Category Archives: On teachers

Which matters more ? Better teachers or better learning processes?

What if the shortage of gifted, committed, teachers were a problem? (It is).

What if the best students get held back by a mediocre education system? (They are).

What if students who are already academically behind because of socioeconomic inequalities get left FURTHER behind because the students in the top 20% pull away and the top 60% push harder to pull up behind the front runners?

What if education became the Great Unequalizer?

Would a country be better off having 80% of its people of working age performing below their intellectual and other capabilities in order to accommodate the feelings of the 20% who cannot catch up?

Would a country be better off losing its top 20% to other economies because of a lack of educational stimulation or challenging and rewarding enough career opportunities at home?

I answered the first two questions. You, the reader, will have to answer the rest and see what it means for our country in terms of unity, integrity and prosperity.

The NEP was designed to bring the bottom 20% up and in doing so it created opportunities for 50% to have a false sense of achievement, 20% to leave and 10% struggling to make sense of the reality they are trapped in. We have a sum of mostly very average to inadequately mature or informed people forming the bulk of our population and labor market. They’re too smart for blue collar work and too dumb to create dynamic solutions and growth to match the world economy.

Catering to the bottom most portion has proven to be a disaster in the long run. And now we have to make a turn around and be an elitist society where the cream of the crop in schooling, are again, valued and worshipped and set the tone for the majority in the middle to pull up and  improve their personal standards.

Here’s the writing on the wall : (Parents, read this very carefully) :

1. The party is over. There are no more short cuts. All those years of criticizing the MOE for producing students who only know how to regurgitate answers? All those years criticizing endless tuition because the teachers at school are not skilled enough to transfer learning and asked students to attend tuition outside? That era is over.

2. If you are in the bottom 20 – 30% you will get increasingly left behind. This is more true of your family’s economic prospects and educational level than it is for your child’s one-time school results. If you are reading this blog you are likely in the middle 60%. The question is how to not be so far behind the top 20% that your children have to compete very hard in the open market with other 50% – 60%.

3. It is a scary time for unskilled teachers who are used to teaching by the book, buying workbooks, relying on smart boards and copy and paste for their school based assessments. It is a scary time for tuition teachers who rely on books that can be bought or imported to photocopy and let students practice in class. This is not the end of all published materials. Books and worksheets, along with other resources, will be used. The key word here is “rely”. Meaning, the teacher has to go through the book or material first before entering class and prepare the answers first in order to have the confidence to teach. KBAT will be extremely problematic for these teachers.

4.English – The focus and theme of this blog : I’m sorry, but your “pasar English” and communicative competence was enough to serve your needs during your time. However, for your children’s generation, they are coming up against a global world of ESL speakers who rank and judge each other by their level of intellectual clarity, diction and PROFICIENCY in Received Pronunciation English. Your Malaysian English may be good enough to communicate basic instructions to customers but in a future where computers are handling all basic correspondences and we need human beings to research, influence, persuade, negotiate, make an impression – your children’s level of English, unfortunately, reflects whether they had a prestigious education or not.

I’ll give you an example of how 20 years makes a difference. Whenever a 50 or 60 year old aunty realizes I have kids with a foreigner, their automatic assumption is I must have been relatively educated. I asked them why do they say that? They said it must be because I am able to speak in English that I am able to marry a foreigner. I find this HILARIOUS for 2 reasons. Why didn’t they think the foreigner is a Bangladeshi or someone from a generally non-English speaking country? Is it because Chinese women are of a higher social status than immigrant? Or that Malaysian women will want to “marry up” and the way to do that is being educated enough to be fluent in English? And why did they think being able to speak English is a pre-requisite to “marry up” ? (Since they have absolutely eliminated the possibility of me “coupling down”)

20 years, 30 years ago, being able to speak English was a tool for upward social mobility. Nowadays, even Thai prostitutes can speak enough English for upward mobility. We now judge and rank people not by their ability to communicate in” enough English to marry a foreigner” but in their ability to lead, persuade and influence. And in the future, if you only look across the Causeway at Singapore, the trend is starting that if you have broken English or do not write or speak with a certain level of diction and clarity, your “commercial and economic prospects” and respectability, among other things, become diminished.

