Tag Archives: students

Back to the (very scary) drawing board

At 4:30pm today I was hot and irritable, and running late for a workshop through no fault of my own. I hate being late – and in this case, it was for a workshop that I really needed to get the most out of. When I eventually got there, half an hour into an hour long session, I wasn’t exactly in a great learning mindset.

The workshop was on interactive whiteboards. I got there in time to see a fair few demonstrations of how you could use it, coupled with Active Inspire (which is used in my school). When the other people in the group started practising those skills, those of us who had been late were given a whistle stop tour of the techniques.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I got anything out of the workshop. My irritation at being late exacerbated an underlying worry that really got my head in a spin and left me pretty closed off in relation to the learning process. The thing is, I really don’t like ICT. I was never great at it in school – I wasn’t terrible, but it was never something that particularly interested me. Unlike a lot of my peers, who were always thrilled when we had a lesson in the computer rooms, I didn’t thrive in front of a screen. I still don’t, to be fair. I spend far too much time on social media and news sites, but actually I prefer it when I don’t have access to a computer as it takes away those distractions.

When I was in school, it was still pretty exciting if a teacher had prepped a power point. Smart boards came in a few years before I left but I never really saw them used a whole lot to the best of my recollection. However when you go into schools today it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see a lesson in which ICT isn’t used in some shape or form, whether that’s in the form of a simple powerpoint or a snazzy interactive smartboard presentation. Ofsted like it, and after all we’re living in a technological age, so at face value it makes total sense.

The truth is, the use of ICT in schools, particularly interactive whiteboards, makes me so angry and worried that in class today I was on the verge of walking out in frustration. I’ve been told that the research and anecdotal experience says that kids learn well with interactive whiteboards. This generation is very tech-savvy and computer literate, even if they come from deprived backgrounds, because they have access to shiny equipment at school. The problem for me, especially as an English teacher, is that I think they simply have too much ICT in their lives for it to be of much or any use or interest in a classroom situation.

To put it another way; my professional tutor told us a couple of weeks back to look at the “diet” that pupils were being fed in terms of lessons during our school observations. I’m pretty sure over the three days I didn’t see a single lesson that didn’t involve ICT in some way.

We talk so much about kids being unable to spell, read, write, add up, concentrate, engage. Is it any wonder, when they have been born into a world where a machine will spellcheck everything for you? Why concentrate when you know that the answer is just off-screen, waiting for a click or a dragging motion? Why bother to inquire or be curious about anything at all when all you need to do is type a few words into google?

I’m frustrated because I think it is very easy to use ICT for the sake of using it, and not because it is meaningful or increases the rate of progression in kids’ ability. I’m frustrated because I’ve got to include ICT in my lessons, and I never learned to love literature or language or anything for that matter through a series of slides, with a glaring backlight.

One of the best things we’ve done so far this Summer Institute is learn about Active Shakespeare, a way of exploring Shakespeare as a class, on foot, orally and physically. Although I am not entirely certain, I’d still be willing to say that this was the only session I’ve had that was “sans powerpoint”. And if I’m being entirely honest, I think I remember more about that session that I do about most others, although they’ve all been great. I’m not a purely kinaesthetic learner – I actually learn best visually, reading words. So it says something about my ability to view ICT as a useful tool, since I don’t think I have ever been able to learn from it myself.

I’m fully aware that a large part of my rage and sadness today was to do with insecurity and personal capability – because I am not good with ICT, I am really terrified of having to use it to facilitate learning on so regular a basis. Interactive whiteboards honestly put the fear of God into me. I don’t know how to use them, and I don’t particularly want to use them.

I can see the useful side of ICT – it is so much easier to not waste time writing instructions on the board. For SEN pupils (of which I will have many in my classes come September), simple and short instructions on a single slide, with images, are much more effective than oral instruction. I will use ICT when I think it is useful, when it is going to be best for my kids. Despite my lack of computer literacy, I do have some very strong opinions when it comes to good powerpoints; the anger I feel when I see a cluttered slide with clashing colours and difficult fonts is only equalled by the genuine anguish I feel when people misuse apostrophes.

