Monday, August 24, 2009

Competition: Old Possum International Kids Poetry Competition 2009

Here's an announcement for an international online poetry contest for children (7-11 years) & those who teach at primary level. Details below.

Rodney Tan

Old Possum’s Children’s Poetry Competition 2009 On the theme of ‘Heroes and Heroines ’ for children aged 7-11 years

Carol Ann Duffy , the new Poet Laureate, is to chair the judging panel for this year's Old Possum's Children's Poetry Competition for 7-11 year olds. The Competition is organised by the Children’s Poetry Bookshelf, a poetry book club for young people run by the Poetry Book Society.

To link with National Poetry Day on Thursday 8 October, children will be asked to write a poem in English no longer than 25 lines on the theme of ‘Heroes and Heroines’.

Carol Ann Duffy is joined by a distinguished panel of people who either write poetry for children or are passionate about it: John Agard , poet and playwright, whose Young Inferno has just won the 2009 CLPE Poetry Award; Antonia Byatt, Director of Literature Strategy at Arts Council England; Gillian Clarke , National Poet of Wales , playwright and translator; Janetta Otter-Barry , Publisher of Janetta Otter-Barry Books, an imprint of Frances Lincoln; and Roger Stevens, poet, author, musician and founder of the Poetry Zone website

Now in its fourth year, the competition is open to both individuals and schools. Cash prizes of £250 for first prize, £100 for second and £50 for third will be awarded, along with books and CPB memberships, in two age groups, 7-8 year-olds and 9-11 year-olds. Entries will be accepted from Thursday 10 September, up until the closing date of Monday 19 October. The winners will be announced at a gala celebration in London in December.

The British Council partnership, established last year, will continue to encourage entries to the ‘International Learner category’ for children based outside the UK who are learning English as a foreign or second language.

The Old Possum’s Children’s Poetry Competition will encourage children to write poems of their own and help teachers to bring poetry alive in the classroom. A teacher’s guide to accompany the competition will be available to download from this website, along with entry forms and details, from September.

Click here to find out more about last year's Competition.

The Old Possum's Children's Poetry Competition is generously supported by Old Possum’s Practical Trust.


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Debate: What Teachers Have Learned

This debate published in he New York Times blog is whether teachers with higher academic qualifications make better teachers in the classroom or whether teacher training, experience and content knowledge counts. The views were contributed by many teachers ranging from the kindergarten, public and private schools and university professors.

My personal take on this issue is the teacher's own passion and personal self that will count whether one can teach well or otherwise. As long as a teacher can maintain his/her passion, the rest will follow through. I always hold to the adage that "the heart of education is the educaton of the heart."

Rodney Tan

August 22, 2009, 3:00 pm

What Teachers Have Learned
By The Editors
Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

In a Room for Debate forum this week, experts discussed the value of education degrees, which often drive pay and promotion in public school systems. Many readers, who are teachers, offered their views on whether teacher prep programs are necessary for the classroom, or if other factors, like subject-matter expertise and life experience, matter more. Here are excerpts from their comments.

The Value of Epiphanies
I teach high school English and journalism, and have for more than twenty years. The students in my journalism classes are among the highest achieving students in the school; traditionally more than half of the top ten students each year are in enrolled in my classes. During the summer and after school I teach remedial English skills to students who did not pass our state standardized test.
To evaluate and pay teachers according to student performance based on standardized test scores will not produce better teachers, or better students. If a teacher helps a non-reader to become a reader, if a teacher helps a student realize the value of knowing how to write well, if a teacher opens up just a small window for further learning to occur, he is a fine teacher. Extra pay is not given to teachers who provide epiphanies and a foundation for lifelong learning. How sad it would be to give extra pay to teachers who turn out top-notch standardized test-takers.— Pamela

Pay More for Science and Math
I’ve taught 9-12 gr math/physics at a public school for 12 years. Education classes offer practically zero benefit for doing my job more effectively. What we need are teachers who are much more competent in their subject areas! Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to pay more for people that actually know a significant amount about science and math. In our society, that is about as likely as getting Rush to support serious health care reform. Even after the last election, I am not too optimistic that our society has ‘evolved’ that much.— Wayne Hild

Special Ed Requires Special Skills
As a (retired) special education teacher, certified to teach students from toddler age to adults, I can’t imagine entering my field with no specialized education direction. My M.A. was concentrated in the special education field, as were the 30-plus credits I completed beyond it. However, the basic education skills I learned in undergraduate school were invaluable for preparing me to work with young people in general.
An understanding of the basic ‘ABC’s’ of what makes all children tick is absolutely necessary. I’ve seen many teachers ‘bomb’ over the years because they knew their subject matter, but not how to interact with, or be a role model for, children.— Steve Martin

Merit Pay for Cronies
I am a 21-year veteran teacher who took a whole boatload of education courses in furtherance of my BA and MS degrees. They were utterly useless. The only thing that actually prepared me for teaching was student teaching. All of the other courses taught theory, but nothing practical.
I am a very successful teacher, and parents and students alike have sought me out over my career. I make the same salary as another teacher who does nothing but shows movies in class all day. I spend my summers revising my work, creating new and interesting facets to the course. I make the same as the teacher who spends the summer not thinking one iota about the next school year.
Merit pay has some merit, it encourages certain behaviors and discourages others. What I am afraid of is that it will be used to reward the wrong people. If a teacher is mediocre, it is because they have been allowed to get away with it, their behavior empowered by administration. There is a great deal of cronyism in the business, and it skews the playing field. It has always been like that, and it likely always will be.— Mark

A Degree Predicts Nothing
I have taught for six years at a public high school in Brooklyn, and I have seen teachers come and go for many reasons. In my opinion, the effectiveness of a teacher is almost impossible to predict until you see them in the classroom for quite a while. Also, a person’s educational background and pre-selection (masters/no masters/Ph.D./Teach for America/Teaching Fellows) cannot predict how they will succeed in the classroom. Schools have to have more leeway in being able to select, retain, and let go of staff.— Molly

