to be informed of the outcome of these tests for their children in 2nd, 4th and 6th Classes. Many schools will report these results from 1st up to 6th as a matter of their own policy.

These tests are largely diagnostic tests. They will help to show teachers the areas where children have strengths in and equally, in areas where this is not the case. If a child needs additional attention, these tests will play a part in the allocation of that additional attention.

Staying with the topic of diagnostics, if I feel unwell and I decide to go to my GP, I won’t hide my symptoms. I won’t act healthier than I feel. I won’t hold back when asked to describe my symptoms. I will present myself as I am to my doctor and he will make a diagnosis based on this information. He will prescribe a course of action that will be designed to improve my health.

Let’s apply this same logic to standardised testing. Ideally, if a teacher administers a standardised English Reading or Mathematics test to their class, they’d do it because they’d like to see roughly what level their pupils are at. If there are any areas of concern, they’ll have a good idea of what they are and how to address them. This is what standardised testing is supposed to be about. If, on the other hand, a teacher decides to ‘prepare’ their students for this type of testing by either drilling the pupils with questions of a similar format, or worse, by teaching the exact material of the test beforehand, these teachers are doing no favours to their pupils, to their pupils’ parents and to their own colleagues.

I can only assume that it is a small minority of teachers who teach to the test. Some might claim that they just want the pupils to get the highest mark possible, but this is not the point of these tests at all and it is high time that this is understood properly across the profession. This approach robs pupils of precious Learning Support attention that they may otherwise have been entitled to had the test been administered properly. It will give a false indication of the pupil’s true ability and the child could end up slipping through the cracks.

Another ‘defence’ of teaching to the test is ignorance. Some will claim that they didn’t know that their approach would invalidate the results, but this is simply not good enough. It doesn’t take long to read the testing manual where it is very clearly stated what the purpose of the test is and how not to approach it.

Some might claim that School Self-Evaluation (SSE) pressures them into doing everything they can to improve scores. Well, I believe in doing everything you can for your pupils in order to help them reach their true potential. Teaching to the test does not accomplish this and never will.

There are some who will state that standardised testing is just a snapshot, that it receives far too much attention for what it is – and they’d be right. It is, after all, only a glimpse of what one child did during one hour on a day in May. What’s more important and valuable than standardised testing is what the teacher has to say about their pupils, having taught, observed and interacted with them all year. This is what’s really important. That said, while standardised testing still plays a part in school life, it is important that all teachers, as highly-qualified professionals, approach it professionally. Otherwise, the minority will do the majority a disservice.

Gaeilge in Primary Schools – The Way Forward

While attending Marino Institute of Education today for a bout of CPD, I had a discussion with a primary school principal, who’s working in Lucan, and to the forefront of our conversation was the issue of Gaeilge in primary schools. Ceist na Teanga, as some would describe it. I mentioned my own research into the teaching and learning of Irish in primary schools, which prompted this principal to inform me of the rather exciting initiative taking place in his own school.

 

Within this school, each class has two streams. In Junior Infants, parents are given the option of placing their children in either the standard type of environment for an English-medium school, or an Irish-language immersion environment. They would continue with this all-Irish environment until the end of Senior Infants. By the sound of things, this initiative is proving successful.

 

This would work particularly well in a large school, due to the choice being made available to parents between Irish instruction or English instruction. Not all parents would have the same incentive towards the Irish language, so everyone would be catered for. For this reason, it may not work so well in smaller schools with one stream per class, or even schools with multi-grade settings.

 

There is no reason why this sort of an initiative wouldn’t work in other large-school situations around the country. Every single primary school teacher with full recognition from the Teaching Council is accepted as having met certain requirements regarding the Irish language. Therefore we have a minimum standard. The big question is, would that minimum standard be enough in a situation where the teacher was asked to teach through Irish for an entire school-year? I would argue that it is not. A mark of 40% is all that is required to pass the oral Irish element of teacher training in our teacher training colleges. There will always be a certain amount of graduates who scrape through with marks such as this for oral Irish and other modules involving Irish.

 

Because we have such varied abilities within the teaching workforce when it comes to speaking Irish, the initiative described to me by that particular principal would be ‘hit and miss’ if applied nationwide. Although it is a fantastic answer to Ceist na Gaeilge, as things currently stand, the minimum standard of Irish deemed acceptable by the teacher training colleges is not currently high enough. The idea of raising the minimum passing mark for oral Irish from 40% to 50% should be examined. At least then we can be sure that our future teachers are equipped with the basic tools. Then we might be in a position to answer Ceist na Gaeilge nationwide.

