Category Archives: Teaching

How I Conduct My First Class

Each meeting with my students, either online or face-to-face, is important. But it’s the first day that I consider very special – the most strategically important. It’s the day that I would attempt to accomplish one of the hardest things to do in education – to shatter the students’ image of the classroom as a prison cell, with them as  prisoners and the teachers as nasty prison guards. It’s the day when I begin to lay the foundations of what  every teacher should endeavor to forge between them and their students – a good rapport. The entire semester is a long haul and I know that winning their hearts – making them comfortable – would make our journey together as enjoyable and productive as it could be. If I succeed in making them trust me, especially since I am not the native speaker of English they were expecting as an ESL teacher, half of the battle is already won.

There’s nothing very special about the way I conduct my first meeting with my new students. It’s just a bit unconventional.

My introduction would always include telling my students the nickname which I adopted with the intention of eliciting laughter whenever I deliver a talk – Tonitonipoponibananananapoponinomimayfofoni. (That’s inspired by the song “Name Game.”) Amazingly, when I tell my students that and jokingly threaten them to memorize it if not they would fail in my subject, they would try very hard to repeat it after me and laugh at themselves if they wouldn’t be able to say it.

Then I would add, “Whoever could say my nickname correctly will get an A+.” I was just kidding of course. Luckily, up until this time, no one among those who tried succeeded. It was me who would always succeed – in getting their attention.

From there, I would give them the necessary information about me as their teacher. The most significant of those information (as far as I am concerned) is the number of years I have been teaching. I won’t say it directly. Just do the math and… a little bit of research. I sarted teaching the year the summer olympics was held here in South Korea. The point I wish to drive home for highlighting to my students how long I have been teaching is – I wouldn’t stay this long in the academe if I don’t love my job.

The next part of my first-day-of-class script would touch the boundaries of philosophy.

I would be delivering something like an “eve-of-battle” speech. The way they do it in movies.

I would ask my first question: “Why am I teacher?”

Puzzled, the students would grope for an answer.

I would give  follow-up questions after that – Would you call a woman a mother without a son or a daughter? Are your mothers and fathers mothers and fathers without you as their children?

Amid their “aahs” and nods I would then say, “I am a teacher because of the students. My reason for being a teacher is each of you. Without you I am not a teacher.” In the same manner that a woman wouldn’t be called a mother if she has no son or daughter, biological or adopted.

That’s my way of telling my students that the most important stakeholder in a school are them. Schools exist because of them. School administrators and teachers have work because of them.

That’s my way of telling them that I exist (as a teacher) to serve their interest.

I would end that part with the following statement: “Thank you for having me as your teacher.”

After that I would show them a videoclip from the movie “Collateral Beauty” – that part where Howard Inlet, a character played by Will Smith, delivered a speech in a gathering of his employees  at the beginning of the movie.

He said “What is your why? Why did you even get out of the bed this morning?   Why did you  eat what you ate? Why  did you wear what you wore? Why did you come here?”

I would pause the video clip after each question and would ask them to give an answer.

Then I would ask them follow-up questions. (These were the only questions I asked when I was not yet using that movie clip.)

Why are you here in school?

Why do you want to finish your studies?

The last question I would ask – Why did you enroll in this class?

I never failed to ask the said questions because I want my students to understand that for them to succeed not only in their studies but in all their present and future endeavors, they need to set goals. They ought to know their whys. They must know the reasons why they do what they do, say what they say, and think what they think.

I would tell them also that the worst “why” to have for studying is to get A+  – that grades are not the be-all and end-all of schooling.

All of the foregoing would be finished in twenty to thirty minutes.

I would then ask the student to introduce themselves.

After all of the foregoing , that’s the only time that I would present the course syllabus – explain the course objectives, give the topics to be discussed weekly, and tell them what activities will be done in the class and how they are going to be graded.

It’s not surprising to see the students frown when they see the course requirements on the last page of the syllabus. That’s the time that I would deliver the last part of my “eve-of-battle” speech.

I would ask – “Is learning fun?”

As expected, majority would say “no.”

