As educators we can only stay hopeful

A FB friend asks how we can teach our students to be hopeful, when we are living in a system of exploitation, elitism, and utilitarianism.

These are the same questions that occupied my mind in my younger days. “What’s the point of trying hard while so many unjust and evil things are going on in society, day in and day out? What hope is there that I can change the world even in the smallest way? In fact, why bother about living a meaningful life when so many other people are hurting humanity in one way or another, and there is nothing I can do about it?”

There was a time when I was living in the doldrums – I had little interest in anything, and would just go through the motions day after day. But I was fortunate as for some unknown reason, this period of despair finally ran its course.

Here are my thoughts at the present stage of my life: The perfect world where there is only love and equality will never come. And it’s not even a battle between us (the good people) and them (the bad people). As long as there are human beings, there will be exploitation, hatred, inequality ..The problem lies in every one of us – our dark side, our ego, our prejudices …Remember “The Life of Pi”, “Animal Farm”…? And of course I myself am not exempt from that.

Under the circumstances, what can we do? We can wait until the world becomes perfect so that our effort will then become worthwhile. Or we can acknowledge the world’s endless imperfections, stay hopeful, and try our best.

As Jeff Bezos said: “In the end, we are our choices.”0429 Bezos

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What can’t be counted?

Bureaucrats, politicians and administrators like to think that everything can be counted to measure its value.

But to me, the more something counts for the good of humanity, the less countable it is. Take love, compassion, creativity, integrity, wisdom, virtues, kindness, ……

“The information below” vs “The below information”

I used to think that only Hong Kong people would say ‘the below information’, ‘the below form’, etc. (as opposed to ‘the information below’, ‘the form below’), until I saw ‘the below reference request’ in an email from an organisation in Britain two days ago. I studied the remainder of the email, and it was in perfect English. Hence, I could only conclude that even Brits (or at least this one) are beginning to use ‘below’ as an attributive adjective. I then googled the ‘below-before-noun’ usage. The result? Some native speakers can accept it. The majority still frown on it.

Well, if we can say both ‘the information above’ and ‘the above information’, then by logic, there is no reason why we can’t say ‘the below reference request’. We don’t even have to refer to how dictionaries label the word class of ‘below’ (e.g., preposition, adverb), as the word class of a word can always be extended as a result of popular use.

For now, I can only say that expressions like ‘the below reference’, ‘the below information’, ‘the below form’, etc., still sound unnatural to me. And then the dilemma for ESL teachers who see something like that in their students’ writing is: To correct or not to correct. ..

讚賞的威力

一位教師和我分享了家長的感謝信,她班中本來有一名學生英文聽力一般,經她鼓勵後,最近分數躍進,她趁機讚賞他,並請全班學生為他鼓掌;學生的母親後來知道了,寫了一封感謝信給她,而我這名學生也高興得和我分享。

這位家長也很有意思,今天每人都忙個不休,拿起筆來寫一封感謝信也是不簡單的工夫;況且,也會有家長認為這是教師的份內事,毋須道謝。但由這教師讚賞她的學生,以及家長讚賞這教師,都可以看到讚賞的威力。

中國人傳統吝嗇讃賞,什至有「不要讚壞了」的觀念,或者覺得人們應份如此。其實對人多加讚賞,不但令別人更努力,世界更美麗,而自己也會更快樂呢!

沒有快樂主動的教師,又何來快樂主動的學生

昨天下午坐在快餐店,想到我的在burnout邊沿的學生,一時感髑,寫下毋忘初心一文;想不到收到的回應,超出我想像的熱烈;可見目前的處境多麼惡劣。

這十年來,教師的工作量之所以以倍數增加,一方面是政府教育政策和措施所衍生,例如外評,例如要求學校大小事情都要做紀錄,撰寫各類計劃及報告。但同時,學校亦因不同原因,自行擴展了不少教學以外的活動。我和學生敍舊時,聽到他們負責的工作真是五花八門,帶遊學團已不算新鮮,往新屋邨派招生簡章是家常便飯,往深圳不同小區做家訪也是工作一部分…………

但這十年間,學校的編制人手沒有多少增長。這就難怪我的一位舊學生回顧這些年,七成的工作其實和教學無關。

偏偏我的工作就是教與學的教師培訓,我常常感慨,如果我的學生在實際工作中根本無時間去思考如何教得更好,那麼我的工作是否純然是浪費。一位舊學生對我說:Paul, 如果我由教員室步往課室那兩分鐘有機會看看一會兒要教的課文,那已經是很不錯的情況。

學校的工作是可以無限量的擴展,你永遠都可以想到新的計劃和活動;但教師每天就算不眠不休,也只有24小時;學校就算基於良好的教育意願,也要不斷反思時間和心思應放在那裏;沒有快樂主動的教師,又何來快樂主動的學生。

毋忘初心

我們都說教師應毋忘初心,但每次長假和學生敘舊,我都慨嘆身處今天的教育生態,教師要不忘初心是如何困難。

一位舊學生說她教書第一二年最快樂,除了因為作為新教師擔子較輕外,主要是她有欣賞低年级學生天真可愛的心;她還清楚記得當年課室的趣事,小孩子爛漫的笑聲;但是在今天,由九月至聖誕假期每天都在作戰狀態,不是應付外評就是準備校慶;我問她:你有沒有可能尋回當天的快樂?如果當年低班課室的趣事在今天的十一月中發生,你還會否有相同的反應。

另一個學生天生很喜歡小孩子,教書就是最理想的終生事業,她不介意犧牲,但她回顧這些年在學校的生涯,七成時間是做着無意義的事情:執行一些無聊的紀律規條,開三個小時無聊的會,批改無意義的功課……,终於她辭職,轉為全職代課,可以無需處理那些瑣碎的所謂行政工作,無需忍受無聊的會議,無需捲入惱人的workplace politics, …從而希望做回一個教師應該做的工作。

你看,今天的教師要不忘初心真的很不容易啊!當教師的大部分不介意工作時間長,只是希望時間用在有意義的事情上; 我們整個教育界,何時才會懂得反思學校應該做什麼?教育的意義在那裏?抑或只會埋首為競爭而競爭,從而挫敗學生的學習興趣,摧毁教師的初心。

The truly professional teacher

This afternoon, I asked young teacher Miss Jenny Chan why she is so eager to improve her teaching and try out new teaching ideas, she said: “When a lesson goes well and I see that my students enjoy the lesson, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction. But when a lesson is unsatisfactory, and I see that my students aren’t excited at all, it pushes me to try a different approach or change my teaching method, because I want them to learn effectively, and enthusiastically.”

To me, the latter scenario is the real test of a teacher’s passion and professionalism. When a lesson goes well, we can easily rejoice in our success. But when a lesson turns out to be unsatisfactory, it’s tempting to blame it on the students. Do we do that, or do we then work even harder to improve our teaching? That’s what distinguishes the truly professional teacher.