Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"From an elite school";《名校出身》

What follows below is a translation of a short piece by the writer "He Meng" (I am assuming that this is a pen name), in yesterday's (15/3/2010) "ZbNow" (《早报现在》), recounting his or her experience with a young teacher newly posted to his or her school.

"From an elite school";《名校出身》

Hearing that a new teacher, recently graduated from NIE, will be posted to my school, I eagerly waited in my office for him, expecting to have a succesor who will share with me the noble mission of education.

Expecting him to be full of youthful drive and idealism since this was his first job, I immediately started to brief the new teacher about his job scope when he arrived. However, I realised that he was unusually quiet and expressionless. He slowly explained: "Sorry, I will be posted to another school in two days' time. I have already requested for a transfer from MOE; I am now awaiting the re-posting".

"Oh, I see!" I was greatly puzzled; why was he applying for a transfer when he have not even started work at the school?

He explained with great honesty: "When I received the notification that I will be posted to this school, I immediately went to apply for a transfer with the HR department. I have heard that neighbourhood schools, such as this school, have a lot of 'problem students'. I am from XX Junior College, I would not be able to adapt to such an environment".

A prestigious graduate of an elite school cannot teach in a neighbourhood school? I was greatly saddened for the sake of my neigbourhood school and for the sake of the many "problem students" under my charge. Admittedly, they are a misbehaving lot: fooling around during lessons, not handing in assignments, playing truant, getting into fights, smoking and even drug-taking; they are in greater need of education and rehabilitation. But I did not expect that a new teacher will despise them and avoid teaching them.

On the first day of school, being unable to get his request for a transfer approved, the new teacher still reported to work. This was what I expected! Barring you having "special connections", which employer will allow you to freely choose where you want to work at?

After a few days, he came to my office, dejectedly saying: "I am about to have a mental breakdown, I cannot tolerate the students' misbehaviour anymore. I want to quit, I do not want to fritter away my life, I do not mind contravening my contract and paying reparations..."

After my initial shock, I replied: "Young man, you are very fortunate to be able to enjoy being educated in 'elite' schools since young, to have a good family and schooling environment, to live in such a protected and happy environment and not come into contact with those from another socio-economic milieu. Before coming to this school, I was also unaware that Singapore has so many low income families which are struggling to survive. 60% of the students here have parents whom only have primary school education, 30% of them come from single-parent families; having a hard life, these children already have a bad starting point and live in a maladjusted environment, thus bringing all kinds of bad habits and problems to school. Hence, in order to bring them onto the correct path, we need to approach and teach them with greater love and patience".

At this point in time, an expression of doubt and shock was on the new teacher's face. I told him: "Go see a doctor and take a few days' break. When you have considered carefully and made a decision, then come and discuss with me".

Unfamiliar with the purpose of education and unaware of the hardships of being a teacher, this new teacher has entered into the world of teaching. Was this because he was attracted to the high salaries in the teaching service or was he unable to find another job due to the economic recession?

In the end, the new teacher did not resign. However, a year later, he was transferred to an "elite" school to teach a "gifted" class; perhaps "elites" are more compatible with "gifted" people. Yet, if every teacher was like him, who will educate the students in neighbourhood schools?


Personal remarks: While I know that not every individual joining the teaching service is like the teacher described above, I cannot help but wonder how many are like him or joined the teaching service due to the monetary benefits or their inability to find another job. What implications will this have? In the end, as cliched as it may sound, being a teacher is a calling, not just a job.

Also, on the wider level, I cannot help but wonder if there are structural reasons behind the attitudes of the teacher described above.


chillycraps said...

I read the article this morning and I can understand why that particular teacher felt that way. Being from "elite" school, he probably had never experienced classroom environment where disciplinary problems take up a big proportion of the teacher's attention. He probably could not comprehend the difference in learning ability as well. As such, he felt that he deserves better.

I just think, a fast car can speed on the highway, but it should know how to negotiate the narrow streets too.

Trebuchet said...

I taught at non-elite schools before I ended my career in a very elitist school. I remember the warmth of the students in non-elite schools, and the sense that I was working with their parents and not against them. My former students from such schools have been successful too, and I am glad for that.

If our elite institutions cannot teach people how to be humans, they will be lousy teachers too. It's not the 'good and gifted' students that need teachers so much (although of course they do), but the distracted ones, the unwise ones, the ones that need a bit more effort and care.

LCC said...

Yes, Chillycraps, I understand your point, since I also was educated in schools where students were generally more behaved.

However, the question is: doesn't NIE equip its teachers with skills on how to handle misbehaving students or those from a "problematic" background? I mean, I have the impression that before they are actually released into the teaching service, trainee teachers have to "shadow" veteran teachers and be exposed to short stints of classroom teaching.

