Before I begin I would like to highlight that I am a newly qualified teacher currently studying a Masters of Education in the hopes of finding a teaching job in Ireland. I am not a journalist or a professional writer. The opinions express in this post are all my own. I am no expert in politics I am yet to join a teachers union and my first love is always my interest in Education.
Recently teacher’s unions in Ireland have announced that if the concerns of many teachers surrounding the new Junior Cycle Student Award are not addressed they will stop co-operating with the Minister of Education. Since this announcement I have seen and read many articles online outlining the main concerns of teachers and explaining why teachers around the country are awaiting the arrival of September 2014 with great anxiety and caution. Each newspaper, online journal, twitter post and facebook status was followed by the expected “Teacher’s are always complaining”, “Teacher’s have it easy three months off for the Summer along with Easter and Christmas Holidays”, “Teacher’s constantly complaining damages the profession”. It is not my intention to delve into any debate with these individuals who seem to be over looking that teachers concerns are not for their jobs, it is not over pay cuts and it is not over working hours. The main focus of this announcement is our students and preserving the high standards of education we have within Ireland.
I was first introduced to the new Junior Cycle Award in college and I sat in the exam hall in my 3rd year exams answering a question based upon implementing the new Junior Cycle Award. My first reaction was “this is fantastic, finally moving away from root learning”. As a student continuous assessment was my forte. Projects, portfolios and group work were always the area that allowed me to show my creativity. The exam at the end of the term was my downfall. I could never perform to the highest of my ability. So as you can imagine, as a teacher in training and a CA enthusiast the new Junior Cycle sounded like the perfect solution.
However, as I studied the new Junior Cycle as part of my education module the cracks began to show. My main concern is the removal of external examiners.
The new Junior Cycle will see external examiners removed and replaced with internal continuous assessment carried out by schools. The minister and department of education have stated that there will be guidelines and mock papers for each teacher to follow when correcting and assessing students work. This I feel is not enough. Removing external examiners can make it impossible to regulate, compare and preserve standards of education throughout the country. For each student to get a fair and equal award external examiners with a neutral perspective are essential. Many have said that the whole world today operates with internal inspectors and assessments and to a certain extent they would be right. However, I say yes to both. Keep internal inspections but also use external examiners to make sure standards are upheld. Internal inspectors know the students, they know how hard they work and they have worked with the students throughout the year and want each child to succeed. However, an external examiner can uphold standards and make sure assessment guidelines and protocols are being kept.
As a teacher I do not want to undermine or damage the teaching profession by what it seems to be “complaining” by many in the general public. I want to preserve the teaching standards and keep these high standards of education within Ireland. I want my future students to have the best education I can give them and in its current state I do not believe the Junior Cycle will be able to provide the standard I and everybody else should expect within our schools.
There are those within the teaching profession who stand behind the Minister and urge him to stand strong when implementing this new Junior Cycle Award. They believe slowing the process down is not the answer that Teacher’s, good teacher’s are the key to implementing this new Junior Cycle. To those individuals I thank you for your show of confidence in the teaching profession but I would also like to remind them about a certain Aesop’s Fable ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’
The Hare was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.” The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.” ”That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.” ”Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?” So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race.
Moral of Aesops Fable: Plodding wins the race.
Now picture this story:
The Minister and department of Education along with other education professionals were once boasting of a new Junior Cycle Student Award. “move away from root learning, promote creativity and great opportunities for students to experience new subjects and all to be put forward and implanted as soon as September 2014…it cannot be beaten…the sooner we start the better”. Now some teachers said quietly “we accept this challenge….but we think we can do better…we don’t think implementing this new Junior Cycle as soon as September is the right way to go…let’s slow down and make it right first the first time around”. The department and minister said “Is this a joke?” “The new Junior Cycle will be in place by September 2014…and we will adjust as we go” So the teachers and the minister decided to race. So a course was made and the race began. September 2014 arrived and the minister pushed ahead with the new Junior Cycle but stopped along because education standards had dropped and internal assessment was not being regulated, the capacity of schools to implement the new Junior Cycle programme in the wake of a litany of cutbacks, and there was a rise of inequalities between schools.” The department of education looked up and saw the other teachers who amongst themselves implemented a Junior Cycle that addressed and dealt with many of the cracks that began to show early on had reached the finish line.
Moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the race. Fix the problems now listen to the concerns of the teachers and together we can all win the race…..and give the prize to our students.