– Lily Tomlin
Let us redefine the word “Teacher”.
Teaching is not a job; it is an art. An art hidden behind a load of responsibilities. It lays the foundation of discovering mysteries, solving problems, and training our minds to question, explore, and investigate. To a world where knowledge is a treasure, teaching is a mirror that reflects future generations.
You can see that teaching is not an easy task. It is, in fact, a multi-task where a teacher has to combine creativity, intelligence, and passion when teaching productively, because after all, everything is a product of teaching. Teachers are the agents of the future fueling students with lifelong passion for learning.
But it is a matter of how we define the word “Teacher” in today’s society. Some think of a 50 year-old teaching materials than no one can digest, a 14 year-old teaching students her age, or a guy changing the world one video at a time. Others imagine the wisdom of Confucius, Socrates, and Anne Sullivan.
All around the world, nations are trying to improve the performance of their education system and schools, but with creating more standardized tests, the future doesn’t look bright. To boost the performance of our schools, we need to invest in teachers. According to an article written in 2009, Invest in teachers to raise achievement, “Children in classes taught by the best teachers learn four times faster than those in classes taught by the poorest ones.” Professor Dylan William of the Institute of Education, London says “Children in the most effective classrooms will learn in six months what students in an average classroom learn in a year, and students in the least effective classrooms will take two years to learn it." A bad teacher can leave a student like a wrinkled paper.
Selection: Finland has set very high-standards that one should meet to become a teacher. According to The selection of teachers in Finland is as strict as that for doctors leaving schools in a very healthy state, written in 2011. “Last year, from 1,258 applications to enter school teacher training at the University of Helsinki, around 362 were selected for final exams and interviews, with only 123 accepted – an extremely picky applicant success rate of 9.8%.” “Teachers in every primary or secondary school face five years before they are released into their classrooms to teach – three years for their degree, and then a compulsory two-year Masters. Then there’s an optional two-year doctorate on top of that. Kindergarten teachers face a three-year bachelor degree before they are qualified.” The fact that reforms in the 1980s transferred teacher training to universities says it all.
Freedom: Regardless of what school you go to in Finland, you’ll be offered the same equal academic opportunities. This consistency is a result of strong curriculum and good teachers that believe education is a human right and should be given equally to all students.
A popular motto in Finland is “We trust our teachers”. While teachers have specific curricula to follow and compulsory subjects to teach, they are also given freedom to design their own lesson plans and interpret subjects as they see fit making sure they maintain learn-through play childhood philosophy. The country’s liberal approach to curriculum proves that teachers are experts in their fields. The curriculum makes sure freedom and flexibility is given to every teacher and student in every classroom as it ensures that the knowledge gained is applied, not only remembered. On exams, students are expected not just to give the correct answer but also to explain why. Little homework, and hardly any standardized tests, leaves Finland on top.
In Hong Kong, teachers are encouraged to “Teach less, learn more”. A simple motto will shift the focus from “quantity” to “quality” in education. The idea is to transform learning from reading heavy textbooks to learning by doing. Fewer lectures and more ideas coming to life flicker excitement in students. This method aims to engage the mind of students and change the perspective on why we teach and how we teach. It intends to keep natural learning in the DNA of our students. We all learn without necessarily being taught. It is only when we nurture students’ talents and interests in a welcoming environment and flexible teaching methods that we prepare them for lifelong learning. Providing questions, doesn’t mean giving answers. Teach less, learn more allows students to explore potential answers and builds the skills of lifelong learning, wonderment, curiosity and problem solving.
Teacher’s development: The undersecretary for education in Hong Kong, Kenneth Chen says “The culture of learning must start with the teaching force”. A highly developed practice called “lesson study,” was originated in Japan but it’s now a widespread professional development practice. In lesson study, a group of teachers observe each other's teaching methods inside the classroom and collaborate together to refine teaching practices and develop lesson plans. Teachers plan an actual lesson and observe how it works. Afterwards, teachers demonstrate strategies based on the results they received after discussions. They point out lesson’s strengths and weaknesses and propose suggestions for improvements. You can see there are countless teachers’ development practices, but it is when we invest in teachers, when we give them freedom, we can see results in generations to come.