Nice dream, shame about the reality
An English teacher is excited by the new junior curriculum, but dismayed by the skimpy training for its implementation
Training teachers: ‘The real meaty work of transforming theory into practice matters more than anything else. This is where the new Junior Cycle will live or die.’ Photograph: Stephen Shepherd/The Image Bank/Getty Images
I’ve never been one to let sleeping dogs lie. I mean, what if the dog’s not sleeping? What if he’s already dead? He could lie there stinking the place up until someone finally recognises there’s a carcass that needs to be disposed of, and sets about doing the needful.
The new Junior Cycle was but a puppy when our eyes first met across a blinking computer screen in October 2012. And I’ll admit it, I was excited, both as a teacher and as a parent. The focus on active learning, on process rather than regurgitated product, on education as an enjoyable, engaging and challenging experience rather than as “something that is done to you so you can sit an exam” made it seem like my kind of animal. As an ed-tech evangelist I was also thrilled to see digital literacy embedded across all subject areas, even if the “how” of this remained a bit of a mystery given that most, schools have zero money to invest in their IT infrastructure.
I heard and still hear the critical voices loud and clear. The concerns they express are not without foundation: lack of resources; an ever-increasing workload at a time of exploding class sizes; a genuine fear that assessing our own pupils transforms us from advocate and ally to judge and jury; and a pervasive sense that it’s all just a box-ticking exercise: these are issues that continue to be thrashed out in staffrooms nationwide.
There is also significant anxiety about the gulf between what the NCCA proposed and what the Minister is implementing; it appears he listened to the experts up to a point and then just went on a solo run.
Sadly, it seems our Minister intends to keep doing this as the new framework for Junior Cycle – “one of the most significant reforms of post-primary education since the foundation of the State” – is implemented. Therein lies the problem. Dreaming up this vision for change is in many ways the easy part. Implementing it is a whole other beast.
As English is the first subject to introduce a new specification, you would imagine that I’d have had some training by now. In fact, as an English teacher, I will begin teaching the new course to incoming first years students in September 2014, and I will have had just one day of in-service training. As a parent, if it was my son or daughter starting secondary school next September, I would be very worried indeed, as these kids become crash-test dummies while the teachers figure out the messy business of how these glossy framework documents (only one per school now – we’re in a recession, you know) might work in practice.