Love Your Students

“Love is the not easy. But for teachers who truly want their students to learn, there is no other choice.” So ended the author of the book Dear Teacher on his/her seminal article “Love Your Student.” Knowledge and Love are two important things that teacher must have. “What is your philosophy of teaching,” s/he asked.

  1. In this article, I learnt that a teacher’s love for students is operationally defined as work—work out knowing and work out loving learning. I learnt that there is always “something new-a new way of approaching teaching and learning.” I learnt that love for students is felt strongly in the most extreme situation as students talking at the top of their voices, going to class without assignments, and totally unappreciative of what teachers are doing. Most of all, I valued my teaching-learning philosophy, even more. I strongly believe that no teacher must be allowed to stand in front of his/her student without a worldview of his/her own; whilst a teacher who holds on a philosophy without changing it must be guillotined.
  2. I honestly do not have anything I do not clearly understand. I guess the author sums up well the National Competency-Based Teachers’ Standards—knowledge (of curriculum, planning, assessment, and reporting), learning environment that is sensitive to the diversity of learners, and the social regard for learning.
  3. As a student, I used to think that education is framed by spoonfeeding the textbook content. As a beginning teacher, I struggled teaching to finish the contents of a book in order to quantify learning and justify teaching. And as a person, I used to think that changing my principles in life is changing who I am. So I’d rather not change at all. But then, the article made me reflect on the rudiments of these ideas and how I have changed to be that person the article refers to. As I self-studied about education, joined seminars, workshops, and conferences, downloaded iTune University, TedTalks and other webinars and videoblogs; stuff my player with podcasts on education, I began to realise, teaching is creating your own style in teaching changing contents. The textbook must not define the teacher. The teacher does, as much as he is shaped by his/her context. What quantifies learning and justifies teaching are the learners themselves being considered in the planning, and even them deciding where to begin the teaching-learning experience. Lastly, I could change my principles in teaching, and I can do it as often as possible, with the learners in mind.
  4. Probably not with the article itself, but I’d like to look into the concepts of knowledge and love. How much amount of knowledge are we to input? How much should be left for the learners to do by themselves? Is love so difficult to actualise in the classroom? Although content knowledge is important, a teacher who has depth and breadth of knowledge is someone who just not propel the top ten into superior level of achievement but also the bottom ten to have a level of achievement where they can have a sense of pride. At that moment they achieve it, it might not be very high, but the progress they made is significant enough for fireworks. I do not think loving learners is difficult. It is hard if you look at teaching as something that puts food in the table; if you look at teaching as a business transaction; mostly when you are not a disciple of christ. It is the last one that makes you love students as you love people, genuinely.
  5. A good study may focus on evaluating teachers who are already in the field against the NCBTS, and measuring the perception of undergraduates towards NCBTS. The first is to check whether a teacher is aligned or not with the NCBTS; while the second is to imprint the significance of the principles in the NCBTS in the minds of would-be teachers. A survey about teacher’s personal philosophy may also be a good one, and its practice inside the classroom, with actual responses from the students to validate
  6. As a matter of learning from this text, let me just for a moment. On one hand, if we look into the system of public schools, the upper sections’ needs are met way because the most intelligent teachers are more likely to land there. But that is a minimal percent. Let’s admit that somehow school culture are exclusive, favoring the so-called intellectual sections. Meanwhile, the lower sections are more in number. Aren’t supposed the smart teachers staying teachers in the lower sections and taking the challenge to help these kids gain the confidence in a level of achievement they could be most proud of? Then we ask ourselves, how come we produce substandard HS graduates, not actually fit for college tasks? If the norm lies there and we don’t do something about what data shows, are we not who Einstein refers to when he said insanity is doing the same thing for over 100 years and expecting a different result?

It is not the United States that we must look into in terms of rudimentary school reforms. It is Finland. Topping International assessments like PISA is a feat, but when you learn that they do that unintentionally, be astonished. Finland simply have high achievement through its strong support system: teaching is not just a noble, but highest paid and most respected profession. In fact, the smartest ones becomes the teacher. They do not assign numerical grades but rather checklist and rubrics of student achievements. They do not prepare to test and for test but lifelong learners by exposing students to reading for variety of uses, skills practices not rote memorising contents, and the 21st themes and skills alignment.

