Published: Giving Students a Benefit of Doubt

Article: Giving Students a Benefit of Doubt
On Op-Ed page of the Republica National Daily

Benefit of Doubt - Republica

I am a teacher who likes being very liberal while checking answer papers and on this article I am going to talk about why I detest our testing system; why I give a benefit of doubt to the students; and why doing so, I believe, helps foster their confidence and reinforce their learning.

Besides teaching, I am also pursuing a Master’s degree in Education. It is a semester system, which means there’s a final examination every six months. And I find it really stressful; in fact I have always found examinations very stressful throughout my life. I may not know my strengths but I know one of my weaknesses for sure – I cannot read books or notes to memorize answers. I do understand the overall concepts but I can’t memorize them in order to spill them all over the answer sheet. I can’t do it even if my life depended on rote memorization. Far worse, my attention span is shorter than an ant’s tail. I cannot remain calm for more than 10 minutes. I am always drowning in a sea of distractions. Family. Friends. Facebook. Music. Home. Job. Deadlines. I can’t quite keep up the concentration. I get itchy and I have to take a short break every 10 minutes or so. My mind operates that way.

While taking exam, I can’t think fast enough to frame and organize my answers. I need time to generate ideas, plan a structure and write essays. I make a lot of spelling errors because I heavily rely on spell checkers. My handwriting and presentation look impeccable in the first two pages but they soon start deteriorating as the clock in the exam hall ticks away in a flurry.

So that’s my story. I don’t like being tested in such constrained time and in such ominous hall. I feel it is completely unfair to be judged on what I write in three hours. And to add to my frustration, I am always haunted by the usual mentality of language teachers who are very strict while checking answer papers. And I’m pretty sure there are many out there, teachers and students, who can perfectly relate to me. Thus for a moment, put yourself in your students’ shoes.

Imagine yourself being a teenager, surrounded by technology and media, having access to unlimited knowledge and resources, having friends who are hyperactive on the internet and social networking sites, having too many options at hand. Imagine yourself sitting in the class for hours and hours, sitting on the same desk and ‘listening’ to the same boring teachers. Imagine yourself not knowing (or doubting) the relevance of the traditional education, getting certificates, getting degrees, joining the workforce and doing the same boring jobs.

And you tell them to write an essay on festivals of Nepal. You tell them to give a speech on Nepal’s historical figures. You tell them to write a complaint letter with date, salutations, body and closings in a precise format. You want them to write coherently and cohesively. You want them to write without any spelling errors.

Even worse, you tell them to sit for three hour exams and expect them to compose perfect essays with their perfect handwritings; and you stress on neatness and cleanliness; and you write comments, underline wrong answers, you circle misspellings and with red ink you cross out answers that don’t match your expectation. That’s what we usually do, don’t we? There could be different ways to assess our students but at the end of the day, we (have to) judge students based on written examinations.

In the present context, there is no way out of this final written examination module but dear teachers, this is what I do, and as a teacher, this is what I propose you to do too.

I give my students a benefit of doubt while checking their answer papers. I understand, they don’t take exams because they like it. I have never come across any student who loves taking exams. On top of it, they have to take exams of seven or more subjects every term. I can perfectly relate to the maddening pressure to perform. They have no option, and neither do we. So while I check their answer papers, I gently remind them of their spelling mistakes but don’t deduct any marks for it. I overlook minor errors and slips like she don’t have friends. If they write any brilliant essays with a logical framework, I get super joyous about it. And I give it 10 out of 10. Why not! (This one student glared me back with disbelief and said: Sir, you gave me 10 out of 10? And I said: Yes, you deserved it.) If their essays look messy and are riddled with terrible structures, I don’t butcher their effort thoughtlessly. They would have done it better if they didn’t have any time constraints or if they had time to draft and re-draft the essays. I try to be sensible about their handwriting too, because writing for three hours straight is a real pain in the ass and the wrist. I go through the same pain every time I take an exam. One reason, many of us are used to typing on computer rather than writing with a pen. And I am never picky about grammatical errors. I have seen my professors at the university make grammar errors. I have seen me making horrible grammatical errors. We all do.

I try to keep track of the students, their progress, their assignments, classroom participation, portfolios – but I don’t judge them based on one written examination. I am definitely not seeking an easy way out. I communicate with the students who are lagging behind and make them feel safe. I do demand high, push their limits but I want to be realistic, and set realistic goals and realistic expectation. At the end of the day, I feel like I have done my part and go to bed without any resentment or bitterness.

Our testing system is full of holes, and it desperately needs a facelift. However, we can’t change the system right away, let’s be realistic. But what we can do is empathize with the students. Therefore, dear teachers, give your students a benefit of doubt, because sometimes we too need one.