Intuitive Gifts That Can’t Be Taught
As a school psychologist for 20 years in a dozen different schools, I’ve observed hundreds of teachers. My experience has taught me that the very best teachers are those who are able to convey their deep curiosity about the world and their passion for learning. Above all else, they need to be EMPATHIC. Empathy is what enables a teacher (or any leader, in truth) to know, in every moment, what a child needs. They know when to call on a student and when not to, when a child has problems at home, when they need to raise the bar and when to lower it.
Watching a great teacher interact with students is as inspiring as watching an Olympic athlete. It’s an intuitive and emotional gift and it can’t be taught or instilled with any certification. The degrees mostly just enable educators to speak a common language — a necessary aspect of a profession.— Claudia

What About Class Size?
As a former teacher I find it interesting that all the focus is on teacher preparation. Nothing was said about class size or collaboration with other teachers. It is assumed that one teacher, in front of a class, is the answer. Nothing was said about the structure of schools and classrooms. These items are as important as the teacher in front of the class. This is a more difficult conversation, and would require a larger commitment of resources to accomplish the goal of educating students to reach their potential.— Frank Walsh

Practice by Teaching
As an alternatively certified teacher, I see great value in programs, such as the Teaching Fellows via New Teacher Project, that take motivated and skilled people and turn them into good teachers. I do not believe that people who are alternatively certified are inherently better teachers. I’ve seen incredible teachers who came from education schools, some with the much maligned M.Ed. degree.
I believe that the best preparation for teaching is a combination of pedagogy and a strong apprenticeship — a marriage of traditional preparatory and alternative certification programs. All new teachers would benefit from a year of full-time work in the classroom beside an experienced and effective teacher. We learn by practicing — even the best surgeon in the world is useless until he has proven his skill on the table.
That said, I have taken professional development coursework offered through local education schools that were absolutely laughable. Sitting through a 5 hour session that culminated in making a caterpillar from an egg carton is a waste of time. I went to learn how to produce higher rates of literacy in English Language Learners — not how to produce a cute craft of little practical value.— Frustrated Early Childhood Teacher

What Pedagogy Professors Know
I am a teacher in an urban school in Memphis, TN, and I can tell you that my MA Ed. (from a fairly well regarded institution) served only to increase my salary. Sadly, I now have student loans to pay back for the graduate school education. Pedagogy is fine and good when you’re in academia; however, most of the education school professors haven’t been in a classroom in 20 years and have no idea what works and what doesn’t.— Jason Fernandes

A Profession, Like Any Other
Teachers are professionals just like lawyers and doctors. The profession mandates a degree to insure that certain standards are met and done so consistently throughout the educational system. A degree gives you the theory and some initial hands-on experience. It does not guarantee that the graduating teacher, doctor or lawyer will perform well; for that rests on the effort of the individual. Every other profession receives financial compensation for their degree because of the money, time and effort that went into it. Why should teaching be different?— ama

Why I Stopped Teaching
I received my masters from Teachers College, worked in an education think tank at Stanford, and taught in a small public school in Harlem. The full-time education degree was so easy that I was able to work full time and spend a long weekend once a month in New England. I graduated early. I never spent more than 5 hours a week on homework. I received only A’s and A+’s.
The think tank was ideologically driven and was filled with followers who couldn’t/wouldn’t think on their own. The woman they were following had a scheduler, an administrative assistant, and an office manager. She worked from home almost every day in her school-funded mansion and talked incessantly about how she was saving the poor kids in the slums of East Palo Alto and New York.
The small public school in Harlem was nothing new — a messed up school in a messed up system, with a bunch of great kids and a few great teachers. Most of the kids dropped out in middle school. The principal and counselor wouldn’t intervene when I pointed out a relationship between one of my 11-year old 7th graders and a 17-year old senior — she was pregnant by the end of the school year.
I left the field because I couldn’t stand this version of corruption, where everyone tries to do the easiest thing instead of the right thing.— Former teacher

Bring in Real-Life Experiences
I was voted as “Teacher of the Year” at the High School I teach at, and I have never taken an Education course. I have a Master’s degree in Engineering. After 20 years in industry, I became a Math and Physics teacher through the alternate route to certification here in Vermont. I have written a published article comparing the difficulties and joys of teaching with those in industry (For the Love of Kids).
After teaching for 15 years, I have come to the conclusion that an Education degree for teachers and especially for administrators is a detriment to the education of students, not an asset. How much better to bring real life experience to the classroom than the rote prescriptions taught in the Education classes. In my opinion, rather than spend summers pursuing a Masters of Education degree (and the salary increase that goes with it), teachers should be given comparable credits for spending the summer interning for an NGO or a business.— Arnie Gundersen

Education Classes Demand Little
After an Ivy League education and a 20+ year career in business, I will now begin my 4th year as a teacher. In the very first week of teaching, I proposed throwing out the traditional business program being taught and was given the privilege of creating an entirely new program. I essentially teach high school students the core courses of an Ivy League MBA.
When I was applying for teaching jobs, I could barely get an interview. I was told that in almost all districts, schools are not allowed to even consider someone with an “alternate route” certificate unless not a single person with a standard certificate had applied. This means that almost all schools would rather have a student right out of college with a teaching major and no real world experience than someone who has 20+ years of working in the real world.
The education courses I was required to take were set up to be non-rigorous. They did not begin to compare to the effort required of my undergraduate (Wellesley) or graduate degrees (Columbia). At the end of the alternate route program, the college sent someone to try and convince us to continue on for a masters or doctorate in education. The entire sales pitch stemmed from a promise of how little work one would have to do to get an advanced degree. It made me sick. I consider it degrading to list that certificate on my resume alongside my “real” degrees.— Norina Sfeir

Regaining My Love of Teaching
By the end of my fifth year of teaching high school straight after getting my bachelors degree, I knew I was sliding into mediocrity. I knew how to write a lesson plan, write curriculum, choose highly-challenging and engaging materials and activities for students to learn… I wasn’t the best at classroom management, but then I wasn’t so terrible at it either. I was turning into an automaton, and just as alarmingly, my students were too.
I applied to grad school because my brain felt like it was starting to atrophy. Overall, I loved my M.A. experience. To be clear, it’s not to say that I saw immediate value in everything I studied in those courses, but I trusted that somewhere further down in life, I would eventually realize the utility or value of what I initially believed to be obscure facts about linguistics, statistics, ethics or educational philosophy. Having returned to full-time teaching, this has already happened several times.— j.w.w.