My next question would be – “Is work fun?”

Of course the students would say “no” again. And every time I would ask that, one or two would say “My father always complains about his job.”

Then I would go on and tell them the following:

“Nothing is to be given to you in a silver platter. You need to work hard to achieve your dreams. Studying and working would require effort – you have to exert mentally, emotionally and physically. But something could make studying and working fun – your attitude. Your attitude towards studying will be dictated by your whys. Your whys put together is your philosophy.”

I would spend another minute or two to explain something about “personal philosophy.” At the end I would tell them that each teacher has a personal teaching philosophy and mine is as follows:

“The classroom is my playground. The students are my playmates. The subject is our toy.”

How surprised they would be whenever I say that when I come to class I don’t work, I play. Work is hard. Play is fun.

And that’s how I found joy in teaching – to not consider it as just another job. It works for me.

After all the aforementioned, when I know that I communicated already what I wanted to, that’s the only time that I would present the course syllabus.

As we end the first meeting I would tell them, “Come back next week and let’s play.”

Just imagine – I play and get paid handsomely for doing so. The remuneration is just the icing on the cake. Which one is the cake? It’s the happiness; the happiness that I derive from doing what I love doing – teaching.

Professionalism Among Teachers

The complexities involving the teaching profession and the importance of the role of teachers in the holistic development of learners require strict adherence to the tenets of professionalism. There are expectations that teachers need to meet and there are qualities that they are expected to possess. These expectations and qualities are the ones that should inform the decision to hire somebody applying for a teaching position.

All the qualities teachers ought to have and what are expected of them can be summed up in one concept – “teacher professionalism.”

“Teacher professionalism” is an idea  that can be defined differently based on multiple perspectives and its merits scrutinized according to various arguments. It is considered a broad concept consisting of several dimensions.  However, for delimitation purposes, the discussion on the subject in this article is anchored only on the definitions of the term “professionalism” given in the next two (2) paragraphs.

Evans pointed out that “professionalism means different things to different people.”1 The Oxford dictionary simply defines the term as “the competence or skills expected of a professional.”It is the level of excellence or competence that professionals should manifest in their chosen fields of specialization.

Tichenorexplains that professionalism  are the expected  behaviors of individuals  in a specific occupation.  Professionals need to conduct themselves in accordance to set standards.

Boyt, Lusch and Naylor4 combined  the said views about professionalism when they describe it as a multi-dimensional structure consisting of one’s attitudes  and behaviors towards  his/her job and the achievement of high level of standards. Similarly, Hargreavesdefines professionalism as the conduct, demeanor and standards which guide the work of professionals.

The terms associated to professionalism as seen from the definitions and explanations given are as follows: competence, skills, behaviors, conduct, demeanor, and standards. Competence and skills are synonymous and so are behaviors, conduct, and demeanor. Standards refer to the quality or accepted norms for competence and behaviors.

Skills are not the only components that make up teacher’s competence. Knowledge is, of course, an integral part of it.

Skills and knowledge are very broad attributions to a teacher’s competence. What specifically are the skills and knowledge that would make a teacher competent?

As Baggini puts it, “To be a professional or a professor  was to profess in some skill or field of knowledge.” It’s a given that teachers should have knowledge of the subject matter or expertise in a particular skill. Teachers are expected to know not a little but much about what they are teaching.

What adds challenge to being a teacher  is the ability to dig (whenever applicable) into the scientific, philosophical, legal, sociological, and psychological foundations of what is being taught. It is important that teachers are able to relate whatever they are discussing to other  fields. Such an ability would enable teachers to enrich the discussion.

But teaching and learning are complex processes that involve a lot more… not just knowing what to teach and being able to connect a topic to other disciplines. What would make teachers truly competent are the corresponding skills that enable them to effectively teach what they know and make the students learn. Such skills are acquired through training in pedagogy.

Pedagogy is commonly defined as “the art, science, or profession of teaching.” Pedagogy informs teaching strategies, teacher actions, and teacher judgments and decisions by taking into consideration theories of learning, understandings of students and their needs, and the backgrounds and interests of individual students.7

Pedagogy, in a nutshell, tells how best to teach and how best the students learn.