Do you beat your students?

teachers-woes

Words failed me and my jaws dropped when I read this article published on the op-ed column of the Himalayan Times today (July 16, 2014). I couldn’t believe that the author (probably a teacher) implied that beating the students should be allowed because the students don’t respect the teachers anymore. What a load of crap! I posted the photo of the article on my FB timeline and obviously there was a flood of comments. I think the conversation went very well and I am posting those comments just to make sure that those views remain in public blogosphere as well.

Person A:
I wonder if the education board plans to address this issue. Most of the times I hear students from Grade 2 – 3 saying “Mero mummy daddy ko paisa le yo school chalirako cha.” pathetic. I don’t think Nepal is headed towards development at all. Imagine a world full of adults who have had such ideas at such an age.

Umes Shrestha:
“If you beat me, my mom will kill you” I see it as good awareness in the student’s part because back in my school days, we would just remain silent. The student must have said so because the teacher was about to beat him/her. mero chorro lai hath haaleko thaha paye bhane tyo teacher ko khairat huney chaina.

Person B:
Bachha ta ho j ni bhancha nai ani petera tyo problem ko solution kaha aauncha ra?! Jhan bachha tarsincha….well I have been through that… was beaten up badly by a teacher in school when I was grade 5 just because I couldn’t solve a math sum. The teacher was well known for beating the students. I’d personally like to talk to this guy…. If you can plz number dinu na.

Person C:
From what I read and with my basic psychology education I can tell this guy himself got his ass whooped back in the days. He needs a serious reality check with what age he is living in. Sir needs to understand that you have to win and earn the respect not thrash it out of someone.

Person D:
All I can say is F**K! When I was growing up, I hated all the teachers who physically abused us. Those who physically abused the students were getting beaten by the students as well. The teachers who were respected by all students were assertive ones. Those who did not lose their cool but were very strong in their belief. Those who were able to make us feel guilty for not doing our homework with a smile on their faces. I have a list of these well respected teachers with me. This guy confuses fear with respect. Who would even publish an article like this?

Person E:
Most good teachers don’t have to whine like that. I said most because some of the issues could affect even teachers who do their best. Some issues have to do with things that are beyond a teacher’s or even school’s control–especially if they become “hot” issues picked up by the media. In the US right now, people leaving their kids in the car have become a source of national scandal and (while I absolutely don’t leave my kids in the car alone for a minute) I think that some parents are “caught” for going back into the house to get their phone! In this sense, the teacher may be talking about things that frustrate him, such as school children essentially saying, “You’re my parents’ paid servant.”

Person D:
I agree with you (Person E) but the problem is the teachers are still beating students. Even in Kathmandu Schools. The only schools where this does not happen are probably very rich top of the ladder schools. What he does not seem to understand is, corporal punishment is illegal. It is against the law. So, students have the rights to stand up against these teachers who think small children are their play toys. I have seen children who are 4 or 5 years old who are beaten up by teachers even in good private schools. We have in Nepal instances where students have committed suicide or even have had permanent physical damages because of this. But I agree with you that media can sometime really make a huge issue out of something really small.

Person E:
Oh, yes, beating is a thing of the twentieth century– it should have been one of the 19th actually. In that regard, the writer is just awful. But I also thought that he was bringing in other issues… although, the more I think about it, the more it seems that he’s sharing all those complaints in order to somehow justify corporal punishment? ! That side is totally pathetic.

Umes Shrestha:
He also laments the fact that “today, the student is very well aware of the fact that s/he will not be meted out any forms of physical punishment”. I want to thank the editor for deciding to print this article. It just shows how teachers still have criminally low ethical and moral sense.

Person D:
If I look at most schools today, nothing significant has changed since our school days and that really saddens me. I mean, the buildings have become bigger and more sophisticated labs and all but…. the idea is the same. The students don’t have to be respected. And it’s not just school. It has become our culture… someone who is smaller, less powerful or poorer than you somehow have less rights. There is not a lot of learning going on in schools. Its only when I hear ideas of teachers like Umes Shrestha and a few others, I become optimist. But otherwise, school still sounds like a 20 year life sentence.

Person F:
When I was in school I got my ass whooped almost every day… It was unfair, but come to think about it again, gluing the duster to the board was totally worth it !

Person G:
Wow so many comments that show true concerns by the stakeholders (some of us are parents, teachers and administrator of the same schools, who are blamed for the shameless act). But for the woes, we ourselves are responsible. If teachers/administration, children and guardians fulfill their responsibilities, the problem will sort out.

