On both sides of the divide

WE had been talking to a former colleague who had since moved to another position in the education department.

It was more of having a different job description and working in different surroundings rather than a promotion but after the conversation, Dilla and I came away with the feeling that our former colleague’s attitude, especially when he talked about school teachers was slightly condescending and superior.

We also noted his displeasure when Dilla referred to him as Cikgu and how he insisted that he was now an “officer in the ministry of education”.

“Hmm,” remarked Dilla, “and to think that only two years ago this exalted ministry-of-education officer was hounding me for teaching materials and notes that he was too lazy to prepare.

“All he did was copy my stuff and repeat it in his own class... I didn’t mind really even though I had spent a lot of time sourcing for the extra material and he had the easy way out by just using what I had spent hours preparing. I reckoned if it was for the good of the students then it didn’t matter.”

“Ye..ees,” I said, remembering how he had loudly proclaimed that he was leaving for a position in the education ministry because he was “sick of teaching and being in school with workload that kept increasing but was mostly meaningless”.

In the 10-minute conversation we had with him, the same person now told us that he was “fed-up with the way teachers kept complaining about everything for the sake of complaining” and about how most teachers were either “incompetent or plain lackadaisical” about their job.

He informed us about how we were going to progress, or implement a change, if every plan for reform is met with such pessimism among teachers and so many complaints.

The irony was that just two years ago, when another education policy had been implemented, he was the one who had whined the most and complained the loudest about the “people up there who sat in their ivory towers, sent directives and formed policies without knowing what the situation in schools really was like.”

Knowing his history of underperformance, his strutting and posturing did seem a little ridiculous, and we just laughed it off as a meeting with one of those people who didn’t represent the majority.

But the shoe really seemed to be on the other foot this time. I suppose things do look different when you are on the outside looking in.

To be fair, it is true that teachers do complain about a lot of matters pertaining to their workload and some of these are unjustified.

No change or reform comes easy, and well, when you are paid to do a job, you just have to do it.

This is all the more true in the teaching service because unlike some other jobs, our outcomes are actually in the lives of the students that we mould.

But some of these complaints are definitely justified because again, unlike those who work in different education departments, the school teacher’s job is seldom just to teach.

With the multitude of demands placed on the school teacher, from being subject teacher to treasurer to secretary to coach to counsellor, fund-raiser, banquet organiser and sometimes even class janitor, there are times when there is a basis for their disgruntlement.

Being on 10 different school committees, each of them demanding your full attention, and yet having to ensure that lessons are prepared and taught, books marked, files up-to-date, and handling students’ problems at the same time, is by no means an easy feat especially for a conscientious and committed teacher who doesn’t cut corners.

So the resentment of some teachers against their peers who have taken on different appointments in the education ministry and now sit in plush air-conditioned offices, is understandable.

Their indignation when such “officers” portray a sudden “memory loss” of what things used to be like in the schools also seems valid.

On the other hand, it is unfair of teachers to criticise and blame officers in the education department for being the ones to decide changes or reforms, which eventually come down as directives that the teachers on the ground have to implement.

It must be remembered that education officers, like them, are also carrying out their jobs.

They take orders from those above them all for the same cause — improving education.

Like teachers who profess to spend working days and even holidays on school-related work, education officers sometimes stay back long after working hours to complete the jobs they have been commissioned to fulfil.

In fact, there is reasonable ground for griping on both sides.

Perhaps the occasional grumbling can be excused as a way of letting off steam and then carrying on with the job.

What we have to guard against perhaps is making broad assumptions for instance like education officers in other departments being unconcerned with the situation in schools, or that teachers always complain without reason.

To be honest, there are teachers who must stop complaining and start performing just as there are officers who need a reality check, to get off their high horse and come down to earth where the schools are.

Granted that it is never easy to see things when you are on the inside looking out, there should perhaps be a policy that requires both sides to change places periodically to know what’s really going on, on the other side.

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