Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On obeying authority, and being honest with myself

Back when I was teaching in school one day, I was at my desk in the staff room, feeling really upset that nothing seemed to be working out... and a reality check came from my other colleagues from related departments...

Is the chaos normal?
Is the fact that maybe just 10% of whatever you try to say gets through normal?
Is it normal that children are so rude and defiant?

Yes it's normal, they say.

WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE?

"Oh you must understand their family background, etc etc so on and so forth..."

Fair enough, I don't care what happens in their homes or if they've been taught properly. At least within the school there should be some basic standards, or else how is learning ever going to take place?

And that's the reality. To be a teacher now not only do you have to just teach content. Before you can do that effectively, you have to, on your own, build up your own reputation so that they'll actually cooperate with you. And there are two ways: tyranny or 'being their friend'.

Let's talk about 'being their friend'.

The stuff you see on videos is the 'build rapport' thing which means that you need to win them over to get them to do what you want. Sweets, chocolates, patting them on the back when they hand in their work, etc.

That's not in line with what I understood schooling to be, unfortunately. You are supposed to respect derived authority. Period. Whether you eventually respect the teacher personally is another matter altogether.

Now whether the children were taught to respect authority is beyond the teacher's control, but within school at least there needs to be some sort of discipline to reflect that, at least within school, this is the expected standard.

It's like I'm at the mercies of the kid's whim and fancy when it comes to basic things like not talking back, handing in homework, shutting up when I'm talking et al.

Oh and the stare hard at people tactic doesn't work now. There's no sense of decency and embarassment with some of them. They just keep talking or doing their stuff.

Now let's discuss option 1: tyranny

I have seen some of the senior teachers doing that very effectively. But it saps your emotional energy because you get really angry when you keep scolding and punishing them.

Few people have a disposition that seems to indicate they're angry even when they're really not, thus fooling the kids all the time.

And I can't punish people for nuts, I get really really upset when I have to send people out or to detention. I try to detach myself and just do it but it just really makes me feel so bad. And the kids know it, and that I have a very high level of patience and tolerance.

But even if I could stand it, learning is not going to take place if the kids don't get in line, so what's the point?

Only now do I understand how much harder it is to be a teacher, especially in a place where children are spoilt, rude, have no respect for authority, and it's always a tension of people wanting to break loose and wreck havoc and everything is only just barely contained, if at all.

If anything, I realise it's a reflection - a reflection of Singapore's future... and we are rapidly descending into America's public school system ... breaking down and going through the motion... and the worst part is that the poor teachers (including a HOD of mine) in the service for so long don't realise how bad the extent of things are, because they're like the frog in the slow fire cooker... they adapt, and they accept it everytime standards go down bit by bit... whereas for someone like me, whose last dose of school life was 8 years ago or more, to me its such a great, sudden shock.

It's also an indicator of how relative morality is not going to work, because with no yardstick to follow, we just go down bit by bit everytime...

I know I sound like one of those useless people who complains and then doesn't do anything about it, but to me, education is not that important. Killing myself to prop up a secular system that refuses to change... is still a lost cause.

On the other side, the elite schools are getting more elite. Remember the idea of spreading the good students amongst all the schools mooted by a retired civil servant? Would be violently unpopular with the elite parents, and understandably so. Even the Education Minister himself brushed it off, saying something about focusing on niche areas...

Sometimes I can see why people don't want church and state to separate. Education is so important, not just for practical reasons, but also for people's morality, upbringing, and value systems. I dare say that it is only by God's grace that my two brothers have made it through tough neighbourhood schools intact.

So goodbye Public Education Service, I'm out. I respect those who have been there and are still there making a difference. Running after 40 kids and disciplining them, doing their parent's job and then actually having to teach them is not my cup of tea. I do not have this overriding love for children against all the odds.

What does God have in store next, I wonder?

1 comment:

michele said...

Oooo so cynical. I'm the daughter of a teacher so I hear all the stories from her as well. And yes I got to admit, it's going downhill... she had her work review, and the VP noted that she was unable to get a 100%hit rate for her students to submit their work. My mum was flabbergasted. She's a HOD. And she was thinking: "what do you expect me to do? Nuts..."