How technology can weed out incompetent teachers.

One dream I’ve always had as a child was the ability to access information and exchange thoughts, opinions and insight with virtually anyone in the world. I wrote notes and letters to writers of a book or article, to tell them what I think and what else they should do. Of course, I never posted them because I wouldn’t know where to post them to.  Either way, they weren’t likely to take anything a kid from Malaysia would have to say.

But the internet changed everything.Sometimes, I still can’t help but feel so appreciative that this Information Revolution happened within my lifetime. I was so pregnant with anticipation yet I wasn’t prophetic enough to get excited about “the new status symbol of owning a personal computer and hanging out at a pay-per-minute cybercafe” that trickled into my early youth.

It was Web 1.0 and there was way too much programming and HTML (read : Math!!!) to bother getting myself into that wave. Quite a number of my friends jumped onto the IT bandwagon and became programmers. Of course, I felt my days were over. While they were off to high-salaried starting jobs as code programmers,  I went into a practically slave-driving and low-paying industry; Advertising. By my first year in college,  I realized the heydays of mass-comms were over. That’s when I knew my hopes as a Gen-X-er of making anything out of my life was truly over.  After taking a self-approved sabbatical, I eventually ended up in a career that I had told my dad, “Over my dead body”.  I became a teacher.

But JOY TO THE WORLD, Web 2.0 has come. Let us receive this KING! Let every mind – prepare it room, and Gen-X-ers and Boomers sing, and business and learning sing – Let Gen-ennnn-erations of people sing!

I get down on my knees and rejoice that the Force is with Me!!!! No coding, no HTML (time to burn my HTML for Dummies book!) and no more recording/rewinding using a tape recorder! I don’t even need to make scrapbooks and photo albums. I don’t even need to buy exercise books and steal clean sheets of white paper to write! I can create multi-media and write as much as I wanted for FREE! What better way to live my life than to spend an eternity learning from others and creating with FREE tools!

How can we, as educators, not grab this exciting time by its neck and ride this exciting wave of change? I look at the prospects of e-learning and again I smile with joy. For too long I have privately complained that most teachers deserve to be sacked for mere lack of inspiration and integrity in their teaching. If traditional classroom teaching was to be overtaken by virtual classrooms many of the qualities of good teaching / presentation that teachers have irresponsibly ignored in their classroom teaching will be called for. No such thing as, “You have to respect me because I’m the authority” bullshit anymore. If a teacher fails to deliver learning, a student simply disconnects the conference call, walks away from the computer or shuts the laptop close. No such thing as, “Do your own work while I tabulate my commissions from this month’s direct sales.”

Virtual learning calls for qualities such as

  • being attentive to learner needs.
  • Engaging competent/advanced learners in other collaborative efforts instead of making them sit through a class just because it’s a course requirement.
  • Being creative in presenting material
  • Being aware of Timing and how to create interest, anticipation and engagement.
  • Voice-control. Unless you’re a genius, barely anyone would bother listenng to you if you sound like a wasp. To demand that people look attentive (pay attention) out of ‘respect’ is both unfair and cruel. One too many times I wished I could walk out on a teacher who talked to herself instead of to us.
  • Creating a non-threatening and comfortable premise for learning.  I remember how the HM at the school I was teaching refused to give me permission to hold extra classes in a room with air-cond even when I said I would foot the entire bill for my use. She said that allowing students to feel comfortable would only incense other teachers and I must not set a precedent of treating students with respect. They’d rather have a white-elephant than to give positive learning memories to their students.

Last but not least, an elearning environment would immediately show your level of competence as a presenter of ideas and material to be learned. Online teaching requires a high level of alertness and energy, responsiveness and a set of qualities to navigate the speed and flow of learning. Online teaching calls into question our abilities as teachers to deliver “best practices” in teaching, namely, knowledge of content matter, insight into learners’ level of competence/knowledge in material to be presented, synchronicity, multi-tasking, voice-projection, energy level, alertness, creativity, ingenuity and responsibility in preparing our learning material, both pre and post learning session.

I’m not advocating that most teachers be put out of work. I’m illustrating the fact that traditional classroom teaching has for too long lowered the standards of presentation and multidisciplinary competency required of a teacher. There are many young teachers who have the potential to develop best practices, to learn skills and acquire abilities beyond their own schooling but many times, as in my own experience, we were prevented from pursuing our highest potential because there are serious repercussions to how well we can survive in our job if we were to rock the boat.

I remember for English Week, I asked two groups of students to prepare collaborative tasks to present. For the stronger students, I asked them to write, direct, choreograph and produce a short musical. I showed them how to use audio and design props to provide a richer audio-visual experience as well as taught them an awareness of stage-presence. For the students who could not speak a word of English, I asked them to pick a topic that mattered to them, practice key phrases and vocab in English and make presentations in class. Those who were shortlisted would represent the class with a PowerPoint and some exhibits for English Week.  More than half of the teachers stopped talking to me after that. They said I had set a dangerous precedent and they couldn’t understand why I had to change things the way it was. (Students regurgitating articles ripped off from some publication, without even knowing how to pronounce or stress the words properly.)

While this post may seem like a rant against the school I used to teach it was to illustrate a point how, even in the 21st Century, school teachers can get away with disallowing innovation, collaboration and respect for students. Will these teachers still be allowed to be that way if e-Learning became the mainstream of learning? Would more teachers like me be encouraged to take up teaching and up our ante as presenters?

If you are a parent or a student reading this, I encourage you to push your school and your teachers towards e-learning because that will at least guarantee that only those teachers who care enough about you to learn new things deserve to get paid teaching you.


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Filed under Rethinking Parenting & Teaching, Up the ante on teaching

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