How to teach English in Brunei.

What did you do in the holidays?

It was a simple writing task designed to ease the students back into school life after the holidays.

“I go shopping,” she wrote.

“I buy beg, shoe and cloth.”

Vocabulary and grammar are an issue. We’ll have to work on that.

Next one.

“I go to the shops,” he wrote. “I buy beg, shoe and cloth. I’m very happy.”

And so it continued. Nearly every student in this year 9 class spent their holidays shopping, and nearly all of them bought beg, shoe and cloth.

What are beg, shoe and cloth?

Shoe is supposed to be shoes. Beg is supposed to be bag, and cloth is supposed to be clothes.

I now had a decision to make. Either I find a way to start selling beg, shoe and cloth to Bruneians, or I find a way to teach the students how to finally write these words correctly.

I consulted my Scottish colleague, Sheila, with whom I shared the class, and we decided we had to do something to finally teach the students how to use these simple words correctly. We knew why they made the mistakes. Malay speakers do not use plural forms of nouns, instead use the noun twice to show two or more of a thing. Eye is mata in Malay, so eyes are mata-mata. Person is orang, so people are orang-orang. Cloth was partly the result of a difficulty with plural forms, and English words ending in ‘s’.

As for beg, this is a case of phonetic spelling. Malay is a largely phonetic language, and Malay speakers adopt this habit when using English. They pronounce bag like ‘beg’, so spell the word this way.

We arrived at the next class well armed. Then we began.

I stood in front of the class, waited for their undivided attention, then sat on the cracked concrete floor. I dropped my head and held up my hands, ready to receive something. I pretended to be sad, downtrodden and hungry. Students called out some terms in Malay and collectively realised that I was pretending to be a beggar asking for money or food.

“That is what beg means,” I explained. “It is a verb meaning to ask for something in a certain way. A person who begs is called a beggar, and the act is called begging.”

Done.

Now for part 2.

I called forward one of the female students.

“You’re my mother,” I told her “…and I’m your young son,” and this elicited laughter from the class.

“We’re in a supermarket shopping for groceries, and we’ve just arrived at the chocolates.”

“Mummy, mummy,” I pretended to plead. “I want a chocolate.”

Students laughed and the student understood her role.

“No, I’m not buying you chocolate son. Too much sugar.”

“Mummy, pleeeeaaaseee, give me chocolate,” I continued, with increasing desperation.

“Don’t you love me mummy,” and I started to sob either out of commitment to my performance, or from flashbacks of the endless mistakes in the writing tasks.

“That is another example of beg. But, the thing you use to carry other things is called a bag, and spelt b.a.g. – just like this one,” and I pointed to a student’s school bag.

Once the laughter subsided, we practiced the pronunciation of bag and beg, and revised the difference between the two.

Next, we had to tackle the word cloth.

Sheila stepped up.

She called two boys to the front of the class. Two cocky, arrogant boys with an unjustified confidence in their English language ability, even though they couldn’t spell bag. She complimented them on their appearance; their fancy Nike sports shoes, their immaculately gelled hair. They enjoyed the compliments.

Sheila produced a number of cleaning cloths, the type used to wipe up stains from a kitchen bench. She draped them over the boys shoulders, pinned a few to their sports uniforms and even draped some over their heads. The class burst into more rapturous laughter at the boys’ expense, as the style masters were reduced to mere mannequins for cleaning products.

“Is this how you dress when you go out?” Sheila asked.

“Is this what you wear when you go to a party? Do you wear blue cloth, red cloth, orange cloth. Do you mix and match the colours or just make one bold statement? Do people buy you cloth for your birthday presents?

And their classmates submitted to fits of laughter.

“At least it doesn’t matter if you spill something on yourself.”

Sheila then explained.

“This,” holding up a cleaning cloth, “…is a cloth.”

“Shirts, trousers, jeans, dresses, skirts, socks and jackets are clothes.” She then wrote the two words on the board, explained the difference again and had the students practice the pronunciation of each.

The boys were soon put out of their misery and we arrived at word number three.

This was a combined effort.

“Take off one shoe,” we ordered the students.

“Everyone take off one shoe. It doesn’t matter which one, just take off a shoe and leave it by your desk.”

