Richard Constable

The class A and B new norm

Is it going to work well or is the system doomed to fail?

Well, the cygnets and swans as I refer to them (female students from six to seventeen-years) finally reappeared at school to study on Wednesday 5th July, after what was three days short of a four-month 'staycation' which began abruptly on 8th March due to the last-minute cancellation of the school's annual summer course.

The teachers had already returned to school on the 22nd June, whereupon we were summoned to a meeting with management and given a succinct talk on several changes. Most importantly, the standard programme student classes that each consist of thirty-odd students would be split into approximate halves and each group would now only study at the school on alternative days. 

The news of these changes contrasted with not so much as a single word on how we were going to teach these half-classes.

Typical I thought and prepared to be slowly drip-fed the teaching method or theory from the hierarchy. At which point, other teachers surmised on how this would work as perhaps the absent half would be studying at home via online learning or that we would teach the same lesson twice; first to A and then to B. Third guess was the one that nobody wanted to contemplate, a sixth teaching day on Saturdays to accommodate the pending equation.

Over the next few days, we formulated, typed and later submitted our classwork, lesson plans and course descriptions.

On the first day of the new semester, a very subdued half-class of slightly bewildered fledglings (students) were being given a review of their PowerPoint Loom lessons - the 50-minute lessons that I had prepared alongside a worksheet that the school had sent to them every week for the previous five weeks. These were lessons that a student could study at any time and in theory for as many times as they chose.

Unfortunately, the class feedback wasn't forthcoming. It was the same four hands going up to every question. Not so unusual you might say, there are nearly always a few bright students that tend to dominate a class. While, I would wholeheartedly agree, it was the reaction of the other fifteen students that I was banking on. Were they were missing their mates as swans do (the other half of their class) or was it possibly first day back nerves, or simply the dismay that I was going to be their writing teacher for yet another school year.

Alternatively, could it have been the demands that had been set upon them? Namely that they are to study every other day - between school and at their home. And here's the rub, my thirteen to fourteen-year-old M3s having now been presented with their classwork were now expected to share the responsibility for their education.

For sure, that's it, self-education with little more than a five to ten-minute prep talk at the end of their classroom lesson from their teacher about tomorrow's home alone lesson and ironically, a comprehension worksheet. Fortunately, it does fall a little short of autodidacticism; where students choose the subjects they will study, their materials, studying rhythm and time, without any guidance at all from a teacher.

And so, curious to know, I asked them to raise their hands if, and only if they had studied their PowerPoint Loom lessons' over the past 5 weeks. No surprises, as just the same four hands went up. yet this time reluctantly, perhaps because they didn't want to make a show of their less proactive classmates.

It isn't even approaching 5th-grade math, yet let's do a recap anyway. Just four students out of a class half of nineteen, being left to their own devices with a prepared 50-minute instructional full-featured video - had chosen to study and this was for only 5 weeks.

As a consequence of the neglect of their studies, was I miffed? Only slightly. Would I have been in the circa 20% that studied the PowerPoint if I had been in the same position as them when I was their age? Not a hope in hell. Do I have an alternative way to achieve social distancing in the classroom? Nope.

Other schools have different methods of teaching Class A and Class B. For instance, the dreaded 6-day teaching week with teachers attending every Saturday and half classes of students attending every other Saturday. For another, Class A study at their school for a full week, while Class B are staying at home. The following week Class B have the benefit of the classroom and Class A are at home twiddlng their thumbs.

This is a nightmare if you are similar to myself and missed your calling. What I mean is, that in as a caring person I might have made a career in some form of pragmatic profession, still as a result of my nature, I feel a responsibility for the young mentees in my care. Why is that such a nightmare? To cut a long narrative short, simply because I will try my best to teach all to all as ever and under these circumstances, this is akin to trying to drink a heavy rain downpour to prevent a flash flood. As in, a pointless task that is of no benefit to anyone else, whatsoever.

In my experience the teacher is merely instrumental in the course of a student's education. And the key factors to high academic achievement are the curriculum, and the child's natural abilities and attitude towards her or his studies.

Ultimately, the importance of a first rate curriculum can never be overstated and as young people's opportunities to learn have already been hampered this year - an imperfectly thought-out course of study is the last thing they need.

To sum up, nobody is to blame for this Class A and Class B situation, but that said, it is never going to suffice.


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