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Posts Tagged ‘teachers

This honest tweet reply to the original tweeted question reminded me of something.

I wonder if laypeople know how unprepared most university faculty are to teach. If they found out, what might they say? Given how much a university education costs, what might they demand?

This is one major reason why I choose to educate teachers (pre and inservice) and university faculty. They are the toughest customers because they are adults who have their own experiences, baggage, and opinions. But they all need to learn how to teach and educate.

What qualifies me to educate teachers? I have a post-graduate diploma in secondary education. I also have a Masters degree and a doctorate in a field that combines educational psychology, pedagogy, instructional design, and technology. More details near the bottom of this page.

This year also marks my 32nd year in training and education. If this time has taught me anything, it is that the more I think I know, the less I actually do. So I learn constantly.

I have learnt not to lecture and spoon-feed. Instead I shepherd. And I know where the best spots are to explore, eat, and expand.

My reaction to yesterday’s news: It’s about time! If there is any frontline worker as precious as our “precious”, it is teachers.

The article lists the types of schools whose teaching and non-teaching staff will get inoculations. They range from pre-schools to madrasahs, but somehow exclude higher education institutions. Why?

 
Today I ask some unsolicited questions on behalf of teachers and educators who have had to endure professional advice from their non-teacher/educator friends or relatives.

Would you claim to be a doctor after a few visits to your general practitioner?

Would you tell a software engineer what to do after you figured out how to change a WhatsApp setting?

Would you advise an architect on the next great design after you built a Lego masterpiece?

Would you tell an artist what to be inspired by after getting a shower thought?

Most probably not. But you have ideas that should be implemented by teachers and educators, don’t you?

Not many of you can claim to be doctors, engineers, architects, or artists. But practically all of you have attended lessons in classrooms, lecture halls, and laboratories. Many of you gained some insights of teachers and educators thanks to home-based learning/remote teaching thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns. But how exactly does that make you a teacher or educator?

One of the easiest ways to spot a teacher on public transport or at an eatery is when she brings out a stack of papers to grade.

This is true of my wife now and my parents decades ago. I grew up seeing our dining table topped with books and papers, and helped them mark assignments and tests.

So it was no surprise to learn that the soon-to-be First Lady of the USA, Dr Jill Biden, was known to grade on the run when she was Second Lady.

When I read the tweet above that claimed that Michelle Obama said that Jill Biden was always grading papers, I had to find a source. I could not find the exact quote, only a similar one from this Washington Post article.

The enduring image former staff members repeatedly say they have of Jill Biden during the Obama administration is her carrying a stack of papers she had to grade on state trips to places like Israel, Japan or the Democratic Republic of Congo. One time, Jill asked to leave her office hours 10 minutes early, recalls Jim McClellan, NOVA’s liberal arts dean, because Joe was sitting in Air Force Two waiting for her to show up so they could do a three-country tour of Latin America. “I said, ‘Well, since the jet is revving up and using gas sitting on the runway, go ahead,’ ” McClellan says. She left with a stack of papers to grade and had them all done in time to be back in the office at 7 a.m. for her Tuesday classes.

A teacher’s dedication today might be a bit more obvious to stakeholders in the era of COVID-19 and Zoom. But if they paid more attention before this, they might have noticed teachers grading papers whenever they could. They do this not because they are poor managers of their time, but because they have so much to take care of.

It is a pity that stakeholders do not have insights on the planning, worrying, counselling, chaperoning, and parenting that teachers do every day. Sadly, not all teachers are that dedicated. But those that are make the grade.

Let’s not kid ourselves — school vacations are not guaranteed breaks, particularly for teachers.

We have four breaks in the mainstream Singapore schooling system (primary, secondary, junior college): Two one-week breaks (in March and September), a roughly four-week mid-year break in June, and long-ish break in November and December. The number of weeks in the last break varies by schooling group.

But the breaks earlier in the year are easily swallowed by school activities, e.g., remedials, chaperoned visits and trips, planning for the next term, exam preparation, etc. It is all too easy for a four-week June break shrink to just two weeks.

The COVID-19 “circuit breaker” has been extended by a month and the June school break is now in May. This means that home-based learning (HBL) — our version of emergency remote teaching — ends on schedule (4 May) instead of carrying on until June.

In theory, this will give teachers time to prepare for another possible round of HBL if we do not get our COVID-19 cases down as a country. Most teachers might also welcome an earlier break given how they were thrown into the maw of HBL. But other teachers will not have it as easy.

Our education minister shared his thoughts on Facebook. He acknowledged the longer than normal school Term 3 in June and rationalised the need for an additional break. Fair enough. Then there was this:

If you are teacher in charge of a critical cohort, e.g., students taking their PSLE or GCEs, you may need to work through the brought-forward break and then continue with the extended term when it resumes in June.