For instance, when a guardian does not make their children well-dressed and ready for the school, they are late and ultimately become victims from teachers. If the same teachers at school teach the students comprehensively and the parents make stationery and textbooks required for their kids, they will not fail to complete their assignments that prevent them from punishment.

Teachers who are unmotivated and poorly trained are more likely to resort to punitive and physically violent methods of control, but this is not always the case for all teachers. But, globally, the practice of corporal punishment in school is being rejected and promoted alternative non violent discipline method to facilitate children’s behaviour and learning activities.

An Appeal To All – Don’t fail any students

slc

When every year – more than 50% of the total students fail the SLC exam – can you feel ecstatic about your brother passing with a distinction, or your sister, son, daughter passing with ‘flying colors’? How can you be even happy when over 300,000 students couldn’t make it through the ‘iron gate’ this year as well?

Our education system has failed us.
Our examination system has failed us.
Our government, policy makers, educationists and teachers – they have failed us.

I am a teacher and I want to make an appeal to all the teachers, examiners and those who check answer papers.

Don’t fail any students.

Yes, educate them, teach them and also let them through this stupid SLC system. Don’t push them back into darkness because they couldn’t impress you through this illogical three-hour exam system.

Give the students a benefit of doubt, especially to those weak students who perform poorly in exams.

Let them through.
Let all of them through.

Dear teachers, examiners and those who check answer papers. Please empathize with the students and send them through this exam!

If you can prevent students from committing suicide and save their lives, why not do so? As teachers, we are supposed to save our students’ lives, aren’t we? Screw the marks, LIVES are at stakes here. So, just send them through.

They will figure it out when they go to the real world later.
Just let them through.

(Pic: Internet)

Speaking at the Speakers’ Club

speakers-club-ku

I always thought that I was a ‘good’ speaker when it comes to speaking in front of an audience. I am teacher and I am speaking all the time… in the class, with the students, everywhere. So I had to be good at speaking, right?

NO!!!

I remember how horrible my first speech was in our Speakers’ Club – KU. It was humiliatingly all over the places. No content. No focus. No interaction. Since then, I have promised myself that I will work on my public speaking and be a confident and interactive speaker and presenter (and yeah an effective teacher).

So yesterday was the fifth time I spoke in the club as a featured speaker and as usual, I was a little nervous about it. A couple of days ago, I wrote and finalized my four minutes speech on the title “The Book that Changed My Life”. I rehearsed it, on timer, for about six times in front of the mirror (Yes, mirror – I don’t know why). I was pretty sure that I would nail it the way I had written it.

I wrote my speech on the structure of Identity, Struggle, Discovery and Result framework (I learnt about this from Kevin Rodger’s video on youtube), and rewrote the speech a couple of times. I added my personal story, which made a point – following the advice of the amazing Craig Valentine (tell a story – make a point).

I have also been self-teaching myself the art of public speaking by watching a lot of TED Talk videos, by listening to whatthespeak podcast and by reading Dale Carnegie’s books on speaking – just to name of few. I have been focusing on improving my movement and non-verbal signals – purposeful movement, confident eye contact and complementary hand gestures.

Despite all these preparations and practice, I still felt nervousness boiling in my blood. During the delivery, I mispronounced a few words a couple of time and I forgot some of the key sentences that I had planned on speaking with emphasis. But what I have improved are pace and pause in my delivery, movement, eye contacts and other non-verbal signals. I have also understood the importance of ‘you’ focused questions, and improved this technique ‘look to one-speak to all’ as prescribed by Craig Valentine.

Lesson: practice, practice and practice. I need more ‘stage time’ (as coined by Darren Lacroix) and I need more practice. I guess being nervous is a positive thing because it keeps me on the guard and stops me from being over confident.

I am working hard on it. Everyday, every minute.

Oh, by the way, the book I talked about was John Wood’s Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. It’s a wonderful book.

Lesson from a puncture-taalney guy

I wanna share with you what this puncture-taalney guy taught me about Nepali way of customer care, and how we (entrepreneurs or business owners or service providers or even teachers) can learn from his huge mistake.

But first, here’s my bike!

So, I had a flat tire last evening. I was around Maharajgunj area for training. I got out of the venue only to see the rear tire laughing flat at me. If you have a motorbike, you can imagine how my face looked like at that moment. Complete hopelessness. Oh, did I tell you that it was raining and the road was completely messy. Anyway, I dragged my bike around searching for a workshop to fix the puncture. After 15 minutes, which lasted for a century, I found one on the side of ringroad.

