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Posts Tagged ‘teachers

If Twitter comments, favourites, or retweets are indication of popularity, this tweet was underserved. And yet its linked article was an important read not just for parents, but also for teachers.

The paywalled article, What parents need to know about using ChatGPT for interactive learning, offered some good advice. For example:

…teachers should check the answers provided by the text generator against other reliable sources. They should also advise students on how and when to use these tools, and regularly remind them of the importance of academic integrity, such as by stating when they have used AI tools and to cite sources accurately.

It was not only informative, it also had a clearheaded tone instead of the fear mongering that newspapers often resort to. From the article, I discovered:

  • a Chemistry teacher who taught his students how to identify wrong answers from ChatGPT with deconstructive prompts
  • English teachers who shared ideas in Facebook about how to scaffold essay writing and to enable differentiated coaching
  • a Literature teacher who got his students to use ChatGPT to create chapter summaries and character analyses
  • an English and Literature teacher who leveraged on ChatGPT as a teaching assistant that could reach her students immediately and all at once

When it came to advice for parents (the title of the article), an ex-colleague at NIE reminded parents that the terms and conditions of ChatGPT require users to be at least 18-years-old. He highlighted how older students might have the maturity to compensate for what ChatGPT could not do while taking advantage of its affordances. He advised parents of younger learners to guide their children and model critical thinking (tall order!).

Like other practitioners and researchers, he also advised using ChatGPT as a conversation partner, a tutor of basic facts, and a fun exploratory tool. 

However, he also reminded parents that ChatGPT could not understand context or possess a human touch. The tool is far from perfect and learners of all ages need to learn literacy skills like fact-checking and evaluating information generated by ChatGPT. Given its newness and rapid deployment, ChatGPT’s reliance on our provided and generated data could also be a security and privacy concern.

This was a prudent and timely article. It was presented clearly, logically, and loaded with examples of efforts of progressives, early adopters, and champions. We need more of such writing to counter the unfounded fears generated on popular and social media channels.

Photo by Igor Mashkov on

Larry Cuban highlighted a Walton Family Foundation report on ChatGPT use among teachers and students. The survey was of 1,002 K-12 teachers and 1,000 students ages 12 to 17 in the USA and was conducted between February 2 and 7 this year.

The biggest takeaway from this snapshot was that teachers were using it more than students.

Some key findings: 

  • Within two months of its introduction, a 51% majority of teachers reported using ChatGPT, with 40% using it at least once a week
  • The majority of students (63%) and teachers (72%) agree that “ChatGPT is just another example of why we can’t keep doing things the old way for schools in the modern world”
  • 64% of teachers plan to implement the technology more often, from lesson planning, to creating new ideas, to using it as part of curriculum
  • Most teachers (71%) and students (65%) agree that “ChatGPT will be an essential tool for students’ success in college and the workplace” even as school districts are considering the ban or have already banned its use

The report is a snapshot because it captures a partial picture at a particular moment in time. How representative it is depends on the sampling method. These are true of any survey. That said, the report provides counters to popular media narratives of the death of student essays and the redundancy of teachers.

Photo by cottonbro on

This Wired piece about Teachers on TikTok was thought-provoking. It had a US-centric perspective when it said:

Many teachers use TikTok to encourage important conversations about their profession and crowdfund for their classrooms, but the value of other videos is less apparent. Meanwhile, the popularity of classroom videos means some educators copy other teachers’ practices on the app, mistakenly assuming they aren’t breaking any rules. 

I dare say that not many (or any) teachers here would have “conversations about their profession” on TikTok if they valued their continued employment. Being among the best-compensated and well-supported in the world for their work, our teachers would not have to “crowdfund for their classrooms” either.

But I think that the challenges of adopting any technology platform become lessons in themselves for teachers and educators everywhere.

For example, the unnamed teacher who was brave enough to share her story might give some pause for thought. I was struck by how she felt that TikTok was the main way for her to build rapport and respect.

Viewing this cynically, I might point out that her context has larger issues to contend with if she needed TikTok to get attention. They sometimes do (e.g., fundraising) because they need to help themselves.

Viewing this more objectively, that teacher is operating by a principle I advocate: To teach them, you must reach them.

There is a more important takeaway: Student privacy. When teachers include the work of their students or even the students themselves in their TikToks, they risk ire, abuse, and unknown consequences of a fleeting moment. What seems fun and harmless now can have far-reaching results like stalking or bullying. 

The shared problem that teachers on TikTok have is that there are no explicitly clear rules for them to follow. The existing rules might be so vague or so conservative that they are not helpful. Why? The rules were written for another time, context, or circumstance. Like most things even in the safer realm of edtech, they cannot address new TikTok expectations and behaviours.

