Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't Assess to Impress

     Sorry, I don't want to do this but I need to. I need to let it all out or else I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight.

     Today, we had this curriculum meeting to discuss programs to improve our pupils' performance in UPSR this year. My first thought when I received the calling letter: Great. More programs. Programs that would never work.

     Don't get me wrong, I'm not being negative. In fact, I'm being the total opposite of negative. I'm being as positive as I could ever be.

     Let's face it. I have been teaching in this school for almost 5 years now, and we have been conducting more or less the same 'programs' throughout the years, all with the general objective of 'improving our pupils performance in the UPSR exam'. I'm sure this type of programs have been around for years before I even consider becoming a teacher, probably ever since this school was first built or at the very moment UPSR entered the Malaysia education scene. They call it 'Program Pemantapan' or 'Program 1005A' or whatever. They have different fancy names to call it every year, and it gets fancier and fancier over the years, but no matter by what name they try to call it, it's just the same process of selecting the so-called 'target pupils', the 'GALUS' ('Gagal-Lulus'?) pupils and -  (sorry, some people might try to deny that this has ever even crossed their mind,  but come on! Who are we trying to kid here?) - the 'hopeless' pupils. The same 'answering techniques' workshops and 'examination drills', the same 'Program Anak Angkat', motivational camps, talks, lectures, clinics and so on and so forth...only to discover the same flops, the same failures, the same disappointment and pointing of fingers in the end.

     I have nothing against these programs. They have their benefits. As much as I don't have a lot of faith in them, I am willing to go along with them because they do have their benefits. Examinations are very important in this country's education system, and a school is always judged based on the pupils' performance in a nationally centralised public examination without taking into account the pupils background, environment where they grow up, the kind of exposure they get, their living conditions and a lot of other things. So, okay, I am willing to go along with the plan not because I have great faith in it, but because I know that it greatly affects my pupils' lives and their future. After all, who am I to say anything against a nationwide system? I am just a simple teacher who wants nothing but to teach, or try to teach.

     Having said that, it does not mean that I am willing to sacrifice my simple and humble willingness to do whatever I can to help my pupils to at least learn some English in their 6 years of primary schooling. It does not mean that I am willing to give up learning pedagogical strategies, updating myself on the latest approaches  to teaching the English language, improving my own skills and proficiency, or to continue to experiment with new and exciting ways to make my classroom activities more interesting and engaging for my pupils. It does not mean that I am willing to give up my joy for teaching, or to kill my pupils' enthusiasm to learn.

     No, I am not willing to do all that. Throughout all these years, I willingly get myself involved in all those exam-based programs with nothing but the intention of helping my pupils to have better exam results and a better future. However, I do have my own 'programs' too. No systems, no process. No fancy names. I just try to do what I am supposed to do. I try to teach English in the best way I know how.

     What frustrated me this afternoon during the meeting was when the Chairman gave what to me was a totally absurd comment, a comment that displayed more ignorance than awareness on his part. Reading out his 'analyses' of the monthly test for January, he pointed out the 'outstanding' results of my pupils performance in the English language subject. In his classic cynical way, he tried to 'enlighten' the floor on how giving 'easy' test questions could 'benefit' a subject teacher, in that it could serve as a way to motivate that particular teacher to maintain the 'excellent results' during the actual 'more difficult' UPSR examination that offers an undeniably 'more difficult' questions. He even went further by pointing out how this has been the same scenario for year after year - the English language subject showing quite impressive results during monthly tests but a total disaster when the actual UPSR results hit the school office.

