So much has been said about teachers being saddled with clerical chores. While attempts have been made to reduce their workload, a more efficient system needs to be put in place to ensure they focus on teaching.
THE recent string of education initiatives to assist school teachers in both primary and secondary schools have put teachers in a spot.
While teachers who appreciate the help rendered are mostly fresh graduates, questions have been raised as to the effectiveness of these initiatives.
Many teachers feel that the need for the initiatives suggests that they are inept.
Younger teachers will be the first to tell you that the reason for whatever perceived ineptitude society has towards teachers is not entirely due to the individual.
Teacher S. Shobana said that while there are thousands of teachers out there, there are a few who are just there because they have no other career choice and do a half-hearted job.
“But you’ll also find many who will go the extra mile for their students. So you have to look past the individual to see what is affecting teachers’ performance,” said the teacher from SMK Puteri Wangsa, Johor.
From the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships to the Teach For Malaysia (TFM) fellowship, there are numerous education initiatives and programmes underway.
National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng said that in the case of TFM, engagement methods hint that teachers are incompetent.
“We want to cooperate with TFM, but we are also asking them to be respectful of teachers. Don’t treat us as though we do not know what we are doing,” she said.
She added that TFM should be a catalyst for teacher development, not a body that creates doubts and questions the capabilities of teachers in government schools.
Not all teachers feel the same way though. Many young teachers view the help being funnelled into schools as a positive sign.
“I fully support TFM. I don’t think it challenges my position as a teacher. The initiatives acknowledge the fact that teachers do need help and such programmes are in fact lending us a helping hand,” said Aisyah Syed Abdullah Al-Mashoor, a teacher at SMK Seri Bintang Selatan, Kuala Lumpur.
She added that even if some teachers think it undermines the teaching profession, it is irrelevant because students have been undermining school teachers way before TFM.
“Students tend to respect their tuition teachers more than their school teachers. This in itself subverts a teacher’s teaching ability,” she explained.
As for the English Teaching Assistants (ETAs), Aisyah said as long as local teachers are not proficient in the global language, native English speakers would be in demand as they can correct pronunciation and sentence structure.
“We still have teachers here who pronounce tortoise as ‘to-toy-s’,” quipped Aisyah who has been teaching for more than four years.
Shobana said that any initiative to help schools is welcome as they give students the nudge they need to develop interest in their studies.
“Despite having different methods and approaches, it is the students we have in mind. In a way, we are complementing each other,” she said.
Shobana said her school’s ETA, Kathleen Devlin, learnt as much from her as she did from Kathleen.
“If you’ve never taught before, you’d be surprised at how hard it can be. So, I share teaching tips with Kathleen while she gives me new lesson ideas.
“I’m sure it’s the same for TFM fellows who have never taught before,” said the teacher with about a year’s experience.
The young teacher shared her observations about her students, who like many Malaysians, are in awe of Caucasians.
“I usually walk around my school and greet the students, but when Kathleen (Devlin) joins me, it’s as though I’m invisible!” said Shobana.
She added that her students were all intrigued by Devlin and had “some sort of double standard” when it came to treating local and foreign teachers.
Her compatriot in neighbouring SMK Kota Masai 2, Vincent Tan, said he was grateful his school was also chosen for the ETA programme.
“Thanks to the ETA, I finally see my students uttering English words.
“Our students have no choice but to use the universal language to communicate with the ETAs. This is what all English teachers want,” he said.
The presence of an ETA, especially in semi-urban and rural schools, boosts student confidence, said Tan who finds teaching a great learning experience.
“Not only do they bring creative and unique pedagogy approaches into the classroom, they also share their knowledge of the education system in the United States,” he said.
The interesting teaching methods applied by the ETA in class made Tan reflect on his own methodologies and reinvent his style of teaching.
Although the young teachers are positive and enthusiastic, they too have their fair share of complaints about what holds them back as teachers.
“We can debate all day about whether those in the teaching profession are truly passionate about their jobs, but we’ll never come to a conclusion,” said Shobana.
