Teaching can be enjoyable

A most uplifting Friday morning as I observed an exemplary lesson which made superb use of group work for conducting reading comprehension tasks. This magnificent outcome didn’t just happen by chance. It was the result of sufficient prior group work training for the students, and ingenious planning of the group activities. The students were deeply engaged throughout, learning effectively and joyfully.

Two thoughts came to mind after the lesson. First, for teachers who are able to bring about meaningful learning, teaching is a truly professional job, because they need specialist knowledge and skills, creativity, and judgment. Second, if you’re able to pull off great lessons in the classroom and see that your students are learning eagerly and happily, teaching is one of the most enjoyable activities in the world.



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.




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?

These connections are possible, because we are teachers

Yesterday morning while I was presenting certificates and awards to the graduating students at Bishop Ford Memorial School on the stage, Miss Winnie was watching intently from among the audience. She had been their teacher and was content to see her students reach this milestone of their education.

About 2 months ago on April 29, I attended Miss Winnie’s wedding at Chung Chi Chapel on CUHK campus. I had been Miss Winnie’s PGDE teacher, and was content to see her reach this milestone of her life.

Back in 2003, one day while I was thumbing through the timetables of the teachers on the PGDE programme, in preparation for the upcoming Teaching Practice visits, I saw that Miss Winnie was a teacher at Bishop Ford Memorial School, the school that I went to as a primary kid.

The next week, when I saw Miss Winnie in class, I said proudly to her, “Winnie, did you know that I went to Bishop Ford Memorial School as a student many years ago?”

Miss Winnie replied, even more proudly, “Paul, did you know that I also went to this school as a student some years ago?”

All these miraculous connections are made possible, because we are teachers.


Character and passion for teaching

Yesterday, I met up for lunch with a former education student, Jenny. Jenny was as exuberant as ever. When I asked her how she managed to keep up her passion for teaching after all these years, she replied, without a moment of thought, “As long as it is something that students will benefit from, I will totally pour myself into it.”

Jenny has taught for some years already, but she is even more zesty than a first-year teacher. She has inexhaustible energy for her work. She possesses a wide array of professional competencies, and has taken on a variety of curriculum leadership roles, but she will jump at the first opportunity to try something new. On top of serving her own school, she is now part of a Hong Kong University’s project providing school-based support for teachers teaching non-Chinese-speaking students.

When I probed further and asked her what gave her all that drive, she attributed it to her own character. I was not totally content with this answer, which is a purely innate quality. I wanted to look for some generalisable factors that can be applied in other work contexts and across people whatever their character. So I pushed Jenny to think harder. At last, Jenny came up with this example. If after going through some school-based planning with teachers, she sees that the teaching design works well in the classroom so that the students learn happily and effectively, this will give her a great sense of satisfaction.

This indirectly supports the current view of many writers on motivation who highlight 3 external factors that give people drive: autonomy (having the space to decide on how to go about one’s work); mastery (the possibility to get better and better at what one is doing); and purpose (being able to see the meaning of one’s work). For me, Jenny’s example is saying that if on top of these factors, you also have the right character – that will give you the lifelong passion.

Lesson planning can be rewarding

I enjoy planning new workshops from scratch. This is a highly creative activity. At the same time, it enables me to make full use of my professional knowledge, and experience. The process of planning, however, is not always straightforward. It’s often messy, with hundreds of ideas floating in your mind, and dozens of practical considerations to make. But it gives me a great sense of satisfaction as gradually, the workshop design takes shape, and the ideas become more concrete. I hope that all teachers can share a similar satisfaction, and that’s why we must ensure they have sufficient time to do lesson planning.