Thursday, October 4, 2012

So I teach...

... and I've been at it for more than 2 decades. It wasn't quite a career I entertained until my final year, when many of my course mates started applying for the Dip Ed. I had set my mind on a career elsewhere and had actually even secured a few job offers by the time of my finals. But Dad told me to finish my Dip Ed first and then decide...

My first posting was to a rural school. When I arrived, the Principal told me that their Form 3 had been without a teacher for 5 months. He asked whether I was okay with taking all 5 classes. Being quite gung-ho, I agreed. It was after that, I found out that the passing percentage had been 20% for English PMR the year before. My HM did not pressure me and I didn't know any better. I was as raw as can be for a newly trained teacher. But I dived into teaching the kids... I did lots of writing, made the kids accountable to me, became a tyrant of sorts.... but had lots of fun with the students. And they taught me about life too. I was in a border town and the small town me was often shocked by the tales regaled by the 15-year-olds. Lol! But back then English still felt like second language. The school was rural but kids could at least still understand a smattering of English.

Some of the kids would hang out at my place in the evenings sometimes, just to chat while Other Half was busy at work. We had a big yard and made plans to turn it into a volleyball court. That year, the passing percentage went up by 20%! The significance of the rise did not register in me though, being naive and all that. That following year, I took all the Form 3s again! This time the passing percentage hit the 50s. In 1.5 years we went from 20% to 54%. It wasn't because I was a terrific teacher. Nor did I hold any extra classes. All I did was conscientiously go into classes, held my students accountable for their work and engaged them. I took interest in their lives and they responded by paying attention. In fact, in the first 2 weeks of teaching, 2 school inspectors (one from the state and another, federal) observed my class. I had an earful from them about everything. And it formed much of my impression of what constitutes constructive criticism. Much of what I did seemed not to be right by them. But now I know that the results showed that at least I did quite a bit right.

Fast forward 20 years. The attitude of the students I have now has changed much. Sleeping in class seems to be a favourite past time for many boys, I noticed. They are a disinterested lot. It's still possible to engage them sometimes as I discovered with my Form 4 class sometimes but I can no longer do it in English with them. Much of their English lesson is conducted in BM now. Their lack of command is simply overwhelmingly debilitating. English doesn't feel like a second language. It feels like a foreign language! And when I see them incapacitated by their lack of English skills, I see a lost generation; lost because they have lost a tool to improve themselves. You see, much of the good stuff out there is still in English and many of our young people have all but lost that ability to digest them. The internet has made this loss a really painful one because the internet has opened the door of knowledge wide for everyone. Having the right tool helps.

For a while, there seemed to be a little hope. The English results have been inching up... even in my school, up till PMR the going has been good... at least numerically. As much as some teachers think that it's their effort, I feel we actually have the PPSMI to thank for. There was more English contact hours. But I think it'll be a downhill ride for a while after this... unless the MBMMBI is effective. But data is often times doubtful these days... the lowering down of passing marks, deteriorating command of examiners themselves....

Sometimes, when I go through students' (from other classes) exercise books, I see glaring errors which were missed by their the teachers. We now have many English teachers who can't tell wrong from right. Sometimes the errors are so glaringly basic that I don't know what to think of them. We have many incompetent English language teachers teaching English and they are doing much harm to our young. Hiding behind the veil of nationalism which resulted in mediocrity has all but seen to it that only the privileged have a usable command of the language. And so we trained our students to memorise essays. They get their grades but leave school without the sufficient language skills. And what's worse I suspect is many feel they are good... We know what 'thinking that we're good' does to us.

A student of mine recently went into a monosyllabic chant when I told him that he should pay attention to his teacher, followed by a retort that it's how his teachers sounded like and it puts him to sleep. I was a student once too. Sleeping wasn't a norm, that's for sure. I don't know whether it was a healthy dose of fear or our teacher could engage us. Perhaps we were just simply better kids but I doubt that.

Schools put kids through hours of extra classes now. Parents send their kids for tuitions to get more reinforcements. Yet kids don't seem to get any smarter. If observations of my own kid is anything to go by, I see her curiousity and inquisitiveness being dulled by all those extras... As she grows older, I notice the rush to complete the ever increasing pile of homework. I see haste in trying to finish the task at hand so that she can begin the next one. Play becomes a luxury... Learning becomes a chore. I thought learning should be play too....

So, I teach. What I see around me is more technological advances but less teaching innovation. I have also come to realise that while technological advances are great tools, they're but mere tools. It's whether the user is able to to use it to his/her advantage. Many of us fail....

4 comments:

SM Ting said...

yes....we teach n we do it with passion. Just yesterday two Form 3 girls came to see me to complain about their english tchr who has not checked their work from beginning of the year n PMR is next week.

Being a kind soul, I didn't want to get the colleague into trouble; so I didn't suggest anything nasty to them. Told them to leave their work quietly on my table and I will have a look and if need will write my comments down for them.

It's frustrating....really disheartened by the system but trying to stay afloat for the ss sake.

Anyway....i continue to hold on to the principle that it's just my part time job!!!!!!!!! (bluffing myself)

AJ7 said...

You too?? LOL!

Volvoxx said...

Heya,

Stumbled upon your blog while looking for reviews for Morganfields, but ended up spending an hour or two reading your blog.

Just a note to say I find it very interesting and find many of your opinions and observations...very truly reflecting on what is happening to our country (esp this entry about quality of English teachers). Being brought up by an English teacher for a mother (and my bf, an English teacher for his aunt who was caring for him), we went thru uni and to working life thinking our level of English was normal, or rather, expectable level of what everyone should be at. Only later in our working life did we notice how the majority of ppl in the working class have only passable, if not utterly horrible, command of the English language. The realization made me promise to myself to make sure my future children to dig their noses into English story books and make sure they have good command of English alongside their mother tongue.

Anyways, it's been a long comment. Haha! I'm long winded. Keep up the good work and keep the good stories coming ;)

AJ7 said...

Thank you...