Tag Archives: teacher

#19: Practice Teaching Questions

Next week, I will begin my student teaching at a high school, a time when students take on a multiplicity of roles and may have to choose which ones to adapt and to reject. The numerous variables interacting inside a classroom can make the typical layman – who is often never inside a classroom – wonder: How can learning take place in such a place? Dealing with 30+ people at once and with a teacher who also serves as an adjudicator (not yet a peer) can seem daunting, but not for me.

Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated in how people’s minds tick ever since I graduated, and what better way to explore that than inside a classroom where everything is within plain view of anyone else?

I want to infuse the habit of questioning onto my students; the last thing I want for them is for someone else to take the rudder on their learning, whether for the noble goal of learning what they have to if they are to survive in today’s occupational and social landscape, or whether for manipulating the students’ learning for their own ends or for someone else’s will which the students won’t consent to if they knew what was going on the whole time

The best way that I have in my hands, and an affordable one, is to teach children the lesson along with questioning habits that will enable them to link their lesson with the real world. And if they don’t find any connection, that’s okay too; at least they can have the knowledge stuffed in their mind for further contemplation or if there is really no connection, then they can encourage schools to chuck out the lesson the moment they start raising children

Now, as I do my practice teaching, here are questions that I want running in my mind. You’ll notice that one question may logically precede another, so this can really keep you busy. I will stop each chain to three questions, to save space, although the chains might well as be perpetual:

1. What am I teaching? Should I teach this stuff, if at all? Why am I teaching this stuff?

2. Do the students find value in what I am teaching? Do I myself find value in what I am teaching? What values do we derive?

3. How am I teaching? Is there a better way to teach a certain lesson, after I taught it? How can I adapt my teaching methods to the cultural backgrounds of the students so that all of us are comfortable with the teaching?

4. What are my students doing during their spare time? What is the extent of my influence toward their spare time? And how should I influence the way they spend their spare time, or should I wholly stay out of it?

5. How should I deal with the other teachers and other school personnel? What can I learn from them and what can they learn from me? And how can I help them in every way I can?

Notice that they are very generic. Many more questions can sprout, depending on the circumstances. Some of them may increase or decrease in relevancy. But it’s better to keep your mind working rather than churning out the same run-on-the-mill education that students often receive. It’s better to challenge yourself when teaching – and to challenge the underlying precepts of work – rather than stagnate and regret that you should have done 20 years earlier what you want to do today.

Finally, the questioning habit is contagious, more so for people who want to retain or renew their childlike curiosities.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

#12: A Review of Recent Cases of Philippine School Violence

Have you just intuited that our schools are becoming the breeding grounds of strife nowadays?

First, we review the case of the Colegio de San Agustin student Jaime Garcia. His name became famous because some CSA students bullied him, then he retaliated by stabbing one of the bullies with a ballpoint pen. Then the father of the stabbed bully, Allan Bantiles, allegedly slapped Jaime and even allegedly pointed a gun at him:

http://www.interaksyon.com/article/43937/csa-teen-on-bullys-gun-toting-dad-i-really-thought-hed-shoot-my-brains-out

We remember the Math teacher who forced her students to eat paper and also threw a chair toward someone who had the sense to defy her order:

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=851790&publicationSubCategoryId=49

There are even instances of students getting the upper hand against teachers. Here is one such case of students robbing their teacher:

http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php/news/provincial/38136-guro-ninakawan-tinangkang-patayin-ng-3-estudyante

We also recall the alleged child molestation by a PE teacher:

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/video/136696/24oras/pe-teacher-inireklamo-ng-pangmomolestya-ng-16-na-estudyante-sa-elementarya

Even a school paper of a renowned university has suddenly grown fangs on this attack against other two prestigious universities:

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/277346/news/nation/ust-student-paper-attacks-ateneo-la-salle-on-rh-stands

There are also two school bomb scares just this last week:

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/video/nation/metro-manila/10/10/12/lyceum-suspends-classes-after-bomb-scare

http://www.philstar.com/nation/article.aspx?publicationsubcategoryid=63&articleid=858735

And just hours ago, a stabbing took place at Adamson University.