So I offer five questions shaped by edtech wisdoms:

  1. Who is this practice for?
  2. Why are you doing it?
  3. No, really. Why?
  4. What harm are you doing?
  5. What is the least harm you can do?

The first question is fundamental — it is about who benefits from TikTok-ing. If the students do not benefit clearly and directly, do not TikTok.

If you need to TikTok for attention, views, or money, leave teaching. You are likely in the wrong profession. Critically ask yourself why you need TikTok. Go beyond superficial responses and the answers that the press or armchair experts might give. Convince yourself and your critics with pedagogical rationale that stands the test of time, reflective practice, or critical research.

Then recognise that every good intention harms in some way. This is like how green measures still have carbon footprints. The issue is recognising that no intervention is ideal and that you need to manage the most good out of it.

Photo by Ivan Samkov on

Why do we keep getting articles like this — The Big Read: What can make our teachers happier and less overworked?

The perennial cry from teachers is that they cannot focus on their core duties during school hours because they are distracted by meetings, administration, and co-curricular activities (CCAs). 

A simplistic lay person’s reply might be that teachers here are well-paid and keep being well paid, so they should just grin and bear with it. After all, what job does not come with unpleasant and extra duties. Indeed. But how many of those jobs require you to use so much after work and weekend time? 

Then there is the usual slew of official excuses why teachers should not be sacrificing person and family time all the time. The article mentioned:

  • An online mental health portal, Mindline
  • Technology that “streamline(s) administrative processes”
  • Having funding for schools to hire staff for administrative duties

My most and least favourite is the time-tested response:

…MOE employs slightly over 32,000 teachers. In response to TODAY’s queries on the annual resignation rate over the past five years, the ministry would only say that it has remained “relatively low and stable” at between 2 and 3 per cent “over the last few years”. 

In other words: Problem? What problem? If there really was a problem with overburden, then why are our teachers not leaving in droves?

That excuse disguises the fact that 2 to 3% of 32,000 is still 640 to 960 individuals. This number does not include the people who go on course, long term leave, unpaid leave, etc. They get a respite of sorts, but their work is then shouldered by colleagues left behind.

People not leaving in droves does not mean that there isn’t a serious problem with overwork. It could mean that there are far too many people staying and suffering in relative silence.

Another bugbear of local teachers was given a single line in the article: “Apart from the overall workload, other challenges commonly cited by the teachers interviewed included how they are assessed by their superiors.“ The writer had the right to focus on the role of parental pressure on teachers, but this sweeps another issue under the carpet.

That is not to say that that the unrealistic and unfair expectations of some parents is not a problem. It is and the article does a good job unpacking this issue. 

But I say we operate more strategically. The initiatives that are supposed to help teachers fall flat because they do not address root problem — people WITHIN the teaching fraternity who create problems for teachers. 

Visualise this: Teachers are the core group with core issues, their students are the second layer, while parents are a third outer layer. Why focus on the third layer when it is difficult to influence when you have close control over the core layer?

I am talking about teachers, managers of teachers, and leaders of teachers being problems (or not being solutions) for dedicated teachers. They overburden such teachers by: 

  • not doing their fair share of the work
  • not enacting policies that could ease burdens
  • not standing up for their teachers

Consider how teacher managers and leaders could set and implement policy about parent-teacher communication via WhatsApp, e.g., no communication after X pm and before Y am. For that matter, reigning in the use of a tool like WhatsApp because teacher and parent users do not seem to draw the lines of personal and professional, work time and non-work time.

Teachers tend to be caring and nurturing, and so others who are less so, parents or managers of such teachers, can take advantage of them. We need managers and leader who identify and stand up to such bullies.

Dealing with a problem like overburdened teacher workloads is complex. There is no single solution. However, any complex system has pivot points around which effective change happens. One of these is good teacher leadership. It comes from the core of teachers, and diagnoses its problems and devises solutions from within.

This tweeted look back into our recent history triggered me. I still hear excuses for why technology should not enable teaching and learning. 

The news article may be 40-years-old, but it shares the same the roots for excuses today — fear and ignorance. There is the fear of change and the lack of reading up and trying new ways.

Nowadays the fear that paralyses seems to come from the bogeymen of screen time, social media, and video games. The ignorance behind these is entrenched by traditional media channels that focus on opinions over research, and loose perception over rigorous data.

Thankfully, I do not encounter as many technology-resistant pre- and in-service teachers as before. But they linger like the anti-vax segments of our population. And like the anti-vaxxers, such teachers hold themselves and their students back from doing and being better.

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.


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