Knowledge and expertise in a field would not make one a teacher. Pedagogical skills are needed. Competent teachers SHOULD know, not just the subject matter, but how to  set learning objectives, motivate students, design learning activities, facilitate learning, construct assessment, and assess learning.

In addition, another skill through which the competence of 21st-century teachers is gauged is how extensive and effectively do they apply technology (computer) to teaching and learning.

Aside from competence, the other dimension of teacher’s professionalism this article is exploring is behavior.

Teachers are aware that they should behave in accordance with the ethical standards set for the teaching profession. They are expected to speak, act and dress accordingly. Barberpointed this out when he identifies as one of the main characteristics of professional behavior  a “high degree of self-control of behavior through codes of ethics.”

But the behavior dimension of professionalism among teachers goes beyond proper manner and decorum.

Another characteristic of professional behavior identified by Barber is “orientation primarily to community interest rather than to  individual self-interest.” It is no secret that teachers sacrifice a lot to help their students. Teachers work long hours and practice a lot of patience. As Orlin puts it, “ I see it (teaching) as an act of self-sacrifice, as a hard path undertaken for the greater good.”9

Teachers also know that they need to keep learning. They need to have a continuing professional development plan for them to be better equipped in dealing with the challenges of the profession. They need to keep abreast of the current trends and innovations in the field of education.

There are also general teaching behaviors which, according to a study, are the most important for effective teaching (as perceived by students). Hativa identified five (5) of them, namely, making the lessons clearorganizedengaging/interestingmaintaining interactions, and rapport with students.10

Two (2) of the said general teaching behaviors (making the lessons clear and organized) are related to the first dimension of teacher professionalism (competence and skills). The rest are more indicative of the second dimension (behavior).

Teacher professionalism strongly implies the demands and complexities of teaching making it harder to understand why the profession doesn’t get due recognition. Teaching is not just any profession. Not just anybody can be a teacher. Not just anybody can be entrusted the responsibility of developing the mind and body.

References:   

  1. Evans, Linda (2008) Professionalism, professionality and the development of education professionals. British Journal of Educational Studies, 56 (1). pp. 20-38.
  2. Definition of “professionalism” – Oxford English Dictionary
  3. Tichenor, M. S., Tichenor, J. M. (2005). Understanding teachers’ perspectives on professionalism. ERIC.
  4. Boyt, T., Lusch, R. F. ve Naylor, G. (2001). The role of professionalism in determining job satisfaction in professional services: a study of marketing researchers, Journal of Service Research, 3(4), 321-330
  5. Hargreaves, A. (2000). Four ages of professionalism and professional learning. Teachers and Teaching: History and Practice, 6 (2),151-182. 
  6. Baggini, J. (2005). What professionalism means for teachers today? Education Review, 18 (2), 5-11.
  7. Shulman, Lee (1987). “Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform”(PDF). Harvard Educational Review. 15(2): 4–14. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  8. Barber, B. (1965). Some Problems in the Sociology of the Professions. In K. S. Lynn (Edt.), The Professions in America (pp. 669-688). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  9. Orlin, Ben “Teaching As Self Sacrifice.” Match With Bad Drawing. WordPress, March 10, 2014. Web. 19 July, 2017.
  10. Hativa, N. (2014). A pratical approach to designing, operating, and reporting, 2nd, Tel Aviv: Oron Publications.

On Passing and Failing Students

The current semester of the school year 2021 is drawing to a close. Teachers will soon make a decision – pass or fail their students.

To pass, or not to pass… that is the dilemma that confronts teachers when the performance of some students during an entire term is below par and their total grades go south of the passing mark.

What should the teachers do – pass or fail the students?

Is passing students in a subject or course mandatory on the part of the teachers?

 It’s a different story if a student fails due to absences. The student failed by default. But what if a student is regularly attending classes?

