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Posts Tagged ‘teachers

I received this screenshot of what seemed to be an unintentionally funny description of a local university.

From ambit to armpit.

I asked the sender where is was from, but that question drew a blank. Bonus pre-lesson: Seek the source.

I applied that lesson by searching for SUSS and a segment of the description. This led me to the Wikipedia article on Education in Singapore.

The segment currently reads:

In 2017, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) was declared as the country’s sixth autonomous public university. The university was previously established in 2005 as SIM University by the SIM Group. Thereafter it undergone restructuring and is currently under the ambit of the Ministry of Education.

It is still not grammatically sound, but there is no more armpit. The description is less whimsical with ambit.

If you examine the history of the document, you will find an editing battle. The original word was ambit. It was changed to armpit in May 2018. It was not until June that armpit was reverted to ambit.

Here is the bad news: Teachers were responsible for passing the armpit edit along. While it was good for a laugh, it revealed a lack of digital literacy.

The good news is this lesson: You can learn how to check the history of an online document like a wiki page. In the case of Wikipedia, you need only look for the “View history” link (currently at the top of each page).

Bonus lesson: Do not use words like “ambit” that tempt pranksters to change them to “armpit”. Both words work — one is descriptive and the other is hilarious.

As a teacher educator, I find this tweet terrifying.

It is terrifying:

  • that this still needs to be said.
  • that the point is still relevant.
  • even in Singapore’s context.
  • especially in Singapore’s context.

The tweet is a reminder that what is olds to me is news to someone else.

The debate on whether Singapore teachers should get to park their cars for “free” while they are at work refuses to go away.

Some might say that the arguments are pointless because the Auditor General’s Office (AGO) has already determined that teachers must pay for parking. However, the prime issue is not about free parking, but about how such decisions are made.

A Member of Parliament (MP) critiqued the approach of implementing policy from an economic lens and urged “a conversation about reciprocity, trust, and relationships” instead [edited version of MP’s speech].

We need to insert and steer our values into the national conversation about prosperity and growth. We need to balance the economic reasoning with moral reasoning. We need to make what is cheap, efficient, and quick to what is fair, just, and right.

— Seah Kian Peng

The critique was countered in a parliamentary reply that included how the Ministry of Education had been transparent and consultative. I am not commenting on that claim because I do not wish to turn healthy skepticism into unreasonable cynicism.

I actually do not like how dependent we still are on cars. I expressed this conviction when I cycled to school when I was a teacher and took the bus to campus when I was a professor. I still take bus 11 (walk, bike), and rely on the bus and train now. So I do not really have a stake the parking issue.

I do, however, have a stake in the mindsets and well-being of our teachers and educators. I still operate as a teacher educator and I have long observed that pedagogical issues are not compartmentalised from economic ones.

The crux of the “clean wage” argument seems to be one of transparency — you should not get benefits that others in the civil service do not enjoy.

But teachers are civil servants like no other. Teachers do not submit claims for stationery that schools do not provide. Nor do they ask for compensation for treats they might provide students when both they and their students go the extra mile.

Speaking of which, how many civil servants claim lost family time, weekends, and vacation time because they have to:

  • make corrections on work they have to bring home?
  • plan for lessons before the work week?
  • chaperone kids for training, performances, or overseas trips?

If we cannot abide by having hidden benefits, how can we accept hidden costs?

Furthermore, some things cannot be compartmentalised, quantified, and paid for like parking spaces. Teachers give because they tend to be nurturing. Can we not take better care of them in return?

Viewed through an economic lens, a wage looks unclean if a teacher gets free parking. But viewed with a moral filter, slapping fees on such civil servants who already give so much and do not complain about now having to also pay for parking is filthy.


Video source

This video claims that it showcases “Things Every Teacher Can Relate To”.

Not quite. I am sure that most teachers here do not know what a snow day is. They will also not relate to “spring forward, fall back” time changes.

