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Posts Tagged ‘teacher

Like most educators, I agree with the point that @BluntEducator raised.

One question the tweet might raise is: What is more difficult than teaching?

My answer: Educating.

Anyone can teach, few can educate. A few years ago I shared some differences between a teacher and an educator.

I do not mean to create a false dichotomy between teaching and educating. I am trying to point out what might not overlap in the Venn diagram below.

Venn diagram of teaching and educating.

One reason for this dichotomy is that teachers tend to teach the way they were taught. Anyone who has undergone a decade or more of schooling has seen models of teaching. Some of these models were good and others bad, but all were embedded in the past.

While most kids are not studying to become teachers, what they see and experience is caught even if it is not taught. So current teachers tend to teach like their teachers, often because of or even despite the efforts of teacher education programmes.

Case in point: I observed this “from the sidelines” while enjoying a day off at a park.

What could have been an experiential learning session came across a lecture and safety briefing. Were the just-in-time delivery of information and safety reminders important? Definitely. But it dragged on unnecessarily.

More importantly, telling does not guarantee listening. Knowing something does not mean being able to do it right. If you are not convinced, consider these exasperated teacher expressions:

  • But I already told them…
  • How many times do I have to tell them…?
  • I just said this earlier, didn’t you listen?
  • I just said this earlier, why didn’t you ask me a question?

Delivering information does not guarantee that it is received. Teaching as some teachers understand and practice it does not guarantee meaningful learning.

What is arguably more important in outdoor education is students learning-by-doing, not replicating the passive sitting or time-tested strategies of a classroom.
 

 
A few years ago, my son went on a field trip to the zoo with his classmates. His enthusiasm soon drained when he learnt that the visit was actually an administrative exercise (forms, briefings, lots of waiting) and a frantic rush to complete worksheets (see checklist teaching).

Teaching outdoors is much tougher than indoors. Teachers cannot control the elements and students might get hurt. The boundaries are less obvious and the modes of teaching are more varied. These might be why most teachers prefer not to teach outdoors or go on field trips when content calls for it. It is too much like real life.

Educators embrace the complexity and uncertainty that the real world brings. The real world has ill-defined problems, no nicely organised textbooks, information that needs to be processed in real-time, mentors good and bad, and real consequences.

Teaching needs to change so that it more resembles educating. Educating anyone at any level means starting first with each learner and where that learner is. It does not start with content, a curriculum, standards, or a scheme of work. While these are important, they should be secondary to the context and how that person learns.

What stakeholders observe from the sidelines might be valid, particularly if they have strong educational backgrounds. If they notice that today’s classrooms and teachers look and behave in the same way they remember, they have a right to be worried.

If they see a disconnect between the way the world operates now and the manner in which schools claim to prepare their children, they have the right and responsibility to speak up from the sidelines.

If we think of ourselves as educators, we should be listening up instead of shutting them down.

So what is more difficult than teaching? Educating. And eating humble pie.

Is honesty always the best policy? Are we totally honest when:

  • Someone asks how you are?
  • A server asks you how the meal was?
  • Your wife asks you if her clothing makes her butt look big?

We lie all the time, and to make ourselves feel better, we call those social niceties white lies.

So is honesty the best policy? No, not when you have to lie to be nice or to ensure peace.

There is another type of lie: Telling the truth, but not all of it.

When I read this tweet, I had to ask myself if this was a lie of partial truth or one of wishful interpretation.

Taken at face value, all the roughly 33,000 teachers in Singapore are mentored. This means that mentors have mentors, and perhaps there is even reverse mentorship because everyone is good at something.

But just how feasible is this given practical realities of limited time and resources?

About five years ago, NIE co-implemented a modified post-practicum system with MOE to formalise the mentoring programme. Before this, mentoring was a function of teaching practicum and only few schools took the initiative to assign mentors for beginning teachers thereafter.

In the more comprehensive programme, all student teachers not only had one or more cooperating teachers during practicum, they had mentors who could look out for them in the first year or so as full-time teachers.

So do teachers in Singapore have mentors? Yes, but they are typically the younger teachers. Do they keep that mentor? Maybe, but not indefinitely. Do they go on to mentor their juniors? We cannot say for sure. Not all are cut out to be mentors and teachers already have so much to do.

The point is that an observation or interpretation in a tweet is unlikely to represent accurately. And yet that partial truth (at best) or a blatant lie (at worst) is what gets propagated.

We live in the era of #fakenews. In schooling and education, we also have #halftruths and #partialfacts. We need to dig deeper, model that practice, and teach all our learners to do the same.

Bonus: I have only critiqued the bit about mentor teachers. There is also the claim about how our students are not evaluated on their results. It is your turn to do the critical thinking.