Problems with The Teaching Council

Introduction

As of the 1st of November 2013, all teachers in Ireland paid by the state must be registered with the Teaching Council in order to continue to be paid. This can be seen as a good thing – it will mean that only people qualified to teach can register, which in turn means that only people qualified to teach (save for a small number of people without a teaching qualification that were automatically registered in March 2006) will be paid to teach. This is all coming about because of the commencement of Section 30 of the Teaching Council Act (2001), which is long overdue. One might be inclined to question what the delay was.

Like all good teachers, I have started with a positive. I might even try to finish with a positive. Now for the negative – the filling in the sandwich.

Droichead

Droichead is a proposed new method of probation for teachers that will allow a teacher’s colleagues within the school to be her assessors. The Inspectorate will no longer be involved in formal probation under this scheme. The school principal will have the final word on recommending whether the teacher has shown a satisfactory ability in the areas of teaching and learning, which in turn will determine whether the teacher can go from conditional registration with the Teaching Council to full registration. This whole process will free up inspectors’ time to concentrate on other areas like Whole School Evaluations and incidental (drive-by) inspections.

Droichead evolved from a proposed programme called the Career Entry Professional Programme (CEPP) which was widely rejected and condemned by teachers nationwide, as well as by principal teachers. With its tail between its legs, the Teaching Council retreated to its Maynooth HQ and emerged around a year later with the almost-identical Droichead Pilot Scheme. To date, a reported 11 schools have opted into this scheme, out of an envisaged hundreds.

The Irish National Teacher’s Organisation has issued a directive on this matter, which instructs members not to participate in the Droichead scheme. At the time of writing, the directive reads:

The CEC directs INTO members not to participate in the Droichead Pilot Scheme being proposed by the Teaching Council, pending the outcome of a vote by members.”

It has been reported at INTO quarterly meetings that all INTO-endorsed elected or appointed members of the Teaching Council were opposed to Droichead, but were over-ruled by the majority of the council, most of which were not from the primary education sector. What use is a Teaching Council for primary teachers where the majority of members are from different sectors and can easily out-vote primary sector members on matters affecting the primary sector?


The Cost

Initial registration with the Teaching Council costs €90 and costs €65 to renew registration every year thereafter. This cost is relatively low compared with other professional regulatory bodies, but the real issue is what does this registration fee pay for? Through conversations and observations about the work of the Teaching Council, it would appear that the majority of their work is focused on teachers starting out in their career. The following is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Accreditation and review of Initial Teacher Education courses
  • Recognition of qualifications from abroad (at an additional cost to be borne by the applicant)
  • Reviewing transcripts of results for Newly-Qualified Teachers
  • Administering Garda Vetting forms
What is the real benefit of paying for registration for a teacher after these initial steps have been completed? What can a teacher hope to gain from continued registration? The Teaching Council tells us that it will:
  • Promote teaching as a profession
  • Uphold professional standards
  • Publish professional codes of conduct for teachers
  • Research matters relevant to its objectives
  • Promote, develop and conduct research into Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Let’s examine these. In the everyday life of a teacher, the promotion of teaching as a profession by the Teaching Council is an invisible activity. A grand total of two examples of how they have done this through the media are available to see on their website. This does not inspire confidence.
In the area of upholding professional standards, the Teaching Council does not have any power in this area. This sort of power is granted to them at the whim of a government minister. The relevant section dealing with complaints against teachers has not been commenced yet. The argument could be made that the Teaching Council doesn’t need to be involved in this, as there are currently procedures in place to deal with under-performing teachers.
The Teaching Council has to date published two Professional Codes of Conduct for Teachers. The second was a revision of the first. All registered teachers received a glossy copy of the codes in the post, at huge cost, no doubt. Teachers got on with the business of teaching without such codes for decades. I have no doubt that teachers could continue to do so in the absence of these codes.
There is a plethora of research on education-related matters available. This has been conducted by teachers pursuing Masters level and Doctorate degrees, many of which are practising teachers or principals. A lot of this research will have added to the professional and theoretical knowledge of educators.
Five research pieces are available to view on the Teaching Council website. Is this all the research that has been done since 2006? In nearly eight years this is all they have on offer. One would expect more than that.
I have been undertaking continuing professional development since the beginning of my career. This has been at my own cost and in my own time. The Teaching Council has had nothing to do with it.
Back to the original point – has the cost of registration been justified based on what’s on offer for teachers after the initial stages of registration? Even though I only have to pay €65 a year for registration, I don’t think I get anything useful in return for it.
Conclusion

It is clear that the Teaching Council will only benefit me in one way – from 1st November 2013 being a registered teacher means that I am entitled to be paid from the public purse for my teaching work. If the Teaching Council didn’t exist, would it impact me in any way? Absolutely not. It has failed to justify its existence.