Why Good Teachers Struggle
I am a 6th grade teacher in a southern California public school. I have a 4 year BA in literature and a 5th year teaching credential, both from U.C. Berkeley. I also have a CLAD certificate for working with second language learners. I am qualified by CA standards.
The issue for me these days, as I begin my 14th year, is classroom behavior. I used to have one student a year who lacked civility or any interest in attending to anything. Last year I had 6 such students, who each had a family story, of prison or abuse or alcohol or drugs or whatever, but the bottom line, my class was so much more difficult to teach, because several parents were not doing their jobs at home. Add to that issue, the 8 students from another country who did not have English as a first language, who have lived in this country for more than 5 years and still cannot read or write on grade level and who are living in several different homes with no particular interest in their studies or the value of their education.
I have never worked so hard to teach and review and tutor, etc. and yet many of us teachers, good teachers, are having a struggle fighting this tide of behavior issues and indifference. Believe me, we attend the workshops, earnestly work in our classes, talk with the parents, struggle with the kids, and still, it is not always enough.— Jeannette in Santa Barbara

1. August 23, 2009 3:54 am Link
I have learned, quite frankly, that the school system will not support my life choices.
If I leave a district, I lose my ’seniority’ and a chunk of my retirement benefits - even if I stay employed in the same state. Thus schools promote people who want to live in the same town their whole life. Blah. What a small world that would be! Rather, I am a person who wants to travel the summer, teaching overseas perhaps, or engaging in some trade. I want expansive flexibility in my life, or at least basic flexibility, if only to support my partner’s choices. I became a teacher because I am a life-long learner, not because I was looking for a boring existence!
The above examples are just one taste of policies that do not reflect the real-life choices teachers face. I have noticed that the best teachers simply ignore the above - and often marry rich, which allows them to stay in their profession. Remember, after all, that while in the Europe one might find a first year salary well above 80k, in the states its rare to find a first year salary above 35k. Even in SE Asia, where pay is low, the lifestyle is fantastic. Simply, in the states, teaching just doesn’t pay off the - 6+ years of school that is required. Our public school system does not reward competent job seekers, or retain the sharpest and brightest teachers. It is a hostile bureaucratic environment. It’s little wonder that many teachers fill in paperwork with poor spelling, bad grammar, and no zeal. “Rump Kakistocracy” comes to mind. The poor subjects (pun intended).
Initially I learned to supplement my income, and later I learned to find a new one all together - in private, international schools.
— Jim Teacher

2. August 23, 2009 4:04 am Link
As a teacher in leading high schools in Michigan and later a university professor in a school of education, it is my deeply considered opinion classes on how to teach in schools of education are a near total waste of time.
— Rob of Australia

3. August 23, 2009 4:56 am Link
My late wife was “Head Girl” at Nottingham High School in England in about 1944. This was part of an organization known as the Girls Public Day School Trust (GPDST), the “Public” having its usual confusing English meaning of “private, fee-paying”. I have known several other women who had been educated in GPDST schools, and have had a very high opinion, in all cases, of how well they had been taught. My wife told me that her headmistress once confided to her that, as a matter of policy, they never appointed a teacher who had had any formal training in education, but chose only those who had a good degree in the subject they were to teach (and presumably interviewed well).
— Bill Finlayson

4. August 23, 2009 6:18 am Link
Glad to see some teachers’ ideas included in the education debate. Depending on the day I can agree with them (you) all.
— james

5. August 23, 2009 6:59 am Link
I am a college professor. Prior to extending my career into higher education, I worked in the public schools for 20 years. For our own professional development, my colleagues and stay very connected to the teachers and schools in the field as we feel it is vital for the successful preparation of future teachers. The range and quality of teacher preparation programs vary, as with other professions. Our rigorous teacher preparation program demands extensive fieldwork and fieldwork evaluation coupled with more theoretical courses. Feedback from our colleagues working in the school systems is very positive. We regularly receive communications from former students, now teaching, as well as administrators commenting on the value and quality of their preparation. Quality preparation encompasses many factors,but extensive fieldwork supported by educational coursework and a liberal arts background seem to foster the development of teachers who are knowledgeable regarding their subject matter, knowledge of working with children and youth, and critical and creative thinkers who can advocate for their students.
— Vicki Bartolini

6. August 23, 2009 7:03 am Link
As a special needs teacher for 28 years,I have learned the cyclic nature of the system want to teach them their best ways of learning,The paperwork required of us is overwhelming and requires that we live in our classrooms or at the minimum take it all home after exhausting days. I believe that our pay should be increased! Why should other professionals be paid so much more when learning should be the most important skill of all since without a proper education most would never become a professional.
— Kimberly Chapman-Clark

7. August 23, 2009 7:10 am Link
I am a retired art teacher. In my last couple of years of teaching, I saw my fellow teachers, creative,dynamic ones slowly become stifiled and frustrated by the required standardized tests. No longer could a teacher teach to his particular students’ interest and abilities because he must be sure they would pass the required test or he would be called on the carpet for not teaching well. No child left behind merely ensures that all children will learn less, except how ro pass a standardized test!
— Alice F Martin

8. August 23, 2009 7:45 am Link
A teacher credential should be a fifth year program after a student has a BA in a subject. The fifth year for teacher preparation should essentially be a full-time apprenticeship in a school accompanied by Friday debriefing seminars led by an accomplished currently practicing teacher. The primary incentive after teaching for five years should be for the teacher to get a Master’s degree in his or her subject. Administrators and teacher unions need to come together to make it easier to counsel out of the profession teachers who are not performing or not truly suited to the profession. I am not opposed to academic degrees in Educational Psychology or Philosophy of Education but such fields of study should be pursued for their own sake and not be involved in teacher preparation or certification.
— Tom Deeds