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Give Praise Sparingly

Consider the book Nurture Shock where the concept of “Raise children’s self-esteem by praising them constantly” is debunked. According to Carol Dweck’s study at Columbia University praise may not be the panacea at all because it made students less risk taking and fearful of committing mistakes. This is a learning-reaction to that

1. First, I learnt that what experts used to say as panacea for students to succeed is now a hoax. If in the 1970s and 1980s, children’s self-esteem were raised by praising them constantly, today calls for a new yardstick. Research evidence of more than 200 studies suggests that more praise merely resulted to bloated egos. Second, I find Dweck’s finding unsurprising, such that, kids who exert consistent efforts outsmart the ‘smart’ or the innately intelligent ones. Weren’t they really smart after all? And third, I learnt that the author does not mean do not praise kids at all, but praise moderately and appropriately. Excessive praise, according to Standfor scholars, backfires into students becoming less persistent in tasks, more eye-checking with the teacher, and using more inflected speech.

2. I do not understand clearly yet why is there a sudden shift of perspective about praise. Could this be a matter of what Thomas Kuhn called the validity of a thesis or scientific conjectures is established by its irrefutability? Could this stem from the intergenerational categorisation: baby boomers, generation X, Y, and Z, i.e., each is characterised by unique traits and must be dealt with a unique approach? I do not understand, yet, the context where too much praise can produce students who avoid risks and lack autonomy.

3. I used to think that praise could boost one’s confidence, that the praise “I believe in you” is the antidote to reticent and laidback children, and that it is all right to create a culture of high expectations for children vis-a-vis stuffing them with praises as some sort of scaffold. But then I realised that praising children excessively may bloat one’s ego too much; that “I believe in you” phrases can be used sparingly to extract its maximizing effect; and that putting students into high pressure environment at an early stage could rob them off early of their childhood. There is such things as ‘level-appropriate’ and ‘age-appropriate’ teaching-learning.

4. I do not see clearly how the research of psychologist Carol Dweck from Columbia University and the article “The Inverse Power of Praise” published by Po Bronson  and Ashley Marryman could impact directly the state of Filipino parents in children? Is the concept of withholding praise applicable to a society and culture, like ours? Or must there be a different approach? Typically, a Filipino’s reaction towards praise is a ‘hindi naman’ or a ‘medyo’ lang.

5. A good study would probably be an experimental one, where one group will be given moderate levels of praise, while the other will not be given anything at all. This is to prove the hypothesis, “Too much praise can be bad.” Another one would probably be a study focused on the the effects of praise to academically inclined students or the grade conscious (GC). Semi-structured interview or focused group discussion can be conducted before them to find out if praise have made them fearful of committing mistake, less risk-taking, used inflected speech (answers have intonation of questions) too often, very competitive, and resort to cheating, if needed. That could be aptly titled, “The Making of a Grade Conscious and How Teachers Play as the Culprit: What Excessive Praises Can Do?”

6. I learnt from this article that contextualising praise is very important, but taking the study’s implication as a god is a form of neocolonialism. Their context is different from ours. New York is different from Manila; Manila’s is slightly different from Palawan. The amount of praise to give may still be relative to the context. The collective space where New Yorker children live may be enough to boost their confidence, compared to children here, who because of poverty, may not have that confidence in the first place.

I learnt also that this may not be a question of praise at all, but a question of grading in the context of Philippine schools. Here, the need for praise stems not to measure learning and achievement but to increase a grade in order for a child to pass. To say that a child gets 75 or 95 makes no difference if the child is motivated to get that grade more than to learn a concept or  a skill. What motivates that praise? we should be keen with our intention, often we miss out on learning because the grade is a god-panacaea. Teach to grade or Teach to learn?

If we look into grades as motivation of giving praise, we see that grades have values because of their necessity as a driver for students to strive inside the classroom. Unfortunately, even if tons of studies suggest its demeaning and dehumanising effect to the child, its parting the-red-sea tendency to create social division in the class: the brainy and the imbecile, schools have not significantly reformed itself. Even the K+12 has numerical value still, when the letter grade could be use to measure achievement not in a whole set skill but specific skills a child may need to focus on at a particular moment of his learning and development.