It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged in this blog. When it’s term time, I’m too busy to blog. When it’s holidays, I just want to switch off from teaching and I don’t really want to be blogging about education issues. However, yesterday as I was taking the bus, these thoughts just came swarming in my head and I took out my Nokia E72 and started organising some of my thoughts on issues which have been on my mind for the past few months.
Over the past two years as I formally joined the teaching service, I’ve heard so many misconceptions about teaching that I would really like to talk about in this entry.
Misconception 1: “Students from good schools do not need teachers. All you need is to give them a textbook and they will learn.”
I’ve heard this from many people who are not in the teaching line, including some family members. Most surprising of all, I heard this from someone who has been in the education system himself, though not in our Singapore system and he even suggested that good schools be allocated less teachers.
I believe any teacher in a so-called good school will tell you that this is evidently not true. I can’t speak for my subjects, because I do realise that I’m teaching subjects where the students really need the teacher’s guidance (GP and Project Work). Yes, students from good schools learn faster, but the role of the teacher cannot be denied. Being from a good school myself, I’ve seen how it’s important to have a good Mathematics teacher who translates the ‘textbook’ into something meaningful and understandable to me. Furthermore, those who make such statements neglect a very crucial aspect of education, which is assessment.
Gaining knowledge and assessment are unfortunately very distant. I’ve seen the brightest students around, who are able to think fast and have such a broad spectrum of general knowledge, and yet when it comes to examinations, they can’t score well. That’s because they don’t know how the exam works and that’s what the teacher’s role is. A teacher’s role is to help to strategize and work students’ knowledge towards the exam, to help them channel their intelligence productively. Of course, beyond just the exam, the teacher’s role of helping students to ‘channel’ their intelligence productively is even more important (which I will speak about in misconception 2).
Furthermore, that statement above assumes that motivation to learn is intrinsic and that students naturally want to learn. That is evidently untrue, even in good schools. If there’s something that is lacking in most students now, it is really intellectual passion. A good teacher is there to stir that up in students, to get their ‘engines’ for learning running. So, who says good students no need teachers?
Misconception 2: “Teachers in good schools have it easier than teachers in neighbourhood schools. ”
The usual way this is expressed is, “You should be ok right, teaching in a good school”, or “Should be no problem right, your students are well-behaved.” Another misconception, similar to this, is the commonly expressed admiration for teachers who choose to go to neighbourhood schools because ‘there’s more work to be done there’.
Yes, I don’t deny that teaching in a good school is probably less emotionally draining than teaching in a neighbourhood school. And I’m not putting down those who work in neighbourhood schools because their struggles are evident to all. In good schools, the same issues apply, just that it’s not so much dealing with disciplinary problems as it is with not maximising students’ potentials. It’s so easy to just leave your students alone in good schools because they are not ‘displaying problems’, forgetting that student development is still important. Furthermore, handling students is unfortunately just about half of the teachers’ work, sometimes even less than half. A fair number of teachers leave the service not because of students, but because of other aspects of work. I’m not saying that there’s no basis of comparison with regards to which school is better than the other, but using students’ behaviour as a standard of measure is extremely inaccurate.
Schools have a measure of how happy teachers are in that school and working with students is only one measure of it. I’ve come to realise many other ‘intangible’ aspects of the school environment really determine how ‘difficult’ the work is. Aspects of the work environment like reward schemes put in place, how much your work is appreciated and valued, how often your opinion is sought on matters can significantly affect the work experience, regardless of the students you have to handle. It all boils down to one thing – school culture. What is the school culture like? Is it one that is warm, encouraging and cooperative? Is it one where you feel supported to handle your work and the problems you face? That determines how satisfied a teacher is with the work, not solely the students we face.
Misconception 3: “Neighbourhood schools should not focus on grades, but on other aspects of holistic student development.”
To a certain extent, this is the flip side of misconception 1, though not entirely so.
Underlying this misconception is the belief that other aspects of holistic student development are more important than academics.
Having experienced teaching in a neighbourhood school myself, I have seen how a principal led her school during the Sec 4 N’ Level year by singling out specifically students who would not be able to pass the 3 important subjects (English, Maths and one science) and intensively working with them until they passed. This was a neighbourhood school, and the principal was grade-focused.
Why was she grade-focused? Because if the students don’t get the grades, they cannot enter ITE, Polytechnic etc. and might end up roaming the streets. Because if students don’t get the grades, they will have to repeat that year again and their whole 4 years of education in the school would be wasted.
There’s really nothing wrong with being grade-focused and in fact, it can be the sole aim of a school if the process and product are equally emphasised. If you think about it, is getting the grades you want really just about academic ability? I’m not talking about everyone in Singapore getting A’s. I’m talking about attaining the grades that the student desires, about improving, about committing and making an effort to keep up with knowledge and being disciplined to sit down and work out a problem. All these are part of holistic development too.
In fact, I’m wondering if a school model can be developed where all school programmes work within the framework of the subjects taught and not as something to be ‘added on’.
I realise I’m digressing here, so I shall stop. Please feel free to correct me if you disagree with any of the points I’ve raised above as I am aware that my experience of schools is very limited too, but the conclusions I’ve derived are from ‘balancing’ my experiences. It’d be interesting to hear perspectives from other fellow educators. 🙂