I need to focus.
I need to focus on what each and every one of my students are doing and what I am doing for them.
I need to focus on the staff around me so I know how to help them and build a collaborative environment.
I need to focus on the syllabus and the greater curriculum requirements of the school.
I need to focus on the politics within the school to negotiate the best path for students.
I need to focus on what is current for the subjects I teach.
I need to focus on understanding and implementing the most appropriate technology for teaching.
I need to focus on my family and its needs and wants.
I need to focus on me and my health and general well-being.
Obviously it is a never-ending list but what is there, demonstrates how teachers are called upon to focus on a wide amount, often varying and contradictory demands.
My 15 year old son has mild autism and associated anxiety issues. It is extremely rare for him to approach a teacher or even ask a question in class. Therefore, if he doesn’t understand, nobody knows, he just isn’t on task. However, he isn’t on task a lot because he just isn’t interested. He’d much rather be playing games or watching YouTube, preferably of other people playing games. At school he struggles mostly with literacy tasks. Yet, if he is interested he can write a considerable amount on the topic. It breaks my heart when he learns an incredible amount and then some abstract question tricks him up in an exam. He was incredibly focused when Year 9 English studied genre in films via Edward Scissorhands. He talked about it at home a lot which shows the impact it had on him. The final exam question asked about the director’s purpose of using a wide variety of genres. He rattled off in over a page of neat writing all the evidence of the various genres in the film in fine detail. He failed to state the director’s purpose. He failed the exam.
The problem is that I am a keen campaigner for higher-order thinking skills and changing the exam culture of regurgitation. In my son’s case, for this unit of study, regurgitation style would have been great.
He loves Commerce. Right from Day One of Year 9. He was able to talk about what he did in class each lesson with enthusiasm. He obviously focused. I don’t know what that teacher did pedagogically but I know she cared for him as an individual. Relationships matter so much! As he became tired at the end of the year he was a little less focused and wasn’t able to regurgitate key definitions in the final exam but he understood the concepts with which they were associated. Understanding the exact meaning of words isn’t important to him.
In another exam he had to choose to argue about a supplied local, national or global issue. He chose to write about war in Syria and whether Australia should be involved (the global issue). The way to argue in an extended response was slightly scaffolded in the exam which was very helpful. He knew nothing about war in Syria but he knew about WWII from watching documentaries on Foxtel and YouTube and he transferred his knowledge to this piece of writing. I’m very proud of him for this effort. He focused well in the exam and managed that art of transference which so many students fail to do because they are so hung up on what they were supposed to remember. The teacher wrote on his paper, “You did it!”.
These are the success stories of last year. 2014 Year 9 was at a new school and though there were many changes and bad habits that needed to be broken, it was a good move in terms of finding a good friend and an improvement in attitude but there were still little heartbreaks for us.
My son is naturally good at Music and Maths but he bombs a lot in Music because he can’t be bothered with theory, he’s just interested in learning Music by ear and playing around with it, not writing about it.
The problem with Maths is simply focus. As soon as he learns a new skill in Maths, he shoots off with it, enjoys it and the method sticks. Since he started high school he hasn’t focused in Maths classes so he doesn’t learn the skills and then he bombs out. He was in the near top level at the start of Year 9 but half way through the year we were informed that he was dropping a level. His friend moved up a level. That was tough. As a Mum, I started helping him more and he lifted his results gradually for the rest of the year but not enough to be moved back up. We thought about paying for a tutor but then we realised that I could teach him it was just a matter of making the time and since I was willing to drive him somewhere for tutoring, surely I’d be willing to sit with him and review the week’s Maths. Since we made that decision I have revisited Trigonometry. As I re-taught myself Trig and taught my son, he just flew away with it. He still needs encouragement to do homework but knowing how to do it, might seem obvious, means he is more inclined to do his homework. We skipped today’s session because he was on top of it and I snoozed through last week’s because he only needed a push at the start. If only he focused in class he wouldn’t have to put up with his Mum being on his back at home. So if he isn’t focusing on learning new concepts, what is he focusing on? Well, the first teacher in Year 9 mentioned his phone being constantly used (where was discipline for the first 6 months before we were informed of this!) and I know from what he tells me, he also focuses on the poor behaviour of the students around him. He is often off task in class but he isn’t disruptive and he finds the other students rude and disruptive. He also hates working in noisy rooms. He is not a student made for open class style learning (not done at his current school) and needs implicit instruction to start him off.
When I teach from the front of the classroom, I try to focus on each student individually, looking at each of them to gauge their focus and try to shift it where it should be accordingly. The students say I’m one of the better teachers for picking use of mobile phones and other distractions. My focus is on the students foremost. Their learning in a safe and respectful environment is the foundation of my focus. But sometimes all the other things I am meant to focus on sometimes means the students are not so much in focus and I have to make adjustments to rectify it. When I completely lose focus from the students it will be time to stop teaching.