9. August 23, 2009 7:53 am Link
This is an interesting conversation. My issue concerns how binary it is: education and pedagogy classes or not? Hmmm. Who’s to blame?Please. The question here is about the individual and their commitment to their professional development. Professional training schools vary in their strengths and weaknesses. I know: I’ve been teaching in many of them since 1992. In fact, the combined variability of schools, professors, students, and approaches is enough to boggle the mind. What we need is renewed national and state commitment to a better and more fully supported system of education for everyone. We are now in the knowledge economy, and we’d better stop thinking reductively and start acting intelligently.
— Greg S. Goodman

10. August 23, 2009 7:55 am Link
I graduated FAU with a degree to teach Art k-12. After a couple of years teaching Art, my position was cut and II was placed as a teacher in a 2nd - 3rd grade classroom for Emotionally Handicapped students. I was provided (mandated) classes by the Sarasota School District that I work for. During the same time frame, I attended USF and completed 30 hours for Elementary Education certification, as well as, 30 hours for Emotionally Handicapped certification.
The combination of having mentors during my first year in the classroom, taking district classes, and university courses equiped me with the knowledge and experiences to provide my students more succesful outcomes when compared to students that have been taught by teachers who have not taken college or university level courses and are sliding by with passing subject area tests or district provided certification in-service classes.
Needless to say, the quality of the college or university program and the teacher’s intrinsic desire to provide the best education to each student are key.
It is very disturbing to see the negative impact on students from the teachers who have taken all the shortcuts possible to acquire acquire certification.
It is interesting to note that some of these same teachers’ self interest and manipulative abilities, akin to the characteristics of a politician, are greatly admired by administrators. Yet, the reality is that their students’ basic educational needs have been neglected, and their underperformance hidden behind the smoke and mirrors of the self serving teacher.
— martha

11. August 23, 2009 8:01 am Link
I came back to the schools in 1998 after having been away for 35 years and I don’t regret it for a second. I’m “old” compared to the other teachers and notice several differences from when I first started teaching. The biggest difference is that teachers are not as smart as they used to be. The ones with the best minds, that might have gone into teaching since that was the best career for a smart woman in the ’60s, have now gone into medicine, law, and business — unwelcome places for women then. Another difference I notice is that the main focus of teachers today, at least in my Title I high school, is pension and medical coverage. Most can’t wait to leave and go to better districts, and they give our kids short shrift by giving the bare minimum.
I love the students that come into my room, and though they’re difficult and challenging, their obvious appreciation of a teacher who cares and knows what she is doing is palpable. None of the education courses I took as an undergraduate was useful in this area - in fact, I don’t remember a one except the Methods course which was taught in the college classroom. Practical application was never discussed.
I know things are different now, and knowledge of how children learn is crucial for reaching students who were brought up on videos, computers, iPods and cell phones — gadgets unheard of when I was born (we didn’t get a television till I was six years old - the first on the block). Also important are courses on integrating technology into daily lesson plans, creating projects that teach more than how to pass a Regents exam, and understanding of the curriculum for the different disciplines.
10 things that can’t be taught in an education course:- classroom management and getting the respect of students- passion for your subject- in-depth knowledge of your subject that goes beyond curriculum requirements- a gift for explaining complex concepts- creativity in lessons- love for young people, especially the most unlovable- willingness to work past 3 o’clock and on weekends- insatiable curiosity- the courage to let students teach one another while you serve as a guide instead of a lecturer- the desire to always be better at what you do
This is what it really takes to be a good, even a great, teacher.
— Barbara Mehlman

12. August 23, 2009 8:02 am Link
As a former high school principal, I had the opportunity to interview many candidates over the years. Many of them had impressive degrees, and many of them talked with sincere passion about their love of their subject area. But I soon learned that applicants who grew quickly into good and great teachers were those with a history of working with kids on their resumes. Anyone who had spent their summers as a camp counselor was of great interest to me.My most valuable question in the interview process came after listening to the candidate talk about their passion for teaching. I would then ask, “But do you like kids?” Their facial expression often taught me everything I needed to know.
— Norman Maynard

13. August 23, 2009 8:07 am Link
I have read all the previous letters and can see how much my experience mirrors theirs. However, allow me to share the differences.I began teaching as a Jesuit volunteer at a mission school in Jamaica having a BS in Chemical Engineering. I taught West Indian History, English, Maths, Science and Religion! After three years, I spent five years in a monastery and subsequently obtained a Masters in Theology. I then taught Junior High science and math, followed by 35 years in a Catholic High School teaching Physics, Chemistry, Algebra, Sexuality and Theology.I had a daily second job as a school bus driver and dozens of part time and summer jobs to make ends meet as a single parent of four. The most unpleasant experience I had was fulfilling the requirement to take Education courses for certification. The most pleasant experience was to come to each day FULLY prepared and close the door and teach the heck out each class.My background gave me a unique practice which I believe helped my students immensely over the years. As I would begin each class, the students had to arrive at total silence, practicing a breathing technique I shared with them. Then I rang a tiny pair of Tibetan cymbals once, we held silence for at least one minute, then I gave them a very short reading from Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tsu, Emily Dickinson or some other non-religious source. Then I would start the class proper. It was usual that everyone was focused and non-distracted as we began. It was my job to be so prepared that the class could maintain that focus throughout. Other teachers made fun of me (“Charlie Llama” etc…), but many of the students never forgot the practice and continued it into their later lives.I hope this is ad rem.
— Charlie Mc

14. August 23, 2009 8:10 am Link
Aa a retired educator, I would like to share some very good advice that I was given when I began my teaching career.A very wise and wonderful friend was retiring after 40 years in the classroom the year that i was beginning my journey.Elizabeth also graduated from the same university that I was now graduating from in 1969. The math would say that her tenure ran from 1929 until 1969. My tenure began in 1969 and ended in 1999.Here are Elizabeth;s words of wisdom:There are three requirements for being an effective teacher.1. Have common sense.2. Know your subject matter.3. Like children…your students.
That is truly all one needs to be an effective educator.Are these three things common among the best in the teaching profession?The answer to that is: YES.
I surely hope that those three traits were a part of my personality and allowed me to teach for 30 years.
When seeking educators, it would behoove the ones who do the hiring to ask those three things.Do you like children, do you know the subject matter and do you feel you use common sense ?????Fill the ranks with Elizabeths and Education will be well served.
— Ann

