Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some private thoughts on your final paper..

Dear 811 friend...
Yanping and I had a good time discussing til very late Fri night on how wonderful it was reading each of your NIs.  Well, I went home to focus on my next 'presentation'.... well, side-track a little… I have been invited to speak to a group of 800 teachers on an area- creativity in education. Not to boast of how 'good' i am but to share on how 'weak' and scared i really am feeling right now.  Somehow the fear of speaking to such a large audience has never been more overwhelming than this. Yet, somehow, just when I am still 'stuck' with thinking… what do these teachers want to hear on creativity… what would be helpful … what would be inspiring so that we can all be more creative teachers to inspire that creative difference in our children.

This tenuous thinking process strangely led to the question I asked you 2 weeks back- “What is a GREAT teacher?”
I revisited the flipcharts and then my Facebook postings. Truth of matter is, I don’t have a 'model answer'. (and I so apologise esp if I have misled  u to believing there is..) Yes, Kok Leong's group rightly pointed out Fri night that there will always have politically correct answers while with some hidden truths. Michael was upfront to say, "perhaps John was not satisfied with our politically correct replies that’s why he posted on his facebook..." Sorry but yes, I wasn't convinced that your answers were a clear distinction between Good and Great. I suspect one attribute of a great teacher is one who dares take risk- especially in our highly conformist system. I am not implying that having the courage to take risk is necessarily the best way... but from your all your NIs, I learnt that RISK THROUGH PERSONAL COURAGE is when you dare stand up for your students when others look down on these ‘losers’, risk is when you dare admit that we are not perfect teachers yet we need to live up to the expectations of others, risk is when your students (esp to the more 'challenging' classes like NT) make excessive demands upon your time and resources, risk is when you dare admit there are times we as teachers feel scared with what you have started, but gone ahead anyway.... risk is when, you know others will turn their back against you...

I am also ashamed to say that I myself have never written a complete 18 pages NI before.  Do you remember I asked you- Does winning some school or national award make you a GREAT teacher? Fact is, such awards do acknowledge your hard work. But yes,,, we give honor to the many other unsung heros. I was once awarded several awards too for a particular project on Service Learning... where I in my leadership position took the risk to give special 'rights' to do something that is different from all the other classes. I was questioned for my intentions by other teachers…  but I went ahead nonetheless.  This was a Sec 1 class that had MSG head over heels compared to all other classes. Yet, as the form teacher, I was saddened with this ‘high ability’ students who dare tell me in my face don't waste their time with unnecessary projects. Parents who say, let my child take a CCA take require minimal involvement as their are here to excel academically. In class, though a little fun loving, they lacked the camaraderie of other children. This was a class with an 'Attitude'! I wanted them to experience more important life lesson of humility and learning to work tog and CARING for others. I wanted them to experience that there is more than just academic excellence. I wanted this class to work on a mega-project work on Service Learning. They chose to raise funds for the Children Cancer Foundation (then, 'housed' under NKF) They worked hard to organise themselves, interacted with the cancer children and brought them to Jurong Bird Park and used their works to make into artifacts to raise funds through auction. Everything well as I planned and kids grew closer, genuinely caring for the less priviledge. In June, the NKF's TT Durai golden tap case was blown out and different ministries got involved. MOE gave a stern warning to stop all fund raising for NKF. My P called me to stop the project even though it was towards the end- right before the actual fund raising segment. I had to gather the kids and explained to them and of course to recognise their hardwork. Yet, magically, during the post SL reflection, the boy who once told me to don't waste time on non academic related project work matters, stood up and reminded the class why we did what we did. He said that while he was assigned to be Hafiz's buddy (the patient who needed to carry an oxygen tank everywhere he went) over the two days of interaction, he realised that he was so much more fortunate. This once proud and arrogrant boy said "Its not pity he wanted from us, its friendship" these words still etched in my heart til today. It was these words that got the whole class to tell me that I should not just stop this project so abruptly. I was beyond my wits. While the kids were crying becos each of them remembered the interaction they had with the patient buddy over the two days, I too was touched …but really I was beyonf my wits.  After that sobbing session, the boy came to apologise for what he said at the start of the year… he shared that he was abused by his step father as a child  and was often branded ‘useless’ by this step father. He told himself since than that he will work hard and not be looked down upon.  He reminded so much of myself. If u remember I once shared that as a child I was violated physically near school compound and no teachers believed in my story becos I  was a ‘bad boy’ who often fought with school prefects- I vowed to be a good teacher one day… and since then worked myself up both academically and in behaviour and rose to be a prefect… his convictions reminded me of who I was and why I wanted to become a teacher…

