The Summer Slump

At around this time last year I was in my final few weeks at the chalkface and I wrote about how difficult we make things for ourselves in schools. Believe me, I remember only too well the exhaustion that teachers feel at this time of year, but it was my experience that my job was made harder by the messaging sent out by the school. Everything from the ditching of uniform to the multiple interruptions to the timetable meant that students were given the subliminal message that school was already out for summer. Getting them to focus on work for what amounted to a still-significant percentage of the year was difficult.

This year I am on the outside, working with multiple tutees in dozens of schools. It is clear that in many schools the curriculum has stalled or been cancelled altogether and the school is free-wheeling towards the end of term. Many teachers have suspended normal teaching and told students to work on projects. Many of these are of dubious value, although there are exceptions: one or two schools are doing some excellent work with Year 9 foreshadowing the literature study that they will face next year, asking then to examine some portions of text as pieces of writing. Generally, however, students are working on “background” studies and messing about with PowerPoint presentations, none of which appear to be relevant to their current or future curriculum; most of them are only too aware that they have been given “busy work” in which the teacher is not really interested.

“My teacher says not to produce anything that they will have to mark,” said one tutee this week. As a marking-phobe myself, I cannot help but feel the teacher’s pain on this one, but it was perhaps not the wisest remark to make to the class. My favourite anecdote, however, is the school that has already collected in all text books for all subjects – that’s three weeks prior to the end of their year! Such extraordinary efficiency will do little to convince students that there is valuable work yet to be done in class and I do have to wonder how much say teaching staff had in this triumph of administrative order over learning.

Nothing will ever make me forget the sheer exhaustion that can overwhelm teaching staff at this time of year – and yes, the heat doesn’t help. But my own recollections are of frustration at the constant interruptions and the very clear assumption – by students, by parents and even by school leaders – that the learning was coming to an end. So I do feel for the teachers out there who are desperately trying to keep the learning on track. Certainly the students I work with now are somewhat puzzled by the downturn, especially those that have recently been pushed hard in the run-up to internal examinations. All of a sudden, it seems, their learning is no longer of crucial importance and some of them feel a little abandoned. It’s been a sobering lesson in just what an impact our own demeanour and our messaging can have on the students in front of us.

Photo by Tony Tran on Unsplash

Author: Emma Williams

Latin tutor with 21 years' experience in the classroom. Outstanding track record with student attainment and progress.

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