"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Want to Be a Teacher?

Having seen and read quite a number of applications for admission to medical school as well as premed programs, a common theme arises. There seems always a loved one who has recently suffered a medical condition. The applicant thus draws from this experience the desire to become a physician in the hope of contributing to the well-being of other people in the future. The medical profession is indeed highly attractive to students who have done well in basic education. It is unfortunate that the dream of becoming a doctor one day has sometimes translated to an unhealthy grade consciousness. Sometimes, there is even the impression that one simply must get an "A" in General Chemistry, for example, in order to get enrolled in a medical school. Of course, grades do matter, but from experience, I have seen that only the grades D or F in General Chemistry significantly matter. Getting these low grades in General Chemistry eventually vaporizes one's chances of getting accepted in a medical school. Still, students who aspire to enter medical schools feel that they need to be straight "A". Without any doubt, it is very good for the healthcare of the society that the medical profession is able to attract good and highly motivated students. Good grades, good scores in the Medical College Admission Test, good recommendation letters, and a good interview are all required to be admitted to a medical school in the United States.

How I wish that the same holds for education. It does, in Finland. Pasi Sahlberg, in an article in the Washington Post, shares the story of his niece, Veera, who was rejected when she first applied to a teaching school. All her grades were "A" and yet, during the interview, she found one question that was particularly challenging: "Why do you want to become a teacher when you could become a lawyer or doctor instead?" In Finland, it seems that medicine and law are not necessarily the top choices for excellent students. Surprisingly, it is the teaching profession that is most selective. In the Washington Post's article, Pasi shared what his niece wrote regarding why she wants to become a teacher:
“First is the internal drive to help people to discover their strengths and talents, but also to realize their weaknesses and incompleteness. I want to be a teacher because I want to make a difference in children’s lives and for this country. My work with children has always been based on love and care, being gentle and creating personal relations with those with whom I work. This is the only way that I can think will give me fulfillment in my life.”
There is a previous post in this blog, "Who here wants to be a teacher?", that describes the aspirations of two young children in the Philippines.

The following video is from Rappler.com, introducing us to these two kids ("Meet Enrico and Danica, Child Workers"):


These are the words from Enrico: 
Ang pangarap ko ay maging isang titser para maturuan ko iyong ibang kabataan na hindi pa gaano, wala pang gaanong kaalaman (My dream is to be a teacher so that I could teach children who don't know that much.)"
And from Danica: 
"Ang pangarap ko po sa buhay ay maging isang guro po. Kasi gusto ko pong matulungan yung mga tao tsaka yung mga bata na walang alam, kung pano magsulat, pano magbasa. Tsaka ipapaalam ko po sa kanila yung tungkol sa child labor po. (I aspire to be a teacher. Because I want to help those people and children who don’t know much, how to write, how to read. And I will tell them about child labor.)"  
Both children are among the 5.5 million child laborers in the Philippines.  
Veera's words combined with those of Enrico and Danica speak of a profession that demands great respect and recognition from society. These words are really no different from students who dream of becoming a physician. Every profession can be described by young minds in quite noble terms. The important question that society must address is whether a profession is attracting the talent required for the profession among its younger members.

Bruce D. Baker, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, recently wrote a thought-provoking article, "Ed Schools - The Sequel: Rise of the Intellectually Dead". He started his article with the following:

Warning: The following post contains the elitist musings of an ivory tower professor who has only professed at major research universities, who attended a selective liberal arts college & received his doctorate from an Ivy league institution (well… a branch of one… Teachers College at Columbia).
The article examines the current trends in teacher education in the United States. Baker used data from the National Center of Education Statistics to demonstrate changes occurring in the type of schools awarding advanced degrees in education in the US. Here are the findings that he cited:


After showing the above graphs, Baker writes (This is quite sarcastic):
In the most recent years, Nova Southeastern has remained strong… but now right up there are such stellar academic powerhouses as Walden, Capella and Phoenix! (and Argosy)… many of which probably occasionally show up as side-bar advertisements on my blog! (as they do when I log into facebook).
Seeing the trends above supports the opinion of Pasi Sahlberg regarding how the United States must address its challenges in K-12 education. Pasi says that the solution lies in something that is not "American". Relying on market forces to alleviate problems in public school education has not shown success in the past decades of education reform. One huge stumbling block is society's view of education as a means to get ahead. Competition and choice therefore become important in the dynamics of the educational system. Finland's success in education did not come from a "race to the top", but for a deep understanding that "education is for all". It places education at the same level as health care. Thus, teachers in Finland are as highly respected, if not more, as physicians.

Teacher quality is an important factor in student learning. The Philippines must therefore examine and address teacher quality if improvements in basic education are sought. Making the teaching profession attractive enough to entice excellent students from high school is a formidable task in a country where teachers are both overworked and underpaid. The Philippines likewise has a fast growing population and the demand for public school education has indeed outpaced the resources of the country. There are shortages in teachers, classrooms, and learning materials. Salary increases that will bring teachers' wages comparable to those of lawyers and doctors are not within reach. Finland had the advantage of having an egalitarian society at the beginning of its education reforms. There were no huge disparities to begin with among the various professions in Finland. Lifting the status of  teachers in Finland mainly involved a social aspect. This is not the case in the Philippines. However, even under the best conditions, the education reforms in Finland still took a significant amount of time.

The Philippines could begin with a similar exercise that Baker did. The Philippines must examine where the educators of teachers, the administrators, and supervisors are receiving their advanced degrees. This would be a good first step. The society should attract the best talent to these positions first. The society must impose high standards of research and education on these tracks. This would cost much less than addressing the hundreds of thousands of teaching positions in the country.  With education leaders lacking the exposure to research and rigorous training, it would be very difficult to uplift the status of the teaching profession in the country. It would be close to impossible to attract the best. Retired professor of marine science Flor Lacanilao has been emphasizing this need in his articles posted in this blog and other media. To some, his views may seem confrontational. The sad truth, however, is that ignoring his view precludes any real solution to the problems Philippine basic education faces. There is that old adage that says "B" people would only hire "C" people. And more importantly, "A" people would not want to work under "B" people.


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