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Do you regret not working harder at school?

(50 Posts)
millyrainbow Fri 01-Jul-11 13:08:19

I work as a teacher in a secondary school with pupils who were assessed as average at primary school but have since been slipping behind and not reaching their full potential. One of the problems I have encountered are students who find learning maths and English totally pointless. I have tried to reason with them explaining that as adults they will need these skills to do all sorts of things from to budgeting for a weekly shop to reading their children a bedtime story, not to mention the trouble they could have finding and maintaining a job they enjoy. They are not students who can't but students who won't.
Does anyone have any real life stories I could share with them that could strengthen my case in demonstrating how important maths and English skills are?
Many Thanks

motherinferior Fri 01-Jul-11 13:11:24

I'm afraid I regret being too much of a tedious Oxbridge-bound swot who could have had a lot more teenage fun blush

Sarsaparilllla Fri 01-Jul-11 13:12:07

I think inmost jobs you need to have good English and Maths skills.

On a CV initially, spelling and grammar mistakes could stop you even getting an inverview.

How many of them hope to have thier own homes one day? It'd be very difficult to budget bills, rent/mortagage etc without decent Maths skills and they could easily find themselves in debt.

strandednomore Fri 01-Jul-11 13:17:35

Sorry I'm not going to be much help because once you've got the basics (adding, subtracting etc, and reading/writing) I still don't understand the point of maths and English. I have never needed to use trigonometry, fractions or algorythms in real life - now have I yet worked out what the point of reading Shakespeare was. Oh, and that's from someone with a degree in English Lit.
I wish schools spent more time on relevant subject such as economics, politics, modern history, gender, religion (not teaching A religion but teaching why everyone seems to want to kill each other all the time...), how to write a cv etc. (perhaps schools do these days? The furthest any of my children have got so far is reception so I am no expert...)
HOWEVER on the other hand, if they actually want to get a job and make money they probably do need the basic skills to get the job in the first place. And if they want to do something like engineering then I am sure maths is useful.

Coca Fri 01-Jul-11 13:18:12

I regret not taking school seriously. I look back now and think what an idiot I was. I also hate how my results are not a true reflection of my ability.

headfairy Fri 01-Jul-11 13:22:12

dh is brilliant at maths and he always said it wasn't the prospect of work that motivated him, but a desire to do well at the bookies grin I'm not sure you can encourage school children to bet underage, but understanding bookies odds (and eventually moving on to spread betting) was really the key to dh's maths skills which are phenomenal, he can do killer sudoko so fast it's scary.

I think that's the key, it's not so much the worthy and worthwhile desire to do well in life, but that it can actually help you enjoy your life more. I'm sure it's no help, but is there some way you can apply these skills to leisure activities or fun things rather than budgeting a weekly shop or applying for jobs which probably seem a million miles away to these children.

tabulahrasa Fri 01-Jul-11 13:23:12

I left school at 16 with 3 standard grades (Scottish GCSE equivalents) not because I'm stupid, but because I was desperate to be out of school, I didn't work, I didn't attend and I didn't bother turning up for half my exams.

I couldn't get a job, so went on a YT course which turned into working full time hours for the princely sum of £40 a week. hmm

I then found myself pregnant with my DS, stayed at home with him while my DP worked, had my DD (she was planned, lol) and discovered that although I'm literate and numerate, with no qualifications I was struggling to even get a job as a cleaner or a checkout operator...Why take on someone who couldn't be bothered at school when there are younger, cheaper (minimum wage changes as you get older) employees who did get qualifications.

I've ended up spending the last five years in college and uni, just to catch up with people who left school at the same age as me, but with better exam marks. It's so much harder now than it would have been to just work then, especially with kids.

I'm lucky that my DP has been able to support us while I did all that, but if at any point I'd ended up on benefits, with or without having children - there's no way I'd have been able to do my degree, it just costs too much and I'd still be struggling to find a crappy minimum wage job.

