The teaching profession has been thrust into the
limelight recently. Letters from former and current teachers, parents and
others have been appearing in the Forum pages of The Straits Times. Some
letters have criticised the dedication of teachers who have quit the
profession. Other letters have jumped to the defence of these quitters.
The Ministry of Education has also made known that
aspiring teachers will have to undergo hands-on experience in schools before
they start teacher-training lessons. This is to reduce the probability of
would-be teachers ditching the teaching profession after being posted to
schools upon their graduation - some can make the exam grades but cannot
handle a class of boisterous students.
Also, in yesterday's edition of Today newspaper,
in reference to the five-day work week for civil servants announced last
August, it was said that "schools appear to have found it impossible to
cram all that needs to be done each week into five days". As a result, "most
schools have quietly swept the five-day week policy under the rug".
All these seem to suggest being a teacher is not
an easy profession to be in. Sure, the pay may be attractive. And the half-day
school sessions, together with the long school holiday periods, paint the
teaching profession as being full of perks. This may be why, in the first
place, many graduates think of this career path straight after university -
without considering whether they are cut out for teaching.
Now that the private sector is ailing, working in
the public service sector, with its job security and yearly bonus payouts, has
suddenly become fashionable. The overwhelming response from graduates for
teacher-training positions in the past few years seem to reinforce this trend.
A veteran teacher once told me his neighbour, who used to look down at him
because he was a civil servant, now envies him because he has a secure job.
Instead of only getting teachers who want to teach
into the teaching profession, we are also getting people who just want a way
out of the current rut - people who have no qualms about ditching the teaching
profession once the economy steams ahead.
To such people, it's only a job they are moving
out of. These people forget that in the hands of the teacher rest important
responsibilities - that of moulding our young and preparing them for the work
Thankfully, in the past few years, quite a few of
such teachers have resigned from the teaching profession after they have been
initiated into practical teaching. But, in the process, they have wasted the
ministry's time and resources in training them. They have also wrested
valuable opportunities from those who were really interested in being teachers
but had lost to them during the screening process, perhaps because of academic
Putting wannabe teachers into schools first before
letting them go for teacher training is a step in the right direction. This
way, those thinking of the teaching profession as being just another job will
be ferreted out quickly. Alas, those keen on teaching but can't handle rowdy
students will also fall by the wayside. But, it's better that such teachers
bow out in the early stages than find out, after graduating from
teacher-training school, that they can't stand students. After all, teaching
is all about students. Imagine them having to spend a lifetime with students
they can't handle!
But, even though I laud this step of getting
would-be teachers to undergo a stint in schools before letting them sign up
for teacher training, I feel there's a problem area that needs to be
addressed. Aspiring teachers may successfully complete their practical
training stints and then graduate from teacher training. But they may
subsequently still find themselves rethinking the idea of being a teacher for
Teachers who are earmarked to teach Express stream
students have no time for such thoughts. It's smooth sailing for them as their
future seems to be mapped out for them. It's those who are assigned to teach
Normal Academic (NA) or Normal Technical (NT) students that are privy to such
Handling a class of boisterous Express stream
students is a world apart from handling a class of out-of-focus NA or NT
students. Express stream students may be noisy and active, but they need the
barest of tuning to keep them in order. Simple veiled measures such as harping
on the haircut of students who stray work quickly to put them in line
again. On the other hand, NA and NT students, more often than not, come from
dysfunctional families. Some students are even impervious to caning.
Teachers who teach NA or NT students undergo a
baptism of fire. Those who survive become veterans and are the driving force
for keeping in order the NA and NT classes in our schools. Others just put up
with their own grievances till they can't take it anymore and that's when they
will throw in the towel.
So, to be fair to all our teachers, should we let
all of them rotate between teaching Express and the other two streams? That
would mean teachers placed on the fast path may become disillusioned and leave
the teaching profession and we may end up with less bright minds running our
schools. We want nothing less than the best to be in charge of our schools so
that would mean we are not prepared to go this route.
Should we farm out discipline to contractors and
let them handle our errant students? That would be nice but would bring its
own set of problems. With outsiders coming into our schools, our parents would
worry about the safety of their children. It's an area we should tread
Also, no matter how many staff these contractors
post to schools, these staff cannot be in every class at every moment.
Teachers would still have to face their students. How often can they send
their charges for disciplining without undermining their own performance
assessment reports at the end of the year?
A Straits Times reader suggested in the
newspaper's Forum page on 12 Apr 2005 that "teachers quit because of the
structural deficiencies in the education system". He said "the only way to
ensure that our teachers get adequate support is to heed feedback, be it
positive or negative". Teacher welfare is important, for in it lies the
welfare of our students.
In the same Straits Times edition, another reader
wrote "I have taught different types of students, from gang leaders to
smart geeks. Each student is unique. What is heartening for me is that after
they leave school, they mature and carry the seed sown into their lives in
their respective paths".
We must help our teachers so that they can do what
they do best - growing our students.