Teachers and altruism

Over dinner tonight, I asked Principal Lam what gave her all that infinite passion for education. Among her reflection and explication, the following remark stood out:

“When I see that I can make a difference in my students’ lives, it gives me a great sense of reward.”

In a world which is becoming more and more materialistic and individualistic, it is tempting for people, whatever endeavour they embark on, to ask: “What’s in it for me?” But I do believe that education, in its truest sense, requires its practitioners to be altruistic to some extent. We become teachers because we want to do good, however small, to others.

But this is the exact question that has been puzzling me for years. As a teacher educator, besides training education students with the pedagogy, say in my case, TESOL methodology, what can I do to nurture in teachers a spirit of service and commitment? For what is education if we have no intention of making a difference in our students’ lives?


難得的教育契機(teachable moment)

上星期六的教育文憑畢業禮,充滿有趣和有啟發性的故事。先是林浣心校長說了幾段當教師和校長的親身遭遇,到畢業生代表Kacy Lok 致詞時,也說了一個作為新教師她剛經歷的故事,而碰巧這幾個故事都有相同的信息,就是當學生出現異常的舉動時,與其立即責罰,我們如果加點耐性,先嘗試了解學生背後的處境或想法,這些事件可能轉化為難得的教育契機(teachable moment)呢!


「… 正如林浣心校長說,學生是一本鮮蹦活跳的書,有時候在學生身上都能夠有新的得著,例如他們天馬行空的創意想法,能刺激我的思考,令我每一天都很享受教與被教的過程。我最近就在孩子身上學習到,在他們犯錯後,不要立刻下判斷,要先了解事情發生的始末。我任職的學校,上星期就發生了一件事。一位女同學在家裡發現了一條壁虎爬到她的食物盒裡,她竟然立刻將蓋子蓋上,然後帶回校,在自己的課室裡釋放,害得同學們不斷大聲尖叫!校長最後找出這位女同學,經深入了解後發現原來同學是有經過思考才將壁虎帶回校,大家猜猜為什麼她要這樣做?

多年的學校生活,學生日後記得的,往往就是這些我們也許以為是瑣碎的「小事」。有一天,他犯了錯,或說了不該說的話, 以為老師會立即加以處罰,但想不到老師卻先譲他說出他的想法,背後的原因……他突然明白,前天晚上當小兒子發脾氣的時候,他為何先問問小兒子是否擔心做不完功課……

Seek first to understand. (Stephen Covey)


傳媒人方健儀不是以英文為專業,但是今天也在Skypost 慨嘆收到公函中大量的英語錯誤:
– ‘wine tasting’ written as ‘wine testing’;
– ‘late October’ written as ‘last October’:
– “Our client will be invite a artist together with you. If you can offering a special rate to us is good:
– 不懂禮貌的”Can you reply today?”

我覺得除了語文水平,對語文的輕率態度也有關吧。灣仔室內街市入口,左邊的告示是No dogs allowed; 右邊是No dogs allow, 兩者相隔只有數呎,就算不懂得當中的文法,也會注意到兩者不同吧;但是負責人(食環署)就是闊佬懶理。


About time to stop ‘teaching’ and start students learning

A teacher shared with me how she used a language awareness approach in guiding her students to learn the regular vs irregular forms of past tense verbs, instead of telling and explaining the rules to the students. I have been advocating this approach for years as (a) this engages students on a deeper level, and (b) this, in the long run, nurtures students as self-directed learners.

But this approach requires that teachers adopt a different role in the classroom. They have to reduce their role as an authority or the source of knowledge, and instead take on the role of a mentor, motivator, supporter, organiser, etc. for students’ learning. Honestly, not every teacher is comfortable with that change of identity.

In the era of information technology, if we simply wish to know the rules for forming past tense verbs, we can find the answer from the Internet in no more than 2 minutes. Gone are the days when teachers are simply providers of knowledge. Teaching needs to take on a different meaning in the 21st century.




In the end we are our choices

I was practising making posters with the app ‘Canva’, and I needed some text. This favourite quote of mine by Jezz Bezos, founder of Amazon, sprang to mind. It was 2010 and Bezos was speaking to a group of students at Princeton.

The older I get, the more this quote resonates with me. To me, its beauty lies in the fact that it can be interpreted on different levels. It can refer to career success. But it can also refer to what kind of person we want to become.

These days, more and more people squander their lives by playing the blame game, or by living in a reactive manner. “I’m doing this because THEY ….”; “There’s nothing I can do before THEY ….”; ……

Yes, as Alain de Botton asserts in his famous TED talk, there are just too many unknown variables in life so that sometimes bad luck does happen to conscientious and hardworking people. But much of the time, we can still choose how to act and how to be. We don’t always have to allow ourselves to become victims of circumstances.

In the end, we are our choices.


How best should teachers be spending their time?

A former student shared her frustrations about the endless repetitive non-teaching chores that she has to deal with . Although this could be a start-of-school-year flurry, it begs an important question: How best should our teachers be spending their time?
Of course, in every fulltime job, there will be a monontonous and repetitive aspect which nonetheless has to be attended to. But if this eats too deeply into staff’s time for productive and meaningful work, they will be disillusioned, and in the long run, their work passion will be eroded.
We all acknowledge that teaching is a profession that requires work passion. But are we paying enough attention to how to design the work of teaching and how to prioritize teachers’ work duties so that teachers can see the purpose of what they are doing? A teacher’s duty list can keep expanding indefinitely. But how best should teachers be spending their time?