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Of courses and effects

Teachers must keep an open mind and embrace changes to bring about positive outcomes.

IF you sat down one day to count the number of professional development courses you attended as a teacher, what would the figure be?

Add that to the number of seminars, training sessions or times when you just had to sit in a group and listen to someone talk.

Who keeps count of these things anyway? They are just courses to attend for the sake of attendance.

By the laws of statistics, there are surely teachers who wait to attend in-service courses or sessions referred to as Ladap (Latihan dalam Perkhidmatan) organised by the school or other education authorities. And in this group there would be those who genuinely want to hone their pedagogical skills and knowledge of best practices.

In other words they welcome any opportunities to learn and become better teachers.

But if you have been in our national schools long enough, you will probably realise that attending these courses is definitely not number one on the teacher’s list of favourite things to do.

In fact, the reverse may be often true. I have to admit that in all my years as a teacher I have not particularly enjoyed attending the teacher development courses or talks organised by the school authorities.

There had been times when I had to struggle to keep interested or focused or even listen to what was going on.

More often than not, after the first half hour or so, I found myself shutting off mentally and tuning in to some other more pleasant reverie.

Looking back, I realise that I could have missed out on many potential learning experiences that may have been planned with the very best of intentions.

Excuses

It was so easy then to come up with a million excuses to justify why I wasn’t paying attention.

The speaker was monotonous, the activities were repetitive. I could have read the whole thing up myself at home. Nothing was original. I was hungry and I was sleepy. I just wanted to go home. I didn’t need any more professional development. Wasn’t I “developed” enough?

There were many more excuses which when I think about it now, really had no basis. There is something to benefit from any kind of potential learning experience and not taking advantage of the opportunities is regrettable.

Having been on either side of the delivery podium or presentation hall at different times, several things come to my mind about the audience.

There are those who come with the ‘‘impress me’’ stance. But among these are teachers who may genuinely have standards which are high because of their own vast experience.

Although they tend to be critical, they may also be the ones who are willing to give credit where credit is due, especially when the delivery has been efficient and the content original.

Then, there are those who come in with the “nothing you can do will ever impress me” mind-set.

They have accorded unrealistic standards and set benchmarks that they feel are proportionate to their own self-perceived (and largely misguided) high standards.

They sit back in their chairs, arms folded, determined that they will never learn anything useful from the course.

If you were unfortunate enough to be the facilitator for such a crowd, be forewarned. Nothing you do will ever be good enough – even if you did cartwheels as an introduction or stood on your head, or made the principal disappear in a puff of smoke.

On the other hand, there are those who are never bothered by this “impress me”’ problem.

They turn up dutifully to each one of these courses, are one of the first to sign the attendance register, after which they slink away to a far corner of the room where they will be able to continue their other work like marking books or preparing reports.

Some of course appear to be in full concentration to what’s going on in front but really their minds are preparing the next day’s lessons, formulating questions for the mid-year examination or quite possibly even thinking about what to cook for dinner that evening.

On the other end, there are the model course participants who come ready and eager for any new learning that might enhance or extend their own pedagogical knowledge or skills.

They are among the first to respond to questions, provide feedback and participate in the planned activities. In short, these are every course facilitator’s dream participants.

And then there those like the rest of us who are sometimes there and sometimes not. We do genuinely start out trying to listen or follow along but most of the times we don’t last till the end.

Repackaged stuff

Somewhere along the way we get the feeling that we are being presented with old stuff repackaged as something new, and our minds turn to other things – school duties, the kids’ uniforms to press, the new clutch-bag on the on-line catalogue.

Reasons for this vary. Sometimes it is just the human factor. We are too tired or preoccupied by other pressing duties.

Sometimes it is due to badly planned sessions with speakers who are uninspiring, monotonous, or on the other extreme, so full of themselves that it seems as if they are using the stage as a platform to sell themselves, rather than provide professional development training.

Some teachers tell me that they are extremely put off by long drawn introductions where the presenter begins with his entire family history, followed by a long list of accomplishments.

To be fair, there have also been occasions when the facilitators of these courses were engaging, knowledgeable, articulate and interesting.

What they had to say was definitely beneficial and useful for teachers’ professional development.

Even though it may have been unbidden or grudging at times, there was a certain respect they managed to evoke from the audience of teachers which made them sit up and pay attention.

The times when teachers actively listen also has a lot to do with how relevant these talks are to what they are presently going through. It could be either in their professional or personal lives.

Whatever the reason or the attitude, it is good for us teachers to remember that education itself is fluid and there are constant innovations in pedagogies and classroom practices.

Like it or not, we have to at least attempt to keep pace with the changes around us, remain relevant or risk being left behind as the educational world whizzes past.

As much as you may wish that the changes would all go away, it is not likely to happen. The very nature of education is about relevance and keeping with the needs of society.

At times also, we may need to look further than the facilitator and into the course content itself.

As wonderful as it would be to have charismatic, interesting, articulate and well-informed facilitators all the time, we don’t always find all those qualities rolled into one individual.

And yet, coming into the course venue with a “there is nothing new they can teach me” attitude, blocks you mentally from any possible new learning.

Even if it was reinforcement of previous knowledge it is still learning.

Even if we could have presented it better ourselves, it is still learning. And even if the presenter is pompous, dreary or boring, there may still be something good we could glean from the content.

It is something to think about especially when we are in the classroom delivering a lesson to a crowd of students who may not exactly be thrilled with our presence.

We require our students to pay full attention to us and be completely involved in the activities we have prepared.

Perhaps aspiring to be “model students” ourselves during professional courses, may help us go a long way in achieving our personal teaching goals.

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