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/metro-manila/10/13/12/adamson-university-student-stabbed-inside-campus

Men, women, children, elderly, rich, poor, even school buildings – no one is safe.

At least credit me for having a curious memory for oddities. George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I know you may have heard this for a hundred times already in your lifetime. (But you don’t remember hearing it, so you’ll just repeat hearing it, thus proving the truth of Santayana’s proposition. A more orderly world would have no need for a quote like this.)

Let me emphasize, however, that I am in no way generalizing about the rampant violence that has happened in our school campuses nowadays. After all, there are tens of thousands of schools all over the country. There is no way we can cover all the violence that’s happening in the schools. The increased coverage of violent acts taking place inside campus can be attributed to just that – increased coverage. But it’s tempting to wonder: Couldn’t it be that it has always been this way inside the majority of educational institutions in the Philippines, and we’re starting to get vigilant only recently, when deaths and bizarre activities began emerging in rapid-fire pace?

However, I am quite generous in examining the succession of violent in-campus activities. Perhaps they just clustered together by chance, or as I mentioned, perhaps it’s just increased media coverage of the usual stuff.

Copycats Galore

Or perhaps this explanation can also apply. Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor from the Arizona State University, describes a probable explanation for the one-after-another occurrence of detestable acts inside our schools. In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he explains the occurrence of copycat events, or events that follow the publicizing of a similar event. He cites David Phillips’ research on copycat suicides:

(1) Copycat events take place only on places where the events are publicized: “He found that within two months after every front-page suicide story, an average of fifty-eight more people than usual killed themselves. In a sense, each suicide story killed fifty-eight people who otherwise would have gone on living.”

(2) Copycat events are done in a similar manner as the publicized events: “Thus when the newspaper detailed the suicide of a young person, it was young drivers who then piled their cars into trees, poles, and embankments with fatal results; but when the news story concerned an older person’s suicide, older drivers died in such crashes”

According to Cialdini, these two insights add up: “Upon learning of another’s suicide, an uncomfortably large number of people decide that suicide is an appropriate action for themselves as well.”

That insight may apply to acts of school violence. Although we can’t ascertain how many such acts took place during the whole of September and the first two weeks of October, imitation of prior publicized acts of school violence can be a trigger, if we are to follow Cialdini’s logic.

It’s like this: more trouble begets more coverage, and more coverage may beget more trouble. It’s a vicious circle that may engulf the educational establishment if left unchecked. At least the increased exposure should make us aware of what’s really happening in our schools, given that inside schools, pupils are away from their families and are practically left to fend off for themselves.

A Note to Teachers

Teachers, meanwhile should ask themselves these questions:

Isn’t it violence – to the mind, if not to the body – if they let their students out to the world without sufficient life skills? Have our schools taught us literacy, numeracy, critical thinking,and rapid adaptation to speedily changing circumstances? Have our schools strengthened our willpower to stand alone in the midst of tempting opportunities to follow the crowd’s blatant wrongs and innocent imbecilities, a steel heart that never worships power for its own sake, and a zest for lifelong learning and not learning that ends when school ends?

Isn’t it violence to make schools function like businesses while posing perils to their educational functions?

Isn’t it violence to scream at students when reasoned discussion is a better tack? Isn’t it violence to force-feed students with facts that they’re likely to forget after a long time, and to stress students over them?

Isn’t it violence to judge students, with no regard to the future, when their potentials haven’t fully blossomed yet? This year’s Nobel laureate for Medicine and Physiology, Sir John Gurdon (who shared the prize with Shinya Yamanaka for seminal work on stem cells) recalled what his Biology teacher told him before: “I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.”

And I’d consider it violence too when students have to say “Good morning” every day, like busted records, when the mornings out there are mostly no good.