15. August 23, 2009 8:12 am Link
Clearly there is a balance between subject area knowledge and training in planning and executing an effective lesson.
The very worst teacher I ever had knew less science than I did. I had no respect for her, and openly corrected her in class when she said things that were comically wrong.
On the other hand, we all know people who really know their stuff, but can’t get it across to other people.
Teaching requires comprehensive subject matter knowledge, training in effective teaching strategies, and real empathy and compassion for the kids. A truly great teacher will have all three of these qualities. Discounting any one of them will result in mediocre teaching.
— BaldApe

16. August 23, 2009 8:13 am Link
I strongly agree with the math/physics teacher pointing out that we need more emphasis on teachers who are well qualified in their actual subject areas.
A thoughtful 5th grader, not to mention a 10th grader, can absolutely come across and ask a question in the sciences that is well beyond the knowledge base of your average elementary school or even high school teacher.
Now an MD/PhD doing clinical work and neuroscience research, I still remember with frustration all those years of schooling where it felt like my science/math teachers didn’t know much more than I did. It was a huge waste of much of my enthusiasm and interest (and time!) during a good 10 years of my education.
Currently, my husband and I are starting to look for schooling for our own children. Teachers who know their material will be a high priority for both of us.
— T

17. August 23, 2009 8:16 am Link
I’m in awe of the dedicated professionals here who have found many different paths to excel in their profession. We never forget the good teachers from our own school days.
My own children can count on one hand the number of truly good teachers they have encountered. They really appreciate the time and effort of theses individuals. A few good teachers make the whole school experience worthwhile.
I think credentials are overrated in any field. They fail to highlight the truly hard-working, knowledgeable, and effective people. Any good leader know it.
— rjsgso

18. August 23, 2009 8:19 am Link
I have been teaching English in NYC for 21 years, teaching in a variety of schools to students at various levels. I now teach AP English and my students’ scores are well above the national average. I worked in business before my teaching career. What is insulting about all the talk about teaching is that teaching is not seen as a profession, where training, wisdom and experience make you better. It is not seen as a profession, where there will be good teachers and bad teachers, since teaching, like all other professions, requires talent. We have a chancellor, who is a lawyer, not an educator. He was a prosecutor and brings that mindset to the table. While the U.S. Attorney’s office trains its lawyers, they would never put a teacher in charge; they put a practiced lawyer. Now they have principals, who have never taught a day in their lives or if they have taught, it is for a few years, and these are the people judging teachers. Nothing makes you a better teacher (particularly in high school) than strong knowledge of subject area, good communication skills in getting that knowledge across to a group of mostly disinterested adolescents, high expectations for all students, rather than being a social worker in the classroom, support from administration (almost non-existent, as principals fight for their own salaries, rather than for their teachers or students) and time in the classroom. When I began teaching, I thought I was such a good teacher, but now when I look back at old lesson plans, I feel like writing apologies to my students. I become better each year, after seeing what worked, what didn’t work and how I can get my course curriculum across to my students best. My students’ performance on the AP exam shows me what my focus should be and also shows me the folly of standardized tests. Students, who were some of the best of my career, got 3s on the exam, while others, who were unimaginative and lazy, got 4s or 5s, so how can student performance on standardized tests be used to judge teachers? Students, who had poor teachers before coming to me, could not catch up in the skills needed to perform adequately on the exam, never mind the higher level skills needed to excel. Unfortunately, classroom experience is scorned, as principals and the chancellor seek “young energetic” teachers, who are cheap, scared and will follow the scripts they are handed at the beginning of the year. I pay for my own courses (often taken during the summer), write my own curriculum, work weekends and vacations grading papers, stay after school and come in on Saturdays for unpaid extra student tutoring and watch them pay extra to young inexperienced teachers, who still don’t know what they don’t know. A good teacher is only as good as the students in front of her, and no one calls out the students for being unprepared, rude, lazy or calls out the parents for not sending their children to school regularly or prepared to do the work. Only when teaching is seen as a profession, led by experienced professionals in an environment where professionals can work will we improve our education system.
— Roberta Lehrman

19. August 23, 2009 8:33 am Link
I taught elementary school in a coastal Oregon town for 25 years, retiring 4 years ago. I was highly successful by the subjective standards of the community. Kids wanted to be in my classroom, parents wanted their children in my classroom, and now many of those children have grown and are my friends. Ed school did not teach me how to teach, nor what to teach, it simply gave me my “union card.” I was a good teacher because I have “the gift.” And it is a gift, the ability to connect with children and get them to want to learn. The gift cannot be taught, though recognition of the gift could be.What can be taught are classroom management skills. No amount of curricular expertise will help a poor classroom manager succeed. What we really need are better administrators who recognize those with or without the gift, get rid of those without it, and help with management techniques. What we have now is a preponderance of administrators who were failed classroom teachers, recognized their failure, and moved to admin so they could stay in the profession and make more money. That needs to change.
— bruce mckibbin

20. August 23, 2009 8:40 am Link
What matters most is that you WANT to teach and that you LIKE the students! If these two conditions don’t occur, neither training or expertise will make a good teacher.
I took my education courses 34 years ago, but what I remember was the professor who taught us to get our audio-visual ready before class and make sure we knew how to use it. Then he arrived late for the next class and didn’t know how to use his AV equipment. Many of the professors out there have no clue what teaching is really like today.
What has changed is the public’s attitude toward education. Instead of being a privilege, it is viewed as a RIGHT. But then many students just show up and don’t even take advantage of it.
I am teaching reading at the high school level. More students at this age than ever can’t read. Is it because teachers in the lower grades are not trained or because they don’t have any expertise? I don’ t think it is either. I think the parents and students (1) don’t think education is really necessary or (2) think the teachers can do it all. Until education become all-important again, I think you will continue to have problems with the institution of education.
— Kenneth Leupold

