Your Honor I would like to enter my client’s defense.

Caveat emptor : long article.

I refer to the letter ‘Homework given for good reason’ (The Star, August 12th, 2008) http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/12/focus/22052800&sec=focus from Practicum Teacher. It is not humiliating for a teacher to be called a hooligan. “A”, being a singular form, refers, in this case, to the particular individual who behaves like one and we shall call a spade nothing else but a spade. Not being able to perform under pressure and not being brave enough to make a decision to leave is not an excuse to take it out on the children, the parents or the system. You know the saying, if the kitchen gets too hot…..

An efficient teacher within an effective curriculum would not neeed to spend hours planning lessons and preparing for classes. It is the fault of the teacher training college or a teacher’s own if they cannot find methods that will enable them to plan an entire semester ahead. I understand that most teachers are not lucky enough to attend a decent business school or have a faculty for continuous learning but these things can be acquired. I also understand that students don’t always perform according to the lessons planned for them. That is where extensive reading, visualisations, case studies, reflections and becoming a self-directed learner and scientist of the classroom on the teacher’s part, comes in. Before we get frustrated by why students can’t learn and retain what we want them to, we have to ask ourselves whether we’ve been doing our homework reading teaching journals and keeping up with research on how learning happens, various classroom practices for different needs, etc?

There are two reasons why students don’t do their homework. I should know. I’m famous for not doing mine. First, the student doesn’t know the work very well. Even if they are honest about it and tell the teacher week after week that they are falling behind in a class of 40, others won’t be. Their kiasi-kiasu classmates will get their older siblings and tuition teachers to do it for them or copy off the abler classmates. An honest and ethical student always takes the brunt of the teacher’s own sense of frustration.

A second reason is that the homework given makes sense only to the teacher. My 10-year old nephew slouches over and has to spend about 45minutes coloring pages of a workbook. I asks him why he looks so miserable. He says his teacher thinks he’s still a 5-year old and that coloring inside the lines of small pictures in a workbook that was meant to be colorless will make him a clever person in the future. The following week, he comes to ask dear aunty to help him complete 15 pages of English Science. His teacher tells them to do it at home. I asks him what does the teacher teach in class? He says he suspects his teacher is unable to teach in a way they can get it, so the teacher passes the buck to them.

My daughter gets caned for not PHOTOSTATING pages of a workbook I bought for her. I thought schools were supposed to teach frugality. The teacher’s justification? This child may have other siblings who want to use the workbook. MAY? The teacher’s ignorance of my family size is a justification for giving such instruction and caning my daughter for not doing it. I suppose teachers teach us that their Ignorance trumps our logic? What are we trying to teach our children anway? Do things even if it doesn’t make sense and don’t do something even if it makes senses?

Practicum Teacher believes that children are so naive as to imitate the behaviour of others for the sake of imitating it. But if that is so,it can also work to a teacher’s advantage. Motivate a few underachievers or inspire a few achievers. When the rest of the classmates see how much their friends have improved by subscribing to a particular teacher’s way, they will find an intrinsic motivation (familiar???) to do what is advantageous to them. I’ve seen it work many, many, many times. The onus is on the teacher to be the Highly Effective Manager the children need. Children need to model after highly effective, motivating, inspiring adults. They can definitely tell the difference between one who barks louder than their teaching message and the leader they are inspired by.

Practicum Teacher says that ‘we are trained (to deal with imperfect students) and that is why we have our methods when we deal with them’. I would suppose that these ‘methods’ are widely-recognised, globally effective methods with extensive and reputable empirical research behind them? I would like to see this list of studies which says that homework and ‘methods to deal with those who are imperfect students’ makes for the most effective learning.

Not having enough time to complete the learning within the 6 hours, 5 days a week given to teachers is not the students’ problem. It is a reflection of a combination of highly ineffective management of a school, ineptness of teachers to troubleshoot a classroom situation and a curriculum that was not written taking into account learner needs and available resources to achieve those goals.

Enough of wasting children’s time in schools. Bring the problem to a higher authority to rectify a situation where 6 hours, 5 days, 11 years is STILL not enough to produce a desirable result. Homeschoolers study an average of 4-6 hours a day or less and not more than 5 days a week and most of them achieve higher results in test scores for their age group than schooled children. How do we explain that? Smaller group? Better management of learning? Is it the child’s fault that the classes are overcrowded and learning material ineffective and inadequate? Is it the child’s fault that teachers are not hired from among the intellectuals and progressive thinkers this country produce(s)(d)? Is it the child’s fault the Schooling machinery cannot attract, retain and motivate the cream of intellectual creative thinkers like they do in less troubled schooling systems?