Once the students stopped laughing and accusing each other of foot odour, we gave the next command.

“Now hop around the classroom on one foot.”

What?

“Hurry up, start hopping.”

They weren’t sure at first as to why they should hop around a classroom during an English lesson, but a few students realised it was more fun than endless grammar drills, so they started hopping, and soon the whole class was stumbling and laughing their way around the room. We continued this until we both stopped laughing, and then justified the activity.

“How many feet do you have?” we asked one student.

“Two”

“How many feet do you have?” we asked another.

“Two”

and so on around the room.

“So, everyone in this room has two feet, but apparently you only need one shoe. Most of you told us you bought one shoe at the shops, so you must only have one foot.”

Most students groaned at our Dad joke and the subsequent order to hop around the room, and then we practiced making the plural form of shoe.

Before the lesson ended, we revised the correct form and use of each word. Sheila and I left the classroom confident that we had finally corrected this glaring, simple and frustratingly common mistake in our students.

A week later, we sat down with confidence to review another writing task we had set our year 9 class. A task which taught us that most of our students love to go shopping

“…for beg, shoe and cloth.”

Who will teach Australia’s children?

Australia demands a qualified, dedicated and capable teaching workforce to prepare its youth for tomorrow, but will this workforce comprise of long-serving, permanent teachers, or will it rely on an increasing number of casual teachers in the near future?

Teachers are quitting the workforce. Countless reports indicate that up to 50% of teachers leave the occupation within the first five years. Exhaustion, disillusionment, low pay, long hours, poor student behaviour, parental pressure and increasing administrative demands are driving many young people away from the profession.

Some of these teachers might take time off to study, find a new occupation, travel or simply recover from the trauma of modern-day teaching. Many of them may also return to teaching on a casual basis because they still have bills to pay, and because they wish to remain in touch with education with thoughts of returning to the job full-time.

Casual teachers earn a reasonable daily rate and are not burdened with the same pressures of daily planning, preparation and marking. Nor do they have to complete reports, deal with parents, attend every staff meeting or collect data on all of their students. Essentially, casual teachers are not requited to complete the endless administrative tasks which drove many of them away from the occupation in the first place.

The result could see an increasing number of Australian school students taught by casual teachers.

Is casual teaching easier?

No. Casual teaching may require less administration outside of the classroom, but the demands in the classroom are greater. An Aussie tradition is to ‘muck up’ when the regular teacher is away, so the casual teacher deals with more challenging behaviour from students. Sometimes it’s an absolute nightmare. Casual teachers often accept this trade off in return for the chance to do their job, get paid and do something they could never do as a full-time teacher – leave the job at work.

Why is casualisation a problem?

Casualisation is akin to high rates of teacher turnover. Students see different teachers regularly, and each teacher has a different personality and teaching style. Teachers new to the class may not know exactly what was covered, or how it was taught, in the previous class, and will spend time catching up the previous lesson – or simply learning the names of the students.

In addition, each individual teacher may not be a subject expert. Schools attempt to match casual teachers to the subject in which they are trained, but this isn’t always possible, Consequently, the students are supervised but not necessarily taught.

The greatest disadvantage of the casualisation of the teaching workforce is the loss of a personal connection.

‘Teachers teach people not subjects’

This saying reminds teachers that they must see their pupils as people before they regard them as learners of a particular subject. All teachers accept this role. It is the role of mentor, older sibling, counsellor, confidante, role model and, sometimes, parent. This connection with a student can only be established over time and after regular meaningful contact, and this connection is very difficult to establish as a casual teacher.

Also, if more and more teachers are casual, who will fill the roles of home-room tutor, year co-ordinator or subject co-ordinator? The aforementioned positions all entail a degree of personal mentoring and counselling of students which is vital for their general wellbeing and academic performance. If more teachers are casual, fewer will accept the responsibility of ensuring the emotional wellbeing of the students.

Casual teachers move from class to class, subject to subject and school to school. An increase in casual teachers across Australia will leave a dearth of trusted adults in schools and increase the pressure on primary school students who are developing the foundations of their education, and on secondary school students who are negotiating adolescence.

