Wed, Feb 25, 2009
The Star/Asia News Network
Challenges of a class teacher

I HAVE always thought that the most significant but understated portfolio among school staff is that of the class teacher. But then, of course every one who holds any portfolio in school tends to think that his/hers is the most important task, with the most responsibility, and that others with different duties have it good compared to them.

The head of discipline thinks that he is chiefly accountable for students' good behaviour and rule-keeping and subsequently, the school environment.

The co-curriculum co-ordinator thinks he is the one responsible for how the various teams representing the school perform at inter-school competitions, which would, in turn, have a bearing on its image.

The subject heads think that since, after all, it is examination results that are the real determinant of school status, they therefore have the heaviest burden of ensuring that the academic performance of students is continuously improving.

And the administrative people think that they have the toughest job of all, which is to ensure that teachers toe the line at all times. And so it goes, with everyone thinking how much more difficult or trying his/her job is compared to the next person's.

Onerous responsibility

To an extent, of course, they are all right. Every job assignment in school has its own challenges or inconveniences.

But there are times when one particular duty has more than its fair share of challenges, which is not proportionate to its status or recognition in the implicit ranking order of teachers' duties.

The class teacher's job is one example of this. After all, almost every teacher is a class teacher, so what can be so special about it, they reckon, forgetting just how much of their time, energy and emotions go into this seemingly mundane job every school day.

And so teachers often place other 'more' special-sounding duties above this and add Form/Class Teacher as an afterthought, or if there is some remaining space in the form they are supposed to fill.

It is a little strange that the most important roles we play in our lives are also the ones we least recognise as being important. The class teacher, on the day of her appointment, becomes responsible for the students under her charge.

And for the entire school term she is like a proxy-mother who is responsible not only for whatever is going on with the students in her class but also the physical features of the classroom itself - from broken window panes to the scrunched up balls of paper beneath students' desks.

But there is discrimination even with the delegation of class teacher duties.

Preferential treatment

"Cronyism and preferential treatment reign supreme in the allocation of teachers' annual duties," or so, my friend Dilla said, with a knowing look.

"How else do you account for the same teachers always getting the 'best' classes and some others, the end ones? "Although," she added, "it could be that some teachers have a particular... er ... affinity, for being at the lowest end of most things. By the way, isn't this the third year in a row that you've been assigned an end-class?"

It was the second class from the end, I coldly informed Dilla. But yes, in the past few years, I seem to have been on an end-class streak.

And yes, it does require a certain skill to be able to handle students from the end-classes, especially if you are the form teacher of one.

Over the years, I have gotten wise to a few things about end-classes and I keep them constantly in mind.

First, there are actually two categories of end-classes in the average Malaysian school. If you have the double misfortune of being assigned an end-class which is not only academically slow but filled with students who are on the discipline master?s due-for-suspension list, then you have to be extra vigilant.

Get a whole bunch of surat amaran and carbon paper in your file because chances are that a major chunk of your time will be occupied with dispensing letters for non-attendance or misconduct.

If a particular student in your class has been absent for a while and his friend tells you that he is visiting his ailing grandmother, check it out.

For all you know, the hale and hearty grandmother may be busy discussing the finer points of mahjong with her buddies, while her errant grandson has decided to extend his Chinese New Year holidays by a couple of weeks.

When it comes to the teaching and learning of your subject, you have to remember who your students are. If they were able to write 350-word compositions independently or solve trigonometric problems easily, would they be in your class in the first place?

Providing guidance

You have to give them stuff that they can handle and probably a lot of props and guidance along the way.

Again, all this is nothing new to most of you, but you sometimes wonder why the targeted examination results of classes like these, as stipulated by the administrators, remain ridiculously unrealistic.

If your end-class comprises students who are only weak academically but are otherwise pretty well-behaved and eager-to-please, then you are in luck.

With these students, however, you have to be extremely specific in your instructions, which is something many end-class "specialists" like you already know.

For instance, if your school is organising another round of those gotong-royong activities because some big shot from the state education department is due to visit, it is not enough for you to tell them to be prepared with the necessary paraphernalia - you know, old rags, dusters and such.

You've got to provide the tools for the job and then instruct them on how to do it, step by step. It's a bit like being a site supervisor. For starters, perhaps you've got to go through the old drawers in your kitchen and pull out an assortment of what qualifies as cleaning rags and dusters.

Also, try to locate those old calendar pictures you wanted to get rid off but didn't have the heart to. Provided they don't cause the Censorship Board to descend upon your school, you can use them to cover up strategic spots in your classroom. Like the left corner at the back, where the previous class had recorded with permanent ink the physical attributes of particular teachers in the school.

Remember that gaudy, mismatched floral arrangement your elderly aunt gave you for Christmas five years ago and which you only displayed whenever she came to visit?

Well, now you can tell her that her present was so beautiful you decided to display it prominently on the teacher's table in your classroom.

Come to think of it, perhaps being assigned an end-class isn't such a bad thing after all.

And when you hear the form teacher of the first class complaining loudly about how her students are too occupied with studying and homework to see to classroom "beautification:, you can have a little chuckle and think about Datuk Shahrukh Khan and Jackie Chan spewing motivational words in Bahasa Malaysia on your classroom walls.

And keep your fingers crossed. Who knows, your class may even clinch the keceriaan award one of these days.

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