Shakespeare once said, “‘Tis the mind that makes the body rich”. It’s just reasonable to assume that turbulence in mind and viciousness of the body go hand-in-hand. If you corrupt the mind, you corrupt the body, and pandemonium’s going to result if you do that to participants in a crowded classroom.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Education

#6: Paper Eaters in a Math Classroom (o Mga Kumakain ng Papel sa Klase ng Math)

If you once were in a classroom, can you give me the uses of paper? You can choose from any number of the following:

A. For writing notes and answers
B. For making paper airplanes.
C. For making paper balls to throw to other students.
D. For food.

If you answered A, B, or C, then you have answered just the conventional uses of paper in classrooms. With that said, here is a report that suggests that the answer can be D. Here it is, from the ABS-CBN website:

Teacher forces students to eat paper

ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA, Philippines – A high school teacher from Mandaue City is in hot water for allegedly forcing her students to eat paper as punishment for being noisy.

The female math teacher has filed her leave of absence while the Department of Education and the Commission on Human Rights are investigating the incident.

The case stemmed from the complaint of parents of 30 graduating students from the Paknaan National High School in Mandaue City who alleged that the teacher ordered their children to get a piece of paper and then eat it.

The incident happened last September 5, but the case only came to the attention of the school principal five days later when the parents complained.

The students said to have experienced diarrhea after the incident.

Meanwhile, the teacher allegedly wrote a statement admitting the case, and has apologized to the parents and students.

Here are some additional details from an article on the same event, from the Philstar site:

Gayon pa man isa sa mga estudyanteng babae na nakapanayam sa TV, sinabi nito na inutusan sila ng guro na lunukin ang papel sa loob ng 10 minuto subalit hindi niya sinunodkaya tinangka siyang batuhin ng mono-bloc chair.

Napag-alamang pinagawa ng seatwork ang mga estudyante subalit nang duma­ting ang kanilang guro mula sa kabilang silid-aralan ay nadatnang nagkukuwentuhan lamang kaya nagalit ang guro at pinakain sila ng papel.

(Trans. One of the women students whom we talked with on TV said that her teacher told the class to swallow the paper for 10 minutes but she didn’t follow so the teacher attempted to throw a mono-bloc chair towards her.

It was known that the students were made to do some seatwork, but when the teacher returned, they were seen to be just chatting with each other, so the teacher got mad and told them to eat paper.)


Checklist

The teacher had many alternatives. She could have discussed the situation with her students further. Why were they making noise? If the students were making noise senselessly, as is the case here, then a reprimand could have been enough. She could have probed, too, and then set some rules to be followed in the future. Well, my view is, and has always been, this: if students weren’t listening then they’re bored, that’s all, and the ball is back to the teacher to make the students interested in something more than the fleeting fancies they may be talking about at the meantime.

Did the students lack mastery of the topic, which caused them to forsake their work in exchange for something that they are experts at doing – noisemaking? Then the teacher could have taught the topic again if time permits, or if not, then she could have thought more deeply of the root of their knowledge shortage – perhaps a faulty basics foundation, or perhaps the topic’s inherent difficulty. Either way, she could be on her way to find out how to make her teaching better. Students will also commend her for persistence, which may pay off more than talent alone, and that also communicates a good message to the students in the process.

Why were the students copying each other’s answers? Perhaps they lack mastery of the topic, and solutions to that are discussed above. Or because it was customary for them to copy. Then the teacher could have asserted that she saw the students “cheating”, but then brought up a discussion that can make them think about their morals. “Is it of any use to me to cheat?” “What if I do small wicked things like this in the backs of the others – would I do big devilish things in the backs of others later on? If so, what things could that be?”

Such questions like these stimulate the mind, and although they may lead to the slight tweaking of a lesson plan, they are worth asking. Maybe they will be remembered more than most high school Math content will ever be. A Math teacher who has grounding not only in numerical values but also in moral values can lead students to find out the long-term consequences of their actions – quantitatively, if possible, as is done today in decision theory and game theory. She may transform the overall orientation of students toward work and life, and she will be remembered for it. Moreover, she can finally resolve one long-standing problem of Math teachers – how to make Math relevant in daily life.

