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A school is only as good as its teachers

A school is only as good as its teachers
A school is only as good as its teachers 3

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Are teachers today becoming lazy or apathetic? Have they lost the passion for teaching?

I was told by two students from different schools that some of their teachers were lazy. A few parents also felt that some teachers did not care how students fared as long as they covered the syllabus and ticked the right boxes on forms.

An example that was given to me involves a once-famous school in Sungai Petani, Kedah. I was told that on some days, certain lessons, such as Bahasa Melayu, would end at 1.50pm instead of the usual 1.10pm.

The Bahasa Melayu teacher would ask the upper form students whether they wanted to go home early, that is at 1.10pm or thereabouts. Of course most if not all of the students would prefer to go home early. She would then give them homework and send them off.

I was also told that some teachers would come to class and tell the students to open their books and read such and such chapters while he or she would take a brief shut-eye or do something else.

In the last 30 years or so, I have heard more complaints about teachers and the direction national schools are taking than good things. And these complaints have only increased in the last decade.

My conversations with teachers over the years reveal that the system itself is flawed. This includes frequent policy changes, flaws in teacher recruitment and selection for promotions, and poor school leadership.

I’ve heard, for instance, that teachers trained in science subjects have had to teach subjects such as history.

Two teachers I spoke to recently admitted that some teachers were lazy and many were jaded because of overwork and frequent policy changes. However, they were quick to add, there were still teachers who were passionate about their job and cared about the future of their students.

They noted that teachers were forced to spend much time on non-teaching, administrative matters and that this affected their ability to teach well.

The education ministry should address problems faced by teachers if it wants to improve the education system. For, as RJ Ryan, the then principal of Malay College Kuala Kangsar said in 1963, “disgruntled teachers tend to be ineffective teachers”.

One teacher gave a great example of the unexpected results of a flawed system. She said teachers were required to assess students under a six-band system, with one being the lowest and 6 the highest.

“However, we are discouraged by school heads from placing any student in the lower Band 1 or 2 categories. This is because the teacher has to explain in detail what is the problem and what remedial measures have been taken.

“It also means the school’s standing drops in the district and state. School heads don’t want this.”

So, she said, most teachers opted to place even the worst students in Band 3 so that no one would apply pressure on them and the school. By placing the student on Band 3, the teacher is saved from extra work such as filling up forms to explain the situation.

To me, it sounds like these teachers have lost the passion for teaching or didn’t have it in the first place. It sounds as if they do not think teaching is a noble profession but is just a way of earning a monthly salary.

Also, the school heads and district and state education officials will have less pressure if everything is seen as fine and dandy in the schools under their jurisdiction.

What this means, however, is that students are not properly assessed in class.

And that is dangerous as we may end up with many incompetent or less skillful or apathetic students joining the workforce and adult society after they finish school – if we haven’t already.

Equally bad, the system encourages teachers – who are supposed to be role models – to lie.

It also places an inordinate amount of pressure on teachers in the upper forms as they have to deal with students who have not learned some basics.

I was also told that some teachers have side businesses or help friends or family members sell or promote products, including beauty products, in the school staff room and online during rest periods. It appears that such teachers have dropped the “l” in learning and have grabbed on to just the “earning”.

Another cause for concern is the politically connected teacher. They can get away with many things, especially if they are a member of a ruling party.

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One reason why most parents feel the quality of teachers today is questionable, if not bad, is that those entering the teaching profession are often seen as being not the cream of the crop or being passionless individuals merely seeking a salaried position.

But having a string of As is no guarantee that one would make a good teacher. In fact, today we have many with Masters degrees and even PhDs in our institutes of learning, yet almost everyone thinks students they produce are lacking in intelligence or incapable of meeting new, disruptive challenges.

Some years ago, a retired teacher training institute lecturer told me that when he failed several trainees, he was called up by the institute’s authorities and instructed to give them a pass. His argument that they were not teacher material was rejected.

In fact, a retired university lecturer told me this was not uncommon in public universities. He said it was largely due to pressure on universities and training institutions to make the New Economic Policy work.

Parents expect schools to produce intelligent, skilful, confident and broadminded students who possess good values, who act responsibly and are geared to tackle all challenges. For that we need teachers who are intelligent, skilful, confident and broadminded and who possess good values, take responsibility for nurturing their students and shine when faced with challenges.

A tall task indeed. Which is why teachers should be better paid than other civil servants.

Leadership in schools is crucial. Parents and even some teachers have privately complained about school heads, with some saying incapable people are promoted based on factors that have nothing to do with teaching skills, administrative ability or a passion for teaching.

I was lucky in that I had one of the best principals a school could ever have. Mr Long Heng Hua, who declined to be promoted and remained until retirement at King Edward VII Secondary School, Taiping, had passion, teaching skills, administrative ability and more.

Students feared him, yet respected and admired him. Till today, old boys of the school speak fondly about him. A hard taskmaster, he was committed to producing well-rounded students. He was not interested in pleasing education officials or politicians, or making money. He was focused on producing responsible and capable adults of good character.

During my time in school, although we did have one or two lazy teachers who would tell us to open the book at a certain page and read while they would attend to their own matters, most teachers were passionate about their work.

Those of my generation can still name the many teachers who, unencumbered by racial or religious bias, went out of their way to teach us and mould us into good human beings. As a result, Malaysia had a good supply of policy designers and implementers during the early years of Merdeka and the formation of Malaysia.

From my own experience as a student and as someone who has taught in classes for poor students organised by volunteer groups, I can say that more than academic qualification, a teacher needs to like being with students and guiding them, have the right attitude towards the immense task before her or him, and be able to acquire and transfer knowledge creatively to her or his wards.

Most importantly, I think, a teacher needs to create confidence and a sense of Wow! in students so that they continue learning even when they leave school.

Therefore, the recruitment of teachers should be based on such factors as merit, passion for teaching and being with children, curiosity, willingness to learn continuously and overall ability. Factors unrelated to the well-being of students and the growth of a healthy education system should never be considered.

After all, teachers play a crucial role in producing the nation’s future leaders in all areas including government and business.

I feel there is too much emphasis on a school’s physical facilities, digitalisation and keeping records to meet key performance indicators and not enough on teacher quality.

I hope new education minister Fadhlina Sidek pays attention to the quality of teachers and teacher training. I hope she is prepared to sack teachers who are lazy or incompetent and reward those who teach with dedication. I hope she overhauls teacher training institutes and the selection process for school heads.

The fact is, a school is only as good as its teachers.

 

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

A school is only as good as its teachers 3

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