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Posts Tagged ‘teachers

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?

Whether the quote is in its new form…

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see. — Alexandra K. Trenfor

… or its old one…

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see. — Alexandra K. Trenfor

… my guess is that most teachers would agree with the sentiment. But easier said than done.

Most teachers are taught to provide answers and thus tell students what to see. The problem with doing this is not just providing answers when there are no questions. It is not being comfortable with generating questions and facing questions with no clear answers.

We are accustomed to the pedagogy of answers, but not to the pedagogy of questions.

In “olds” made news, this report tells us what we already know: Singapore teachers are paid very well and they are overworked.

So instead of focusing on established fact, I concentrate on how the latest facts were established. In the process, I illustrate principles of Skepticism 101.

First, were the 200 teachers from each country representative of the teacher population?

A sample of 200 might be statistically sound, but there was no information about how the sampling was conducted. For example, were the numbers garnered from a convenience sampling of respondents, e.g., from a limited set of schools or a captive audience?

We’re all 200 beginning teachers or was there a proportionate mix? If there was a mix of teacher experience, how many beginning teachers were used to determine their average starting salaries?

Second, the starting salaries of beginning teachers in Singapore was very high. The amount was equivalent to what a local assistant professor might make a decade ago.

Even taking into account salaries that keep pace with the rising cost of living, there was no information on whether the sampled teachers here were mid-career switchers, hired by independent/private schools, and/or Masters or Ph.D. holders. All these teachers typically command higher starting salaries.

It was entirely clear if the salaries were relative or absolute. If they were relative, they would be scaled to the cost of living in each country. If the numbers were absolute, then you would have to make comparisons of salaries from different Jon’s within each country and not between teachers of different countries.

Third, the definition of work hours was not clear. Were these official or unofficial work hours? Was the average over term time or over the entire calendar year? What if some teachers reported office hours but not weekend marking?

Were the salaries and work hours compared against data that the Ministry of Education here might have? This was not the job of the producers of the report; this was something the newspaper could have done to add meaning and value.
 

 
I do not doubt that teachers here are well-paid and work-stressed. But as long as the processes (i.e., data sampling and analyses) were murky, I do not trust the product (the report). When a news article further simplified the report, this muddied the water even more.

World Teachers’ Day has been marked annually on October 5th since 1994. According to UNESCO:

World Teachers’ Day commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. This Recommendation sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions.


Video source

It is celebrated differently in various places or not at all. The video above is Ellen’s way. Singapore marks our own day in September.

I wonder when we might be more inclusive and global in our outlook on teachers and teaching. As much as teachers have in common in terms of problems, each system has its own issues. Teachers here might appreciate what they have here even more if they understood what their counterparts elsewhere do not.

Mainstream schools in Singapore celebrate Teachers’ Day (TD) today. School teachers will get a day off and would have received cards and presents from their students.

I am marking the day by conducting a workshop for future faculty. If memory serves me right, I had classes or workshops every TD for at least a decade.

I do not feel sore about this because institutions of higher education generally do not share the same special day* for their educators. I hope that future faculty will not be disappointed.

*I am not referring to teaching awards and ceremonies as these are typically top-down events. I am referring to bottom-up practices led by those immediately impacted by our actions — the learners.

Perhaps things will turn around in the higher education arena one day. Maybe the powers-that-be will start with an apology for not recognising the thankless tasks of teaching and facilitating.

If they need ideas, here is one from popular culture.


Video source

The rest of the year, teaching is a thankless form of caring, mentoring, and preparing. Teachers parent kids, influence citizens, and mould taxpayers. We should apologise if we are less than grateful. We could start with saying sorry for taking their “free” parking away.

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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.


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