As I age, I can feel curmudgeonly cells coat the fibre of my being. So I was not surprised when I did not think highly of some weather-related tweets of STonline.

Am I becoming an old fart? No. I am one. But I am old enough to think young and season it with some wisdom.

Someone at the news agency probably thought that it would be harmless to let an intern take the helm of weather-related tweets. After all, this was not a breaking headline, serious news, or an editorial opinion. Since weather here is so meh, why not spice things up?

In the grand scheme of things, there was no foul and no harm. There were probably no feelings hurt and no political, religious, or other sensitive lines crossed.

But the weather tweet reports were still part of a larger whole — a serious newspaper. If the paper wanted to take itself less seriously, it should remember that it has a comics section and a humour column. Or at least I am assuming so because I do not actually read a paper newspaper anymore.

Might the newspaper be so out of touch that it did not learn the painful lesson from the @MOEsg attempts at entertaining by asking infantile riddles in 2013? Here is a selection I Storified.

Being funny is not easy.

It is an art.

It is contextual.

It is subjective.

It is a serious business.

The same could be said about those who teach. It might look easy if you think that teaching is standing in front of a classroom and just talking. Some folks do not talk; they still read off scripts.

It is one thing to teach, it is another to educate (what are some differences?). Like humour, educating is also an art.

Educators work with contexts, not just content.

Educators leverage on subjectivity instead of pretending there is only objectivity.

Education is a serious business. Many may be called to teach, but few can educate. Anyone who thinks or tells you otherwise does not understand what it means to be an educator.

 
I do not think that I have heard of scientific thinking and design thinking differentiated this way (emphasis mine):

They are many methodologies, frameworks and ways of problem-solving. Two of the most popular approaches that I use are “scientific thinking” and “design thinking”. The former focuses on the problem, the later on the solution. Scientific thinking proposed by Taylor is evidence-based and focuses on the problem. Design thinking is intuition-based and focuses on the solution. This isn’t simply semantics but different methods of thinking. The difficulty with focussing on the problem is that it assumes that you either already believe that you know what the problem is or you’ll data the heck out of the problem so that only one solution can exist. The flip side is that you focus on solutions, fail fast, amplify what works and drive at a far better understanding of the problem but that’s not what we teach in schools.

The article seemed to paint the scientific process and thinking as reductive and limiting, and design thinking as expansive and exploratory.

Schooling based on reductive thinking and methods might explain why we have content silos, age groupings, and the strive for uniformity. If you see nothing wrong with that, then take a leaf from that reductive book and reflect on what happens to children: They are reduced to taking tests alone and not allowed to collaborate or use current technology.

Reductive problem-solving and schooling is also formulaic as it is based largely on content consumption and recreation of said content. This makes it ripe for automation, which means we might not need teachers as we know them today. The article went on to give an example of how the Pearsons of the world want to bake a new schooling pie.

If I read the article correctly, teachers who teach the same way they were taught (reductive and content-based) are teaching themselves out of their jobs by not reinventing themselves.

The provocative piece is something every school leader and teacher should read and reflect on. If not, they should bear in mind this rebuke and call to action:

If you all you think is that school and the role of teacher is fill our children’s head full of stuff that you can test and then slap yourself on the back for all those A’s but don’t think you have for a second done your job. Your job as a teacher is to ignite curiosity and wonder and to design programmes that allow our children to use that wonder and intuition to learn how to navigate the world and to question authority and invent new solution as collaborative teams.

I take my role of edtech watchdog seriously. I am not just a pedagogue; I am a peda-dog!

 
Sometimes I wonder if I am being too harsh with my critiques of the state of teaching and teachers in Singapore. After all, according to a 2013 study we had the most well-paid (see point 3) and one of the most well-respected teaching forces in the world. But these do not mean that all our teachers are educators.

My parents were teachers. I was a teacher. I am married to a teacher. Most of our friends and acquaintances are teachers. Should I bark at and even bite my own kind?

Every now and then I am reminded why I need to do this. Sometimes the reminders come from the seminars and workshops I conduct. Sometimes they are dialogues I have with teachers. Sometimes they are stories from sources I trust.

This is a story about my son who is sitting for his PSLE this year.

My son is bright and should not have problems with this high-stakes examination. However, we were not content to subject him to the mindless rat race, so we looked for a good fit via DSA. We concerned ourselves with getting him into a school that would bring back and nurture the joy of learning.

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.

We made a family decision to try the new literary arts programme at SOTA [information from SOTA] [news article]. It was taking in about 25 students for the academic year 2017.