     Sorry to disappoint you, Mr Chairperson, but I don't conduct monthly test on my pupils to impress you or your board of devoted followers. I don't assess my pupils every month because I want to impress anybody. I don't purposefully give 'easy questions' to my pupils because I crave your praises during your so-called curriculum meeting. For your information, those questions are not 'easy questions'. They might be 'easy' for you, but for a classroom of about 30 children who struggle hard for almost an hour just to learn English that is as simple as a 4-word question of 'How old are you?', being able to spell correctly 15 out of 22  words with 10 or more letters is an amazing feat by itself. It might be nothing to you, but to me, it is an accomplishment that has its own value.
     I assess my pupils based on what I teach. Any teacher would understand that. We assess because we want to know how much our pupils have mastered the skills that we have taught them. If we teach them spelling, we need to test them on spelling. If we teach them writing, we test them on writing. When we teach them the topic 'Places', we test them on that topic. We don't test what we haven't taught. And we teach according to our pupils' levels. We don't ask our pupils to write an 80-word composition if they are still struggling to even read and write a single word. Every teacher KNOWS that. Need I say more?

     Most of my pupils come from very unfortunate background, most are very poor and come from broken families. Many of them don't consider education as very important and they have limited if no exposure to the English language. Most of them are also slow learners and have learning difficulties. Although the Year 6 classrooms are occupied by a bunch of 12-year-olds, every teacher in the school knows that most of them are supposed to still be in Year 2 or Year 3. What takes a normal child in other schools one year to learn would require 2 or even 3 years for my pupils to thoroughly master. Our education system makes it 'possible' for our pupils to progress to the next level despite their inability to master the required skills that they are supposed to master in their current level. Hence we will have a handful of Year 6 pupils who still struggle with basic reading and writing skills. Not exactly a proud thing for a teacher in a school to admit, but it's the ugly truth. Honestly speaking, I don't mind working with children like these. I have been teaching here for 5 years now, and despite my sighs and complaints and occasional bad moods (I'm just an ordinary human, okay?), deep inside my heart, my pupils have been nothing but a joy. I enjoy teaching the innocent children, I am proud to be a part of their lives. If throughout my years of serving in this school, I am able to touch even one heart, I am forever grateful to God. If in some small ways I am able to make a difference in a child's life, I am more than grateful. I can die in peace and a smile on my face. But for someone to even suggest that I should deliberately throw UPSR questions as monthly test at my pupils without even attempting to help them with their individual weaknesses first would not only be unfair to the pupils, but for me it is also a mean, wicked, crude and heartless thing to do. It would be like imposing a death sentence to someone who has never been allowed a fair trial.

     Please understand what I am trying to say. I have NOTHING against exam-based programs. Our system forces us to place examination on the highest pedestal, adorns it with crowning glory, and leaves us with no choice but to take our poor, struggling, unfortunate and innocent pupils by the hands and trod painfully with them and alongside them in the hope that they would still have a chance, that we could still give them a chance, that they would not be left behind. If that's what it takes, then so be it. Count me in, I am more than willing to jump on the bandwagon if it could help my pupils. But it should never be an excuse for anybody whomsoever to stop a teacher from sharing skills and imparting knowledge to the children  in preparation for the no longer 'exam-based' real world when they grow up and leave school. And if that teacher wants to assess her pupils to find out how much her pupils have mastered the skills she has taught, to analyse her pupils' weaknesses individually and try to help them with mastering the basic skills of reading and writing, who are you to stop her? And even if the monthly test reports for the classes she teaches look somewhat absurd to you, who are you to judge her sincerity?

     Haven't you, being a teacher yourself, ever experienced witnessing the pure joy in a child's face when he looks at his test paper and discovers that he has answered more questions correctly than wrongly? Haven't you felt the satisfaction  in your heart, knowing that you have given your pupils something useful and valuable that he can use and apply not only to answer exam questions but more importantly in his life after school? I bet you have never received text messages from some of your former WEAKEST pupils who are now secondary school students, excitedly informing you how they are able to answer the Form 2 English language test because they are still able to remember what you have taught them about Singular and Plural Nouns back when they were still your pupils in primary school. I also doubt that you have ever experienced the proud moment of witnessing your former MOST QUIET pupil representing her current school in the secondary school level Public Speaking competition, knowing in your heart that you have played a part in grooming her, discovering her potentials, polishing her skills, building up her confidence, never denying her the opportunity to learn. I sincerely doubt that you have ever experienced anything like these. Because if you have, we would definitely agree with each other. We would definitely see eye to eye. But we don't, unfortunately.