There is a much more effective way to evaluate student understanding of materials taught. Organize quizzes. Let them have quiet time in class to do their work. Walk around and offer positive, constructive help when needed. Observe how many percent are able to complete on their own and note them. Jot your observations on the post-it you carry around and write a lesson plan on topics that need more learning. These are just a tiny fraction of ways to gauge learning. I’m sure you trained teachers have a lot more of those ‘methods you are trained for’ where it comes from. I’m sure I don’t have to write out an entire book on ‘Positive Ways of Gauging Learner Progress’ or ‘Motivating Students to Participate in Reporting Their Own Progress in Class.’

An overgeneralised conclusion – homework should actually be done at home. – Just because a compound word is coined that way doesn’t make it legitimate in its definition. How about we call it ‘schoolwork’ instead of ‘homework’? Both are etymologicaly the same [schoolwork – the material studied in or for school, comprising homework and work done in class.] If you are wondering what students are doing at home, they’re doing what they were not allowed to do in school – relax and be themselves. Hang out with family members. Chill out. Find their centre. Let their Chi-flow.

The responsibility of teaching is that of the teacher. To say that parents ‘don’t care enough about what their children are learning in school’ is the same as saying the parents might as well not send them there if the parents have to function like a Quality-Control Supervisor at the end of the conveyor belt. The parent’s role is to love, protect and provide for the child. That includes checking in on the goings-on of school which contradicts the parent’s philosophies on loving, protecting and providing for the rights and potentials of the child.

If you believe so passionately that students who do not do their homework deserve to be punished, have you ever asked yourself where this belief sprung from? Was it from your own bitter experience of quiet terror when you were in school? Or is it a hidden sadism you need to deal with before we entrust our children to a teacher like you? Are you a happy, contented, fulfilled, loving person? Or are you, like many teachers nowadays, a bitter crusader of life because you feel lacking?

You are sorely, sorely mistaken to equate subservience in children, which springs from a need to survive, with respectfulness. If we were to give in to these compulsions of authoritative teachers like you, we might as well forsake the progress we’ve made as human beings and go back to being slaves and plantation owners. That would be a major step forward for humanity, wouldn’t it? – Watched North and South? I did as a child and I swore that as long as I am a free person, no one is going to treat me like a slave. And as long as I am among free people I will not subject anyone to cruelty, violence and damaging fear. I will obtain respect through my intellectual strength and actions, not from being a classroom tyrant. You claim that the ‘older generations’ were whipped into discipline. I say they were whipped into emotionally unavailable people at best and perpetrators of the same violence unto others at worse. If punishing was such a popular and effective tool, why the decline in this approach?

You ask why students can’t complete homework which the teachers have painstakingly prepared. Students ask the same question – why can’t a teacher teach in a way which does not require us to waste so much ink / lead and paper? Not to mention, our free time? You’re making it sound like being a teacher is the only profession where one can get away without intimate knowledge and understanding of what you’re dealing with. To be a teacher is to understand your learners and what motivates them or impedes their learning motivation. Can you imagine a surgeon who doesn’t understand his patient’s anatomy? Or a dentist that doesn’t know why a tooth hurts? “Let’s cut out the entire heart since the pancreas isn’t working!” or “Let’s just pull each tooth out one by one, that way, we can avoid future problems with toothaches” is a scary, scary proposition. It’s not that much different when you approach teaching in a way where it is a struggle and a perpetual problem instead of applying observation and diagnosis the way a scientific mind would. Teaching, after all, is the sciece of how learning happens. Or at least, it should be! I believe that’s what every 4 year old believes when they go to school, that someone’s going to understand them and teach them how to learn.

In life, when we find that something is a great struggle and causes great hardship, it is because it is the wrong way to pursue it. The right path is an undertaking filled with love,peace, joy, energy and purpose. It is a path of exponential learning and continuous appreciation of the value of learning. It creates a long value chain because it begins with the right premise and is undertaken in the right ways. And I say all of this now with great vindication because, 15 years later, I’ve answered my teachers’ challenge – “If you think being a teacher is so easy, then why don’t you go do it?”

It’s easy to dismiss me as an anomaly because I got to where I am now (intellectually, spiritually, emotionally) without doing every single homework nor taking every single beating. But it would be a lot simpler to know that it is a result of me never needing to suffer discrimination, fear nor intimidation for extended periods while in school, that there was always a band of sane, loving teachers who believed in me and bailed me out. And I kept my promise to them, that I was going grow up and discover a way to make learning a joy for others. I really cannot say if a student who has suffered paralysing intimidation, physically hurt by, mentally strained by and physically worn out by punishments and homework and ineffective learning can recall back their days with great love and affection and will choose to live a purpose driven life helping others to learn exponentially with joy.

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Filed under Danger School, On teachers, Rethinking Parenting & Teaching, schooling, Up the ante on teaching

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