Wednesday, December 14, 2011

End of Year

This was my first mentor class as an educator!! These are the 19 individuals who saw me at some of my best moments and some of my worst ( probably more worse than best!)

A few weeks prior, we had a reflections session. My Grade 10's had the opportunity to tell me exactly how they felt about me, no matter good or bad.The thought daunted me at first, but I  have learned so much from that session and realised how much more they had taught me during the year. As much as the teacher's role is to grow the learner, whether academically or emotionally. I strongly feel that they give us so much more than we can ever hope to impart on them.

So Grade 10.2's 2011, I thank you for the lessons not only allowing me to impart some knowledge on you, but also for your unconditional love towards me during this year. You have been awesome!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nolo, the Academic

Problem Statement
The most critical problem which could be singled out as the most critical issue contributing nationally to poor educational standards and matriculation results lies with the educator's intent. Attention is paid on educating the educator and not engaging the learner. Based on my training as an educator my 'plan of action' in teaching is to produce good marks from learners. On the surface, this can be seen as a good intention because good marks result in entrance into tertiary institutions which ultimately leads to good careers. Beneath the surface, however one finds that because my attention as an educator is on the end result of good marks, the learners ultimately become a means to an end for me therefore I end up serving myself and not the learner.

Educators are trained to grow academically through degrees and short courses with the thought that this is what will produce better results from learners, but no attention is paid to the educator's personal growth. According to Schuitema's Transactional Correctness Model, in personal growth, the focus is no longer on taking but on giving instead ( Schuitema 2004:19). It further stipulates that personal growth is an ongoing process where motive is continuously clarified. In this process of personal growth, one's motives are a combination of serving one's self and serving others. The more one matures the more emphasis is placed on serving others rather than one's self. One can therefore conclude that with personal growth comes less focus on self interest, in this context producing good marks in order for our education system to be held in high esteem.

In the attempt to improve our education system we have focused on reforming what procedures, processes and technologies that already exist in order to make them more effective. This, according to Schlechty, should not be the approach. Rather, we should focus on transforming these entities (Schlechty; 2009: 3). Transformation to Schlechty entails the change from one form to another form entirely (Schlechty;2009:3). Perhaps we as educators should consider the prospect of changing the way we approach education. Because my attention as an educator is on the production of good marks and meeting assessment standards set by the department of education, I am essentially exploiting the learners for my own gain. Furthermore, learners can see this exploitation, because most learners ( myself included when I was in high school) see their high school careers as a process to get through as quickly as possible to gain emancipation and independence and not a place where learning and growth can take place for that very emancipation. They move on to university with that same attitude towards the system -I must exploit to gain- they study towards a career they feel will get them the most out of society and ultimately become exploiters themselves because that is what we taught them in high school.
In some ways transformation has already been taken place in our country since 1994 because educating is no longer educator centred. A teacher is no longer the person with all the knowledge and imparts that knowledge to learners who then take it in and regurgitate it in a test at the end of the term. More responsibility is now placed on the learner for learning to take place. The learners are now expected to depend on aspects such as personal experience as a guide towards that learning. They are required to use use critical thinking to engage with a problem or situation and not just what they their teacher told them to do. By doing this, one can see how the intent is to grow responsible members of society. One also can see how the learner's background is made more relevant and important for the learners academic growth, but if our attention is continuously on their results, all of this becomes futile. Even as I consider this form of transformation, I still feel it is not enough. We as educators, especially those who have been teaching for decades, still fall back on how we have always been doing it and say that we have done our part; any failure by the learners is their responsibility and not our own. When it becomes too hard to focus on the learners needs and adjust our teaching to those needs we fall back on familiar patterns and if that does not produce better results, we place the problem of bad results and low teaching standards on the learners' inability to work for us and not on our unwillingness to “alter the beliefs, values, meanings-the culture- in which programs are embedded” (Schlechty; 2009: 3).

According to Tyler, the curriculum involves planning, implementing and evaluating (Booyse & Du Plessis; 2008). One way of understanding the curriculum is to view it as a blueprint. The blueprint of a building serves as the starting point of the building process. It is the set used to stimulate thinking about teaching and learning. It is the plan, the skeleton for learning and teaching. The curriculum stipulates the activities, opportunities and experience in learning and teaching, but the curriculum, with all its plans, is not enough because it is only the beginning of the teaching and learning process. At some point all those plans need to be implemented. To make the curriculum effective, one has to first flesh it out in terms of knowledge and content. According to Stenhouse's view of the curriculum and program development, “a plan changes in the process of implementation” ( Booyse, Du Plessis 2008: 23). Therefore the education system cannot depend solely on plans. The curriculum needs to be more flexible to the needs of the child and as it stands now, the curriculum works with where it wants the learner to end up and not where the learner is at the beginning of the learning process. According to Schuitema, “ when I look at someone from the point of view of wanting to get something out of him or her, my real intention and attention is not on the person. It is rather on the outcome that I am trying to manage by using the person.” ( Schuitema 2004: 9). In view of this, because my outcome is to get good results at the end of the academic year, the learner becomes a means to my end and not a person who is to be respected and whose needs so often go further than just the academic. I am therefore bending the learner's will to serve myself. Our actions in the classroom and in our engagement with learners counts just as much as the learner's actions do.

