Right now, I’m taking a break from seeing all the students in my tutor group. Today is Mentoring Day, and it’s a chance to have a look at how each individual student has done on their school report, and to set some targets that will be worked on for the next term or so, until the next Mentoring Day where they will be monitored, assessed and revised.
I have to say that I’m quite enjoying it. It gives me a chance to talk to each student in my tutor group (for the non-Brits among our readers, I have a group of students that I am responsible for pastorally; they register with me twice a day, and I’m the first port of call if they are having problems at school or at home, and the person the parents call first if they have a concern) and see how they are doing, what their attitude toward school is, and to help them to set targets, or goals, for the coming year. This is quite important in Year 10, as this is the first year of their two-year courses leading up to GCSE, the equivalent of High School graduation in North America. If they’re off track now, they’ll have a hard time getting caught up in year 11 before exams…
But I do have a question – are the targets that we’re setting a good thing?
My life at the moment seems to be ruled by targets. As a teacher, I have to set myself a professional target at the beginning of the year that I am going to work towards for next year. For example, this year I’m continuing to work on a department policy for implementing ICT (Information and Communications Technology – or, in other words, computers…) across our department. I also have targets set for me by the national government – to raise achievement of boys in English, for example – and the Local Educational Authority (kind of like a N. Am. school district…) has set targets for the grades that they want the students in my school at achieve. And we’re always looking to hit or improve on the targets for last year.
And it’s not just education. The National Health Service (NHS) has targets set each year for reducing waiting times for appointments, or increasing the number of patients seen each week. Football teams have targets for how well they’re going to do each year. Companies have targets for how well they are going to do each year. On the face of it, targets are motivating, and if you make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Resourced, Time-related) you can see how well you’ve done.
But how young is too young to have targets? I’m reading a book by Alexander McCall Smith at the moment called 44 Scotland Street. One of the characters has a five-year-old son who has just passed his grade 6 tenor saxaphone exam, and is learning Italian. He, certainly, has many targets set for him by his mother. But when does he have time to be a kid? And while some of my students are extremely motivated and organised, some of them aren’t interested in school and find other things much more rewarding. Is it valid to make targets for those things instead of school? Or are targets our way of saying in the back-of-your-head grandparent’s voice that you have to do something worthwhile with your life, and this is how you have to do it?? Is it just a way of pressing our need for conformity on the younger generation?
There are people who find targets limiting and de-motivating. I’m a professional person, who is good at my job, and who, I think, cares about the students in my classes. Yet I feel guilty and slightly ashamed to admit that one of my major targets for the future has nothing to do with school – it’s to have and raise a family. When I look at some of my friends my targets make me feel inadequate, compared with targets to be a headteacher or to be running a department in 3 years time… But it’s just not something that interests me. I am looking into becoming a lay minister, but sometimes in my target-driven workplace having targets that aren’t related to school aren’t valued as much as they should be.
I feel as if I’ve argued myself in circles a bit, here. On one hand it’s good to have targets, but then they can also seem overpowering and regimental at times. And should people be dictated as to what your targets should be about? But targets do seem to work well for getting students to focus on certain things in school, especially if things aren’t going well and they are getting it in the neck from several teachers all at once…
I guess the jury’s still out on this one.