Learning on the job

  • Education
  • Sunday, 26 Jan 2003


WITHIN a matter of days, the Chinese Lunar Year of the Goat will be ushered in. Time really flies, doesn’t it? But more important than the passage of time is the wind of change it brings with it. In the column Good Vibrations in Star’s Fit for Life issue of January 12, the writer, Jaguar Speaks, observed that “sometimes there are so many things to learn, you wonder if you will ever get everything in place”. He also wrote, “Sometimes it feels like there are so many things to do, and it is so easy to give up hope”. I feel that of this year, 2003. I wonder if age is finally catching up with me – even before the first week was up, I was beginning to feel the strain.  

To begin with, there was the usual round of paperwork I, like any other teacher, had to deal with at the beginning of each year - schemes-of-work, strategic plans, registers and programme proposals. Then, I was also feeling the heat of having to think ahead. About what, you may well ask?  

Well, about how I am going to manage teaching by using notebooks and LCD projectors. Yes, I’ve been slotted to teach a Science subject to a Lower Six class this year. While the students are not in school yet (we expect them in March), the few of us involved are already walking around with furrowed brows.  

While others in a similar boat are worried about the subject matter or their command of English, what I’m concerned with is my technical expertise and whether I’ll have enough software to help me through the process. Anyway, for now, all of us will have to shelve some of our concerns. Until we see more proof about what we have or do not have to worry about, the matter is best left to rest. Meanwhile, I read of another observation which set me thinking. This one was made by Professor John Goodland in his book, “A Place Called School”. His comment is that “85% of all classroom time is consumed by didactic teaching that is not genuine teaching at all but sheer indoctrination”.His words? “It results in a short-lived, mainly verbal memory of mere opinions adopted on the naked authority assumed by indoctrinating teachers”. 

This observation should leave us wondering, “Does our style of teaching contribute to that 85%?” Speaking for good teachers, I doubt that it does because most of them do try to use different approaches to ensure their teaching goes to the heart of their students.  

These teachers will offer systematic guidelines, healthy discussion, clear instruction and enough exercises to train students in logical thinking patterns. Yet, a niggling thought remains. I think it can be said of every teacher that we always wonder whether what we do is ever good enough (I suppose that’s the reason most of us dread being observed).  

In search for the answer, I found several good pointers in an article written by Mortimer J Adler. Titled “Beyond Indoctrination : The Quest for True Learning”, the article is one of several good ones in the book I’ve mentioned before, “What Teachers Need To Know”. Here is what Adler suggests teachers should have in order to go beyond the act of indoctrination in their teaching. Perhaps you’d care to evaluate yourself :  

  • Teachers should possess whatever knowledge students are expected to acquire through their didactic efforts. They must also have an understanding of everything they need to know in order to be able to supplement their didactic performance by questioning, answering questions, and leading discussions that will help students acquire genuine knowledge, that is knowledge accompanied by understanding. 

  • Teachers should have the intellectual skill they are expected to coach, and they should know how to form the habits of those skills in the students they coach. 

  • They should have an understanding of the ideas and issues that they wish to help the students comprehend through discussions in a Socratically conducted seminar. For this purpose they should be trained in the art of conducting seminars by observing others conducting them, by participating as students in seminars conducted by others, and by conducting seminars under the critical scrutiny of masters of this art. 

  • Most important of all, they should be so prepared for the teaching profession that they understand their own primary role as learners. A school should be a place where teachers learn, not just a place where students learn. A learner-teacher is one whose teaching involves genuine intellectual activity on the teacher’s part as well as on the student’s part, not just recitation by the teacher and memorisation by the students.  

    Besides the above, in the new era brought about by technology, teachers must also be able to design, monitor and manage e-learning tasks for their students in a technically savvy way.  

    While each teacher has his strengths, I certainly feel there are areas where every teacher will need to be coached afresh and learn anew.  

    One such area this year will be the skillful manipulation and use of ICT hardware and software for teaching purposes. The trolleys, notebooks and computers are already in place. Whatever our shortcomings, we’ll just have to take the “goat” by the horns and begin learning, trying and practising on those electronic gadgets! Wish us luck.

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