Sunday, October 06, 2013

Teaching - a Job or a Profession?


Read the article in "TODAY" front page on 5 October 2013 (Saturday).

Here was my immediate thoughts that were posted in the Facebook that morning - I must confess, it's a reaction, an immediate reaction that I did not even wait for a second thought to come... perhaps the interviewees' comments really hit my hot button?
I guess, before making such comments, it's good to ask... Why, in the first place - one comes into this profession?
Well, there's a difference between seeing teaching as a profession or a job.
The formal goes back to the heart of education. If one goes for the 'potential' remuneration that one can get out of it, there are far more many other options.

Indeed, it drew some pretty interesting insights from a friends with different backgrounds, and all doing different things - their exchange of insights and views from different perspectives (extracted from the Facebook posting)

I think, well, eliminating the "background" - which was who made the comments, and simplify look at the "issue" for discussion - Tuition & Teacher - how these 2 are links.

The Need...

Like what's discuss, there's a supply because there's a demand, and the cause of this demand? Well, it goes back to not one, but several reasons.
  • For the high achievers, they (or perhaps the parents) want to see "tuition" (or enrichment classes) to 'stretch' the potential of their kids; or they are simply fearful that their kids will lag behind while everyone does the same except them? What's the motivation behind this? I think, only parents can tell (at least, that's what I think 'cos parents are the ones who have to fork out money to pay the fees!). How about the kids? Some of them are 'willing' participants of "tuition" for it gives them an edge compare to others - they are more 'knowledgeable' than their peers in class, and of course, that makes them feel confident, good and become even more motivated (as in the eyes of their peers, they are now 'smarter', in that sense).
  • For the lower ability students, the motivation behind the "tuition" is clear, at least, I think so, to level up their competency because they need extra help to catch up, to offer more guidance for them to understand and check their work. This is almost equivalent to the traditional remedial programme that we have in school.
I came across a few parents (in the past and now) who actually 'volunteered' to send their kids for tuition, hoping that this extra help would help their children to close the gaps. The most commonly cited reason was their kids needed extra help, and it's usually on top of the existing support programme that we are providing to their children.

My Belief...

Sometimes, I do agree that "tuition" could be helpful, when the child needs additional guidance when it's beyond the teacher's availability - time is usually the constraint, especially when the child really needed that extra help.

At least in my case, one of the challenges is to divide my time for the few classes I have as I wanted to customise the support programme. This is especially so when I've added constraints to the availability in the afternoon due to other admin duties. I don't believe in having remedial for more than 10 students at any one time. That is not giving justice to the valuable time I have in terms of the 'return in investment' (i.e. the students' learning experiences). The remedial time, I felt, is the time when the teacher could really diagnose the gaps and help the students to close it through clarification and possibly even through probing which sometimes could be pretty scary because that's where we discovered there were more gaps to close. See from another perspective, is it good that we are able to discover the fundamental problems that needed to be addressed to first, since it lays the foundation of what we want to build on?

Sometimes, some (including students and parents who do not have a better choice word to describe) did jokingly say I give tuition to these kids as it comes in various formats - one-to-one, one-to-two, or small groups of 8. Yup, that's the "tuition" that we can provide to our students in the school - and definitely, my invested interest is to make sure that my students really get what they need to know and learn.

I came across teachers who proudly declare that had to run remedial classes for more than 40 students. Well, I'm not sure if it's remedial class? or it's a re-teach, or more like a 're-play' of what took place in the class already? Is it effective? That's always the question in my head. In fact, I'm always doubtful about its effectiveness. What's the 'purpose' of the remedial programme? What does it really need to address to? Having more doesn't mean that you are benefiting everybody. Well, sometimes, I felt that it's doing injustice to everybody, the teachers themselves - in the first place, I wonder how he gives the necessary attention to the students' needs; and of course, the students' time - apart from doing more exercises, what else? if the teacher is not really available for one-to-one clarification?

I guess the only time when I call for such a huge group (i.e. to combine everybody from the classes) would be for mass practice or time trials, and definitely, it could not be regarded as a remedial.

Is the Need address the Need?

One colleague related an encounter - that a student who was already weak was attending tuition programme after school. What happened was, instead of having his doubts clarified, the child was given even more work to do, more practice. In this instance, I'm wondering has the tuition served its original intent? or is it working against him? I wonder.

Sometimes, parents asked should they arrange tuition for their children? Well, one advice that I usually give parents is, look inward to assess the root of the 'problem', why your child is under-performing? Is tuition going to address to this "problem" in the first place. This "problem" is not necessary being reflected by the results. For instance, if the child is under-performing because he has been indulging in gaming or other undesirable personal habits, then would tuition be the 'antidote' to the under-performance? If the child was always tired due to lack of sleep, and therefore unable to concentrate in class. Will packing him with tuition going to change his lifestyle? These are fundamental question that parents need to look into. Well, it goes back to parenting skills, isn't it?

Do you give tuition?

This is a question that some neighbours I was asked, once in a blue moon.

I did that when I was an undergraduate - for the experience. That was more than two decades ago! You won't know what it is like until you try it! That's what I believe. Of course, being an undergraduate, I did not earn good money. However, the experience is valuable.

In the first place, the pay came with a responsibility. It is the tutor's responsibility to level him/ her up, and you may not even know where the baseline is. Of course, if you get reasonable parents, it's easier to manage their expectations. However, there are also parents who would expect you to do miracles to the child, simply because they pay you to do so!

Since I started teaching, tuition is totally out. For I believe that it's my responsibility to give what's possible and available to those who are placed under my charge. If class time is not enough, then it's when the extra support that has to kick in to help the child. So, students in the schools would have the priority, in terms of my attention and care!

My belief, again...

I guess, it goes back to personal priority, accountability and more importantly, the belief and values that guides my thoughts and actions. So, I don't give tuition is not because I'm rich (haha... which I hope richness will come naturally). With the time I have, I think it's more worthwhile to see how else I could improve my students' learning experiences through personal development and exploration, rather than 'expanding my network of students'. Sometimes, I might seem to be a workaholic. On the other hand, the line between work and life sometimes become blur as joy is an element that sits on both.

As highlighted in a recent discussion, teachers' pay has been fairly decent in Singapore, for those who think it's not enough. Well, when would people openly declare "money is enough'? Hahaha... How much is enough is really dependent on the individual's "wants", I believe. Yup. It's not that I'm rich (second time saying this), but is about the "standards" we define for ourselves being "live-able". It's very subjective. I must say, what I have now, or what I'm using now, a lot are because of my "wants", to satisfy my desire. In terms of needs, basically I have what's needed. For instance, any 50-cent red pen is good enough for marking. However, I would look for a gel-pen that cost about $2 just because I like the 'feel' when the tip of the pen touches the paper. You see? When traveling, I would choose to go with a reputable airline because I think traveling is the time that I would pamper myself for some extra comfortable. Well, in actual fact, practically there are cheaper flights that would bring me to the same location. Right?