If you do not think that teachers already have a lot on their plates, consider what this might do to already frayed nerves. As they support their students, who will support these teachers? An education minister sets policy and it is left to school leaders and managers to enact this. Will the latter group empathise by first remembering what it was like to be pushed around by policy?

We can rationalise our national “circuit breaker” and make sacrifices, but we also thank and take care of those in the front line. An unintended effect of the extended “circuit breaker” might short-circuit some teachers. These are the same ones who do not ask to be thanked. They just want their leaders to take care of them too.

With an educated guess I can say that quite a few preservice teachers want to be teachers because they wish to make a difference. But I wonder how informed their collective decision is.


Video source

This interview of preschool teachers is brutally honest about what might go wrong day to day. Such a reality check is important because it removes the rosy tint from the glasses of preservice teachers.

The video also reveals the humour and passion that keeps the preschool teachers going. This provides a balance to uncomfortable realities.

I recall how we would invite teachers to speak to preservice teachers once every blue moon. Failing that we would rely on ex-teachers who became professors (like I was back then) to incorporate their experiences into lessons.

But take a few years out of teaching daily in mainstream classrooms and you lose touch and relevance. That is why constant conversations and meaningful interviews with actual teachers are key to nurturing preservice and beginning teachers. They provide realistic expectations about what it means to teach and how to behave as a teacher.

The first Friday of September is Teachers’ Day in Singapore.

Schools celebrated the day yesterday with half days and staff dinners. Today is a school holiday and an early start to a one-week break.

Teachers’ Day is great for businesses that take advantage of it. But quite a few teachers still return to school during the break to get work done.

Whether teachers get to enjoy a break or not, they might be thankful that they were not subject to the rules of the past.


Video source

We do not need a time machine to travel back to the past in order to reflect on how much (or how little) has changed, and to appreciate what we have now.

We do not need to share exactly the same contexts (US or Singapore) to appreciate how difficult it is to teach or how much more difficult it is to educate.


Video source

This needs to be said: No one should assume that movies depict teachers and teaching accurately.

No one should learn from movie depictions of the same, except to critique said depictions. All that said, there are two truths about such representations:

  1. Movies often do not show how teachers decompress. This is mirrors life and is boring or ugly, so viewers seeking entertainment might reject it.
  2. The best teachers listen first, listen again, and listen some more, before offering anything of substance.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the 2018 results of its Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

The Today article summarised some TALIS data.

Taken at face value, the sample of lower secondary school teachers in Singapore spent less time teaching but more time marking student work than their OECD counterparts.

So might the 2005 initiative to Teach Less, Learn More become Teach Less, Mark More now?

I jest. Here was another tweeted article on TALIS.

As I read both articles on survey findings, I wondered:

  1. How were “working hours” of the sample of lower secondary school teachers calculated?
  2. Did these hours include work done outside school, e.g., grading student work at home or at a Starbucks?

Why ask these questions? If the working hours were only based on official time tables and co-curricula commitments, then the figures did not capture the extent of work.

Even if we assume that there was a valid and reliable way of collecting outside school work across various OECD countries, how meaningful is an average for each country?

Consider how much more time a language teacher takes on grading and feedback than would a teacher who relies on online quizzes and scanned bubble sheets.

Consider how one teacher might be able to enjoy practically the whole of the June vacation while another has to chaperone students on an overseas trip, stay in touch with school leadership and parents, or prepare university admissions materials for graduating students during the same period.

I revisited my second question after reading both articles: Did these working hours include work done outside school?

The CNA article claimed that the working hours included “those spent working out of school” while the Today article did not. Both articles mentioned time spent marking and efforts to reduce administrative work. However, they did not stipulate whether this was marking and administration done in school or outside it.

Consider this anecdote from the Today article (I emphasised the key finding):

Four teachers teaching the lower secondary level, who spoke to TODAY on the condition of anonymity as they were not supposed to speak to the media, said that they did not feel their working hours have been reduced.

Most of their time is spent on administrative work, planning lessons as well as co-curricular activities and other school activities, they added.

Those interviewed said that they clock from 47 hours to more than 52 hours a week, taking into account the hours spent on some Saturdays due to co-curricular activities.

This did not clarify the hours of in-school work and outside school work. Both teachers and administrators probably did not see a need for such a distinction. But a data collector and analyser should. That is lesson number 1 on research.
 

 
Lesson 2 on research: When the quantitative and qualitative findings paint different pictures, we should give pause. Both might not wrong. Instead, both might be spotlights on a larger and more complex picture. We should embrace nuance instead of simplicity.


Video source

The video above tries to compare teachers in the US and in the UK.

Even if we assume that the figures cited are accurate, the video creates more questions than provides answers. For example:

  • What is the point of the comparison?
  • How valid is comparing averages?
  • Why compare just these two groups of teachers?
  • If data was not available (by lack or denial), why was this the case?

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