Special needs

Students with special needs will also suffer in a casualised school system. Students with special needs require individual activities or teaching strategies, and the most effective strategies are developed over time and after consultation with support teachers, the student, parents, special needs experts and the full-time teacher. A casual teacher simply cannot cater for the individual needs of every student in a class they have never met. It’s impossible.

How can this be prevented?

The best way to prevent the casualisation of the teaching workforce is to keep teachers in the teaching profession. Fortunately, the methods required to achieve this are not at all complicated.

Pay teachers more

This demand is made and ignored year after year. Even after the enormous pressure placed on teachers during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, teachers in Australia still have not been promised a pay rise.

Teachers are lowly paid. Lowly paid in comparison to the hours worked and the pressure of their occupation. Lowly paid according to the importance of their role in society. A mid-level teacher in NSW earns around $80,000 per year; the same amount earned by some Sydney bus drivers. Poor wages drive many teachers away from the occupation.

Low wages also create problems for schools. Lowly-paid teachers cannot afford to live in expensive suburbs, even if renting. Thus, teachers working at schools in wealthy suburbs face a very long commute from more affordable suburbs, and schools sometimes struggle to find staff on a regular basis. Teachers could live closer to school, but their meagre wages will disappear before they can even dream of buying their own home or living without financial stress.

Increasing teacher’s salaries would also improve the standing of the occupation in Australian society. Teaching is a profession, but is paid much less than other professions, and is thus regarded as inferior. Australia is a capitalist society and the worth of a job is linked to its salary. Teachers in Australia are respectful, but not respected. In a capitalist society, teachers also have bills to pay and should be able to do so comfortably in return for educating the next generation of the country.

Fund schools adequately

Schools are not funded sufficiently in Australia. Government schools lack resources to provide a variety of meaningful activities to students, or even to teach the students basic skills and knowledge. This places more stress on teachers and forces many of them to buy essential resources out of their own pockets, dipping into their meagre wages.

Funding schools adequately would improve academic outcomes and in turn improve job satisfaction among teachers. This would keep many of them in the occupation for longer.

Stand up for teachers

Society as a whole needs to stand up for teachers. Not just through uttering vague statements reminding teachers that they are ‘valued’ and ‘important’. Teachers are too smart to be fooled by empty words. Society, education departments, individual schools and sometimes individual principals need to stand up for teachers.

Teachers need to be defended from parents. Many parents now attack teachers every time their child is reprimanded or punished, or when they receive unsatisfactory grades. These attacks are usually verbal, but often physical. While parents of the past would support the actions of teachers, now they attack teachers. Unfortunately, even the most ill-informed and unreasonable parents wield enormous power in schools and can destroy a teacher’s career, as well as their general wellbeing.

Principles, schools and education departments need to stop giving in to parents.

In addition, teachers need to be defended in their interactions with students. Every year, the daily behaviour of students seems to worsen. Every year, the power of teachers to deal with that behaviour is diminished. Defending teachers does not mean bringing back capital punishment. Never. It means allowing educated, trained and experienced teachers to take reasonable action to hold children accountable for their behaviour and to stop them acting in a way that destroys their own learning and the learning of other students in the class.

All of these measures would keep teachers in the profession for longer, and prevent the casualisation of the workforce.

Paper work

Paperwork is a frustration for every occupation, including teaching. The administrative load is increasing and falls under two categories: data collection and self-defence.

Data collection is ‘on trend’ in modern education. It is not a trend initiated by teachers. It was initiated by bureaucrats. Teachers are now forced to collect and report data on student attendance, behaviour, exam results, assessment results, homework, classwork…on top of their daily tasks of planning, preparation, marking, student feedback, playground duty…

A great surge in administrative tasks has created an enormous workload for teachers and has not helped a single child learn. The data goes to schools, educations or government departments, and appears to exist only to bolster a politician’s press release.

Data is also a necessary weapon of self-defence. Teachers are forced to justify every action they take in dealing with students and parents. Teachers are filling out endless forms and databases to justify every action they take at school in fear of criticism from students or parents. Data entry allows teachers to pre-empt complaints from students or parents which could see them reprimanded, suspended or even sacked.

