The Last Eight Days

Last Monday, I had lunch with a few professional colleagues from a publisher. During the lunch, they remarked that some of the teachers they were working with on a curriculum project did not seem to have a wide enough repertoire in the methods of teaching writing. They wanted to know more about the training of ESL teachers in Hong Kong. I gave them a quick overview of the ELT methodology training in the 3 major teacher education programmes: the B.Ed., the PGDE, and the MA. I expressed my view that of the three programmes, the MA has the highest effectiveness from a teacher education perspective.

This is because the methodology course on the PGDE is only comprised of 50 hours, and this is far from enough even for scratching the surface. The B.Ed., a four-year fulltime programme, has a lot more contact hours, but as the student teachers have little real-life teaching experience to reflect on, they are often more concerned to complete the course requirements than to chew over the teaching methods they are introduced to. In any case, in my view, given our university-based, theory-laden, teacher education curriculum, there is a huge chasm between their theoretical knowledge of ELT methodology, and their competence in the informed and proficient application of methodology in diverse classroom settings.

But the MA is a very different programme. Almost all the participants are qualified teachers who have some teaching experience already. They have to pay exorbitant tuition fees out their own pockets. Their main motivation for enrolling on the MA is professional development. They generally take their studies seriously. That is why in my view, the MA is the most effective programme in terms of teacher education.

I also find teaching on the MA the most intellectually satisfying. I don’t have to start with the basics, and can delve into the more intricate concepts and issues right from the start. My own observations and insights will easily resonate with them. In class, they tune in more deeply, because they can bring the teaching ideas back into their classrooms and try them out immediately. Being used to working in teams, they mix with their fellow participants more readily. They are more sociable, and will not shy away from casual chats with me. Being experienced, they have teaching ideas to share with me and the other teachers. They concentrate more in class, and take part in the class activities actively. Very often, the only difficulty I have with class activities is not how to motivate them and get them to start, but how to stop them. Their assignments reveal much more critical thinking, and are often the culmination of much classroom experimentation. In terms of attitude, they generally take their studies more seriously than undergraduate students. They will make a point of notifying me in advance if they are not able to come to the next class.

And all this is despite the fact that as teachers of English, they are already overworked every day of the week, and are uncontrollably exhausted when they come to class in the evenings or on Saturday mornings.

Sometimes, I wish my undergraduates could sit in on my MA class meetings for once. They would then perhaps conduct their studies with more initiative and zest.

And interestingly, probably because as teachers they understand that good teaching does not come about easily, they are generally more appreciative of my effort. In comparison, undergraduates are more demanding when it comes to evaluating a course and their teacher. Of course, I’m not blaming my undergraduate students. It is just that, like they say in Chinese, you have to become a mother yourself one day before you can fully understand the difficulties involved in becoming a good mother.

For some of the teachers in my MA Listening and Speaking course, they are now coming to the last 8 days of their entire Master’s studies. I wish them all the best, and I hereby pledge that unless I will be away at a conference, I will attend their graduation ceremony in December. As for the Year One people, pump up your energy for the final assignments, and then do something to reward yourself during the hard-earned term break.

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2 thoughts on “The Last Eight Days

  1. Lee Pui

    This is Pepe from the class of 2005 B.Ed. (LED). In fact some of us have had long discussion about “what has gone wrong in this B.Ed.” programme. A few years ago, before we actually started to teach, we basically agree that B.Ed. is in the middle of nowhere between “very practical things” (like how to protect your voice” and “very theoretical things (like “what is education?”)
    Now five years has gone and LED has been transformed into first a joint programme then a double degree programme. I don’t know is our concern still valid.
    Observing my associate degree students, one thing I am sure is that when a 18/19 year old claim that “I want take teaching/ social work/ nursing as my lifelong career” in that personal statement or interviews, I can stop questionning him/her “do you really know what do they do, apart from making 2xxxx a month?”
    I start to understand why there are so many people holding a skeptical attitude towards B.Ed. and insists that education studies is only suitable for postgraduate level — society has put a halo on top of these “helping professions” and driving many lovely teens to teaching/ social work/ nursing programmes. However, many 23 year old (including me) has not yet developed the maturity needed for them to handle a class of teenagers.
    I think 19 year olds should really spend their 4 years in college reading classics and taking something that ends with -logy as their majors. “career oriented” things should be left till postgraduate level, or at least, 3rd and 4th year — I ‘ve heard that in America, you can only do Business studies at postgraduate level — I think that’s definitely on the right track.

  2. How I love this kind of discussion! In my younger days, I always asked ‘what is the meaning of this’ and ‘what is the purpose of that’. I still do now, only that I’m now also attending more to feeling and living. I don’t often write about such ‘serious’ issues because I don’t want to bore people. (One question that interests me greatly as someone who is now in his twentieth year of university teaching is what are universities REALLY doing.) Now that I know that I have at least one reader who likes thinking about and discussing such matters, I should perhaps write about these issues more often.

    A quick response to your view is that, yes, I totally agree that we (HK) have reached an economic level where our university education can afford to be less vocation-oriented. We have been following the British system that gets young adults to starting training for a trade right after A-levels, so that they can start making a living, and serving the enonomy and the trades and the industries sooner. So in Hong Kong, A-level gradudates start training to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, engineers, social workers, nurses, physiotherapists, ….., right after Secondary 7. Is that necessary? Is that the right way to go, given our stage of economic development. In the States, people do not go to law school, or medical school, etc., until after they have got their first degree.

    I recently re-read “The Catcher in the Rye” by American writer J.D. Salinger (because he passed away). I still like the story enormously because it reveals, through the eyes of a teenager, the hyprocrisy of society, and of the adult world. I’m quoting this because if I’m being true to myself, and if I should guard against phoniness because I’m a teacher, then despite the vested interests (I’m teaching on the programme, and hence my existence partly depends on it), I still need to ask “What is the B.Ed. for”, or “What is the double degree for?”, and although I can dish out a lot of grand but empty talk, the acid test is always “Would I want this programme for my children?”

    Wow, this is getting more and more interesting, and now that I have found one interested reader, I will discuss these big issues in my blog soon. Your input will be most welcome.

    Take care.

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