5. Your children can’t get into the top 20% cream of the crop doing the exact same things the years before have done. You can’t actually go to any of the many tuition centres or hire untrained “freelance” tuition teachers who are not experienced and knowledgeable about how HOT and KBAT works to help your child get into the top 20%. What is possible is to be mentored under former professionals in their field who have trained others in systematic thinking and practice. It is one thing to help your child with someone supervising your child’s work but you could be sabotaging your child if the person who is his or her tutor either drills your child for answers or makes your child accommodate their old way of thinking of obtaining answers. You have to think carefully about whether your child will model after Lower Order Thinking processes (the common practice) or Higher Order Thinking (the way forward to the future.)

So, now, let’s look at this scenario of all the points above and put them together – is the answer better and more qualified teachers? Have you come to agreement about Higher Order Thinking becoming the aims of Malaysian education? Or do you think we still want to focus on school children memorizing, regurgitating, going to tuition and spitting out answers? Do you want a nation of Straight A-s who can’t think creatively and critically? Or do you prefer a tested solution where with enough tuition and stress the child will get 90 to 100 marks without understanding anything they’ve learned or why.

If you have any questions and comments please put them below or on my Facebook post and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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A Manglish Argument On School.

Here is a response by Laurie A. Couture to CNN Article – What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents.

My version of it in Plain Manglish. Please note interpretation is mine as a reader. 

Many parents are shaking their heads at the audacity and insolence of the CNN article, What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parentsby Disney-and-Oprah-endorsed teacher, Ron Clark. His article is dangerous because it represents how the majority of traditional school teachers view children, parents and teachers’ roles as authorities over children’s lives. In my post, What Teachers Really Need to Hear From Parents, I challenge Ron Clark to consider the dehumanization of children and the undermining of the parent-child bond in the institution he represents.

That article is stupid. It makes students feel like we are only robots. It also makes parents feel like we are second-class citizens who don’t care about our children. 

Most parents in industrialized societies are conditioned by their own schooling to be obedient and unquestioning of their children’s schools and the so-called authorities therein. A frightening majority of parents are unaware that most everything that traditional school teachers do is developmentally inappropriate and even harmful for youth of all ages. However, a growing movement of parents are parenting through awareness, consciousness and connection to their children’s needs. Many of these parents are opting out of public and traditional schools are are seeking refuge for their children in child-centered and democratic schools or through homeschooling and unschooling. As a mother of an unschooling teen son, and based on the years of complaints I have heard from parents and their children about traditional schools, I have compiled a list of  concerns and presented them to teachers in the context of their own education:

Parents are already brain-washed. So they don’t know that teachers and schools do things that harm their children. They scratch head when their children are depressed, unhappy and jump off building, runaway, have bad habits.  Your parents don’t know that what your school teachers do to you is harmful for your intelligence, growth, happiness and future success. That is why they force you to go to school. 

However, more and more parents are becoming clever liao. (Like me!) So we take our children out of school and we detox them (unschooling) from the torture and harm that school does. Here’s a list of complaints : (You can scroll down to the end for the Plain English version.)

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What a Parent Who Used To Be a Teacher Really Want to Say to Parents And Teachers.

I had a request from ********* to post the comments I had written on a fb comments thread on a CNN article What Teachers Really Want To Tell Parents.

In between the time it took for me to post this another article responding to it appeared here

The original responses I made on my fb comments thread on Sept 10 to the CNN article : What Teachers Really Want To Tell Parents  (as is) is in blue.  My expanded comments (for context) if necessary will be in Italics. 

I like the first line :

“I just cant deal with parents anymore; they’re killing us.”  

– Send the kids back to the parents. 😀  

Why don’t they? A parent is almost as qualified if not better qualified to teach their own children than a school teacher is – for many, many reasons outside the context of this article. Don’t believe me? Think about it logically : Both teachers and parents went through the same K-12 education. All things being equal they studied the same content. Unless you’re trying to tell me for 12 years of their education their teachers had pre-selected an elite bunch of students to teach better to knowing one day this elite bunch will become the next generation of teachers. – I doubt it!