I think if I manage to get some substantial time with an interactive whiteboard, and if I can familiarise myself with the Active Inspire Software over the few free days I have in August, I’ll probably survive. However I still think it’s worth bearing in mind that it may do kids good to have  a break from technology in the classroom whenever possible. Outside of class they are constantly on phones and computers, or watching TV. There’s nothing wrong with the written word, with tactile sheets, with pen and ink. It just takes a lot of guts to go back to basics, guts I hope I’ll be able to hang on to, if only to prove that the book is mightier than the slide.

Ps. Roald Dahl takes a somewhat more extreme view than me, but I still think he may be right.

And now the end is here…Reflections on my time as a student officer

I can’t remember when I started caring about students – that is to say, students as students. In my first year at Warwick, most of my time was spent with Warwick Lacrosse and RAG, and enjoying my degree. In the blink of an eye, it was second year and I found myself on the other side of the world in California for my year abroad. Upon my return to Warwick I was elected to the Warwick Pride exec, went to my first NUS LGBT conference and threw myself into my work at the Arts Centre and my degree. I had a great three years, and my time abroad, during the Prop 8 saga, definitely politicised me in terms of LGBT issues. But still, that was my activist base, not a Student Union.

I guess things changed when I remained at Warwick to do my MA. I was a freshers’ supervisor, which understandably involved spending a fair amount of time with SU staff, and promoting the SU. I think this was when things started to shift towards my Union involvement. I was also on Union council this year, as LGBTUA+ officer in the Union. And then of course, the tuition fee rise was proposed and the HE world exploded with anger. If I had to pinpoint one thing that got me into student politics and representation, that was probably it, but it’s not as simple as that.

It’s my last day in office today. A couple of weeks ago I was looking through photos of freshers, remembering the exhaustion and sheer joy of the sabb team greeting the new intake of students last October. A very small part of me wishes I could go back and do it again. Do it better, do it differently (some of it). A much larger part of me wouldn’t change a thing. And the rest of me is tired, and can’t wait to get to the pub (well, sports ball for tonight!)

I’ve said it before, many times, and I’ll say it again: this job is the best job in the world. I know there’s no concrete way of truly knowing that. I’m starting my teacher training on Monday, the job I’ve wanted to do since I was 9 years old and that I hope to spend the rest of my life doing. But I still say this: being a sabbatical officer is the best job in the world. Watching students develop themselves, contribute to education and their community and society – and knowing that you’ve been a part of that, is absolutely mindblowing. The pace at which students are moving and shaking is phenomenal – sometimes I sit back and wonder how the hell do they do it? It’s a pleasure to support students like that and see them leave at the end of three, four or five years a totally different human than when they first arrived on campus.

Of course, it’s not all like that. I’ve cried my eyes out, I’ve been sent spiteful and anonymous emails telling me that I’m not fit to do my job, witnessed my fellow officers in other unions be bombarded by smear campaigns and sexism. As a team, we’ve dealt with the horror of Bacardigate, students generally complaining/moaning about what we do, and we’ve spent quite a lot of time simply sitting together asking what the hell is going to happen to the Higher Education sector, which we all care about so much. We’ve put up with people saying that our jobs aren’t “proper jobs”. To all those people I say: come and spend a week in the office doing what we do. I doubt you’d last a day with that attitude. What we do is vitally important, and very difficult, and putting up with people’s idiocy and spitefulness is totally worth it, so you can bite me.

I’m so lucky. I’ve had a job that I love, wholeheartedly and irrationally. It may have been for less than a year, but how many people can say that they look forward to coming into work every single morning? How many people get to work with some of the most passionate students, the most dedicated activists and officers, the most patient and capable staff, and see their combined efforts improving the lives of people day by day? How many people get to be part of a movement? I’m one of the lucky ones. This job has made me determined that I will always work for improvement and change, that I will always do what I love and trust my gut instinct, that I will stand up for what I believe in. It has given me so much more than I ever thought it would.

