A remarkable STEM lesson

I observed a remarkable S3 STEM lesson today. As STEM is a new school subject, the teacher did not study STEM himself when he went to school. When he took on the teaching of STEM a few years ago, he had to learn all the STEM knowledge and skills himself while on the job. Yet, he conducted the lesson with enormous enthusiasm, which suggests that he has actually enjoyed all that on-the-job learning (of a new subject!) and constant expansion of his professional repertoire. This is evidence again that great teachers are keen about professional learning.

In contrast, teachers who fall back on their stale subject-matter knowledge and outdated pedagogy will stagnate quickly. They will still receive their monthly paycheck, but what’s the point of sticking to a job that you have no interest and passion in, and repeating doing the same things in the same ways for like over 30 years. We only live once!





第一天讀到她的《 從AO到Freelancer》,黃明樂立即成為我的偶像,我就是敬佩那些率性而為的人。誠然這當中也有個人因素,令我特別欣賞她: 很多年前我也毅然辭去政府金飯豌官職,去做回自己覺得有意義的工作。

做了freelancer 後, 明樂一直都只做自己享受,和覺得有意義的工作;所以昨晚我當然不會放過機會問她:「以你為例,做回自己難不難?」

問這個問題,是因為看過不少人,只盲從社會大多數人的價值觀念,以名和利為工作的唯一目標,壓抑自己的喜愛,做着自己不享受的工作,擔當不合自己個性的崗位,然後一是返工時行屍走肉,一是整天嚷着要提早退休; 看在眼裏,我常常都在想:做回自己,真是那麼的難?

於是我要趁機請教明樂,她的答案很有啟發性(希望我沒有錯誤詮釋她): 決定選擇做回她自己不難,反而是每一次選擇後如何reconcile 由這選擇而引起的和其他人的矛盾,是她要花點心思處理的;她隨即舉了幾個實例,說明她如何做回自己之餘,技巧地令他人不會因此擔心或難做。




We may forget, but sometimes the students may remember

聖誕前買了個paper tablet,為了顯示它的用途,我在上面手寫了Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, 並post 上FB, 其中一個回應,卻是完全預計不到的。
這意料之外的回應來自教中學時期教過的四個學生,她們的回應不是關於這叫Remarkable 的gadget的功能和價錢,而是看到我的手寫句子,勾起她們當年上我英文課的回憶!
當然,當年還沒有PowerPoint, 老師在黑板板書的機會比今天多得多,但我其實沒有特別經營我的板書;想不到她們今天還記得我的字體。
這vignette 再一次提醒我,一些對教師本人微不足道的事情,一句說話,一個舉動,一個表情,在某些時空下,學生就可能終生記着。所以我們當教師的,不要低估自己的影響力,更要小心言行啊。
前天一個上了我兩科碩士科目的教師學員對我說: You have made a better me; 我高興之餘,更加戰戰兢兢。



我很明白她的感覺,因為我也喜歡備課,備課既是科學,又是藝術,備課時,你運用你的專業知識,參考自己的經驗,再發揮自己的創意,然後設計出一課的流程、活動,和教材;這是一個很有滿足感的過程,隨時進入positive psychology 所說的flow 的境界。

如果教學是專業,備課能力肯定是專業的一部分,學生亦會因此得益。可惜香港實際的情況卻是教師太多雜務,太多tedious 的marking, 備課淪為奢侈活動;有一個很有心教學的舊學生對我說:「Paul, 如果我可以由教員室步往課室的分半鐘看看一會兒要教的那兩頁書,這已是很難得了!」

Is this work meaningful to me?

The other day my daughter asked me to borrow the book “How will you measure your life” from CUHK library for her. I gladly complied with her request. I had actually read the book myself earlier on, and before I met her again and handed the book to her, I flipped through the book again to see if there were any useful reminders for myself. And then without warning I found a short paragraph which is excellent stuff to use with this year’s part-time PGDE (Secondary) students when I meet them again this Thursday.

Some of the people in this group are beginning teachers; others are working as teaching assistants in a secondary school setting. As they start their PGDE, I want them to seriously reflect on these questions:

– Do I really want to become an English teacher?
– In fact, do I really want to become a teacher?
– What are the reasons for me to go into teaching?
– What are my personal values, strengths, attitudes, etc., that will provide me with a good chance of being able to stand up to the stress of teaching today, so that in the end, I will find this job rewarding, and will not regret having entered the teaching profession ten years later?

In this book, Clayton M. Christensen, veteran professor at Harvard Business School, shares his experience in finding happiness and fulfilment in his academic career, and in his relationships with his family and other people. The paragraph I’m going to share with the PGDE students this Thursday comes from Chapter 2, “What makes us tick”, in which he offers a list of questions to help younger people decide whether a job is a good match for them. The questions they need to ask themselves are:

“Is this work meaningful to me? Is this job going to give me a chance to develop? Am I going to learn new things? Will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement? Am I going to be given responsibility?” Christensen asserts: “These are the things that will truly motivate you. Once you get this right, the more measurable aspects of your job will fade in importance.”


What if we can’t feel proud of ourselves as teachers?

As teachers, we want to be proud of ourselves and our work. But what if for one reason or another, we’re not able to derive that sense of pride from our work?

This is the question posed by one of the teachers at the sharing seminars commemorating the 20th anniversary of CUHK’s undergraduate English Language Education programme yesterday. The teacher was referring to the common scenario today where, even though we will strive to be passionate and professional, given teachers’ huge workload today, we are often unable to do the best job we can. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to still feel proud of ourselves. One example he cited is lesson planning. We know we can deliver an exemplary lesson, given our professional knowledge, experience, and creativity, but time for thorough lesson planning is a luxury that few teachers can afford today. Sometimes, we may walk into the classroom only half prepared. As a result, at the end of the lesson, we know deep down that the lesson was not our best performance. We know we could have done better. We’re unable to feel proud.

It was such a thought-provoking question that I continued to mull over it after the event. Why do we teachers need to feel proud of our work? What should we do if most of the time we’re not able to obtain that sense of pride?

These are deep philosophical and psychological questions to which I don’t have quick answers. But while contemplating the questions, I suddenly thought of those teachers who are working with struggling, low-motivation, at-risk, students day in and day out. Do they, and can they, feel proud of their work?

Then, a thought came to mind: If we’re not able to feel proud because of the result (great lesson after great lesson; students passing exams with flying colours), can we be proud of the effort that we have made in our work? Is this how teachers at low-band schools keep up their passion year after year?

To go back to that seminar, actually the presenting teachers had the following experience to share:

– Accept that we have only 24 hours in a day;
– Accept that we need to rest;
– Accept that we are human beings;
– Accept that we have vulnerable moments.

These are good reminders for teachers who are passionate and professional. We have all heard the advice that as much as we should strive to do our best work, we should also remember to be nice to ourselves. And good teachers particularly need to!

e-Learning and teachers’ lifelong professional development

Although I said I must have been the oldest guy in the room yesterday when I attended the Apple workshop, there were actually quite a few other middle-aged teacher participants. And there were three former students who were also attending the event and they wondered why I was there.

These days, we often talk of lifelong learning. For teachers, e-learning is a fantastic channel for lifelong learning and continuing professional development. The field is developing so speedily that simply catching up is already a colossal challenge. And then the prospects for classroom application are limitless – it’s not the technology, it’s your creative capacity for applying e-learning in your teaching. Because of that, if you’re keen about e-learning, you won’t stagnate as a teacher.

And that’s what I see in teachers who are e-learning fanatics. They are always passionate, creative, energetic, and above all, fun-loving.