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Filed under Context : the thoughts behind the blog., Danger School, On teachers, Rethinking Parenting & Teaching, schooling

Singapore and Malaysian education for the 21st Century : More alike than different.

I just got back from Singapore and when it comes to education, they’re equally as stuck as we are here. There is no doubt that the median range of their English is better than the median range of a Malaysian’s level of English but in terms of being prepared for the fallout of education, they seem equally as clueless.

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I have decided not to become an English teacher

Reading my posts, people must have an impression that I’m very confident in my ability to make learning happen in my students. Unfortunately, that is not true. There is a big difference between my DESIRE AND COMMITMENT to make learning happen and MY ABILITY to make that happen.

I can control for a variety of things in my teaching, such as content, approach, method, evaluation, classroom environment and interactions,motivation, style, flexibility, funding,etc. I even have the freedom to decide that if finances or schedule impedes a student’s learning journey we can make adjustments so those no longer become impediments. That is how much freedom I have. Yet ,when it comes to teaching ENGLISH as a second language, I consider myself a failure.

First things first, I am not fishing for anything. Secondly, each teacher’s standards of achievement/success is arbitrary. I set mine to the HIGHEST DENOMINATION possible, which sometimes means that even once I achieve the highest benchmark industry dictates, I then have new questions about how to take it further. I am not the only one who feels this way. Many native-speakers and researchers who have committed themselves to the field of ESL learning are beginning to question whether their methods and approaches, in spite of their dedication, theoretical knowledge and inspiration, makes them nothing more than fantastic motivators who still FAIL in their role to help a student achieve the level of proficiency they themselves have. In fact, native-like proficiency has ceased to be the gold-standard for ESL learning. The field, in general, now agrees that Communicative Competence is the new benchmark.

But this new agreed benchmark doesn’t solve my problem. The community I serve expects from themselves the fulfillment of life-goals on the back of a proficiency in English. These life goals include success in undergrad and overseas studies and a sky-high potential in employment opportunities. And this is on top of the social status and self-esteem that comes with being able to speak and write well in English. What compounds the fact is that they want all this while losing none of their ethnic and social identity.

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In defence of children against the tyranny of teachers and adults.

I’ve long held a thing against teachers who are intentionally or unconsciously cruel in their opinion of children. The Ms. Trunchbulls of the world! This is an email I wrote in response to one such Ms.Trunchbull. (Matilda, Roald Dahl). They outnumber me 100,000 to 1 but if I’m going to get crucified, this is one cause worthy of ex-communication by the whole teaching community. The teacher was responding to a series of complaints by parents about the cruel punishments inflicted by teachers, which really, is only skimming the surface on the extent of the problem in schools. 

I refer to the letter ‘Homework given for good reason’ (The Star, August 12th, 2008) 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…..

We spend gruelling hours at teacher training colleges and many hours on writing lesson plans. Why can’t the students appreciate that?

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?

We put in effort to prepare homework for them. Why can’t students complete it?

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.

What if a student doesn’t complete his homework, and comes back the next day without completing it again, and it goes on for weeks. Other students would follow them if the student got away with it. What should we do? Give them a pat on the back? 

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. 

We teachers are trained with methods to deal with these students. 

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. 

Ad lib : I wonder if these methods include, “Do as you wish with the children, even if it means inflicting irreversible psychological and emotional damage on them, because it was done to you when you were a student, and look what a champ you are now. It’s only fair that what you witnessed, you do unto others. Question not. You are a teacher after all.”

There’s not enough time in school. 

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?

If we didn’t care, we would simply dish out the lessons and not care whether students understand it. 
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.’

Homework should be done at home. I wonder then what the children are doing at home? And don’t their parents care enough to know what their children are doing in school?

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.] In this case, parents and students can then ask, “Why is there schoolwork? What were we doing in school then for those many hours if we didn’t learn what we were supposed to?”