     Perhaps you don't think much of what I am trying to do, but that don't bother me. As I have mentioned before, I don't do what I do because I want to please you.

     It is easy for someone who just sits down in the comfort of his own private office and merely does an 'analyses' in his laptop computer to make cynical remarks and 'smart' jokes about the monthly test reports in a meeting that gives him every chance to look and sound important. The one who has to face the pupils, who has to struggle to make a fun classroom teaching and learning in a congested, small, hot room with poor lighting and ventilation,  who teaches 4 classes of more than a hundred pupils for over 30 hours (hours, not periods) a week, who often has to drive the pupils back to their respective homes after every extra night classes on the lonely path of Kampung Kabog,  who sacrifices time and money and energy and precious moments with family and loved ones for the sake of the pupils each and every day, who toils and sweat and shed tears with and for the pupils - is nothing more than the simple, insignificant, often-forgotten, often-ridiculed, often-joked-about, unappreciated and unimportant teacher.

     There. I feel much better now.


  1. Well-said. Only a teacher whose heart is with her students understand what you have just expressed. I am not in the same situation as you, but I know what you mean. Students everywhere have different needs. I used to teach in a rural school where a Form 5 student could not even understand the question "Where is your book?". I shall remember that incident to my dying day. While in that school I remember teachers arguing with the school inspectors about "finishing the syllabus" when the students (secondary school, mind you) could not even master the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
    Anyway, kudos to you for you have found the passion for teaching and you have discovered that students are human beings, not products that have to conform to certain standards. I trust God has entrusted the children to you and you will do your very best to fulfil the job given to you.

  2. Rereading this post embarrass me slightly, for it is not often that I get emotionally carried away like this. However, it was a great relief writing it.
    Thank you, Chris, your comment comforts me greatly. I know there are teachers out there who feel the same way as I do.
    I hope and pray that God will continue to give me the strength to serve my students the best I could.

  3. Keep up your excellent work, Cindy! Your labour is not in vain. I am very proud of you and your commitment. Bless you!

  4. Thank you Aunty Judy. Love you always. God bless you, too! ;-)

  5. cyn...i feel you...i really do..sometimes people took it for granted what we do for our pupils..when we gave test and they scored well, instead of giving encouragement or support they would find faults in what we do- like taking the upsr and comparing the result, as if saying that we gave the pupils easy questions (which in a way indicating that we're not being honest and that we wanted to get praised or should i say- mau dapat nama)..then if we gave the pupils test and they scored poorly, again- they'd find our faults, saying that we didn't give the pupils enough input or that we gave them too difficult questions..
    so what do we do, cyn...? either way- we're bound to be blamed..thus, i think, better if we just teach, what we know, as best as we know cyn- actually we're doing this for the kids..not for fellow colleagues..we owe this to the kids and not anyone else..
    and you- as i must have told you before- love your know that you're giving them the best...

  6. Thanks Cris. I truly hope and pray that I am giving my best for the kids. I love teaching in my current school, I love the kids, I love my colleagues, even my GB is lovely - but you know what? There's this particular person (you know who - you've met him during our SBOA meeting at PPD) who keeps on giving me a pain in the neck. He never seem to want to leave me alone, regardless of how hard he'd seen me work. There's one particular day when I just couldn't handle it anymore and I just burst out in the office. My GB comforted me by saying that she's the head of the school, so only her opinion of me matters, and she only has the best to say about me. If it's not because of my GB, I would probably have applied for a transfer to Tanjung Keramat. Hahaha! I believe the SKTK would definitely appreciate me more. And Setina could certainly use some help. Hehe.

  7. i've Just read this...sigh..everywhere,there'll always people like that..Still remember one of my PK said that ,'no wonder my son get good grade becoz the exam questions that u made were quite easy'...hmm..should I make totally difficult quest when other pupils who r not as 'smart' are involved? funny..Keep up the good work,cyn..I know u are a great n 4ever:)

  8. Thanks, Kat! ;-) It's been a long time since I last heard from you. Drop me a line anytime, okay?

    Miss you! ;-)


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