Without qualifications, especially in this day and age - you're unemployable.

saythatagain Fri 01-Jul-11 13:23:30

In short, yes I do. Hence I'm in going nowhere job in the private secotr not having had a wage increase for 5 years and factoring in the location - Hull.
I could have done alot better.
I still maintain that being happy supercedes gaining multiple qualifiactions & subsequent fabulous jobs - if you're minserble with life.

headfairy Fri 01-Jul-11 13:23:56

Oh and yes, to answer your op... I definitely regret not working harder at school. I had the ability but I was always the one talking and messing around. My sister was a super swot, Oxbridge grad and brilliant. I had the academic ability but I just didn't pay attention. All my school reports say I take part in lively discussions and enjoyed practical elements but never backed it up with serious study and thought.

saythatagain Fri 01-Jul-11 13:25:43

Aplogies for appalling typos - I did tell you I didn't do well at school blush

southeastastra Fri 01-Jul-11 13:25:44

to be honest, i think i learnt a hell of alot more when i left school - grammar and english by doing secretarial work and having a very bossy good manager who picked me up on errors.

at school i just wasn't ready and couldn't be arsed. i've learnt more from work than school ever gave me. and am doing a degree now btw, so i think it's not always quite so cut and dried

kayah Fri 01-Jul-11 13:26:02

If it wasn't for my maths GCSE/A-Levels iwouldn't have had so many choices of University courses as a mature student.

I wish I worked harder at German though, it would be nice to read books in that language.

millyrainbow Fri 01-Jul-11 13:37:07

Thanks so much for your responses. This is what I wanted to hear! I will talk to the relevant students about your stories. By the way, best student comment I had today was, "I can't be bothered with full stops, I can't see the point of them!" So you see what I'm up against!

threefeethighandrising Fri 01-Jul-11 13:37:32

When it comes to maths, there's always a crossover with other subjects. Take art for example. You can make loads of really cool shapes based on numbers. For just one example, if you use an x y axis and join 1 on the x axis to 10 on the y axis, then 2 to 9, 3 to 8 etc, it makes a great shape which you can colour in.
Or if they like cars then maths is good for working out how fast they can go etc
Or if they're interested in nature, explain how maths appears in nature e.g. The fibonacci sequence or pi. Show them some fractals!
To try to engage a child I would find out what they're genuinely interested in and go from there.

strandednomore Fri 01-Jul-11 13:47:54

Presumably you as a teacher need to show them the point of full stops? Perhaps have a full-stop free day and see what nonsense they come up with and how confusing it is.
You can see I would never have made a teacher wink

NotJustKangaskhan Fri 01-Jul-11 13:59:34

I agree with headfairy - I think you need to get more specific than just 'you need this to to get a job'. That's a bit abstract and they may consider it a long way off so they don't need to do anything now. You need to find a way of it having a point now and/or enjoying life more later rather than connecting it to work at some future point.

Since you're working in secondary schools, a lot of the kids will probably have gotten the message that school work or working hard isn't of benefit to them, repeatedly grounded into them. I had it ground into me by the time I was 8-9, so by secondary school I was a mess. Even when I wanted to try harder again in secondary school - as my goal was to get good grades to get out of there - the work ethic and pattern behind it was gone and it was a real struggle. I also had a lot of holes in my knowledge due to not working and moving around quite a bit which made things really difficult, especially in maths, until I was an adult and able to restart again from the beginning in those subjects.

AlwaysManana Fri 01-Jul-11 14:00:51

Maybe it's adolescent depression or similar psychological issue? If it's a significant problem could you have a chat with them and see if there's any underlying problems making them unhappy? Self esteem is shaky for the majority of teenagers.

I posted earlier in MH why I did badly at school and subsequently in my life.

Try to inspire them and get them to connect with what they're passionate about, rather than being apathetic teenagers. eg if you're a French teacher, in spare moments talk enthusiasically about your love of French culture & holidays, and put the conversation back to them about what they love and wish to be successful in. Doesn't matter if it's non academic, generally an enthusiastic can do attitude is more of a predictor of success than exams. Praise/ reward when they do well, rather than saying "you'll never do well in life with that attitude". That's what I heard, and it has become a self fulfilling prophecy.

tabulahrasa Fri 01-Jul-11 14:21:41

see I'm evil and if I was told there was no point in full stops, I'd prepare materials without them and when I got complaints about it not making sense, tell them they said there was no point in

TickTockPillow Fri 01-Jul-11 14:38:50

motherinferior - Me too. I was far too swotty and could have done with slipping a few grades, having more fun and maybe not going quite so mad later on!

