Thursday, November 15, 2012


Sunday November 11, 2012

Challenges at the end

TEACHER TALK BY MALLIKA VASUGI

While teachers in the better classes should count their blessings, those managing the end classes have more on their plate besides putting up with the dismal attitude and apathy of their charges.

WHILE almost every school teacher in the country is relieved that the term has nearly ended and that the school holidays are only a few days away, there are definitely some who are more relieved than the others.

Quite possibly at the top end of this “more-relieved-than-you” list are those who have had to endure a gruelling year of being the form teacher of an “end” class.

Teachers who have never worked anywhere other than high-performance schools with minimal discipline problems may never truly appreciate what the position of “class-teacher to the end class” really means.

In fact, the end-class in their schools may very well be equal to the most advanced class in another school.

The plain truth is no matter which way you look at it, and all else being equal, class teachers of the end classes definitely have more on their plates compared to those of the better academic achievers.

This is a fact that can be verified by most teachers who have in their years of service been class teachers at both ends.

Sometimes the status of a class, or which “end” it belongs to, is pretty obvious by its physical app-earance.

Reason to rejoice

The ambience when you enter to teach students in the first or most advanced class at times can actually cause delight. Chairs and tables are in perfect order and students in crisp neat uniforms.

All the boys have their shirts perfectly tucked in, “correct” hair length, and ties in place. The classroom notice boards are testimonies of the students’ creativity and achievements. The class motto is emblazoned on the smudge-free walls with little messages of inspiration tucked in between.

The teacher’s table has a very nice fake-lace tablecloth and there is even a little vase of silk gardenias at the corner. The floor looks clean and the waste paper baskets have been emptied. Everyone stands up promptly to greet you when you enter with looks of such earnest expectation that at that very moment, you are convinced that you are truly fulfilling your life’s calling.

If you have had the good fortune to be the class teacher of this class for the year you have even more reason to rejoice. You never have to worry about your class being given the lowest marks when the “class cleanliness” patrol team makes its rounds.

You never have to cringe with embarrassment during school assemblies when the name of your class keeps popping up for various “achievements” like “untidiest class of the week”, “class that hasn’t settled it’s magazine fund”, “class that hasn’t submitted parental consent form”, “class that left all its lights and fans on after school”, “class where cigarette stubs were found” and the list goes on.

Oh no! You never have to worry about these things at all.

If you are the class teacher of the first class, then all you have to worry about is how to disguise your feeling of smugness and fake a modest smile when you go up to receive trophies for achievement on behalf of your class.

A different turn

If you have been designated class teacher of the end class however, things take an entirely different turn.

One of the first things you would have to learn is to take deep breaths or focus on how to maintain an air of calm each time you have to face your students.

In fact, there may be times when you were walking towards the class you hope certain students who generally give you a rough time during the lesson have not turned up in school that day.

But no such luck, because even as you enter the class you see one of them standing on his desk with a broom in his hand trying to touch the ceiling fan. (He tells you later that he was trying to make it go faster, the weather being so hot and all).

His friend the other student who makes you wonder why you signed up for retirement at 60 (instead of sensibly sticking to 55), is surrounded by a group of admiring classmates as he demonstrates the right way to make a cockroach (the one he caught from the overflowing dustbin) go up and down your arm!

Nobody stands up when you enter. In fact, they haven’t even noticed that you have entered the classroom.

After several vain attempts to awaken the monitor who is sprawled over his desk deep in sleep, you give up and ask them if they had had any problems with the previous day’s homework.

All of them shake their heads even though they have no idea what you are talking about.

You proceed with the day’s lessons. You tell them to take out exercise book 1.

They begin to dig deeply into their bags and some of them manage to find the book.

It’s a bit tattered to be sure and much thinner than any exercise book has a right to be, but well, when you are in the end class, you have to be grateful for the little things in life.

Like the fact that they do have an exercise book for your subject even if some of the pages have been used for History notes (you don’t teach History) and others for song lyrics!

If you are the form teacher of this particular class, your ordeal doesn’t end when you leave the class. Class ordeal

Apart from having to send the many letters to parents regarding their children missing school or other discipline problems, which can take up a large amount of your time considering the number of classes you have, you may have to single-handedly be responsible for the cleanliness and order of your classroom.

The duty roster seems to have vanished from the notice board and nobody admits to it being their turn to sweep the floor or arrange the desks.

At times you wonder how they can sit and continue animated conversations with each other in the midst of what looks like a rubbish dump instead of a classroom

Other problems include general untidiness, usually too-long hair (for boys) and too short skirts (for girls).

It is at times, almost impossible to collect completed student forms when you need them and often you end up doing the job for them just to meet deadlines.

The thing about your class that actually fills you with the most dismay sometimes is their apathetic nature and careless attitude towards life in general.

It is this, rather than the lack of academic achievement that teachers of these classes are generally concerned about.

This sometimes leads to frustration which makes us feel unfulfilled and almost envious of teachers of classes who seem to be reaping glorious academic harvests.

Sometime we wonder whether our students’ attitudes are the way they are because they belong to classes at the end, or whether they are in the end classes because of their attitudes. The cycle seems to be vicious.

We sigh with relief knowing that usually the school policy shifts from teachers at both ends in alternate years, and chances are that you will be having a more “advanced” class next year.

However, we can’t seem to shake off the uneasy feeling about whether we could have done something more to instil some sense of pride and self-esteem among such students to make a change.

Next year we tell ourselves, there is always next year!

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=%2F2012%2F11%2F11%2Feducation%2F12262211&sec=education