Friday, June 20, 2008

Spent the last three days working with the rest of the staff on the College's direction for the next few years. Not going to say too much about that as lots of details are still in the process of being hammered out.

Because we had to review our previous goals and set new ones, it was interesting to hear what the different people involved on campus had to contribute towards the general direction we eventually found some consensus on. As we also included representatives from our student body, their parents and alumni, there were lots of views to consider, and not everything complementary either. So some of the changes we are proposing should be quite timely, though the things that ain't broke we ain't fixin', so there.

Meantime, it's confirmed. June and I have committed to our move up north, having exercised our Option to Purchase now that the bank has approved our loan. We've already engaged someone to envision the interior of our new place, and someone else came over yesterday to appraise the value of our present place. Things are moving so quickly.

Now that the reality of the move has finally sunk in, I guess I am becoming excited about it. Seems like every ten years or so, I acquire a new address. Nomadic lifestyle.

As a further aside, management presented me with my long-service cert during the big meeting today. It was funny, the number of gasps and the buzzing that went on among the gathered staff when VP called out my name. I know just how they felt 'cos I was feeling the exact same thing. Even I can't believe I signed my employment contract a whole decade ago. Must be the reason why I'm behaving a little older and crankier these days.

And as a further, further aside, thanks, Amy, Dee and HP for the lovely souvenirs y'all got me from NY, NY. Considering what I just recently bought, it was just as well that it was a trip I missed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Questions arise about the effectiveness of mainstream teachers and school programmes due to the high demand for after-curriculum tuition with star tutors who have an apparent knack of turning flunking students around into exam aces. With this kind of success rate, any student who isn't taking some kind of tuition is going to want to add their name to a long waiting list, giving even more credence to the already mystical following that these self-styled academic gurus have built around themselves.

We teachers in the mainstream are our own worst enemies in this game. We think too highly of ourselves and our ability to "make a difference" to the kids under our charge. We've bought in too deeply the tenets of our own industry's recruitment campaigns, holding ourselves more responsible than necessary for our kids' successes. We think that because we "mould the future of our nation in our hands", any mistake we make, any standard we let slide, is going to bring the future crashing down around our ears and it'll be all our fault. And not just us, but everyone else not in the industry will be pointing fingers at us and saying likewise too.

Because we bear this imaginery burden, we take our craft a little too seriously. Every little thing becomes a teaching point for us, and not always in a nice way. Even the tests and examinations we set become "teaching tools" instead of just being assessment milestones. What I mean is, we set questions we don't really expect the kids to answer so that we can teach them after the exam how to answer the question properly. When we mark exams, we strongly penalize every infraction because then we create more opportunities to teach what the "correct" answer should be. It isn't policy, it's more like reflex.

While it's great that we are so dedicated to our work, perhaps the exams aren't the best material to make teaching points out of. It's a pity, but normal, ordinary people see exam scores as a measure of personal competence in a subject, whereas we teachers expect them to make mistakes in the papers; so we seem to be working at cross-purposes here. Poor scores at the tests, exams and continual assessments that we set drive the confidence right out of our kids and drive them straight into the open arms of private tutors who lay out the welcome mats for them. Private tuition has become a most lucrative enterprise in this kind of education environment.

How do tutors and tuition agencies gain that magical aura that seems to make silk purses out of sows' ears? From the results their kids attain from the external exam (i.e., Cambridge) itself, which is ultimately what counts in the job market. The external agency, unlike us in the teaching industry, has no agenda whatsoever in setting and marking its exams. Cambridge has no personal stake in the individual candidates' papers. Cambridge just marks what appears on exam scripts. In other words, Cambridge as an external marker is more likely to give a fairer assessment of the papers they receive than we are when we set and mark our internal exams, anxious as we are to ensure the kids make all the mistakes they can during our assessments so that they don't make the same mistakes during the Cambridge exams.

Private tutors point to the Cambridge marked results and -- voila -- instant success.

This is not to say that private tutors aren't excellent teachers in themselves. They probably are, and it's a lot more motivating when kids are taught by someone they like, but don't be fooled by the numbers game. There's still no substitute for disciplined self-study, for asking questions and clarifying points no matter who is at the head of the classroom.