But on a practical and responsible note: I wouldn't bother trying to convince them how wonderfully useful Pythagoras might one day turn out to be. I would tell them that all employers care about is if you've got a C in English and maths and if you haven't they will discount you for jobs. It doesn't matter how clever you are or what grade you are capable of getting or how talented and wonderful you are. All employers see is a print out of your grades and if they're bad, that will follow you around for life and you'll end up having to do years re-sits just so people don't write you off. So yes Pythagoras and Macbeth might be hideously boring but they are your ticket to getting two magic grades that will set you up for anything else you might want to do even if it is totally unrelated to studying English and maths.

headfairy Fri 01-Jul-11 15:22:52

I've been thinking about this over lunch too.... the key thing is that you can never persuade children that Pythagoras (to use ticktock's example) will be useful in life, but one lesson I've learned, which I wish someone had taught me then is that if you can't do the basic stuff in school then no one is going to trust you to do the bigger stuff. It's all about discipline.

I had a big argument conversation with a friend of mine that my business degree was worse than useless because I now work in tv in a creative role and learning about statistics and marketing hasn't helped me in that at all. What she argued was that it wasn't what I learnt but how I learned that was important. If you can show employers you have the discipline to get a degree then you're probably a pretty good bet as an employee.

I'm not a teacher, and my dcs aren't school age so I'm probably talking bollocks, but I thought some of the teachers on Jamie's dream school were really good at bringing a traditionally difficult subject to a classroom and making it relevant to today's teenagers, particularly Alvin Hall's maths lessons on how to become a millionaire before you are 30. Maybe it's because they didnt' have to follow the national curriculum so they had the luxury of going off on a tangent, but I think definitely there were some lessons to be learnt from them.

As for the full stops thing... get them to write a script, just a short conversational bit, and get them to act it out reading it without full stops in a continuous monotonous stream of words. See if the rest of the class can make sense of what they're saying. That's what I think puctuation adds, all the emphasis and fluidity of conversation. The hand waving and gesturing you can't put on a page.

erebus Fri 01-Jul-11 19:36:51

I use Pythagoras quite a lot in RL, actually! Seriously! It is actually very useful when you're assessing quantities of DIY materials etc to know how to find out the hypotenuse. Oh, and the geometry of a circle!

snailoon Sat 02-Jul-11 07:20:18

Surely the point of education is not just to make more money and be competent at practical things. Can't you be more idealistic, especially when talking about children? Our education should make life fascinating and richer in every way. Kids aren't interested in getting a job in later life; they are interested in what is fun today, and by "fun" I don't mean sugar coating the educational pill. There are a handful of teachers I have met who are so inspiring and in love with their subjects that they can lift kids out of the dreary drudgery of daily life. That is what education should do for all of us.
Do you remember the story of the teacher in an inner city school in Chicago who got all the kids playing chess and winning national competitions. Chess isn't directly necessary for job applications, but leaning that hard work and concentration are more thrilling than drugs and TV is what we want for all our kids.

sillybillies Sat 02-Jul-11 07:36:28

Great question. As a year 10 form teacher this is extremely useful. I've currently got a girl in my form who doesn't want a job at all or to go into further education when she leaves at 16. She wants 'to sit at home watching tv like her older brother'. In discussion, she also thought that £40,000 would be enough to live on for life. I won't go into detail of how that conversation came about.
This week I need to have a go at challenging her views. I've got some ideas but would be interested in any other ideas.

mathanxiety Sat 02-Jul-11 07:49:45

You don't really need inspiring stories. You need to find out why these kids don't believe they have a future. The whole not caring about Maths and English thing is a smoke screen. What you really need to find out is how to get them believing in themselves again, where they started thinking of themselves as failures, and how to get them thinking positively about their futures.

Nobody really needs Maths and/or the kind of English taught at school, but as Headfairy says, they need to demonstrate that they have the discipline to work at something less attractive than whatever else claims their attention, and the courage to roll up their sleeves and just do it. Everyone needs to see that some subjects are done just because that is required; doing them 'just because' shows willingness to accept the opinion of someone older and wiser than themselves, and everyone needs the courage to give school their best shot. The children you teach are afraid to try. Why?

Liluri Sat 02-Jul-11 07:52:07

If they were average in primary school but have since been slipping, it suggests that the way in which they are being presented with their maths/English work is not engaging them, or they are having difficulty in accessing it.

I think it is misleading to imply that if you don't get a bucket-load of qualifications, them you're doooooooooooomed!

I was an oily swot at school, and gained a good degree.
I am now working for a pittance due to childcare issues.

My OH has no formal qualifications, but the gift of the gab and a natural aptitude for business, so school was viewed as a hindrance that wasted time and stood in the way of world domination. wink

Life skills are v valuable, so applying lessons to practical, everyday issues is extremely useful.

Qualifications are only half of the story - being polite, personable, presentable and confident is also useful.

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