And, of course, the question remains: is there something structurally wrong with local education if supposedly "elite" students can be so "insulated" from people of other socio-economic milieu?

Anonymous said...

very well said. This was my experience whilst teaching too.

The elite would teach for a while at neighbourhood schools and then get posted to MOE or higher up where they would be 'better utilized'.

ah the singapore that we live in now...

Anonymous said...

elite school? he graduated from a junior college. Even if it is Hwa Chong, you call that elite? my God, I couldn't imagine anyone being so 'small minded'. The world is much bigger than this. If you graduate from MIT or even India's IIT, now I call that elite. I think elite has more value if that person is highly valued in the market place from a global perspective. Singapore is a tiny island. Besides the teaching profession in Singapore, who will hire an 'elite junior college/NIE' graduate? Singaporeans need to get out more. This is really sad.

chillycraps said...

@LCC: that I can't answer you, cos I haven't been to NIE and thus I have no idea what they have in the course.

There is only so much theory you can teach but when it comes to being on the ground at the scene, it can be quite different.

CR said...

Anonymous said...

elite school? he graduated from a junior college. Even if it is Hwa Chong, you call that elite? my God, I couldn't imagine anyone being so 'small minded'.

---> I fully agree. There are too many people in this little island holding such "petty elitism" views about their background. No one gives a damn about whether you came from HC, RI, or whatever assortment of letters when you work and move in the global marketplace.

Your value is in the work you do, not the past glories of your adolescence. I know, because I came from an "elite" school, but it counts for zilch and nada when you are out of this country, other than beer sessions with fellow old boys when football matches come around.


j.amyemeelea said...

timely honest comments and a very thought provoking. i sure hope the percentage of such teachers as mentioned above is of a minority because where's the hope for our children.

did the teacher forget HOW many neighbourhood schools there as compared to 'elite' ones? being a single mom to 3 kids myself, i do worry about such concerns very much.

Anonymous said...

Before the brickbats come in fast and furious, I'd just like to say that having been a relief teacher at a neighborhood secondary school, the situation on the ground is VERY different and intimidating from what is painted by the armchair critics.

It's very easy for us to scoff at him and lambast his purported elitism, but let's not for one second think that controlling a class of riotous, disrespectful and uninterested students (if not all, then at least an overwhelming majority) is an easy feat. For people who aren't experienced or equipped with the proper skills to deal with such a situation, it can be traumatic.

- J

Anonymous said...

During my NIE training, although there was a module on classroom management, most of the tutors who lectured us (trainee teachers) in class were ex-teachers who taught in those 'elite' schools. They only mentioned about theories and whatnots.

Anonymous said...

if i have not wrong, quite a number of teachers/scholars are posted to teach in the good schools, but not the neighbourhood schools.

Anonymous said...

Singapore has to do away this "elite" thing.. Afterall our education system is fundamentally flawed. Emphasis place onto academic achievements rather than values. Now which is more important?

I come from a neighbourhood school and was in N.A stream. I never felt good about it but thanks to my encouraging teachers, I manage to do 8 pts for my O level which I believe was decent as compared to Elite school.

Afterall, there is nothing wrong to be a late boomer. All children deserve a chance/opportunity to learn.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ. I think the young teacher was probably not confident that he could manage the students in his class.

Anonymous said...

Have got something in response to this:

"elite school? he graduated from a junior college. Even if it is Hwa Chong, you call that elite? my God, I couldn't imagine anyone being so 'small minded'."

If I haven't misunderstood anything, the teacher didn't, at any point of time, say he was from an elite school. (To avoid any misunderstandings, may I first state that I'm not siding the teacher; I just beg to differ with the above comment)

Hwa Chong, or Raffles, are what people REGARD and CLAIM to be elite. What you've claimed to be elite, such as MIT, may also be considered average in others' eyes. Everything is relative.

If you're so against the idea of elitism, you shouldn't even have regarded MIT to be an elite school in the first place.

"Besides the teaching profession in Singapore, who will hire an 'elite junior college/NIE' graduate?"

This question baffles me. So graduates from "better" local JCs will not be able to find jobs in tiny Singapore?

My, that will be sad. Really sad.

Ryvyan said...

That's just pessimistic and horrible. I'm new on the education path (but not a full-fledged teacher) so maybe I'm still idealistic, but already I am in love with the idea that I can make a difference in lives that seem to be headed for the pits at the speed they are going at.

