Ahad, 20 Julai 2008

Who is more deserving?



Talk about perks for Form Six teachers irks those who work long, and hard, teaching the other forms.

THOSE in the teaching profession find it almost impossible to remain impartial when certain policies that are advantageous to only select groups of teachers are introduced.

The directive to implement certain policies may state that “everyone benefits”, but some teachers will “benefit” more than others. Thus, dissatisfaction grows and murmurs of discontent become audible. Often, both are justified.

“All teachers are equal, but some are more equal than the others,” quips Dilla in one of her rare moments of profound wisdom. Frankly, her statement rings true.

You would have realised at certain points in your teaching career that things aren’t always as fair as they are made out to be. You see promotions going to people who, in your view, are less deserving than others. Sometimes, you are one of the “others”. Pay revisions or increments that are calculated based on stipulated percentages leave some groups with considerable gains in their pay packets while others find themselves suddenly overtaken, salary-wise, by juniors who may be less qualified, at least as far as seniority is concerned.

You rant and rave when that happens. Often, there is furore or a huge outcry from the teachers who suddenly find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their more “fortunate” counterparts. Then the emotions subside, superseded by the pressing call of duty –reports need to be submitted, files updated, and so on.

A “peace offering” of some sort is made by the policy-makers to placate some discontented people. You take what’s offered (there’s really no choice). Besides, even a small amount of money accumulated over the months and paid as “arrears” can amount to a considerable sum. You feel quite pleased about your “windfall” and contribute to the little jamuan sponsored by all those who got similar payments. Everyone is happy and ho-hum, life goes on.

Recently, though, talk about a directive that would benefit Sixth Form teachers has aroused disgruntled comments, especially from teachers who, due to various reasons, do not teach that form.

“For almost 20 years, I’ve complied with the requirements of directives from those above us, despite the utter futility and sometimes ludicrousness of what I’ve been directed to do,” said one very senior teacher. “This one takes the cake.

“So what happens to teachers who don’t teach Form Six simply because there are no such classes in the school? What happens to those who are not given the opportunity to teach Form Six, even if they are willing to do so?

“After all my years of service —10 in primary school and nine, secondary — and after having taught almost every level, from Primary 1 to Form 5, from slow learners in remedial classes to budding scientists in Five Science 1, I am about to be overtaken by someone much more junior just because he happens to be teaching the sixth form.

“To add insult to injury, teaching quality or work performance is not even a criterion here. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that all sixth form teachers’ work performance or ethics are questionable. But just like teachers of every level, you get those who are truly committed and those who are not. So how can all of them qualify for these promotions?”

“This whole thing is crap,” declared my friend Thiru, who teaches in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

When I asked him to define “crap”, he thought for a while, then said: “Promotions to higher grades should be based on the quality of the individual teacher’s performance, for example, the number of hours he puts in, or his efforts to improve or upgrade himself professionally. And equal opportunities should be given to all teachers to do so.

“Did those who proposed this idea even think about the message they’re sending to the entire service – that those who teach students of a certain age group or level are ‘superior’ to others?

“If you ‘reward’ teachers simply because they happen to be teaching the highest form in a school, the implication is that those who teach other levels are less important or not doing enough to warrant the particular grade promotion or pay increment. Did they even think about the demoralising effect this could have on these other teachers?

“What about the teacher who holds a post-graduate degree and chooses to work with primary school kids because she believes, and rightly so, that laying the foundation is as important as – if not more so than – adding to the level of education?

“What about those who work with slow learners or specialise in subjects not taught at sixth form level?” Thiru asked.

Jill snorted at the other end of the phone line in Perak, when I asked what she thought of this issue. “Think about this: an entire staff of teachers in the same school with more or less an equal share of duties and the same working hours,” she said. “Suddenly, Form Six teachers are given certain perks. Are they all really putting in more effort than those of other forms? In fact, do teachers of higher levels do more work than those who teach the lower levels?

“Of course, some of them do, but then again, some don’t. That’s the way it is with teachers in all levels. Perhaps if Form Six teachers had a different work schedule or system, like in the matriculation colleges, then the ‘special benefits’ would be justified,” Jill added.

One rather new Form Six teacher said: “You need more knowledge to be able to teach subjects at sixth form. We’re talking about a higher school certificate, not the elementary or ordinary levels other teachers contend with. Definitely, Form Six teachers deal with higher-level cognitive processes, so why should there be such furore over their getting a few extra perks. It’s just plain jealousy and resentment. Well, if others feel so strongly about this, why don’t they volunteer to teach the sixth form?”

One answer to this rather flippant remark is – not all schools have Form Six classes. Also, the timetable for teachers doesn’t necessarily depend on their willingness, or ability, to teach a certain subject at a certain level. Most of the time, we can’t choose exactly who, or what we want to teach.

Jill says presently, there are cases of teachers clamouring to have at least one class of Form Six on their timetable, to qualify for the benefits. Where does that leave the others?

Another friend, Pam, feels that teaching Mathematics in sixth form is definitely more demanding than teaching a lower form.

“You need to have a deeper knowledge of your subject and possibly do a fair bit of homework or research before lessons. After all, we are preparing our students for the STPM (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia), which, some say, is the most challenging school examination.

“Having said that, I do agree that not all sixth form teachers are as thorough or wholehearted about their duties. As for the need for more subject knowledge, I think every teacher who has a degree in a particular subject is qualified to teach it all levels, be it Primary One or Form Six. I guess it all depends on the individual and how far he is willing to go. I really don’t think there should be any ‘elitism’ attached to teaching Form Six,” Pam said.

“More challenging?” said Jill, sounding quite cynical. “Two images come to mind. The first image: group of 18-year-olds, bright enough to be in the sixth form. Most of them are well-behaved and they hang on to every word the teacher says because they know their performance in the STPM and the path to university may depend on it.

“The second: an overcrowded classroom of rude and rowdy 13-year-olds who have multiple records of misconduct. These are students who don’t pay the least attention to you and, for the most part, may not even understand what you’re saying, but whose performance in your subject becomes your entire responsibility.”

So, which class is more challenging? Which teacher does more work and deserves a promotion?

Ensuring that the deals teachers get are completely fair would possibly require powers of judgment that surpass human limitations. Most of us acknowledge that. But it is hard to stomach when teachers who are equally qualified, and of equal seniority and work commitment, are considered less equal than others.

The Star Online: 20 Julai 2008

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