Trying not to lose the plot: are exam grades the whole point of my job?

11th February 2016 at 15:01
Subject Genius, Stephanie Grant, Trying not to lost the plot: are exam grades the whole point of my job?

It's very much the midst of key teaching time with exam classes at the moment, in case you hadn't noticed: the next weeks between now and exam leave are mapped out, we get much grumpier than normal about late homeworks and poor tests, and for those teaching new specifications we are anxiously trying to establish if we are getting it right. This is especially true for the new A-level with its new practical work setup. We are keen to get it right of course and for all the right reasons - pupils' grades matter hugely to those individuals, it would be wrong to say grades are not important. However, are we in danger of this being at the expense of what our job is really all about?

Spending too much time worrying about the exact procedures we are employing for the new practical work (which really does seem, touch wood, at least intended to be incredibly common sense) is in danger of seeing us lose the plot. We are really here to inspire and facilitate a love and understanding of the subject we enjoy so much, surely that is our primary goal. The ethos particularly in one school I have taught in was very much that good teaching and fostering a love of learning and independence should mean that exam results look after themselves. Of course a beady eye on the specification is important. When we embark on revision, endless past papers are probably also important. Getting practical work embedded well, and as intended, in the new A-level is important. But not at the expense of losing site of our real vocation.
At the start of term I was briefly at the excellent ASE conference in Birmingham. As well as the exhibition hall I attended two sessions. One was to reassure myself about the new practical endorsement. It was well explained by the deliverer and very reassuring. However I was surprised when some participants a) were getting very wound up generally and b) it emerged had just come from a different session on exactly the same topic! Bizarre! I left slightly before the end to make it to what I really had my eye on all along. A 13 year old environmentalist, Mya-Rose Craig, @Birdgirl UK, speaking in a lecture hall to encourage teachers to inspire the next generation of environmentalists. She was fantastic - really inspiring, and as a physicist out of my depth in many ways I learnt a lot. But she was speaking to, at most, ten of us. The previous session had been packed! Where were the other hundreds of attendees of the conference? Sadly probably in more sessions about exams either directly or indirectly. What a wasted opportunity.
So, it might be February, dark, exhausting, and we might have reports and tests coming out of our ears. But don't forget the whole point! I am en route to Astrofest as I write - a fantastic annual pilgrimage to hear about the latest research and results from various astrophysics and astronomy related projects. In moments I have thought 'why did I book onto this with all the work I have on right now, missing sixth form lessons to be here and having all that marking waiting in a pile on my desk for the weekend's entertainment', but I am so pleased I did. I don't think I should feel too guilty about this annual guilty pleasure after all.