This is the final part of my three part special on the topic of education. If you notice the titles of the entries, all of them has a question mark to them, which means, that it is not a statement but rather, a question. And how you view, know, determine and answer it, is all up each and every individual. Portions of the article below is taken off the net in bits and pieces and I have also added some of my own thoughts as well. Please do read it with an open mind.

Part III – Good Teachers or The Lack of Them ?

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In Part II, Education – Elitism In The Education System ?, I posted about the presence of elitism in the education system and how upon contrary belief, that it is one of the main reasons on why there is a divide and gap in our education structure. And While I do understand that elitism can have negative connotations, that entry was not meant to discuss elitism in that light. The reason why I am revisting and discussing the elitism issue there is simply because I find the entire debate about elitism to be over a very narrow definition. Yes it is.

And towards the end of that entry, I talked about how in education, the role of a teacher played a heavy role in nurturing the thinking process of the students from young. And of how I read an article lately about a senior teacher who wrote in to Lianhe Wanbao some time ago, of an fresh NIE trained teacher who studied in an elite school but was assigned to teach in a normal neighbourhood school instead. After a few days, he got a supreme culture shock. He immediately asked for a transfer due to the fact that he couldnt fit in.

Well, since this story is kind of  related to both Part II & III, let me take share with you this story first before I move on & begin with Part III. What follows below is a translation of an article by the writer “He Meng” on a daily copy of “ZbNow” on 15/03/10 and recounting his experience with a young teacher newly posted to his school. Read on.

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Hearing that a new teacher, recently graduated from NIE, will be posted to my school, I eagerly waited in my office for him, expecting to have a succesor who will share with me the noble mission of education.
Expecting him to be full of youthful drive and idealism since this was his first job, I immediately started to brief the new teacher about his job scope when he arrived. However, I realised that he was unusually quiet and expressionless.
He slowly explained: “Sorry, I will be posted to another school in two days’ time. I have already requested for a transfer from MOE; I am now awaiting the re-posting”.
“Oh, I see!” I was greatly puzzled; why was he applying for a transfer when he have not even started work at the school?

He explained with great honesty: “When I received the notification that I will be posted to this school, I immediately went to apply for a transfer with the HR department. I have heard that neighbourhood schools, such as this school, have a lot of ‘problem students’. I am from XX Junior College, I would not be able to adapt to such an environment”.

A prestigious graduate of an elite school cannot teach in a neighbourhood school? I was greatly saddened for the sake of my neigbourhood school and for the sake of the many “problem students” under my charge.
Admittedly, they are a misbehaving lot: fooling around during lessons, not handing in assignments, playing truant, getting into fights, smoking and even drug-taking; they are in greater need of education and rehabilitation. But I did not expect that a new teacher will despise them and avoid teaching them.

On the first day of school, being unable to get his request for a transfer approved, the new teacher still reported to work. This was what I expected! Barring you having “special connections”, which employer will allow you to freely choose where you want to work at?

After a few days, he came to my office, dejectedly saying: “I am about to have a mental breakdown, I cannot tolerate the students’ misbehaviour anymore. I want to quit, I do not want to fritter away my life, I do not mind contravening my contract and paying reparations…”

After my initial shock, I replied: “Young man, you are very fortunate to be able to enjoy being educated in ‘elite’ schools since young, to have a good family and schooling environment, to live in such a protected and happy environment and not come into contact with those from another socio-economic milieu.

Before coming to this school, I was also unaware that Singapore has so many low income families which are struggling to survive. 60% of the students here have parents whom only have primary school education, 30% of them come from single-parent families; having a hard life, these children already have a bad starting point and live in a maladjusted environment, thus bringing all kinds of bad habits and problems to school.
Hence, in order to bring them onto the correct path, we need to approach and teach them with greater love and patience”.

At this point in time, an expression of doubt and shock was on the new teacher’s face. I told him: “Go see a doctor and take a few days’ break. When you have considered carefully and made a decision, then come and discuss with me”.

Unfamiliar with the purpose of education and unaware of the hardships of being a teacher, this new teacher has entered into the world of teaching. Was this because he was attracted to the high salaries in the teaching service or was he unable to find another job due to the economic recession?

In the end, the new teacher did not resign. However, a year later, he was transferred to an “elite” school to teach a “gifted” class; perhaps “elites” are more compatible with “gifted” people. Yet, if every teacher was like him, who will educate the students in neighbourhood schools?

Personal remarks: While I know that not every individual joining the teaching service is like the teacher described above, I cannot help but wonder how many are like him or joined the teaching service due to the monetary benefits or their inability to find another job.
What implications will this have? In the end, as cliched as it may sound, being a teacher is a calling, not just a job.

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Kinda shocking and amazing huh ?

Hmmmm . . nah, having worked in the education line for a few years now, I’ve pretty much heard and seen cases and people like the above before. Yes, I have.

But as the media, news and public nowadays keep focusing its spotlights on the teachers instead on every single wrong things or turns the students or school has made, comes the classic questions that everyone has in their mind at one point of time or the other, once again.

Are the teachers nowadays good are or are they not ?
If not, why aren’t they good ?  Don’t they have the passion ?
Or are they just doing it for the money ?

Well, this is what I really really think.

Teachers, or rather the lack of good old-fashion responsible teachers, the inability of the system to retain the talented ones, the low teacher to student ratio, the mind-boggling CCA workload, the long hours are all the woes we hear about teaching.

