xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Acronyms. It's not always as easy as ABC.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Acronyms. It's not always as easy as ABC.

There is a lot of talk today about the need to carefully prepare undergraduate teachers so that they are well equipped to educate the next generation of Australians. I have always been interested in nurturing the next generation of teachers. I actually spent two years at Graylands Teachers College lecturing trainee teachers in Science and Mathematics. Of course, student teachers are now more fashionably called, Pre Service Teachers. I try to avoid the term Pre Service Teacher. To me it sounds like something that you pop into the microwave or maybe pick up at an IKEA store.
I have been retired for some time now, but I think I may try to get back in to an education faculty at one of the universities to provide what could be the most important education course of all, Educational Acronyms 101.

Yes, these days no educator can conduct an erudite conversation about schools and schooling unless they have a good understanding of educational acronyms. I mean NAPLAN, PISA, AITSL, SBM, GERM, RED, LOTE, SID, ERG, FTE, ESL, BER,  SAER, HRMIS, IPS, RAMS and now SCFM are just a few of the acronyms that crop up in daily conversations between principals and teachers. Conversations about SID and ERG are usually conducted with quivering voices. These are just some of the hundreds of important acronyms that student teachers will need to comprehend and be able to drop intelligently into their conversations with colleagues, if they are to gain and maintain professional respect.

About the only acronyms going around in the 1950s were HM for Headmaster or Headmistress and DHM and FM for the Deputy and First Mistress. It should be noted that a First Mistress was not a Headmistress but the female equivalent of a Deputy Headmaster. WAPPA had its origins with the formation of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Association on November, 25, 1953, which gave birth to the acronym HHA. In the early 1970s the Education Department decided to call primary Headmasters and Headmistresses, Principals, so around 1974, the HHA morphed in to WAPPA. We all know what WAPPA stands for. It stands for no nonsense where the Principalship is concerned.

 When I started my teaching career, back in the depths of the 20th Century, about the only acronym I needed to know was ED, which of course were the initials of the Education Department. Over the years ED became EDWA, WAED, MOE, DET and now the DOE. There were a couple of others: PE for Physical Education and PEAC, a programme for extending and challenging gifted children. PWD was the Public Works Department that visited schools at least every seven years for a Repair and Replace maintenance programme. Over the years the PWD acronym changed as did, sadly, the quality and frequency of the maintenance. PWD became BMA, then CAMS. Not sure what they call it today, which is probably just as well because it probably isn’t printable.

During the 1970s we then met up with USSR, not the communist dictatorship, but an acronym for the Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading programme. The idea was that after lunch everybody in the school would read silently for ten or fifteen minutes or until somebody interrupted. Some problems occurred when hard working teachers actually fell asleep during this glorious period of golden silence and nothing else happened until some brave, or foolish student, managed to wake them so that lessons could resume. 

In the 1980s an interesting group of fun loving, retired educators used to meet for social occasions in the State School Teachers Union building. In order to attract more retired teachers and administrators to these friendly gatherings, some wit decided to advertise the meeting times and the venue in the Union’s newspaper, The Western Teacher. These adverts ran for about three months before somebody in authority at SSTUWA decided that the group’s acronym was not suitable for publication. So, sadly, the Retired Officers Of The Education Department group gradually disbanded. You can work it out.

I was so keen on using acronyms that I even made up two of my own to use in the school programme at Donnybrook District High School in the late 1970s. It was at the time when Manual for boys and Sewing for girls was being replaced by more general craft activities for both sexes on each Thursday afternoon. We decided to devote Term Three to having a variety of art/craft options, which children from Year 4 to Year 7 could choose to join. By utilising the skills of the staff and various parents, we offered Macramé, Tie-dying, Knitting, Clay Modelling, Design, Woodwork, Metalwork (Well it was a District High School and the Manual Arts teachers were keen), Puppet Making, Electronics, Motor Mechanics, Basket Making and Cooking. I taught science to the Year Ones so that Mrs Tricia Gibbs could take the macramé class. We had about 8-12 students from Years 4 to 7 in each group. After five weeks students moved to their second preferred option. The programme worked quite well. We called it Child Hobbies And Other Subjects.  That’s CHAOS for short.

Then we thought if we can do it for art and craft maybe we can do it for sports as well. This led to children being able to choose from a variety of sporting activities instead of the usual football and netball, however, we made sure that the sports option programme started after the football and netball season finished.  Once again, by utilising staff and parents, we were able to offer basketball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse (junior version), tennis, golf, badminton, softball, table tennis and lawn bowls. As per the CHAOS programme, children from Years 4 to 7 indicated their first and second preferences and we changed groups after five weeks. We had between 8 and 16 students in each group. We conducted this programme on Wednesday afternoons. We called it Really Interesting Other Type Sports. That’s RIOTS for short.

Both of these programmes worked quite well. Indeed, the only real problem I had with them was when the South-West District Director, Barry Godley, visited the school and noted that, according to the timetable, RIOTS and CHAOS occurred  each Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. Of course, when I explained the situation, Barry was very happy for CHAOS and RIOTS to continue at Donnybrook District High School.

I suppose this was when I first realised the value of everyone knowing exactly what an acronym stands for. In my recent role on the WAPPA Support Line I have noticed more and more how principals tend to use acronyms as if they were actual words.

“My RED and CRO did not support my BER proposal at all. Now they tell me SID and ERG may become involved. I have made an appointment with EASE.”
“According to PISA and NAPLAN we are making good progress as far as the OECD is concerned but ACARA says AITSL will need to be revisited if we are going to improve LOTE and ESL."
“I looked on RAMs for a redeployed TDSC, but because we are an IPS the RED said I needed to rationalise my AFTE with my SFTE.”

Fluent acronym speakers will have no trouble translating the above examples, although a few may struggle with the principal searching RAMS for a Teacher Development School Coordinator, that's  TDSC to anyone fluent in Acronymonia.

Today on the WAPPA website I saw an advert for a SKWIRK. I do not know what the letters stand for but I found out that it is an online teaching resource. I am not sure if it is a true acronym or just an eye catching alphabetic pot pourri. There could be a worrying trend developing, where pseudo acronyms infiltrate Educated Acronym Eduspeak (EAU). This could create confusion in all Eduspeak conversations. On second thoughts, maybe I need to expand my Student Teacher Acronyms 101 course in to full blown PL programme for all WAPPA members. Thanks to modern IT I can run it from my own website. I will call it Basic Acronym Learning: Online Now Every Year.  That’s BALONEY for sure!

This article was first published on December 1, 2014, on The Font of Noelage at noelswriting.blogsite.com.au

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