Yesterday, I attended the PGDE graduation ceremony. I haven’t met my fulltime student teachers for almost four months since their completion of the Teaching Practice on the 20th May. I was happy to see them yesterday, and while we were cheerfully taking photos together, some of them couldn’t help moaning a bit about the gruelling routine they were going through each day, as they fought through six to seven lessons a day, often struggling to handle difficult and special-needs students.
A few months ago while they were having their Teaching Practice, they had only 8 to 12 lessons a week. They were not class teachers, and had no administrative or extra-curricular duties to shoulder. Hence, they were able to plan lessons thoroughly, and design interesting resources. Thus, there was a greater chance that they could apply the teaching methods they had learnt, and enjoy the lessons they designed and delivered.
What about now? Can they still enjoy their teaching? Can they still apply the methodologies that they have learnt? More importantly, do they still believe in good teaching?
This afternoon, a young teacher wrote to me:
As a junior teacher (it’s my third year of teaching, and second year in the current school), I always want to bring in new ideas and elements into my teaching. But it’s quite frustrating when “tradition” remains the most influential factor. The current proposal is to give marks instead of grades to students’ writing (advice given by EDB to the school), but teachers prefer to allocate a significant proportion to accuracy (not even to “Language” but “accuracy”!) while “Content” is only 20% of the whole paper! sigh… But I’ll continue to strive for what is best for my students!
It is heartwarming to know a teacher who still cares about good teaching in her third year of teaching. It is easy, when you’re so stretched that you can only keep your fingers crossed that you can cover as many pages of the coursebook and mark as many exercise books as you can during your waking hours, that after a period of internal struggle, you will just go with the flow. You will stop questioning the established practices. You will cease to ask what will motivate students more. You will have no more faith in good teaching.
Once in a while, a former student would complain to me: “Paul, the teaching methods we learnt are too idealistic. They cannot be applied in real-life teaching.”
I sympathise with their situation. But teaching methods are meant to be idealistic. If they cannot be applied in real-life teaching, it is not the fault of the teaching methods. Instead, we should question the education system, the culture of school, and the ecology of teaching. (For example, in China, most teachers teach only two to three lessons a day. In general, they plan their lessons in depth, and are more concerned about teaching effectiveness.)
During this summer, I met up with a former student. She had taught for about ten years, and I asked her whether she still enjoyed teaching, and how her life of teaching had changed in the ten years.
Her first reply was that she was increasingly dissatisfied with herself as a teacher. As I probed further, she admitted that very often she had to walk into a lesson without much preparation. Even if the students loved her and were willing to cooperate, as a professional teacher, she knew she was not teaching to her best. She knew she could do better.
And she missed the time ten years ago when generally she could devote more time to thinking about how to teach. Today, there are so many non-teaching duties, and more urgent matters to grapple with, that lesson planning keeps being backburnered.
Despite the circumstances, she affirmed:
‘I can’t allow myself to teach just for the money. If one day, I find that I have no more passion for teaching, and that I don’t care about my students any more, I will quit teaching.’
Hats off to those teachers who don’t allow themselves to go with the flow.