Be a passionate teacher!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Read this article in the Straits Times and it got me thinking again. Is teaching a dumping ground when graduates or working adults can seek the pay they want in the society? I'm particularly disturbed when I know that MOE is embarking on a huge recruitment drive. In the midst of the recession, casting the nets this wide may have detrimental effects. As it is, there are a group of teachers who are teaching not for passion but for other reasons, namely -- money and freedom (in the past). Read up the news on (education section) and it's not hard to find articles regarding teachers being demoralising and uninspiring. True, we've often read about great teachers getting awards for their motivating ways, but I believe this is just a small percentage. Majority of them are complaining and with the workload that there is in school right now, it's no wonder, they vent their anger one the young ones at times! This is a reason why I don't wish to be a school teacher.

However, each time a friend decides on a career change and plan to take the teaching route, it gets me thinking. Recently a friend, who used to be in the financial sector, tendered his resignation and plans to teach. He isn't exactly someone whom I deem as teaching material to be honest. Not because he is stupid, but it's the mentality. I've always portrayed him as someone who has a passion for other fields. Well, let's hope he doesn't regret and does a spanking good job at teaching. Coz seriously, we do not need another sicko teacher to demoralise our children!

Read about the article below:
Throw the hiring net wide

By Sandra Davie, Senior Writer

IS THE Education Ministry's latest teacher hiring spree a good or bad thing?

In Parliament last week, several backbenchers voiced concern over MOE's plan to recruit a record number of 3,000 teachers in this recessionary year.

They were worried that the surge of retrenched people who sign up for teaching as a last resort may not make committed teachers.

In November and December alone, MOE received some 3,000 applications. If this surge continues, MOE will no doubt have its pick from a very large pool of applicants.

In response, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen has given the assurance that MOE will not compromise its standards and will pick only those with the passion, aptitude and commitment to teaching.

Going by the latest research on teacher recruitment and selection, a large pool of applicants to choose from is exactly what is needed.

Experts say, even with the best interview techniques and pre-selection criteria, it is near impossible at the point of hiring to foretell who would make a good teacher. Some have found that you have to try out four candidates just to get one good teacher.

Your best bet is: Throw the net wide and hope to reel in a few good ones.

The latest educational research to understand what constitutes good, effective teaching, how such teachers are made and how to get more of them has shown that good teachers make the most marked difference to a student's performance.

Stanford University's Professor Eric Hanushek, who does economic analyses of educational policies, found that students under a very bad teacher learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year. However, those taught by a very good teacher learn a year-and- a-half's worth of material.

The difference is staggering, amounting to a year's worth of learning in a single year.

His studies also showed that good teachers make more of a difference than a reduction of class size. Research showed that the average class size had to be cut almost in half to get the same boost you would get if you switched from an average to a good teacher.

Going by these findings, it is apparent that nothing matters more than hunting down those with the potential to be great teachers. But here's the rub: How do you do that when the traits of great teachers are so intangible and indefinable?

More than a few researchers have tried to answer this question by shadowing and taping hundreds of good teachers in action in classrooms in an attempt to narrow down some generic great traits.

But most, like Professor Robert Pianta of the University of Virginia, have only succeeded in describing what happens in a classroom with a great teacher.

For starters, the children interact with one another and the teacher in a positive manner. The teacher moves around the room, monitoring activities and offering support where needed.

She challenges them to use reasoning and problem-solving skills. She also uses a variety of formats to keep children interested and also gives expanded, detailed feedback beyond a right or wrong check mark on a test.

Such findings suggest that what is required is not necessarily book smarts.

Yet when reforming education systems, one oft-heard suggestion is to push for more highly qualified teachers. MOE, for example, recently said that new hires for teaching, including those for primary schools, will need to have a degree.

But the findings of another group of researchers - Harvard economist Thomas J. Kane, Dartmouth economist Douglas Staiger, and Center For American Progress' policy analyst Robert Gordon - debunk this completely.

When investigating whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master's degree, they concluded neither makes a difference in the classroom.

More crucial to effective teaching, American education researcher Jacob Kounin found out, were special qualities such as 'withitness', which he defines as knowing what is going on at all times in one's classroom.

Great teachers, he concluded, also have multitasking ability, called 'overlapping', which allows them to deal with two or more events going on in the classroom at the same time. They are also able to engage the whole class and 'maintain group focus'.

But how can you tell if someone has these requisite qualities until they stand up in front of a classroom of 40 children?

The point is: You can't.

Hence, casting the net wide is key. Experts suggest opening teaching to anyone who shows a keen interest and meets the basic qualifications. Then put applicants through a apprenticeship system with rigorous evaluation.

In this respect, MOE is on the right track with its contract teaching scheme where some are put through a three-to- 12-month teaching stint in schools before they enter teacher training.

According to MOE, one in seven who are put through such trials is found unsuitable and gets sifted out.

Bold educational reformers such as Ms Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools in the United States, have suggested going further.

She has put forward a controversial plan where teachers already in service can opt to go on a one-year probation, where they are evaluated rigorously, including how much their students' performance improves by the end of the year.

Those who don't make the cut have to leave, while those who prove their worth are paid six-figure salaries.

MOE has already raised the salaries of teachers and instituted a performance- based pay system for teachers since 2001. But going by the salary levels quoted - $58,000 annually for an average performer who has been teaching for three years and $65,000 for a top performer - the differentiation is just not sharp enough.

To keep talented teachers, whom studies show are all important, MOE should go further and pay them a premium, in the six-figure range.

After all, it is common practice in all other professions to pay top dollar to top performers to retain them.

So why not in education where what's at stake is the future of Singapore and its children."