Reward Able Teachers

3 May

If we do not recognise good teaching in our school classrooms, we will lose the best teachers to the growing number of coaching institutes

Growing up studying in classes of 50 or 60 students, then teaching groups ranging from 300 to even a thousand, my experience matches what current research says — that class sizes have nothing to do with learning and achievement in the classroom.

Then, what is it that makes it so difficult for teachers to achieve good quality learning in a classroom when it has been noticed that the same teachers achieve miracles in tuition classes? Earlier, it was thought that having more students slowed down a teacher. But that is clearly not the case, especially with the support of new technologies. The clear success of coaching classes in Kota and other centres shows  that learning objectives can be achieved in large groups. A lot of learning is achieved in massive groups led by ‘motivational’ speakers too. Most religious instruction, as shown on television, also involves large groups — all listening with rapt attention.

Then, what is it about the current school system that seems to actually slow down achievement? Why is it that the school classroom is a less productive environment than a coaching classroom? Even the method of instruction is almost similar to that in the large coaching classes. The first difference an educator will note is that the learning objectives are more crisply defined in coaching classes — all they have to deliver is better marks in a predictable testing pattern. Schools have the burden of all-round education with multiple objectives that is supposed to nurture the individual talents of the child. Yet our schools are tested on student achievement when they are compared with other schools across the world. Vilified for teaching to examinations, pressurised by parents to deliver value measured in marks and yet tasked with building values, skills and attitudes. The schools are in a bind.

It is said about the management of corporations that larger and older corporations suffer a slowdown in growth due to ‘treacle-isation’ of their processes and people. Schools too suffer a bit of that as teachers and administrators become set in their ways and are unable to maintain the balance between innovative energy and school discipline. Just as in other organisations where process and discipline get precedence, office politics begins to fester and grow. Administration becomes a burden, rather than a record of achievements, and work boundaries become a sensitive issue. Once that happens to a school, it is a hard task to enthuse teachers to pour their all into student achievement.

And, to what end should they even do so? Teaching feels like a thankless job sometimes, often repetitive with very little pay. Teaching conditions and pay structures are far clearer in the coaching school systems.

There is also a very clear sense of achievement measured in admissions to the medical or engineering colleges. And a very real chance that the teacher might become a star, a name and cutout on a billboard, as we see in the town of Kota that specialises in coaching and mass tutorials. School teachers almost never become stars. Their efforts are rarely recognised or celebrated. Students rarely seek admission to a school (or move into a town) for the sake of that one teacher. Schools are designed around the collective, not the individual, performer.

It is also rather sad that in this day and age we still measure performance by inputs — which are stipulated or inflexible, or even outputs over which one has only partial control. If a school manages to admit only clever students, then obviously the achievement levels are higher. Not just examination results, all-round achievement is also easier to demonstrate with supportive home structures that foster extra-curricular performance. Most importantly, teachers have more fun with bright children and enjoy teaching more — though some will argue that teaching slower students and seeing a transformation is more satisfying. That is true, and at the core of achievement. Bright or slow students apart, all teachers are motivated by this moment of impact when the light comes on.  All good schools and all good teaching is about transformation. But nothing in school systems is about this change. Schools are designed for stability, discipline, respect, segregation by age, fixed lessons, set textbooks and known examination patterns.

If all good learning is about this movement from darkness to light, it is also true that the path is shown by good teachers. Research proves that the biggest contribution to school achievement is by teachers and head-teachers. The challenge for us is to make school fun for them, to give them clear goals and to reward them for the value they add. We need to find ways to help teachers to grow in their profession and find the recognition for the value they add, lest we lose the best ones to coaching and tuition schools.

The writer is an education strategy consultant who has lived, worked and taught in London for over a decade. She is now based in New Delhi.

This was published in the Pioneer on Thursday, May 4, 2012. Link here: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/51543-reward-able-teachers.html

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