If a secondary student refuses to read the set text in their English class, the teacher must make a note. The teacher must prove that they have advised the student to read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, because the class if studying ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. When the student proudly and publicly states that they are never going to read the novel, the teacher must create written evidence that they did everything possible to encourage the student to read the novel. When the student flies into a mad panic three days before the due date of the assessment task for ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ the teacher must provide yet more written evidence that they offered support to the student to help them pass an assessment for a novel they refused to read. The teacher must then use this written evidence to defend themselves when the parents complain to the school that their child is not able to complete the assessment task. The teacher must use the written evidence to defend themselves when the parents demand extra tuition for their child in the teacher’s lunch time or free period, so that the student who refused to read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ can pass the assessment task about ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. One wonders if this is what Harper Lee had in mind when she wrote the classic?

Australia faces the real possibility of a casualised teaching workforce and further erosion of overall academic standards. Teachers must be enticed to stay in the occupation, and this can be done through increasing teachers’ salaries and school funding, standing up for teachers, stripping parents of the power they wield over schools and removing the administrative load forced upon modern teachers.

Image: Element5digital

Thousands of NSW teachers issued with fines.

Thousands of NSW school teachers have been issued with fines on the eve of the summer holidays after being caught committing heinous acts of treason.

Every registered primary and secondary school teacher has received a fine of at least $100 from the NSW government, which must be paid in order for teachers to keep their jobs in 2021. It is believed similar fines have been issued to teachers throughout the country.

The penalty must be paid to a branch of the NSW government calling itself the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA), which then issues teachers with something called Accreditation. Without Accreditation, teachers cannot work in any recognised educational institution in the state.

NESA stated the fines were issued in retaliation for teachers committing crimes against the nation.

“Teachers are being punished for educating the next generation of Australians,” announced a spokesperson.

“They have done so willingly and ceaselessly, and against the wishes of the current state and federal governments. An educated population is harder to control. An educated population would never have elected a failed marketing man as prime minister. An educated population would never fall for Scott Morrison’s marketing spin. An educated population would not swallow Murdoch propaganda, and an educated population would never excuse the corruption of ‘poor Gladys’. For their continued insistence on educating the populace, teachers have been issued with fines.”

The punishment does not end with fines, however.

Once the fines are paid, teachers must then participate in mandated professional development sessions throughout the year. Most of these sessions will take place during teachers’ free time, and while some of the sessions are free, many also incur a charge. Thus, on top of their annual fine, lowly paid teachers are also forced to spend their hard earned money on work-related training with little or no tangible benefit to them or the children they teach.

NESA rejected claims that Accreditation simply adds another layer of paperwork to an already over beauracratised occupation.

“Without the processing of mandated fees and professional development sessions, our staff would not have any boxes to tick, and without boxes to tick, they would be at a loss.”

NESA also argues that Accreditation brings the teaching profession in line with other occupations such as law, medicine, and finance, which all have membership organisations upholding professional standards. Excited teachers then asked if teaching salaries would now be commensurate with those professions, but the government replied,

“No, that would be UnAustralian.”

Image: Element5Digital

Australian teachers are respectable, but not respected.

The occupation of teaching is respectable but not respected in Australia. The nation’s teachers are considered to be law abiding, trustworthy, patient, kind, reliable, dedicated and altruistic, but their profession is not afforded the same status as other professions.

Australians collectively adhere to the adage,

If you can, do, if you can’t, teach.

There is an underlying assumption that English teachers are all failed writers, Maths teachers are failed engineers and Art teachers are failed artists. PE Teachers are failed athletes, and none of the teachers could ‘hack it in the real world’. Teaching as a profession, especially at primary or high school level, is perceived to be well below other professions such as medicine, law, finance and IT.

Academia and intellect have never been highly valued in Australia. The country’s national heroes are athletes, farmers, soldiers and lifeguards, despite the fact that Australians have been behind inventions such as WiFi technology, the cochlear implant, the black box fight recorder, spray-on skin, the electronic pacemaker and permaculture…

Better you than me…

Australians constantly remind teachers of the challenges of their profession with remarks such as these. Aussies tell teachers, ‘I don’t know how you do it’, or ‘what you do is so wonderful’ – but underneath all of these statements is the message,

I’m glad you work as a teacher, so that I don’t have to.

