Judging – Student Judges

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

A Student is not an interruption of our work – the Student is the purpose of it – William W. Purkey Author (Professor Emeritus at University of Carolina)

As someone who has been involved in the education and training of judges for over 30 years, I have always felt any approach which increases understanding, knowledge and expertise should be supported and commended.  These approaches have included straightforward teaching and lecturing as well as ‘hands-on’ assessments, examinations where appropriate and, as described in some detail last week, mentoring (which, incidentally, had had an excellent response – see the database at http://www.ijudgedogs.co.uk).  I have also had some experience of the process and practice of student judging both in the UK and abroad and felt it provided valuable information and experience. However, I have now to rethink that stance since last week’s article by Ronnie Irving who indicated he was not too keen on the idea. As someone who also believes that when you have gathered or are presented with more information you should be prepared to rethink your position, I have been doing just that this week.

Ronnie explains that one of the reasons that judges are asked to have students in the ring overseas is because there are few if any open shows giving hands-on experience to potential judges. He explains that there are a range of different techniques from the occasional comment in the ring and a discussion afterwards to the student judge actually going over all dogs and writing a report for a detailed analysis later.  Of course, both the show and the judge (although not usually the exhibitors) have to be in agreement because inevitably, even in the simplest and most basic teaching situation, the judging process will take longer. Ronnie says that recently he has declined to take on student judges.  The makes it clear this is not because he is not happy to talk about Border Terriers (or any other breed he feels comfortable with for that matter) or make presentations to interested groups, but he believes that during the judging process you should be concentrating on selecting the best dogs and if for no other reason other then that exhibitors might feel that the judge is distracted from this basic objective when he or she should be focusing on their evaluations, assessments and reports.  He says ‘Exhibitors deserve to have the judge’s full attention paid their exhibits and not to a training exercise for another judge’.

I must admit to not having looked at the situation through this particular window before and it has given me a good deal to think about.

Catherine Sutton’s initiative

            It was Catherine Sutton who first suggested to the then Show Executive Committee that student judging should be a way forward.  She had seen it in action on the continent and felt it would be useful in this country too.  I took up the idea in my articles and with my students on the Judging Diploma course but, regrettably, the idea never took off.  In the days that I judged at Crufts, Terry Thorn asked if I would accept a student judge in the ring while I was judging Finish Spitz. I had had student judges on several occasions abroad so I was very happy to do so and I think both my judging and my teaching went smoothly and quickly.  Prior to the judging I explained what was going to happen to the exhibitors and all appeared to be happy.

As a result, in a number of articles, I tried to revive the idea and inevitably there was a great deal of discussion about the question of time and distraction as set out by Ronnie last week. To demonstrate that these understandable concerns could be addressed I asked several experienced judges if I could work with them in the ring at Richmond. I wanted to show the process could be simple, easy, not intrusive and quick. Dennis Coxall as Richmond’s then secretary acceded to my request and four judges agreed.

The way I did it was to simply sit at the stewards table and hand write reports on each dog as the judge went over it.  I then wrote my placings and the judges placings against the reports at the end of class. There was no extended discussion during the judging process.  The reports were, of course, not very detailed because I did not go over the dogs myself but carefully watching the judges while they were going over the dogs and sitting in a position where I could see the movement from their angle I was able to put together a reasonable analysis.  I am pleased to say that, by and large, I tended to select the same dogs as the judges for their final five in each class (they were all quite numerically large breeds with good entries) although there was considerable variation in the order they were placed – which, of course, was not unexpected.

After the judging I had a quick discussion with each of the judges to ask them for their overall view of the quality of the dogs they had judged without going into any detail. When I returned home I typed up my notes, noting the placings, and sent them to each judge for comments. They were kind enough to reply and one I was pleased to see, even used several of my notes in their critique!  Their comments were not extensive but they highlighted things that I found and some which I missed and I felt that I learned a great deal from the exercise without compromising the judges focus.

I would certainly have gained more from the exercise had I been able to go over the dogs but this is surely what we try to do in ‘hands on’ breed seminars so I saw it as an ‘add on’ to other ways in which experience could be gained.

No difference

            I wrote it all up at the time and it made not a scrap of difference. Ronnie says that he has been asked occasionally to take on student judges (this of course may just be abroad) but I have not been asked (I would be pleased to consider it) so I do not think that many are taking advantage of the opportunity.

So where to go from here? I quite understand and appreciate Ronnie’s concerns but I do think that there is real value in student judging if it is carried out in a way which ensures that the judges are able to concentrate on the job in hand and exhibitors are not inconvenienced. Ronnie’s comments must be taken very seriously for it is a little like the mentoring process discussed last week – it sounds easy but is more difficult to get right then you would expect. This time round it may be that as the Kennel Club Training Board develop their ideas for aspirant judges, it may get the boost that I believe it deserves while the complications will be taken into account.

I am extremely pleased that Ronnie Irving brought these matters to my attention and hope that it will be possible to create a framework which will have everyone’s approval – including his!

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