According to Schuitema, “if you give people proper attention, you cultivate conditions where people seek to be correct with you” (Schuitema 2004: 42). I feel that lack of personal growth is the most critical issue in our education system, because according to Schuitema's Transactional Model, personal growth allows us as educators to engage learners thereby having a mutually enabling relationship with them and not one that just takes from them. According to Schuitema, where our attention is is where our intention lies therefore if our attention as educators is solely on good results, our intention is then on the data we collect and not on the learners academic and personal progress. Once our attention is on the learner as a person and not on the results the learner can produce, it is then that we can truly engage the learner on a personal level thereby cultivating an inviting learning environment where learning and good results take place. The results should be seen as a default result of our engagement with the learner and not the aim itself.

There is a disconnect between what we teach and what an assessment tool measures. Teachers are given the standards without clarification or commentary resulting in different interpretations of those standards and therefore different interpretations of the assessments. It is therefore argued by Bambrick – Santoyo that standards are meaningless until how the standards will be assessed is defined (Bambrick–Santoyo;2010: 8). We find ourselves in a situation where our attention is on meeting the assessment standards and not on adapting our teaching according to the learner's needs and towards the assessment standards. Bambrick–Santoyo further argues that it should be the assessment that defines the standard and not the other way around. Assessment should be viewed as the starting point and not the end point. We as educators should work towards assessing first and then teach towards the standards of that assessment. In doing so, I am continuously challenged not to stick to a pattern, but to consider where my learners are and helping them to build on what they know. Meeting standards set by the department of education is necessary, but often makes it difficult to measure a teacher's success or the learners' growth based on a list of standards. Assessment therefore needs to happen at all levels of teaching and not just at the end of the teaching process where the educator is collecting marks for reports. This can be done through tests at the the beginning of the lesson. Setting up a five sentence PDN (Please Do Now) to be done at the beginning of an English lesson then doing an exit slip of more difficulty at the end of the lesson helps me to assess whether learning has taken place and if it hasn't, I can tweek my teaching to tackle the area where my learners struggle. In doing this I have paid less attention is on the standards set by the department and the production of good results from learners and more attention on what the learners do not know and consistently adapting my own teaching techniques to reach the learners' ever changing needs in the classroom, it is then that we will truly engage the learner and ignite learning in them, because it is then that our teaching is truly learner-centred.

This is why personal growth is so important among us as teachers because if we are truly mature we no longer see only ourselves and the outcomes we want to reach through the learners. Instead, it is at this time of disregarding ourselves and our capabilities that we can really see the learner and adjust our teaching to meet them at their needs. This is not to say that we should forget about ourselves, but rather that in being fully self- aware and in understanding ourselves, we begin to move towards no longer being so focused our insecurities as educators and what we want because we have worked through our own insecurities and are no longer so self absorbed. It is good to self evaluate, but once we have pinpointed our shortcomings we should advance towards improving on them. This, I believe is the intention of the workshops and peer reviewed classes.

The difficulty with this point of view is that it is really hard to see every single learner that I teach for the full duration of the lesson. Focusing on what I need to accomplish by the end of the lesson is often easier than trying to engage them and help them grow. There are so many expectations and standards that educators struggle to meet as it is. There is curriculum to focus on, new teaching strategies to try and most importantly deadlines to meet and at the end of the day if these demands are not are not met, we have people that we will answer to for that. However I do feel that continuous assessments will go a long way to easing this load. Just by having many PDN's in one week of lessons, I can assess my learners' growth and facilitate the advancement of that growth, but I also have a wealth of data to choose from should I need to hand in marks reflecting their growth even though my intention through those PDN's and exit slips was an attempt to engage with learner and see their needs. The marks and results are now a default result of my first intention.


  1. Booyse & Du Plessis, 2008. The Educator as Learning Program Developer.
  2. Schlechty, 2009. Leading for Learning- How to Transform Schools into Learning Organizations.
  3. Bambrick -Santoyo, 2010. Driven by Data
  4. Schuitema, 2004. Intent.