21. August 23, 2009 8:41 am Link
It has been a truism at least since my mother was in college during WWII that the low-ability students and faculty are disproportionately represented in the Ed School. The professors and students in Colleges of Education are often less than stellar. As undergraduates, we could see this effect even at Harvard. The faculty were politically-correct and good at self-promotion, but they were not bright.
When I later decided to go into elementary education, every single teacher I talked to assured me not to worry about the quality of my education courses. Over and over, I was told that formal education doesn’t prepare a teacher; only life in the classroom does. As it turned out, only one of my education courses had any rigor or value (Thanks, Dr. Lois Williams!).
I think ed schools could help prepare teachers, but the overall culture of ed school faculty is intellectual laziness and practical irrelevance. K-12 reform must include refrom of the ed schools.
— Beth
22. Aug
ust 23, 2009 8:44 am Link
I started teaching in 1965 and retired in 2003, I went the the conventional route for my BA in Ed. and MA in Secondary School Administration. Even in the 60s we knew the real practical learning was going to be on the job, not in the college classroom. My university experience was not a waste, but more practical experiences (such as student teaching) needs to be a part of every semester of formal training.
Teachers teach the way they are taught! In the colleges that means lecture, but we all know that retention is best accomplished by doing. The public schools will not make significant improvement until they decide to spend the money on changing the way the classroom works.
The cheapest way to run a school is to maximize the student load, provide a caulk board, hand out texts and shut the door on the teacher. Too bad it doesn’t work!
— Skip Blunt

23. August 23, 2009 8:46 am Link
Most of those who say explicitly or implicitly that an education degree doesn’t help are right. My own 18-year experience leads me to the same conclusion. Subject competence is crucial.
— Syed Jamal Uddin

24. August 23, 2009 8:52 am Link
Instead of looking only at the quality of work a teacher does, or the necessity of a master’s degree, let’s remember that the overall quality of education provided by the teacher is greatly impacted by the support provided by administrators.
As a teacher, I have noticed that the quality of my work is often directly related to administrative policies or actions that may or may not hinder progress. I know that I’m a good teacher, but I also know that I struggle with keeping quiet about certain decisions made by people who aren’t qualified to run a school.
The question then becomes, who should run schools? My vote? Teachers. Many of us have the life experience, administrative skills, and relationships with students necessary to become effective administrators. I suggest re-evaluating how administrators come to be administrators, and consider changing the system.
— EslSinger

25. August 23, 2009 9:04 am Link
Now retired, I spent 35 years teaching history to high school kids. Only one of the education courses I took prepared me for the classroom and that one focused on the preparation of units of study and individual lesson plans. Most of what I learned about teaching was learned as a student. My bad teachers taught me the techniques and practices to avoid. Knowledge of subject matter is extremely important. Not only must you know a lot about your subject, but also you have to understand what aspects of it are most easily made interesting to others. If you know what makes your subject interesting to students, it’s not hard to get them to learn it. Standardized tests are anathema. Merit pay is a nice idea, but principals cannot be trusted to award it fairly. Creative teachers are often heretics who don’t play by the book and don’t steer away from controversy. Hence, they are unlikely to earn the support of the school administration. You want to create a good school? Hire good people and leave them alone!
Tom Corwin
— Tom Corwin

26. August 23, 2009 9:28 am Link
A high number of these comments have errors in the use of English. That might be telling us something.
— Alan Roskam

27. August 23, 2009 9:31 am Link
Teachers are not in the widget-making/producing business. Accordingly, merit pay - or ‘de-merit pay’ - just doesn’t fit. Giving merit for standardized test achievement is ludicrous.Before merit pay were to take hold with substance and seriousness, parents would have to be held accountable for their children’s behavior. How students behave directly affects how they learn. If Johnny distracts others and keeps them from learning, then that teacher will be deemed not merit-worthy. So, misbehaving children (beyond a reasonable threshhold) need to be regarded as parents’ failure to meet a financial obligation. That is, their misbehaving child is redirecting funds (merit $$) inapproapriately.
— JT

28. August 23, 2009 9:41 am Link
I was a science teacher and now am Retired after 18 years teaching 8th grade. I feel this statement may tread on some toes. First a good teacher of a particular subject needs both subject area skill and also needs to be able to relate to the students at the age they are teaching. I have a BS and brought to the classroom many years of practical experience. I was loved my the majority of my students and respected by my peers. When it came to pay I found myself many times pondering why teachers in my department were always coming to me for help when they had higher degrees and making more money. I soon realized that these successful college grads really didn’t have what it took. Degees not withstanding it gets down to experience, dedication to the subject and being able to understand the students. My first year of teaching was as a shop teacher. I was very successful , not because of formal education (none) but because of experience (years spent in construction) . When I retired at 65 and 10 monthes as a science teacher, I was begged to stay. I still have ex students telling me I was the best teacher they ever had. Experience and dedication trump degrees every time.
— jack mcginnis

29. August 23, 2009 9:49 am Link
I have been a Certefied Teacher since 1979. I have taught in private schols for short periods and have had experience teaching Jr. High School in Detroit and have sub-taught in suburban schools as well as in Community Centers.My problem with teaching the Social Sciences is that I did not know the subjects such as Histoty, Goverment and other Social Studies subjects as well as I should and therefore I could not secure a position in schools that I liked.In Community Center I taught Italian. I knew the subject and I realy liked it. Therefore I believe that subject matter knowledge is more important than Teacher-training.Sincerely,Emilio Di Concilio
— Emilio Di Concilio