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. 

Students who do not complete their homework should be punished. The older generation received harsher punishments and their discipline was good.

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? 

If teachers put in so much effort to prepare homework, why can’t students complete it?

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?”

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Shame on Malaysian teachers.

One ‘popular’ way to manipulate scores is to not teach at all or teach insufficiently what the teacher plans to test on. This will affect the student’s ability to properly grasp the learning outcomes and fail to obtain ‘high scores’. A situation like this opens up an avenue to exploit after-school tuition given by school teachers.

Now that the students are imbued with a sense of failure, a real fear of being a complete failure compels them to take ‘extra tuition’ from the test-setting authority. Whether or not the teacher does this out of some twisted intent or pure ignorance is beside the question. Taxpayers should not be servicing the payroll and pensions of these individuals who are so greedy or too inefficient in delivering learning within public-funded hours and facilities.

Maybe it’s just me but I find something very unethical and manipulative about this practise of inducing fear of not obtaining perfect scores so that students shelve everything else and take regular and extra tuition classes from the test-setting teacher. I’ve recently learned from a European friend of mine who is a teacher of foreign languages, that her students tell her their teacher starts the first week of school giving out her namecard. She was so appalled and said that something like this would never ever happen in her home country. And I agree. Agree so much that if I could agree more, wax would explode out of my ears.

It’s not only that. It’s so common nowadays to hear students telling you that no learning happens in class because the teacher is on the handphone, sms-ing, hangs out elsewhere (like a nearby McDs) instead of coming into class, comes into class late, rambles a few nonsensical things, barks at you and then says, “Do your own work”. It used to be only this way for secondary schools, the teachers’ excuse being, “By the time they come to us, it’s too late, we can’t do anything to help them learn anymore.” But now it’s happening in Std.4!

My friend tells me that in her 10 years being in Penang, she has witnessed how Malaysians are getting more and more progreessive – progressively stupider! I sure got out of that system in time…….

I have every right to say that things can be done differently because I was a school teacher, and I understand the complexities and difficulties of teaching a non-native language to our students. I understand the complexities of mixed-ability classes, limited time, split-periods, discipline issues in class. That is why I think personal reflection and developing skills for effective and speedy lesson preparation is all the more important.

Time spent organizing profit-motivated, fear-induced ‘extra tuition for exam’ should be used for more effective lesson planning and organizing peer-to-peer learning groups. Except for school holidays and weekends which is rightly the teacher’s ‘time-out’, teachers should consider after-school hours on weekdays as also being on the clock. They should use that time to reflect on their teaching, catch-up on their learning and give guidance to students who cannot keep up.

If a person feels that they cannot make ends meet as a teacher, or cannot achieve results within the school system they are in despite asking for support and help, they should consider quitting and setting up their own freelance services, like what I am doing. (And if this fails, oh well, que sera, sera).

If becoming a teacher means you cannot afford to drive a new car and you have to take the bus, or ride a motorbike, if being a teacher means your focus is constantly on the welfare and development of the minds of the young, then that is what being a teacher is. Just because there’s a saying that teaching is a metal rice bowl, it doesn’t mean you have to expect a diamond-studded rice bowl. Being a government school teacher doesn’t buy you a golf club membership and a BMW (actually, nowadays, it does if you use the school as a fertile recruiting ground for ‘tuition’ income) but a pension is a great reward. Anyone with a material drive in life is quite unfit to be a teacher. A person who is immersed in a sense of insecurity about their future material comforts does not possess the qualities traditionally expected of a teacher.

I think it is extremely shameful for a school teacher to induce fear of failure instead of encouraging the will to learn. I think it is disgraceful to create this fear-based phenomenon and then profit off it. I think it is irresponsible to insinuate that it is the government’s fault for setting standards that  are high for languages, and as such, a teacher’s hand is forced to ask for a ‘goodwill fee’ of RM60 or RM80 for a class of 20 to 30 or more students.

Just call it what it is  – your own insecurities digging a deep hole in you that your Greed is attempting to fill up.

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