Likewise teachers elsewhere might not be required to pay for parking at school or know what to do with exam candidates affected by train delays.

Teachers share many things across the globe, but they also differ greatly. It is far more difficult to showcase or celebrate their differences.

For example, I am quite certain that most teachers here cannot relate to the plight of some teachers in the USA. The recent protests and walkouts in Oklahoma as just one example.


Video source

Any teacher here worried about paying for parking or spotty wifi access at the periphery of a large campus needs some perspective. The video immediately above provides some.

No, the video below of Trump supporting the idea that teachers be armed with handguns is not a joke. I mean it is, but it isn’t.


Video source

The idea seems to be that some teachers should be trained to fire weapons when — not if — there is another school shooting. Apparently this is both a reactionary measure (teachers are already on the premises) and a preventative one (a would-be shooter would think twice about entering a saloon with armed cowboys).

So are the premises that 1) teachers are the type of people to be the first line of offensive defence, and 2) crazy or enraged people stop to consider the consequences of their actions?

It is hard to watch the entire video because it is hard to believe that this is even a suggestion. There was a terrible shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last week and the suggestion is that they need more guns, not less.

I am not weighing in on the guns-in-the-US debate. I do not live there and I do not really have a say. But I am an educator, and what I do is not limited to borders.

I ask questions instead of providing answers I do not have:

  • What might pre and in-service courses for these teachers look like?
  • How might the recruitment and retention of teachers change?
  • What if an armed teacher misuses his or her gun?
  • What if the teacher hits an innocent?
  • Am I in a screwed-up Matrix?

When the stone dropped in the once placid waters of teaching, its ripples started spreading. One result of enforced mergers of some mainstream Singapore schools was how some teachers had to look for teaching opportunities elsewhere.
 

 
This is a classic case of a problem defined largely through an administrative lens, being patched by an administrative solution, only to create another problem.

The original problem was falling enrolments due to falling birthrates. Logically, fewer children means smaller intakes mean fewer classes. Administratively, this also means too many teachers.

The administrative solution was to maintain established teacher:student ratios above all else. Never mind other possibilities like centralised efforts, team teaching, or more boutique efforts.

This created the previously non-existent problem of teacher surplus. As a result other schools now have to take in teachers who have no where else to go.
 

 
The silver lining in this dark cloud has been that teachers who interact in tight circles within their own schools now are forced to fraternise with teachers elsewhere.

Interactions take the form of phone calls, job interviews, job initiation, mentoring and guidance, and daily interaction. Unlike the induction of beginning teachers, these interactions are with intermediates or veterans.

Staff at all levels — school leaders, middle managers, on-the-ground teachers — can more clearly see the differences in school culture and teacher quality when new old teachers join their ranks.

This is like going on a vacation and experiencing a new culture for the first time. Unlike a vacation, they cannot return home to what they are used to. They have to live with the consequence of administrative decision-making.

 
I had dinner out with an elderly relative yesterday. He noticed my son was not as good as using chopsticks as the rest of us so he called a server over and asked for a fork. He did not ask my son or us if a fork was warranted, and he got an earful from my wife.

What was the issue? He thought my son was struggling and he sought to help.

The deeper issues were that 1) the help was not needed as my son, while not the best user of chopsticks, was feeding himself just fine, and 2) he was reinforcing old behaviour and an easier way out.

The latter is a lesson for all who see ourselves as educators. We care for our learners and wish to help. Before we do, we should consider if the help treats a symptom or deals with a deeper seated-problem.

We might also determine if our help addresses a short-term problem but creates unnecessary dependence or reinforces old habits, or if not helping immediately and instinctively is actually better help.

If students are to learn from mistakes and struggle, they must be able to make mistakes and struggle. If we step in and help too much, we are not helping at all.

These are judgement calls we might be called upon to make every day. I hope that we do a better job of helping by knowing when and how to not help our learners in 2017.


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