30. August 23, 2009 9:50 am Link
I am a school board member in a rural school district located in the mountains of California’s central valley. After 23 years spent raising my children in this community, I received the support of the local teacher’s and classified staff and over 65% of our local voters
Between 2002 and 2007, the housing boom brought a large influx of new families to our community with different values and practices. We’ve weathered the acculturation process several times over the years, but this time was different. Suddenly, the housing market crashed, jobs were being lost in droves and newcomers listening to Rush Limbaugh (and some guy named Beck?) are taking their politics of hate into our classrooms and boardrooms.
The loss of civility has continuously undermined our ability to cope with drastic budget cuts by the state. At the beginning of the year, our staff was prepared to consider an across the board pay cut in order to retain ALL staff members. With the teacher’s union under continuous attack, nerves are wearing thin and the spirit of cooperation is giving way. Fear, hate, divisiveness and self-righteousness are spreading like a virus.
In spite of these challenges, I attribute our success to our board’s decision to hire a new superintendent 2 years ago. We made this decision because experience had taught us that leadership starts at the top.
When the community elected a new school board our district was in deep trouble. Scores were dropping fast. In 3 years our entire administrative staff, special education staff and best teachers had left the district. Lawsuits were costing the district millions. When we came on board we carefully assessed the situation and using our collective experience arrived at some hard decisions.
In spite of a typical school superintendent’s fancy Ph.D, they are trained as administrators and possesses little or no teaching experience or practical experience with the world of work outside public schools. As a result, superintendents tend to be “academics” focused on test scores and theories. The problem is further complicated by school boards who measure a superintendent’s performance on school finances rather than learning.
During our hiring process we looked for someone with (1) administrative experience (2) work experience in the private sector and (3) classroom teaching experience. We found our man and hired him. Things were such a mess, the first order of business was bringing people back together. We did this by gathering parents, teachers, staff, business and community members together to develop a long term strategic plan. That PLANNING PROCESS has proved invaluable.
Rather than answering to the whims of the state and our community’s squeaky wheels , our plan has kept us focused on “OUR” community agreed on goals for education. Pairing new and experienced teachers together in teams and providing support from our technology, special education and administrative staff has proven results.
In the last 2 years, we’ve raised test scores over 20 points district wide. Personally, I am especially proud of our middle and senior high school students, teachers and parent’s who just pulled off the biggest increase in Algebra scores we’ve seen. Our high school has earned the Distinguished School award (and one of our 3 elementaries just qualified as well). Long overdue progress is now seen with our second language students at an unprecedented rate. We’ve increased our vocational education programs by working with local employers and forming a local government common interest group.
And… we’ve created a hugely successful parent involvement program. Established as a non-profit, parents are now actively engaged in the creation of arts, science, technology, math and engineering educational programs. These programs, designed in partnershipo with classroom teachers, local businesses and colleges, provide hands on experience for students both in school and in the community.
By placing Agriculture at the center of their program, parents shifted the focus of our district to sustainability. Hence, our success in meeting test scores and other state and federal mandates has come about by placing the needs and goals of our families first.
— jean cox

31. August 23, 2009 9:51 am Link
I took the basic Psych of Education (aka, learning styles) class in undergrad to “see” if I would maybe like to teach one day; ironically, it was the most boring and impractical class of my entire 4 years. Needless to say, I ditched any notion of following my mother’s footsteps into teaching. After earning a master’s degree and 20+ years of experience in my chosen field (athletic training), circumstances found me teaching in a DI university with no “formal” teaching preparation or experience. To echo those comments of many others, it was my 20+ years of clinical experience that drove my pedagogy. I would say that theory is useless and irrelevant, because I did seek out different ideas, theories and experiential stories that would help me to develop and define my pedagogy. Why? Because I cared, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t focus on teaching, but rather on learning. Passion, commitment, dedication and intellectual curiosity drove me to find creative ways to combine my experiences with becoming a better educator. Along the way, I saw many of my PhD colleagues without real world experience often complaining of work loads, and placing blame on students for apathy, poor habits, etc.; which led to frequent and impassioned debates about the value of real world experiences and those of traditional academia. As luck would have it, I did get the opp. to earn an doctorate in education, but one in curriculum theory and cultural studies; a program that basically worked to deconstruct many of the false premises and overstated applications of current curriculum, educational practices and educational psychology. In short, it was a degree that did consist of rigorous writing, reading, and rhetorical debate over the education milieu of our country and times. When combined with my growing teaching and clinical experiences, it gave me an incredible insight into some of the more subtle, yet real complexities of what it really means to teach, and to learn. As a parent now, I have been able to experience first hand many of the frustrations expressed by others in this debate, yet as a son of a teacher, and as one myself, I fully realize how complex and multifaceted the whole “business” is. You are all correct, the system is fraught with illogical and false axioms of what works, what’s good, and what is needed, and it will require an implosion or total re-booting in order to construct something meaningful. My hat is off to those teachers and yes, administrators who are optimistically and constructively trying to change things; even if only in their own small corner of the world. prg
— Paul R Geisler

32. August 23, 2009 9:52 am Link
good stuff
— napie

33. August 23, 2009 9:57 am Link
To be an Asia-Pacific student, I know the quality of the teachers mean a lot to the national education, here I will give my own opinion of the distinction of the Sino-America teachers. Maybe endure the restriction of the textbooks, the more teachers cannot pay enough attention to build a close relationship between the different subjects, the respective college entrance examination will exhibit it clearly, in most of the colleges in China(Frankly speaking, I don’t know the other countries’ circumstances, such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore).the majority of the teachers choose to read the textbooks to students and at the same time add their own interpretations so they can hardly build or set the systematic frameworks of such the subjects, I think the teachers only need to develop their students’ interest. Of course, the teachers in different ranks of the educational system have different duties, the learning is essential, but not mean everything.
— Josiah

34. August 23, 2009 10:03 am Link
While expertise in a teacher’s field is a must, (students do not, and should not tolerate, ineptness) being able to interact as a human being, to be flexible in assignment and requirements is also a must.A good teacher is a responsive, positive role model in every area.
— Noanny


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Views: Recent Meeting of ELT Interest Group with the Malaysian MOE

Here's a view about the recent gathering of English language teaching interest groups & experts on how "to strengthen" the English Language in Malaysia. My impression after reading the report of the gathering and the recent events is we have moved back to square one! The issues and solutions are similar to what was put forth in the 80s and 90s.

My fear is the gap between the "haves" and "have nots" is going to increase in the coming days with regards to those who are fluent in English language compared to those who do not have such an advantage. With the world clamouring to have a competitive advantage through the English Language especially in the language of knowledge, are we able to catch-up with the "losses" since the last 30 years? We can't afford to make a mistake again as the world is relentlessly competitive!

Rodney Tan

The Malaysian way to better English
Kee Thuan Chye

I WAS recently invited by the Education Ministry to a discussion on "strengthening English" in schools, but from the way the proceedings went, it seemed like an exercise in futility.

The fact that it was being held in tandem with another discussion to "memartabatkan" (uphold) Bahasa Malaysia speaks volumes. As we all know, the standard statement that comes with any official announcement on the need to raise our standard of English must invariably contain the apologetic caveat: "but it must be carried out without threatening the position of the national language". This occasion was evidently no different.

