… As 16,000 students so wonderfully portrayed last Friday.
Today is National Teachers Day, concluding National Teachers Month. I was asked by Metrobank Foundation (which actively supports education) if I would write about teachers. And with my youthful experience of them, I’m happy to.
First thing: Pay them more. A monthly salary of P19,000 (lower for some entry-level private-school teachers) is atrocious for someone who can be the greatest influence, after your parents, on what your life will be. Studies have shown a direct correlation between a country’s standing in the world and how much it pays its teachers. On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) test we ranked 34th among 38 countries in math and 43rd among 46 countries in science. You can’t do much worse than that.
Second thing: Give them smaller classes. The 55 that is the average class is a class you lecture to, not teach, particularly in the early years when the brain and one’s attitude toward life are forming. And it shouldn’t be a one-way street. She (a teacher is generally a woman) should encourage her students to engage in a vigorous discussion of subjects. Active participation sinks a message into a brain more deeply, and is more fun.
Students need to be guided, mentored toward what is best for them. It’s different for each student. Ideally, classes should number around 25, or 35 max. You can’t mark homework for 55 kids or more (hard enough for 25). The outcome of this is that too many Filipinos lack initiative — the result of a system that relies on memory recall, not idea development, as the way to pass exams.
I was asked to list five qualities every Filipino teacher should have. It’s been a long, long time since I was in school, so I’ve not thought about it much. But let me try.
First and foremost is expertise. A teacher must know the subjects being taught intimately, and be able to present those subjects in an enthralling way. It will get kids intrigued to know more.
Firm leadership is called for. A teacher must be, and seen to be, in charge.
Compassion: A teacher should genuinely care for his/her students on an individual basis. Allied to this is patience and tolerance. Kids can be a bit of a handful sometimes (or all the time).
Dedication, a love for the job: If you believe in it, the kids will believe in you—and what you teach.
A sense of humor wouldn’t hurt — especially when everything seems to be going wrong. And, somehow, there always are days like that.
Next question: What, for you, is the most important thing that teachers do? One could state the obvious — teach — but I’d take it further: It’s instilling a sense of wonder and inquiry in kids. If you leave school as the start of your learning curve, not as the end of learning, then a teacher has succeeded.
If I were a teacher for a day, what subject would I teach? If it’s only for a day I don’t think I’d teach a subject, I’d talk about what I’ve learned as my life comes to an end that could be helpful to them as they start theirs. I’d talk for an hour, then have an open, frank dialogue to look at individual dreams and how to make them work.
Well, it’s not exactly a lesson, but I’ve never forgotten the English teacher in my first year in university, when I asked him why I was still learning English after 12 years of it when I was there to learn about engineering. His words to me: “Mr. Wallace, if — and I stress ‘if’ — you should graduate and become an engineer, you’ll need to be able to write reports. I’m going to teach you how.”
Today I write reports, and engineering is now a weekend hobby. As to the best lesson, time is irrelevant. Finishing the job is prime. Stick to what you do till it is done. Never give up, delight in and have a passion for what you do, and choose to do something in life that you love to do.
I’ve never been much of a sportsman; I’ve always needed a machine to provide the muscle. So I raced cars and sailed yachts. I guess the proudest moment for me (a final question asked) was when the sports teacher said he’s putting me in the cricket team because I’d tried the hardest and never given up despite my clear lack of inherent sporting skill. I was quite competitive in racing and sailing, I never could kick a football into a goal. Or hit a six.
A fuller version of this column is available online at www.wallacebusinessforum.com.