Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Teacher or An Educator

I teach 25 periods a week, which translates to 1000 minutes or 3.33 hours a day. There are 200 schooling days a year which means that I should be teaching something like 670 hours per year. Compare that to teachers in the US who teach roughly 1100 hours per year, my work environment should fall into the ideal category. In Finland, a country with has been among the world's top performer in reading, science and maths in the world, their teachers teach 570 hours.

However, I am not as well paid as my Finnish or US counterparts. And I do not have the kind of autonomy in the classroom like my Finnish counterpart. I teach the equivalent of high school. But unlike Finland, we are often told to give as much homework as possible to students. When that doesn't get the desired results in national testing vehicles like the PMR (soon to be abolished) and SPM, extra classes come in. FYI, Finnish high school kids get about 1/2 am hour of homework only. My teaching hours will increase with the extra classes. Most of the time, these classes are shoved down our throats. A one hour extra a week plus a couple more during the hols would easily add another 100 hours to my teaching hours...

It should be noted also that Finnish kids don't get tested till Grade 5 or Year 5 of our equivalent. Parents are not informed of their kids progress via report cards. Teachers make sure the kids are well educated in the basic skills necessary. But they make the students accountable for their own learning.

In Malaysia, we tend to make teachers accountable for their teaching. My own experience has shown me that, if we can make kids accountable for their own learning, they improve much faster. But if we 'force' it down the their throats, i.e. by making sure the teachers fulfills their contracts, syllabus, etc, etc, progress is only as much and well as they can regurgitate. A kid accountable for his own learning will take the extra effort to make sure he understands while a kid who is part of the equation via the teacher's accountability often becomes just another statistic to a goal. Kids who want to learn make their teachers their partner-in-learning. Kids forced to learn view their teachers as task-masters... or slave drivers. Thus you have situations where 12 year-olds (UPSR year) kids rushing to finish a certain number of questions because their teacher wants them to, rather than learning something well.

Here, we are very much caught in this trap that more is better. So term break is sacrificed for more cramming sessions. Many of these cramming sessions have become rote and drill sessions... no real education takes place.

Also, teachers in Malaysia do a lot of clerical work. A good portion of our time is currently eaten up what I term as data crunching. We do Head Counts to project future results and that set of data is not based so much on student abilities than the school's desired target.

This year they enforce this contract of exercises on us too. We have to meet the target set in our contract. So instead of sometimes meandering along certain topics which sometimes is necessary to spark the kids' imagination, we are now more obsessed about giving exercises. It's all about figures more than educating. Somehow, it is now common belief that more exercises is the only way.

My recent batches of students have also shown to me how poor listeners they make. Learning via the hearing channel doesn't seem very effective. And I thought listening is a skill too that we must teach. Our autonomy is slowly being eroded, in part I suspect because of the deteriorating quality of our students. So, planners must be thinking that teachers are not doing their job. What more with vernacular Chinese schools who seem to work wonders with their super hard work where extra classes are concerned.

A teacher teaches a thing and it stops there but an educator teaches a thing and lives it. These days, we can't live it cos we neither have the time nor energy. And being stressed out also means that the happiness scale is on the rather low side. A happy teacher makes a better teacher. A stressed out teacher makes a harried one. Go figure which kind of teacher benefits a student.

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