I’m not going to talk about what I’m proudest of, or what I wished I’d done better. The long and short of it is, I’m damn proud of everything I’ve done this year – and of course I could always be better. But people come and go, things change –that’s the nature of the student movement. If I helped one student this year, that’s enough – and I know I’ve helped many more. At grad ball last night, I was able to look around the room and think to myself, the SU has made an impact on your University life. Whether you know it or not, it has. That’s enough. Knowing we’ve helped is enough.

I don’t have time to thank everyone I need to. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll probably send cards and emails to the people I need to. I like to think I’ve thanked everyone as the year has gone by, that I’ve let them know how much they have done. But just in case I’m going to list a few people here – this list is not exhaustive!

Firstly, Warwick Pride. My favourite society on campus who have gone from strength to strength over the last few years, who remain my safe haven to which I can always return and feel loved and accepted. I am incredibly proud of you and owe you more than I can put into words. Who would have thought that when I arrived at Uni, barely out in 2007, that I would end up a passionate and proud LGBT activist? Couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you. (ps. looking forward to Bows tomorrow night!)

Secondly, the Union staff. The Senior Management team have supported me so much this year and been very patient with me, and work so hard for students, it has been a real pleasure to work alongside you. And to the Advice Centre Staff – Meena, Sue, Ken, for doing exceptional work for students that is rarely easy – you are all diamonds. David, I would not have got through this year without you and I am going to miss you and our daily chats so very much. The SU owes you a huge debt. And to JC, our wonderful CEO – I honestly don’t know how you do what you do but we owe you big time. Thanks for being a brilliant mentor this year and for putting up with all my moaning! And EVERYONE else who works for the Union in any way – you’re all wonderful, thank you for everything you do.

Thirdly, the Student Support Team at the University who do an incredibly difficult job under huge amounts of pressure and have been a great support to me this year. I could thank lots of people at the University individually but this team deserves special mention.

Fourthly, everyone I’ve met during my time in the National Student Movement – that’s a LOT of people! Regardless of whether or not we agree politically, the movement is strong because of the passion and dedication of the people involved. NUS is vitally important despite its flaws and the team for next year has a real opportunity to set the agenda for the future of HE and FE. Don’t let us down!

Particular thanks to the NUS LGBT campaign, my political stomping ground, especially to the committee of 2011-12, working with you gave me some of my best times in the student movement, and marching with you is a privilege. You’re the best part of NUS and don’t you forget it! J And to my #tresamaze and #phenom welfare counterparts at other Unions around the country – thanks for all the support and advice and welfare bants. You’re all excellent. I won’t miss jiscmail even a tiny little bit.

Finally, I want to thank the rest of the sabb team. It hasn’t been an easy year and we haven’t always got on, but the work we’ve done, the relationships we’ve built and the fun we’ve had outweigh the bad times by a heck of a lot. I genuinely think you are all amazing and I’m so glad I got to work with you this year – can’t even begin to explain how much I will miss our general banter (also known as our weekly meeting) or our pub times. I don’t think a lot of students appreciate exactly how much you do for them but you do it anyway, and that’s pretty inspiring. I’m sorry I won’t be around for handover (gutted that I’m going to miss the “scenario session” – next year’s team are in for a real treat!) but I know you’ll do an excellent job of preparing the incoming sabbs for the challenges ahead. Sports ball tonight is going to be cracking, and I’ll be on the piazza at midnight for the key ceremony on July 31st and then I’ll get emotional about you all individually. Bring popcorn and Kleenex.

On that note, I’m going to force myself to stop. I’ll say thank you again to every single person who has made this year the best first job that I could have ever hoped for, and leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Margaret Mead which has kept me going, and will keep me going as I enter the world of Teach First on Monday:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”

First posted on my work blog, at http://www.warwicksu.com/blogs/blog/izzyjohn/2012/06/22/And-now-the-end-is-hereMy-last-day-in-the-office/