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Old 20-12-2018, 12:32 AM
theeveryteacher theeveryteacher is offline
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Found this from a presumed MOE teacher:
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The loss of a teacher

The MOE attributes teacher resignation to three top reasons - two related to family and the other a ‘desire for a change of job’ - all of which seem personal and beyond the control of the ministry. The latter reason, however, needs to be qualified. The heartening barrage of letters to the press and other forms of media paint a fuller, albeit bleaker picture that explains in greater detail ‘the desire for a job change’ (after all, which teacher would want to leave the teaching profession and/or be jobless without other reasons?), but it is no less instructive for policymakers (and school leaders, especially) to take note of these problems.

I attempt to explore the problems that have been brought up by fellow countrymen (in particular Christopher Tang, who offered the most cogent of arguments), and supplement the discussion with evidence gathered through decades-long conversations with MOE teachers/friends/brothers/sisters young and old, veteran and new. More importantly, I urge those who (and not 'that which') are involved to accept the responsibility in taking action to change that which they can change. Finally, I urge friends and family of teachers to speak up for the voiceless and continue this conversation with the Ministry.

In recent weeks, we have bemoaned the conditions that lead to teachers quitting, and the large numbers at that. Yet behind those numbers is a much larger one that underscores a pervasive problem: the majority of 33,000 who remain but are losing themselves every day, hanging precariously by a thread attached to their heartstrings like a marionette and its master.

The loss of a teacher is a tragedy of the common man. When an average, everyday person sees herself as just another cog in the machine that needs to be oiled and just perform at the expense of all she believes in - when she loses her sense of self - it is a grave day, and a reflection of what could happen to you and me. That is when the loss of a teacher occurs, and quitting the service is simply the final nail in the coffin.

The loss of a teacher starts from her inception. In NIE - our renowned teacher-training institution of educational excellence - the trainee teacher is taught and inspired by meaningful pedagogies that pursue deep learning in students. Her beliefs are shaped and honed, having learnt from other model educators. Upon graduation she seeks to inspire young wards with these wonderful pedagogies.

Then two years into the school she is posted to, the reality of how teachers are assessed by ‘performance’ - teachers’ performance, their students’ performance, and other visible performative evidence - kicks in. She realises that teaching to the test (teaching test items in order that students’ test scores improve) through worksheets and exam papers is the norm in her school because there are termly file checks, and thus tangible evidence of students’ files getting fuller. Students’ grades are also getting better, so she concludes that learning is taking place. Her reporting officer (RO) is happy at this, but encourages her to be more visible by spearheading innovative programmes, spurring her CCA students toward greater accolades, and writing research papers to share at conferences.

When it comes to the ranking exercise (a performance evaluation exercise that ranks you against other colleagues), she learns that she has received a ‘C’, which is a good grade she is told. A little disgruntled (because she has been socialised by the aforementioned norms of performance management), she asks what a ‘B’ looks like and learns that she must do so much more than just teach well. Once again, she is instructed of the performative evidence she must obtain by doing things beyond the classroom. She must be seen caring for the character development of students beyond the classroom, even though she does that in her everyday lessons. She must be seen improving herself by attending courses, sharing, and producing presentations and papers, even though she reads quite a lot of research articles at home. She must be seen contributing to the school’s and organisational development, even though she feels that is something the leaders of the school (who chose to be in the leadership track) should be more directly involved in. The operative words that resound in her mind are ‘be seen’.

All this while, there is a cognitive dissonance that sears through her mind. She has had quiet conversations with her colleague who just received a ‘D’ grade (which apparently means he is meeting expectations). She knows him to be a committed teacher who wants to be on the teaching track and focus on classroom teaching and learning. He cares for the students and is constantly looking for meaningful resources to engage them. He uses the baseline worksheets that the school dishes out but does not emphasise their completion because he does not agree with the philosophy of teaching to the test, and rationalises that there are a myriad of more meaningful resources out there that can deepen his students’ learning (and he uses them). He has repeatedly explained that a lot of the prescribed professional development courses the RO recommends him to go for after curriculum hours are things that he has already learnt from NIE, and therefore he feels that his time would be better spent marking and planning lessons . He oversees a low-key CCA that encourages students to take care of the school garden, but does not go all out to ensure the garden wins an award. He was also told off before for not responding to a phone message sent to him at 9pm. From these data points, the performance grade of D is given to him, despite the fact that he is a good classroom teacher and that his students are showing slow but steady improvement. Still, he is self-assured because he says that his conscience is clear and he has done all he can to help his students during his working hours after all the school’s afternoon programmes. There are other committed teachers like him who also receive ‘D’ grades, but because they are not as stoic, decide to leave the service after 5 - 7 years. We lose these teachers, and wonder if that one teacher who stays on will continue to maintain his convictions and moral compass in the face of performative pressures.

Back to our newly-minted teacher. She rationalises that she should still do what her RO suggests, because her ambition is to rise up as a leader in the leadership track. She tries to creatively integrate her NIE-learnt pedagogies into the proven teaching-to-the-test exam paper method, but as soon as she busies herself being seen doing performative tasks, there is little time to plan the lessons that she believes to be ideal. Years pass and she is now middle management. She finds that there are always more things to do that will help the school, and those things are evidently more visible and thus more rewarding than what she does in the classroom. The loss of a teacher is slowly but surely occurring.

I do not seek to moralise (or generalise) the complex experiences and choices of teachers through the sharing of these vignettes, but only to highlight the need to ask these questions:

Should teachers be penalised for not doing visible performative tasks outside the classroom? Who are the ones rewarding these performative tasks? Is this culture self-perpetuated by the individual teacher? Are the RO or school leader responsible for this culture? Or another leader higher up the bureaucracy? What would it take for a systemic change? Should we simply hope for all teachers to have stoic moral courage like our teacher sticking to his convictions? Does the evaluation system need a review?
Are standardised tests the best way to move students’ learning forward? Are 100% filechecks? Are there other ways of doing so? Is learning deep and broad? Have we researched into the use of formative assessment without semestral exams? How many weeks of actual teaching are compromised by teachers who teach toward semestral exams? Do teachers need to be evaluated by their students’ scores?
Do our teachers love their subject? Do they love the way they are teaching their subject? Do our pupils love learning? Do they even love their subject?
How do we close the gap between what beliefs and values educators espouse and what is truly enacted?
Why are the ideals of NIE with regard to pedagogies so far from the reality that is in school? How do we close that gap? Can there be an integration of pedagogies that lead to deep learning, with the ubiquitous use of worksheets and other methods that teach to the test?
Are teachers given autonomy to choose the programmes that they are involved in, or a choice of whether the school should be involved in a programme or not? How do teachers truly feel about programmes introduced by their school leaders? Do we even ask them? Do their feelings matter? Are those programmes truly meaningful? Do we evaluate the efficacy of initiatives before running them or hiring consultants? What do teachers feel take them away from lesson planning?
Does hiring new teachers or AEDs solve the problem when we lose our teachers?
When do we truly lose a teacher?

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