It is said that being a teacher is no longer about teaching. It’s about writing proposals to help the school win awards or about going through motion since the students would then learn from the private tutors anyways. Even better, teaching is simply a way to get oneself out of the unemployment ratio, thus the saying “Those who can’t do, teach”

And I seiously believe the whole teacher/teaching system is due for a huge revamp. At the end of the day, the higher power are the ones who have to wake up and enforce these changes and solutions. The solutions below are pretty straight forward to me although I must admit this is just really from my layperson point of view. .

The admin workload of writing proposals, involved in CCAs

It is pretty clear that there is a need to increase admin headcounts for these jobs. Teachers are supposed to teach and they should be compensated for teaching and rewarded for being able to teach well ie the students genuinely love learning from the good teachers and their grades improve when they get a good form teacher.

As for the admin staff, they would be involved in the CCAs, the awards, event organizations and their compensation would reflect their output on these jobs. They are equally as important as teachers, so no double standards please.

Inability To Retain Talent

Partly related to the first point, as teachers spend more time doing work that they don’t like, working long hours but getting less satisfaction, is it a wonder that most good teachers would leave to become private tutors? Of course, we forgot to mention that teachers’ salaries have not risen to match other professions because it is not set by the market, but by the Govt.

Hence the solutions are pretty simple. Make teaching enjoyable again by reducing the workload, reducing the working hours and increasing the pay of teachers. In the old days, I believe teachers would be in the top quartile of income earners in Singapore.

It was regarded as a profession, and a noble one. Today, as income rises exponentially, teachers are no longer earning as much in a relative sense and private tuition pays well because it is set by the market. As we have discussed, since the whole system creates these scarcity premiums all over the place, prices skyrocket and the best teachers leave to become private tutors.

I am not a fan of tuition cause a lot of people make money out of it. And the reson on why it is so popular is because every parent do not want their kid to lose out to other kids. And they thought that teachers could only teach limitly and in order for their kids to get smarter, they need tuition. And of course, the best private tutors charge the best prices. Which is ridiculous and true. For these days, a person who have a DSLR would think that he/she is a photographer. And similarly, a person who teach tuition would think he/she is a teacher.

Overall Lack Of Teachers

It is a well known fact that our teacher to student ratio has not improved in the past 20 years. It was one teacher to forty students then, it still is today! We do not have enough teachers!

Why? Because many left after realising that teaching’s not for them or as said above, they left to become private tutors and we keep importing foreigners and their children to our schools. So we are back to square one, we need to make teaching a job that people covet. We need to increase the pay, reduce the working hours and improve the working environment.

And of course, improve the quality of teachers and their teaching.

There might also be a need to de-emphasize the too much hands on work on ECAs and the awards so that schools focus on what is most important for a teacher —> the students and their learning experience.

Performance Assessment Of Teachers

Currently, there are also situations where teachers who excel in doing ECAs get promoted bcos this work is more visible and definitely what the principal needs. Real teachers who just want to impart knowledge are marginalized. Sad but true.

Hence we are back to the first point where teachers should simply focus on teaching, and admin staff or other outsourced help can handle the ECAs, like previously. And the performance of teachers should be based solely on their teaching ability. Also they should not be judged on how many awards the school wins, or how well they do their ECAs.

The focus should be on the children and their learning experience. Education in the early years should be about learning basic stuff in a more holistic manner. It’s not just about mathematics, science and languages and high stakes exams. It should be about nature, music, art, history, hands-on, sports etc. And for each areas of expertise we need calibre teachers who can do the job, not some half hearted Maths Teacher who wondered why the heck is she assigned to teach music or PE.

But then again, the best teachers are those who have the passion to help our children learn about all these. They have the knowledge, the patience and the enthusiasm to teach and they should be judged by these yardsticks. Not quantitative measures like how many awards, or how many initiatives. Teaching should be made noble and learning, fun all over again

For I believe just like nursing, teaching is truly a noble job. And it’s not easy and smooth sailing at all. It’s demanding and sure is tough. But the rewards that come with it are priceless really.

A teacher may not remember when she makes a difference.
A student will never forget.

But I am also aware that as with every other profession, there are surely bound to be some people who do it just for the money and not for the passion. And some people thought they got the passion to do it, but got an extreme shock when reality bit them hard later on. It’s basically the same everywhere but for teachers, because of the bond served and they cant happy happy or suka suka switch job anytime soon, their interest and passion will slowly leave them. And they will end up as just going through the motions of it all day by day.

But there are those who are the opposites, the great teachers who take great pride in the work and teaching, I salute you.

As we all know in our hearts, we will always remember the teachers who have made an impact on our lives, be it for better or for worse. But the ones, that made it better, we’ll remember them for life. For partly, without them, we are not the person we are today.

If you are someone who surf and read articles or forums online, or newspaper articles, follow the media, and listen through the public’s word of mouth, you’d have noticed that most of them have all made this topic into a kind of hoo-hah over the last couple of years or so. It will never die down and I don’t expect them to.

And with a hotly debated topic like these, I believe any normal or reasonable person would just refrain from posting, talking or sharing about this on their personal online space, due to the ridiculous amount of attention, criticism and flak this would probably get.

But hey, bring it on.

Educate me.

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