The ‘M’ word and why it worries me…
A bit of background, I’m lucky to have taught my Year 9 classes throughout Key Stage 3, during our lesson on tracking hurricanes the word I dread at this time of year came up… ‘options’.
My usual advice is
- Take what interests you, if your good at it, but not interested, it will be become difficult to maintain your progress. (I’m not worried about ability – interest is key- it overcomes most difficulties.)
- Don’t choose what your friends pick, why? Same as point one.
- Don’t choose because of the teacher, you might not get them.
If they ask me about the course, I will speak to them individually, but mainly I tell them ‘more of the same, you’ll work hard and I’ll do my best to support you’. By more of the same, I mean approaches to learning; though I do feel the new Geography Specs have lost a key opportunity to reflect changes in the subject: I’m really impressed and interested by the History spec our department has chosen.
Now I feel I have a good relationship with this class, they speak openly and frankly with me, so feel at ease telling me they won’t be taking Geography, some tell me they have enjoyed the subject, but won’t be taking it next year. I’m not particularly worried about this, should I be?
I feel uncomfortable when I hear of strategies to ‘encourage’ students to choose subjects, particularly the use of terms ‘advertising’ and ‘marketing’, for me this is education, not business, we’re already subjected to the market in terms of league tables, let us not further encourage the growth of this language. Students are learners, not consumers or clients. At last year’s parents’ evening I was told by one parent that ‘I was in competition with French, what can I offer?’, I said ‘I was in competition with no one’. I refuse to devalue any body of knowledge to further my own subject.
The process of developing an interest in the subject begins in Year 7, not 9, it is a complex recipe, individual relationships with students, interesting and relevant subject knowledge, a variety of learning approaches, peppered with extra-curricular opportunities. I worry about students taking a subject based on a presentation or exciting taster lesson alone, only for the promises not to be met; resulting in a disinterested and de-motivated student over two years. Not all learning will be exciting, success sometimes is based on discipline and hard work, interest bridges these difficult times.
I would also worry about looking foolish, students today are media-savvy, they are bombarded with marketing constantly, how could I compete? They would see through the charade with ease, why is he making so much effort? What’s the issue? Is there a problem? I experience the same with door to door sales, if it is so good, why are you making such an effort to persuade me?
I also worry about promoting the economic utility of a subject, why? They’re fourteen years old. At this age I wanted to be an astronaut, I imagine their career ideas will change daily. Does every bit of knowledge need an economic value? Shouldn’t learning be the reward in itself? How do you place ‘ economic value’ on appreciating the processes at work on a landscape? Isn’t the intrinsic value of learning enough?
I think we have to accept that students have a greater variety of pathways these days, what is most important is that student make choices on interest; as a result we also need to accept that however good the teaching, the curriculum opportunities, the fieldtrips, our relationships, some just won’t be…
Should I be worried?