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the simple life

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Let Teachers Teach

ISO awards? Forget it. Just let teachers teach

March 26, 2005
The Straits Times

BRAVO to Mrs Elaine Toh-Tan for 'setting the record straight' for teachers who would not be allowed to write such a letter to the national newspaper ('Why some dedicated teachers call it a day'; ST, March 17).

The workload as pointed out by her is not an exaggeration. Dedicated teacher friends I know have sacrificed much in their personal and family lives.

The problem is, schools expect every teacher to be strong in every aspect of the unrealistically large number of responsibilities, from mundane to big scale.

By and large, teachers are able to multi-task but they, and indeed all of us, have different strengths and limits.

On top of the difficulties highlighted by Mrs Toh-Tan, teachers also have to face the pressure of endless work reviews. Evaluation of one's performance should be seen as positive but it is not so when it seems mandatory for schools to 'fail' a certain number of teachers each year.

We must also not forget how teachers have to cope with the countless changes to the education system in recent years. I wonder if the recent syllabus slip-up in one secondary school has anything to do with this.

Mrs Toh-Tan mentioned parents as one of the challenges. I would like to add another - the 'managers' of a school. While we have been exhorted to be thinking and creative, it is still very much a 'what other schools have, we must have in our school too' mentality for many of those who lead schools.

Going by what one sees on the banners being displayed at more and more schools, rare is the enlightened principal who is able to see through and do away with the pursuit of the myriad of unnecessary programmes and awards, to do what a school is supposed to do - educate and mould the young.

To do this, teachers simply need time, time to interact with their students with 'no strings attached' as it were, no award-winning targets to be achieved.

They should not be wasting their time helping to write up reports for their school to achieve ISO, Quality Service and People Developer awards, etc. Schools nowadays may have gone off track in their mission.

To me, a teacher who has no time to update his teaching materials, to do research, to talk to students about things outside of schoolwork, has failed in his primary duty.

And that perhaps is why truly dedicated teachers, those who really want to impart knowledge and influence their students for the better, leave.

Initiatives to engage more admin help have so far not benefited teachers. Such personnel are employed basically to help the school principals and vice-principals.

Already some teachers are worried that the recent announcement that vice-principals (admin) will be appointed could only translate to even more administrative work for them - now there will be another person instructing them to follow up on this and report on that!

Teachers need help with things like collection of school fees/donations, following up on latecomers, getting bus services for school outings, nitty-gritty paperwork unrelated to teaching, among others.

Teaching has become so unreasonably demanding that some young teachers are already so tired and demoralised they are thinking of quitting once their bonds are up. No matter how much is spent on glamorising teaching then, it will not attract people to the 'profession', at least not the right type, if those in it have nothing good to say about it.

Indeed, if people are not treated right as unique, thinking individuals and if the turnover in any organisation is high, lapses will occur and we can forget about the world-class standards we are trying to achieve.

Increasing the salaries of teachers will only do so much. Most who choose to teach must have been motivated by loftier ideals than just a fat pay package. Instead, why not spread the money around - pay fairly but use the balance to employ more teachers?

There will then be a much better distribution of work, students will benefit from the strengths of different teachers and at least a part of the population will get to enjoy a healthier work-life balance.

The result? Happier teachers, more will be enticed to teach and, hopefully, more babies even!

Lee Pui Fong (Ms)


At 3/31/2005 11:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Mr S Tan

At 4/01/2005 06:50:00 PM, Blogger isaiah_sg said...

True. I think this Elaine Toh-Tan mentioned here used to be with us in JC. I actually met her teaching in a primary school when I was conducting some enrichment course.


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