When the government announced that it was going to increase class sizes, the spin was that most schools would only gain or lose a teacher or two. After all there was only going to be an increase of 1 or 2 students per class. What has been lost in the fine print was where the cuts in staffing allocations are being made.
Today we found out the answer.
I’m going to declare my bias right now and say I teach year 7 and 8 at an intermediate school. Most people think I’m insane to teach 11 and 12 year olds and there are days like today that I agree with them.
Yet those outside of teaching you can never really comprehend the chaos that is spending your day in a classroom with 28 adolescents. Today I had one good moment but that was it. The rest of the day was just keeping up. And this was a pretty light day.
To be sure I’m not I’m not complaining. That one good moment is great. It’s a lotto win. It’s what gets me up the morning. However maintaining that balance between chaos and brilliance is also what often stops me from eating my lunch much less going to the toilet between the hours of 7.30am and 4.00pm. Something inevitably comes up that requires my immediate attention just as it comes time to grab a 5 minute breather.
Just like any age in the schooling system intermediate kids come with their own challenges. The challenge of teaching intermediate kids is, to borrow a phrase from Brittany Spears, they aren’t children but they are not yet teenagers. Intermediate schools reflect this stage of development in their organisation which is hybrid of primary and secondary schools.
My students spend most of their day with me which provides them with security as they make the transition from primary school but they also spend two sessions a week taking woodwork, cooking, art and music from specialist teachers which is similar to the model in high schools. I know my students value those hands-on subjects. Technology class give students a chance to build something in woodwork, learn some basic cookery skills, learn a bit about basic electronics and also receive instruction in the arts from teachers who have specialist skills in those areas.
Nobody is pretending that technology classes will immediately turn intermediate students into the next Karen Walker, Bic Runga or Bruce Farr. But the classes do give kids their first taste of what could be a life-long passion. Yes it is important that kids learn to be literate and numerate however a soft materials class might set off a spark in a child that leads them down the road to founding a company like Icebreaker.
To be sure providing these learning opportunities cost money. Yet for decades New Zealand have funded technology classes and I know what a difference the classes make. Not just in terms of kids actually getting a chance to put what they learned with me in maths into action but also to help keep kids who might otherwise be on a path towards disengagement from school a chance to shine.
Of course none of this fits well with the government’s mantra of primary schools focusing on reading, writing and maths. However there is a significant amount research that shows that exposure to the Arts and technology actually increases achievement in the 3Rs. This makes sense. There is little point in teaching kids to understand numbers without giving them a chance to experience measurement through cooking or woodwork. Moreover exposure to the Arts helps kids to develop imagination, curiosity and critical thinking which are necessary not just for success in exams but success in life.
Which makes me feel for fearful for what 2013 holds for my students and I. Reading a newsletter I spotted in my facebook feed from an intermediate with a similar-sized roll as my own the schools charged with educating our tweens are faced with a set of bleak choices. Magically find hundreds of thousands of dollars from their locally communities to fund technology classes or face laying off teaching staff. The latter move will entail an increase class sizes by six or seven students to give students the chance to enjoy specialist instruction or schools can keep classes the same and deny opportunities for specialist instruction to our 11 and 12 year olds that generations of New Zealand students have enjoyed.
Surely I’m not the only one out there who thinks our kids should be leaving primary school with more than a set of basic set of literacy and numeracy skills to enable them to pass NECA level 2. Our kids should have a broad education filled with rich experiences in the arts, technology, science and social science to help them discover their passions and navigate their own path through life.
Our intermediate school kids, well really all kids, deserve nothing less.