We had to ask my son’s form teacher for help to get some school records for the DSA application in May. We were thankful for his teacher’s help. However, I was surprised to hear what happened in my son’s class shortly after we made the request.

The teacher declared that in all her years of teaching none of her students got into their Secondary schools via DSA. It seemed like a source of pride that she was able to prepare her students for PSLE so that they could rely on scores alone.

Now there is nothing wrong with that especially if you have the perspective of most parents here. But we are not “most parents” and I would have been fine if things were left at that remark.

Tomorrow's educational progress cannot be determined by yesterday's successful performance.

I was troubled by two additional comments from the teacher:

  • If you do not get the marks for PSLE, you can try for DSA.
  • What talents do you have that they want?

Those comments were sorely misplaced.

First, the DSA is not inferior to the PSLE. My son had to prepare an e-portfolio, sit for tests, participate in interviews (focus groups and individual), and take part in performance assessments over the span of a month. He also has to do well enough in the PSLE to keep his place in his next school.

Second, kids are more talented than we give them credit for. Their talents are often quieted and schooled out of them. If we watch, listen, and talk to kids, their passions and talents become clear. Such talents can grow and evolve to help them find their niche in life.

Creativity cannot be taught as a skill, but it can be killed -- Yong Zhao.

My son thinks that he was the only one in his class to apply for DSA. This made the comments even more cutting. Was there any need to throw shade at the DSA and kids with talents not accounted for by the PSLE?

This is like parents (still) saying that playing video games has absolutely no value. Those parents need to expand their scope of who they watch on YouTube, e.g., TheDiamondMinecart, Sky Does Minecraft, Stampy, Paul Soares Jr., PewDiePie, Markiplier, CaptainSparklez.

Values are more CAUGHT than they are TAUGHT.

When it emerged that my son had taken the DSA route, some of his classmates gave him unsolicited feedback like, “SOTA is a shit school!” They could not understand why he even considered that option.

Kids are honest and open portals to the values of adults. I have said before that values are more caught than they are taught [1] [2] [3]. The words and actions of parents and teachers shape the thoughts and behaviours of kids. It is frightening to see what prevails.

I started this reflection by wondering if I was in denial about how teachers mindsets have changed. I have shared one anecdote of a classroom teacher possibly in denial about alternative paths to learning and success.

Are you really thinking or are you merely rearranging your biases?

We are still thankful for the efforts of our son’s teachers because they invariably leave a mark. They might focus on delivering lessons in class, but sometimes they accidentally offer lessons in life.

DSA SOTA confirmation of offer.

This Teachers’ Day we will thank my son’s teachers — the ones that are still around because quite a few have left the school. We will also share some good news: We just found out that our son has been accepted into the literary arts programme in SOTA.

If my son’s teachers see themselves as learners first, they might also reflect on the lessons in this story.

 
Can just about anyone teach?

No. Not just anyone can teach, no matter what a vendor or consultant tells you. But just about everyone has an opinion on how and what to teach.

Experiencing what teaching was like from a student’s perspective or offering remedial tuition one-on-one does not qualify you to be a teacher.

That is like saying a first aider is a surgeon or someone who knows how to change a car’s oil is a mechanic. These people do not have deep knowledge, experience, and expertise.
 

 
Can everyone teach someone else a thing or two?

Yes. Everyone has something to offer, just not in the traditional understanding of what it means to teach or be a teacher.

Anyone with the right access can teach someone else anywhere in the world via a blog, a YouTube video, or a FaceTime call. A few are good at doing this and they get even better with failed attempts and persistence.

Just do not confuse that with teaching and educating as a profession. It is a job or a calling that combines psychology, parenting, management, instructional design, public speaking, coaching, counselling, evaluating, and so much more.

So, yes, everyone can teach. But, no, not everyone is an educator.

 
You had to be deaf, blind, or asleep to not hear about the solar eclipse yesterday or to see it.

Singapore’s Prime Minister even asked the public via social media to share their best photos of the eclipse. Some did not disappoint, to humorous effect.

Many took the trouble and the precautions to observe this astronomical phenomenon. I wonder how much they learnt.

By this I do not simply mean an appreciation for celestial bodies or basic astronomy. I am referring to the thinking behind our collective understanding of the phenomenon.

For example, did anyone in the position to educate get learners to ponder questions like:

  • What did we use to believe about such phenomena? Why?
  • How do we enable safe viewings and why do these methods work?
  • Why it is important to appreciate such opportunities?

Teachers might focus on the facts (learning about). Educators will also emphasise the thinking of a scientist or astronomer (learning-to-be).

Teachers might focus on such teachable moments. Educators will work on making such moments more common and how to turn them into learning ones.


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