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Posts Tagged ‘teacher

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.

This blog entry by David Geurin reminded me why I shudder when I hear these two words put together: Teacher and training.

My stance has not changed, when I was a professor and teacher educator then, and as a provider of professional development now for teachers, lecturers, instructors, and yes, trainers.
 

 
You can potty-train a child. You can train a dog to do tricks. You can train people in first aid, handling weapons, evacuation procedures, and other standard operating procedures. You do this to create what some like to call muscle memory. This is suitable for situations where compliance applies.

This is the opposite of what is required of the teacher today. Gone are the days of simply opening a textbook and reading from it. A robot can do that, which is why this projection predicts that teachers are less unlikely to be replaced by them.

That is, teachers who do not behave like robots and are not trained like them.

The problem with the word “training” is the need to standardise, and in the process, favour efficiency over effectiveness. Who knows what works best from one classroom to the next? If we want teachers to move away from the one-size-fits-all way of thinking, we should not be training them.

I prefer to use “professional development” and not as a mere substitute for “training”. I think of my workshop participants as professionals the same way different types of doctors and lawyers are professionals. Just like in those fields, the contexts, methods, and content areas are in a state of flux. This requires a constant state of development on how teachers need to think for themselves.

By comparison, training is relatively simple. Professional development is more complex because it is about shaping mindsets before attempting to change behaviours. If training can be thought of as “don’t think, just do”, professional development is more like “don’t just do, think”.


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