AnywAY, the class by consensus said they will take over since they know that my P did not allow this project to carry on. As 13 year old sec one students of the top class, they secretly called for a Meet the Parents Meeting and asked the P along as they presented their revised plan so that they could finish what they wanted to do. They coerced the parents to gather permission and to convince the P they will finish up their project by a month and not let their grades drop at all.  Scary to say, their revised plan was even more grand than what was initially planned for... I know I couldn't support it along and yes, poitically speaking, i should not. Some of colleagues heard about it and volunteered to help and gave their time over the weakends to be involved. Even other classes (both upper and lower sec classes volunteered to support this 'grand plan'). I really couldn’t do it at all and was fearful of the repercussions every step. Yet, in the end, it was the class, the volunteers- parents, other classes and my colleagues that showed me that it was possible.  In the end, this story was featured in the papers, it won awards but the credit was not mind. Minister Vivien Bala… on stage whispered “you must have been a great inspiring teacher…” but you know, I knew in my heart, perhaps it was just a brief moment of greatness with a lot of risk at stake- for which I could have been suspended or sacked from MOE for defying higher orders. But intuitively, I think I knew i just had to do it even with the risk at stake.  In that lesson session for 811, one of the things I was hoping, for which none of you said, but was reflected by someone else in my FB,  was the need for group learning- peer development. You know why teachers segment work from friendship- why cant departments grow becos they want to see the best in students- and are willing to unpack what defines ‘best’? I tell you… with all the work in LS that I do in schools… I outright reject schools that say, help us to show that LS can improve results…. I m sorry… improving results is a by-product. John Yeo loves John Dewey … ok perhaps I am getting overboard and pls great teachers should not get runk... This is not my NI… 
The crux of the matter is….Why do you really need to bother about the final paper… let me explain from a personal perspective… I did my masters in US… I wanted to really learn how to be a great teacher (even though we are all created different) to inspire teachers to teach more creatively (because teaching is really sometimes a ‘wicked’ job)…  and till this day, why I choice to b seconded to NIE even though I was given option to eb a school leader…. Becos I think teachers to recognize that their work is not in vain, tat we need to have research to encourage Singapore teachers to  continue the good work we are doing.   I was offered a teaching position with full scholarship in a US university… this to an Asian is a rare opportunity. To b reallllllllllllllllllllllllllllly honest, I miss being a classroom teacher, but I am clear why I m here. I believe strongly that research informs practice and we have so much good work going here in SG… I m jealous of the good work you are doing in the classroom but I know God put me here for a purpose… you know,,,, I lost my second  child due to a miscarriage when I was in US… yet my good wife told me, if you believe in what you hope to do, then persist. It was a difficult decision then to stay on, I was a top student in my cohort and my research project was gaining so much traction yet…. I believe sincerely that the way this final paper was crafted…. with all my heart that this VISION paper will be something that its all worthwhile as you truly seek for your own navigator. Look beyond the grades and write it ONLY FOR YOURSELF.
I feel sad. I feel sad that this is the last sem I am teaching 811, that I will miss the wonderful learning from each of you. Perhaps, unlike other modules where there is plenty of 'know-hows', just like Borko (2009) says a wicked problem has no one correct answer, that its contextually bound, dynamic and interrelated. May your time invested in the group project and final paper be a personally meaningful and fruitful learning experience. While I continue to think about how may I challenge these 800 teachers to greatness (I m not proposing that creative teaching as a mainspring of greatness)...  yes, this was also part of my own vision paper- to inspire teachers to be more creative educators.  I just like to thank each and everyone of you for such a wonderful learning experience for me in 811.
Before I close and perhaps to sober up to think about my 800 teachers presentation… teaching is an emotive work… why did you think I trick you into opening up and talking about the emotional labor of teaching in session 3… o my goodness…. Before I regret doing what I m doing…. Pls know I sincerely looked upon you as my friend n teacher in 811….
Sincere thoughts and blessings
P.S. in Chinese… they say.. jiu hou tu zhen qin… after wine, is where find the most ‘real’ you. I know it’s a risk, but hey… I don’t  really care… I just wish for each and every one of you to aspire greatness in what you can do and will do as a teacher and school leaders…. To me… there are just too few great teachers around. May 811 take you along for your journey of your Greatness..


Anonymous said...

From BQH:

My first thought after reading your post is we have to keep these inspiring stories going as a form of peer development. This is also something that one of the many things a great teacher does, to inspire the lost sheep and esp those who suffer from burn out.

On biblical side, God is the great teacher. He is wise, humble, forgiving, loving and the list goes on. I am afraid that I can never be like Him but I will remind myself of His virtues and put Him in the centre of my career and family. Having said all these, in my opinion, there isn't a great teacher on earth- inspiring, caring, loving, humble teacher , yes we have but not in terms of greatness. Perhaps that could be the reason why we have awards like caring teaching award, president teacher award, Inspiring English teacher award and not the great teacher award in Singapore.

I can see your faithful heart in preparing this and I know you will inspire them, like how you have inspired me through your NI :))

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Hardly any tutor would do that :))

edutopian said...

Hey John,

Finally found your blog. You used to comment to me..."I feel you, bro!"

Now it's my turn to say that to you..I feel you, man!

But really, the thing you said about not being so concerned about grades and final essay and such...I think, sadly, even at this level of learning, many of our colleagues are still using grades as a measure of self-worth and affirmation. I shared that I loved Literature in sec sch but was 'forced' to go into the Science stream. But I also did literature. Although I got a B3 for Literature in the 'O's, it still remains my favourite subject till this day. I could still remember the joy I had each time we had literature.

I'm sorry but I look in disdain and awe at those whose first question at the beginning of every new module is, What is the assignment like? How are we graded? Can we have a model essay?...and all those questions that we shouldn't be asking at this level of education. I'm sorry, but it's sad and painful to hear those things.

Anyhow, I look forward to crossing paths with you again. 811 with you and Yanping has made me a believer in the power of narratives and I am in the process of doing it for my CI, as well as to use it as a chapter in my school's 2nd research book.

You and Yanping have been truly inspiring.

God bless!