Parents themselves will tell teachers,

you must have the patience of a saint‘ to put up with teenagers, even when it is their own teenager who most tests the teacher’s patience. These are all nice things to say, but none of them convey any sense of respect.

The land Down Under also has a famous disrespect for authority, including teachers. Secondary school teachers understand this and know that earning the respect of their pupils in the early stages of the school year is imperative. This is forgivable – students are children. A lack of respect from adults indicates underlying cultural issues in Australia, in which a profession so vital to the prosperity of the nation is severely undervalued. It is, however, possible to transform the respectable profession into a respected profession, in order to benefit teachers and the nation as a whole.

Pay the teachers or pay the price

Australian teachers need to be altruistic, because they earn so little. In NSW, the average, experienced teacher earns about $80,000 per year. This is a decent wage when compared to other occupations, but not when compared to other professions such as law, medicine and IT, and not when considering that a public bus driver in Sydney can earn the same amount.

Salaries must increase in order to attract the best and brightest graduates to the profession. Society complains that many young teachers lack basic numeracy and literacy skills, and that criticism is often justified. The best way to attract more capable graduates to the profession is to raise salaries. Don’t forget, Australia is an expensive country, and a capitalist country in which income determines the worth of an occupation, and in which income determines a person’s ability to enjoy a decent standard of living.

The country is already paying the price for a lack of respect for teachers. Literacy and numeracy rates among children continue to fall, and the country trails other comparable nations on standardised education outcomes. University undergraduates display poor command of literacy and numeracy, and Australia’s youth will be competing with young people from all over the world for employment in a globalised world.

What’s wrong with a country in which those educating the next generation will struggle to buy their own house?

If Australia is to compete as a nation at international level, it must give more money and more respect to teachers.

Parents

Parents used to support teachers, now they attack them. This paradigm shift has been great, but recent. Modern parents will almost always side with their children and will blame teachers for their child’s poor behaviour, poor work ethic and poor grades. Some of the treatment of teachers is shocking, and it points to a diminishing respect for the teaching profession.

Data collection

Data collection is the new fad in education. Politicians and bureaucrats demand more and more data collection from teachers. It is mostly unnecessary and adds more paperwork to overworked teachers, who then can’t concentrate on teaching their students.

Data collection implies a lack of respect for teachers. It implies that teachers don’t know the individual and collective strengths and weaknesses of their students. NAPLAN is a classic example. It is a very time consuming task designed to show teachers and schools where their students are succeeding and failing. The bureaucrats ignored the fact that teachers already know this. Furthermore, excessive data collection provides no educational benefits, and exists primarily to provide politicians with statistics for their press releases. Most other professions would have an administrative assistant to carry out the same administrative tasks.

Ironically, Australian society shows little respect for teachers, but charges them with enormous responsibility. The curriculum encompasses everything from English and Maths to driver education, drug and alcohol education, cyber safety, anti-bullying, and so much more. On the one hand, it is natural to deliver these lessons in a place where young people are assembled en-masse, but how much of this can, and should, be taught by parents? To understand the enormous scope of the modern curriculum, look at the topics covered in the PD/H/PE subject.

Politicians and bureaucrats must take blame for this also. When a teenager dies of ecstasy, a new drug education program is demanded. If a child drowns in a backyard pool, a new water safety program is demanded. When a new educational program is demanded, it is implied that existing education programs are insufficient, and that teachers are not doing their job.

Bleeding heart lefties

Another criticism of teachers is that they are now all bleeding heart lefties, and that a left wing ideology has taken over Australian schools. Conservative voices love to make this claim.

If you want less left wing influence in schools, pay teachers more. People enter teaching mainly through a sense of altruism – to serve children, to serve society and to make the world a better place. Altruistic people are not motivated by money or wealth and their world view is thus likely to favour the common good and the health of the society, and not the individual. If conservatives want less left wing influence in schools, they could pay teachers what they are worth, and perhaps attract graduates who are currently chasing money in other professions and have a different world view.

That said, most secondary teachers would be very surprised if any of their students listened to them long enough to become ‘bleeding heart lefties’.

Australia now belongs to a global community. It must compete with other nations like it never has before and it’s prosperity depends greatly on the health of its education system. A strong education system is comprised of teachers who are not only respectable, but respected.

Image: Element5Digital