It can also be that the exams are themselves senseless, more of busy work that ought to be shirked off rather than work that deserves closer attention and sustained thought. This is more difficult, because teachers can get so attached to what they do such that by doing it all the time, they think that what they do is inherently good. Everything a teacher does, however, should pass this test: are the students learning from it?

Even if the work done at that time is not busywork, the teacher can scathingly reflect on how she conducted her classes and exams. She should have explored her teaching methods, her testing methods, and her personality. She should begin asking feedback from the students on what they learn – or whether they really learn. (Ask them; don’t just rely on papers, which are always greased to look more impressive than what they really are, so that they look pleasing.) She should be prepared to get hurt by some of the comments, as Math is always a subject anathema to most Filipino youth, if the popular talk and press are to be believed. Criticisms always pave the way to better teaching, which is always an activity in which the one doing it is always a learner too.

Mathematics is a subject that inspires plenty of reflection, even in matters non-mathematical, and for a Math teacher, these reflections should have came easy. In a jiffy (split second), I would say, for anyone with enough practice.

Instead, she resorted to a short-sighted solution that cost her reputation and possibly her career. Article 8, Section 8 of the Code of Ethics for Professional Teachers states:

Section 8. A teacher shall not inflict corporal punishment on offending learners nor make deductions from their scholastic ratings as a punishment for acts which are clearly not manifestation of poor scholarship.

Teenage Obedience and Adult Authority

What is troubling is that most of the students chose to follow the ludicrous order. If Math is a subject that demands immaculate logic that stretches and strengthens the mental capacity of students, how come they succumbed to following something they know to be absurd at best and harmful at worst (or even fatal because of the possibility for choking)? How come most of them chose to be automatically obedient in the midst of a subject that requires them to think hard?

Stanley Milgram, an American social scientist who rose to prominence in the 1960s, set out to discover the forces underlying blind obedience. His purpose was to illuminate us on why, in the Nazi regime of Hitler, many supposedly normal people set out doing atrocities, such as herding Jews in concentration camps and gassing them. Here is the scenario for his experiment:

I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist.

What are the findings? (They were further developed in his book Obedience to Authority.)

Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Although the students did not hurt others by obeying the teacher’s command to eat paper, they knew very well that they would hurt themselves, and I assume that self-interest in this case can prevent them from hastily doing something they knew to be bad for their health. At least one student has protested against it. But why didn’t all of the students adamantly refuse – or throw the teacher out of the room for such a nonsensical order? They could have saved themselves from the ordeal of eating something unsavory.

Even educated people had their guards down in Milgram’s experiment. Even common people, who have no natural spite flowing in their blood against someone else, administered the electric shocks to the maximum voltage. What chance, then, could mere adolescents have against overbearing authority in the persona of a teacher? Some degree of obedience is necessary in the smooth functioning of a society or institution, but look at the effects when it is left unchecked:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.

Some decades ago this process was the Holocaust. Today it perpetuates of a system that causes us to eschew critical thinking (thus leaving us with a shortage of scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, and thoughtful human beings) and to be blind to the repercussions of actions mandated from above. If we are too willing to follow an incorrect heat-of-the-moment order from someone regarded as trustworthy, what more when we begin facing the more turbulent whims of incompetent authority?

With the students acquiescing to an authority they knew to be wrong, only to regret it later with sick stomachs, what chance have they in preserving their own integrity when dealing with the outside world, geared mostly in Filipino society to induce conformity, when they grow up?

The situation described in the news articles could have been remedied by simple reflection, and for teachers, the checklist above can help.

While we complain to no end about people who should have followed but haven’t, let us not forget that far worse things can stem from those who shouldn’t have followed but have. What better lesson can we teach our students than this?

2 Comments

Filed under Education