I find teaching a classroom of rowdy and uninterested students very tiring and a task that is very difficult to manage, but like my mentors tell me, the teacher support in neighbourhood schools are very strong because of the common problems they face with students. There are also weak kids who are unable to learn with rowdy kids in the classroom, and you gain a higher sense of satisfaction when some kids come forward to ask for help outside of the classroom because they want to learn.

Although I'm in a neighbourhood school, we are quite good academically. And from conversations, I know of a few teachers who feel happier at lower leveled neighbourhood schools because of the above reason and more, if that makes sense, but wanted a change of environment to know how each level feels like. They're really good teachers who come from various backgrounds (mostly so-called 'elite' schools), so don't dismiss every teacher as money-grubbing and wanting only easy classes.

Justin Lee said...

Very interesting article indeed. But I think everyone is missing the point here. Elitism is not the point, and I always think that allowing a child to grow at his/her own pace is a good thing. In my humble opinion, having the streaming system is a great thing, just that it could have been better implemented in terms of getting really good teachers to concentrate on the slower learning kids, rather than just the faster learning kids. But I digress.

The point really is, that we need to train our teachers to be better prepared for non-theoretical teaching experience with a wide range of situations from neighbourhood schools to elite schools.

In fact, I think teaching in neighbourhood schools should be the norm, since it makes up the majority of the schools in Singapore anyway, and as you grow in your experience and skills of teaching, move forward to another school, or a so-called "elite" school. If trainee teachers are not prepared to handle the pressure and deal with these children, our future, then they should *fail* their course/degree/certification.

One should not fault a person for being better (or elite/different) than another, but one should re-examine the fundamental problem and solve it, rather than outcasting people not of the norm.

Cheers! :) My two cents worth (TM). :P

Anonymous said...

Basically, seems that he's doing it for the wrong reasons

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, also from an "elite" background, I feel that I must clarify a point: Whether someone is able to teach at a particular level really depends on the individual.

Just as not every teacher feels comfortable in a 'gifted' classroom where the students are more well-read than you, this particular teacher does not have the ability to connect with students with emotional and social problems.

Baring the young teacher being unkind to the students though, but not being able to teach/connect with 'problem students' is a weakness, not a sin.

Let's not be too hasty to judge.

Anonymous said...

To get in one of the Ivy League universities( i.e. Harvard, MIT, Stanford...) you really have to be the best in the world, articulate and born with superior intelligence. These innate traits virtually guarantee you success in the global marketplace with or without a university degree.

To get into a JC you only have to do well academically in Spore. Being successful academically does not mean you have high intelligence nor does it prove you will be successful in a global world.

For this ass of a teacher, why did he spend 1 unhappy year working in a neighbourhood school. Why not quit earlier and apply for a job with a Hewlett Packard, a big Bank, Google etc. and truly test his so called "elite" abilities in the highly competitive private sector? Perhaps the reason he didn't was because deep down he knew he is really no different than the average bloke down the street and his self-proclaimed elite( superior ) status is nothing but a bucket of BS.

Anonymous said...

This clearly shows ONE key point that will eventually be extremely to the entire country if the authorities leave it unchecked...namely,


If we read SG history, even the latest book by Ngiam Tong Dow, we can CLEARLY see, that Singapore is where it is today because Lee Kuan Yew and his peers were not only great leaders, but they were EXTREMELY adaptable. Tough times, require tough people.

The world is changing quickly. An "I am better than these people" mentality will destroy many.
There is no textbook and exam on street smarts and adaptability. No exam on it, so perhaps this is why they're so "elitist" and rigid.

Anonymous said...

My 2 cents worth is this. Perhaps not everyone has the tenacity to pull through and really let his passion shine through like the writer to the papers. Well I think we shouldn't be too quick to judge as it does take a lot to teach students who are generally more mischievous naughty and what not. Sometimes the person might not be justified in doing so even before trying it out but at least he tried for a year. Well perhaps we need to see if the responsibility placed on teachers are too great. It is oxymoronic that parents these days expect the teachers to be the one in charge of their kids well being and what not but start charging in to defend their kids at the slightest hint of punishment. Teaching is not easy and definitely not for everyone.

Anonymous said...

This shows how the elites are always n constantly living under their protected environment. they are too scare to face defeats etc.

Furthermore, better school means students with better academic foundation. less time to spend on teaching and educating 'problematic' kids. however, this shows how elites, although smart etc, some are not brave to take up the challenge.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous who mentioned this :" Baring the young teacher being unkind to the students though, but not being able to teach/connect with 'problem students' is a weakness, not a sin."

If teaching 'problem students' is considered a weakness, not a sin, then are we right to say the particular teacher mentioned isnt suitable for the job in the 1st place?

For any job, minus the passion for it, is simply a job.