There are possible repercussions should teachers fail their students. When they fail students they had better be ready to answer possible queries from the students themselves or from their parents. Usually, complaints of students, most especially when they are accompanied by their parents, would also lead to school authorities investigating the teachers concerned. It’s not only a matter of being ready to answer questions but the teachers should also prepare class records and other documents that could prove beyond reasonable doubt that the students did not perform well and deserve to get a failing mark.

There are times that teachers thought that they have exhausted all possible means to help the students perform better but to no avail… that they have tried different strokes for different folks, but none of the strokes they applied worked.

But the painful truth is that there are also teachers who would not walk an extra mile to help students improve on their academic performance.

Now, granting that the teachers have done everything they possibly could to help the students pass but their efforts proved futile, would failing the students be considered justifiable already?

Should teachers be applauded when they  take the moral high  ground and say that schools are committed to excellence and passing failing students would be tantamount to promoting mediocrity?

Failing students is not a simple decision to make. Whether or not to pass students is a path that teachers have to tread carefully. There are a lot of things to be considered before making the final decision. There are questions that the teachers need to answer very clearly. Questions that would lead to more questions.

Do the grades teachers give truly reflect the abilities of the students? Let’s say that the answer is yes. The next question would be, “Were the tests the teachers made valid? Did the teachers make sure that their tests measured what they intended to measure?

There are more questions – Were the tests the teachers designed congruent with the strategies they used when they presented their lessons? What informed the strategies that they have selected? What foundation of learning and teaching did they stand upon when they delivered their lessons? Did they consider the abilities of their students when they designed the activities in the class? Or is it a matter of whatever decisions they make as teachers are contingent upon their personal comfort?

Yes, the role of the teacher is that complicated. That’s why the decision to pass or not to pass students is actually an examination of the teachers’ conscience. It is answering the ultimate question – “Did I really do my job as a teacher?”

Ask teachers if they are really doing the things expected of them and their response would be an unequivocal yes.

Really?

So here is another question – “Why would students fail if teachers are doing their job well?”

The question above leads us to the next question – “When students fail does it mean they did not learn?”

Students failing means  they did not pass the majority (if not all) of the tests (short or long, oral or written) the teachers gave during the entire term. All of those tests are meant to evaluate learning that was supposed to have taken place when the teachers discussed their lessons and did all the activities they designed for the class. So, if the students failed the tests it would mean they did not learn.

Why did the students not learn? What happened? Did the teachers bother to know why? Could there be something wrong with their strategies? Like their strategies probably did not work or something could be wrong with their  methods of testing. Yet, they did not bother to adjust and allowed the accumulation of failed tests on the part of the students.

Only the teachers who are pedagogically trained would be able to detect when something is not right with what they are doing. If they are true to their calling as teachers, they would do something about it. They will make the necessary adjustments. If they don’t care then may God bless the students.  It’s much worse when those hired to teach are not really trained as teachers. They don’t have the pedagogical skills to understand what is really happening. For them, it’s just a matter of when the students don’t get the scores required they fail. That’s it.

Let’s bring back one of the questions posed earlier – “When students fail does it mean they did not learn?”

If the answer to this is yes it means that the grades of the students reflect not only their performance but that of their teachers as well.

How true is it that “it’s not teaching if there’s no learning.” Can the teachers claim they did their job as teachers even if their students fail?”

When students fail the tests meant to evaluate learning then the activities designed and strategies selected fail to help achieve the objectives. It is the responsibility of the teachers to make sure  that their objectives are attainable and the corresponding activities and strategies  are effective. It is their responsibility to make sure that their students would succeed. It is as simple as that. A philosophical mind is not needed to grasp that… just common sense would do.

The worst thing that can happen to students is to have teachers whose view of education is myopic – teachers who judge students according to the numbers they crunch during tests and recitations.  The students are much more valuable than those numbers.

Education transcends all statistical data that teachers collect during a school term. Yes, there are written rules. There are policies and regulations. But they are not absolute. Education cannot be confined to a box. It is more than black and white. It is as colorful as the rainbow. Teachers should lead their students to the proverbial end of that rainbow where a pot of gold  – a good future – awaits them

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