She added that instead of focusing on what cannot be measured, it is best to focus on problems the profession faces with regards to its performance.
“My biggest challenge as a teacher is dealing with the rigid structure of the school administration system.
“Frankly, we need a more efficient system in schools. We are being burdened with clerical duties and administrative work that is killing our morale and passion for the job.
“Some of us wonder how we ended up becoming clerks instead of teachers after studying to become educators,” she joked.
She added that there is unnecessary bureaucracy, such that even education policies from different eras are being practised.
“The Education Ministry should tidy up old policies every now and then, so that they don’t overlap with new ones.
“That way, the activities we carry out stay relevant and make sense to our students,” she said.
Aisyah explained that the old book-keeping system is still prevalent no matter which school a teacher is at — a semi-rural school like Shobana’s or an urban one, like hers.
She said: “High performance schools like mine are granted huge sums of money by the government every year.
“You need to conduct programmes and activities with that money, and that is when the paperwork begins.
“We have to deal with planning and budgeting. You have to finish the budget within a given period, otherwise your school will be queried by the ministry.”
Citing an example of organising a Maths camp, Aisyah said the teacher would have to draft the objectives of holding the camp, plan the budget, then decide and contact the Maths experts available for the camp, apart from taking care of other details like food and refreshments.
“On top of all the e-mails, letters, phone calls and planning, the teacher also has to write a report that details the whole process once the camp is over.
“The workload is insane because of this muddle. When that adds on to a teacher’s other responsibilities, like planning lessons, helping students catch up with the syllabus and co-curriculum, it is overwhelming,” she said.
Ideally, a school needs a special team of “auxiliary staff” who can support teachers with activities unrelated to the classroom, said Aisyah.
Shobana shared her sentiments, saying that having clerical staff in schools would to some extent solve the problem.
She added that what made it worse was when the “higher-ups” who demand written reports do not even read them.
Tan on the other hand had a different outlook on problems faced by his peers.
He said: “The paperwork and filing system isn’t the real issue, it’s the lack of clear guidelines on related procedures and processes.
“The ministry should provide a clear, standardised and practical system, not just for submitting reports and filing, but also for delegating administrative duties in general.”
Aisyah said the problem was straightforward and so were the benefits of coming up with a solution.
“The paradigm is simple, less paperwork means more interesting and thought-provoking lessons in class. Students will then learn to analyse and digest facts instead of simply memorising them. One can only be creative when one starts to think,” she added.
Lok said the NUTP has been pushing for a change in teachers’ standard operating procedures (SOP) for a long time.
“We know teachers have had to put up with some irrelevant procedures over the years,” she said.
Apart from the administrative clutter, teachers have complained that dealing with students from different backgrounds and competency levels, both in rural and urban schools, is another major challenge.
Experience is essential
“You need experience to deal with the situation in our schools. For some, the syllabus may be too complicated; and there are also the disciplinary issues to handle,” said Lok.
Nur Amalina Mohammad, one of Tan’s colleagues, said: “All the pedagogy theories we learn can’t be directly implemented without prior preparation. You’ve got to fit them within the context of our classrooms.”
She added that although training offered by local institutes of teacher education and universities is excellent, it would be better if they accord more practical training hours.
“Of all the subjects in college, I think psychology helped me the most in classroom management as it guided my attempts to understand how students think.
“But at the end of the day I would have preferred more hours as a trainee teacher in schools because nothing beats experience,” said Nur Amalina.
Lu Jia Yi, a newly-posted English language teacher at SMK Taman Sutera, Johor Baru, Johor, said some schools have tried making it easier for trainee teachers by assigning them to top classes where students are manageable and smart.
However, that does not reflect the real situation as there is a difference between real and mock experiences.
Most of the time, the problem is time itself and the lack of it, said Shobana.
She added that it was possible to put new pedagogy techniques to practice, but it has to be prepared carefully to suit the students.
“Preparing these kinds of lessons take a lot of time – sourcing from the Internet, finding visual aids and figuring out how to make them interesting,” she said.