Be its problematic or non-problematic students, its all boils down to one word : -Educate. If the teacher mentioned he or she cant handle the problematic ones due to experience, fine. But now, he or she cant handle them due to his own generalization.

One last thing: We know how the teacher thinks of the problematic students. So how would the problematic students think of this teacher then?

my 2 cents

Donaldson Tan said...

Come on.. this sounds more like Raffles than Hwachong.

Btw is this guy supposed to be a relief teacher? I think MOE runs a relief teacher program for students who just finished their A levels and are waiting for NS or university enrolment.

If he has gone through NS, I am sure he will be humbled by the sheer requirement to work with people from all walks of life (and of course minimal interaction with Malays if he is sent to the Air Force).

Anonymous said...

Donald, no, he's from NIE, so he's a trained teacher. But I was under the impression that now teachers are posted to school they do their teaching practice in?

Most of the NIE lecturers have not been in a classroom in the past 5-10 years, so they can tell you all the stories, but they won't be able to tell you about how to deal with the handphones and the cyber bullying and the Facebooking and the sexual promiscuity...nothing prepares you better for that than being out in the 'battlefield'.

I consider myself lucky because I got my start in two very rough neighbourhood schools. my current posting is to a rather good school, and I am thankful everyday. OK, well, almost, because sometimes I forget when the kids gets on my nerves.

Anonymous said...

"He Meng" btw is a lady. I have had the privilege to be taught by her when I was studying in one of the elite JCs (early 80s). She was the VP there and also taught chinese. I know that she is now the principal of a neighbourhood sec school, in fact she had been there for 5 years or more already. In fact she is closed to retirement already. A very compassionate educator I have to say.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it very myopic to call yourself elite only if you work in a very well established global company. Obviously such short-sighted proves you are anything but elite. So why brother bringing such an argument up. Being the best in whatever profession you are in. That's elite. I challenge any "elite" from these aforementioned companies to take 1 month of teaching at any school. We choose our professions not because of our abilities, but passions. If you disagree, then you are probably leading a life of great disdain.

Teaching in an elite school is rewarding in many aspects too. Many of the students have grown accustomed to being outshone by many of the top students in the school. It provides a different challenge to groom everyone in your class, say at Hwa Chong and Raffles to reach their potential.

So before you start all the elite bashing again, think through what you are going to say. Our choices defines us. Which is why I always respected teachers, rather than scoff at their choice of profession.

wayangtimes said...

hey thanks for agreeing to allow Wayang Times to reproduce your article :)

Anonymous said...

This teacher was not planning ahead during his NIE days. If he really had this concern, he should have been more pro active in seeking an elite school to be matched with, while he was in NIE.

It is a problem of matching. Some teachers are happier teaching in a neighborhood school, others are happier in an elite school.

That is why we have such a wide variety of schools for every teacher. The invisible hand of the free market would ensure that the right teachers go to the right school.

Enough with the "teaching is a calling not a job" cliche, like you said. =)

Han said...

I think few have "the calling" to be a teacher, especially the new teachers. This is a sad fact of a materialistic society, and if the debate were to go on with the different facets of related attitudes in other areas/professions, the discussion would be endless...
Regrettably, I think at least there are people who choose teaching for the monetary benefits, else students in neighborhood schools will really end up having no teachers. This is especially so, given the fact that the public education scene has always faced a shortage of teachers.

My two cents worth.

Anonymous said...

I feel that this man has a wrong attitude and subscribed to stereotypes of neighbourhood school before he even started on the job.

Yet you must still see things in his perspective. I didn't come from 'elite' schools, but still, am from rather good schools, as such, I never did step into a neighbourhood school all the way until after JC and thought all students behaved like those from my school.

I worked at a company that does exhibitions in schools before Uni, and it was a real eye opener. The difference between the children there and those from my schools were very different and for someone who has never been in that background and have that type of understanding, very hard to handle.

I believe most people who make it into NIE are those who come from more privileged background and may not understand what they are to expect, so I agree with some of those who said that NIE should prepare the teachers-in-training with skills they can use in such situations.

One should look at the whole system that produces such sentiments instead of putting the entire blame on the new teacher.

Hui said...

Different strategies may be required to guide students in both elite and neighborhood schools in their learning process.

Being a first generation college student myself, I know that first generation college students can also tends to be more ambitious but college can be an ambiguous setting for these students. They may be stressed or uncomfortable when they first started out. I am currently an assistant professor at a public university in the Mississippi Delta. It's a challenging job but I enjoy helping new students transition from high school to college, guiding them in becoming aware of their own identity, and teaching them more about personal accountability and social responsibility.

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