Both the English and Malay groups congregated at the outset in the same conference room where everyone was briefed on the purpose of the event and then parted ways to deliberate on their respective language concerns. During this initial common briefing, it was made unequivocally clear that even though there were plans to "memperkukuh" English, this should not be seen as a challenge to Bahasa Malaysia.

As to be expected then, the meeting on the English side was characterised by guardedness and underdog ambition. Issues raised were mainly those that had been raised before – again and again ("I’m hearing comments I used to hear 20, 30 years ago," said a veteran educationist). Many of the participants had been embroiled in many a discussion past and were now wary of whether their current proposals would amount to anything. You could tell by the conversations outside of the meeting room that most were pessimistic.

Nothing has changed. Certainly not the political will of the government to truly revolutionise its attitude towards the teaching, learning and use of English in this country, which would call for a radical overturn of an official position that has been entrenched since 1970.

Who in the current administration would dare venture that way when their uppermost consideration is winning the next general election? Which is why the vision on English has been always short-term. And what the recent reversal of the teaching of science and mathematics in English was motivated by.

No one in power has dared to think of the long term, of the potential future of a Malaysia dragged down by its lack of proficiency in the global language, of the future of the rural populace who must continue to wallow in their lack of command of the language because they are not ardently advised otherwise. To get them out of their complacency with being monolinguistic would risk raising the ire of certain interest groups – and that could be disastrous for the ruling party.

Most of us at the meeting were too polite to bring this up, but an old hand in education did ask, "What is our language policy now? Monolingualism or bilingualism?".

So, by and large, we dutifully confined ourselves to discussing the areas of training, marketing and pedagogy. We gave suggestions on how to make the noble profession of teaching seem truly so to those going into it ("most students go into teaching English because they have no choice", observed a participant); on the need to take in only teacher-trainees who had an acceptable level of proficiency in English; on getting teachers to employ non-formal teaching methods that would be filled with fun for the learners and to organise out-of-class activities; on making more use of e-learning and ICT; on what to avoid if grammar were to be taught explicitly; on how to instil confidence in English teachers and give them the support they need when this is denied them by the school environment.

One of the best ideas – and possibly the only political one – was to urge the government to commit to promoting "coordinate bilingualism" rather than "subordinate bilingualism", such that no language would be eclipsed or even dominated by another. That kind of commitment is essential, especially in a school environment where the ustaz can have a powerful influence on the headmaster’s policy implementation.

At the meeting, no one suggested bringing back the English-medium school or making a pass in English compulsory for passing SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia). Most of us thought this would be pointless, anyway.

After all, Dr Mahathir floated the English-medium school idea briefly when he was prime minister and then backed off. And only recently, Deputy Prime Minister and new Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin sent up a test balloon regarding the compulsory pass but nothing has come out of it since.

To me, that meeting was a sad reflection of what we are – a people who are rich but are afraid to cultivate our wealth and let it blossom, and all because of our insecurities. We fear opening our minds so we deny our children access to our vaults. Each time a new education minister comes into office, there will be an attempt at some stock-taking and cursory spring-cleaning, but this is then followed by the same old business as usual. We pay lip service, we opt for eyewashes.

Will this time be different? I much doubt it. So, as has been happening over the years, those who have the means will find ways to improve their English, mostly outside of the school system, and those who don’t will lag behind. And when it comes time for university graduates to attend job interviews, that’s when the difference will be telling. Still, at the end of the day, these will just amount to being mere statistics. It’s the outcome at the elections that matters more.
It is, as we say, the Malaysian way.

Kee Thuan Chye, who retired from journalism in May, is an advocate of good English, having edited a column on the subject in a national paper for years. He also authored the book March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up, which has been translated into Chinese.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ICELT 2009 Conference in Melaka

10-11 November 2009

Theme: Profiting from Learner and Teacher Investment in ELT

ICELT 2009 invites papers on all aspects of ELT and English Language Studies

Hotel Equatorial, Melaka, UNESCO World Heritage City, Malaysia

Contact us

Mailing Address:
ICELT 2009,
The Resource Centre,
Faculty of Educational Studies,
Universiti Putra Malaysia,
43400 UPM Serdang,
Selangor, Malaysia.

Telephone Numbers: +60 3 89468172
Mobile: +60 17 3859076 (Mr. Wan Hafyfy)
Fax Numbers : +60 3 89435386 / +60 3 89467905
Emails: /

News: Former English Teacher Obtains Degree at 66

Dear All,
It's not everyday that we know of an "oldie" who will pursue her dream of higher education even at the ripe age of 66 when one would normally want to "retire". Here's something to inspire us to achieve our dreams for further studies. Any takers?
Former English Teacher Obtains Degree At 66
By: Ramjit

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 (Bernama) -- At 66, Gurcharam Kaur is now a proud degree holder after having had to put her dreams on hold to take care of her parents and help bring up three younger siblings.The former English teacher received her Bachelor's Degree in Education (Teaching English as a Second Language or TESL) at the 33rd Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) convocation ceremony here Tuesday.
In June 2005, Gurcharam, who has 40 years of teaching experience under her belt, decided to further her studies at UPM.Her decision followed encouragement from her siblings who became successful in their own right. Morover, their parents had passed away."I did not encounter any problem during my four years of long-distance learning at UPM...rather, I received excellent grades five times," said the still single Gurcharam who currently lives in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan.Gurcharam, who earned her diploma in TESL in 1981, dedicated her success and hard work to her parents. She aspires to pursue her master's degree in the same field at the same university in the future.
Meanwhile, Faezah Noor Kasmuri, 22, who obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Literature (English) said it was joyous moment although she was unable share it with her parents and three siblings who perished in a fire about two years ago, in Kluang, Johor.Accompanied by her other three siblings, she said she wanted to stop studying after receiving news of the death during her third semester, but persevered with support from siblings and relatives."For the sake of my siblings and education, I continued studying although I felt emotionally unstable," said Faezah who is now staying at her grandmother's house in Batu Pahat.She is currently job-hunting to support her family.-- BERNAMA