Initially, I didn’t see anyone at the workshop but since the ‘air-tank’ was still rumbling, I knew there had to be someone. Then this guy appears, yawning, stretching his arms, looks at me and doesn’t even ask why I was there. He looked like Rajesh Hamal, only shorter, thinner and darker.

“Dai, puncture taalnu huncha?” I asked. He was not in a ‘response’ mode yet. He lit a cigarette and then replied with a snappy “Hmm.” Then he took out his tools and started unbolting the tire. He was completely relaxed. He had all the time in the world. But I didn’t. If you had been with me in that workshop, you would have seen an extreme desperation in my face. That could have been 20th puncture for him, it was the only one for me and it was getting late. You see, Maharajgun is in the north, I live near Lagankhel which in the south – if you know the geography of Kathmandu, you will get it. And on top of that, my urinary bladder was fighting to burst out. Murphy’s law all over.

I am not trying to judge that guy because later I felt glad that at least he had his workshop open. But still. May be he already had a tiring day. May be he was not feeling well. May be his wife had dumped him. I am not making any guesses. But, if I’m trying to pay for his service, he better get right at it. It’s not that just because I pay, I take granted for services people offer to me. I still say “dhanyabaad” even when I’m the one taking out the money.

So what was his huge mistake? He just lost a client. And may be, some goodwill.

I am never going back to his workshop again. I know it’s not in my area and chance of having a flat tire again near his workshop is very very slim. But still. I am never going there, nor will I recommend anyone to go there. Even though I also know for sure that my not going to his place won’t ruin his business.

But this is not only about that puncture-taalney guy alone. You have probably met similar people in restaurants, shops, stores, or offices. The waiter in a restaurant who looks at you as if you are interrupting him. The shopkeeper who speaks to you as if he has to pay to open his mouth. The receptionist who doesn’t even look toward you when you ask for information. The government officer who deliberately keeps delaying your work. The teller in the bank who keeps talking with a coworker even in the presence of a customer. And, the political leaders? I don’t want to even talk about them. This phenomenon or attitude is like our national characteristic installed in our genes.

So, what do I learn from this? I am a teacher aiming to be a great teacher trainer some day and besides ‘teaching’, I am also trying to build and maintain certain goodwill. In other words, I am building my brand. To be honest, I’ve acted like that puncture-taalney guy several times (I am certainly not beyond criticism) but now I will always keep this incident in my mind. Because every time I act like him, I actually destroy my dreams. And so do you.

If you agree with me or find this blog useful, just shoot me a comment! I would love to hear from you.

ENG 101 ENGLISH I

adv-bus

I have never seen, both as a student and as a teacher, such an impressively misguided course which somehow resembles our country, our government, our educational system, our everything at the moment.

On one hand you have this book Adventures in English (one of the most widely used English books in Bachelors level) which contains short stories, poems, essays on themes of ancient tales, anthropology, education and on the other hand you have a book titled Business Result which has been essentially designed for in-service professionals looking to improve their basic communication skills in English. So you have core literature which requires critical and analytic thinking on a fairly intellectual level and elementary business English which requires school level grammar and texts but focuses on non-student context.

Both books look awesome on their own but so do elephants and hippopotamus. The horror is they are merged into a single course and look like elephantomatus – an awkward ugly beast which stinks so much that one can doubt if the Pokhara University people were thinking straight.

I read the Adventures in English when I was in Bachelors – many many years ago. I had really enjoyed reading the book. I was happily surprised to see the book once again when Pokhara University revised its BBA program. And really, I enjoyed using this book in the class this semester. But I don’t see the rationale behind merging another book in the same course. If they think that both books are essential, they can simply keep them in different semesters or as different subjects. That’s quite easy. And that’s practical for teachers and students. I can’t forget my students’ face with the most epic WTF expression when I showed them the sample question provided by PU.

I don’t really get the course designer’s point but I want to end this rant by quoting a line from Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s poem ‘The Illiterate’ from the book Adventures in English.

The myopia to the race!

Does the government care about education at all?

I am not surprised by the government’s recent announcement* that it has proposed a ten-year plan to run classes in English medium in all community schools. It says it wants to improve the quality of school-level education. Good job! I am not even surprised that the government has finally made public its desire to “increase attraction towards community schools”, which is absolutely wonderful. I am just a little bit surprised by its broader educational vision that equates ‘instruction in English language’ with ‘providing quality education’.

The proposal, according to the Ministry of Education, has been developed to bridge the gap between private and government schools, however it is quite clear that the government assumes “English as the medium of instruction” in private schools as the sole reason for that gap. And there’s a greater predicament for the government teachers. The ministry wants all the existing teachers “to undergo a test to see whether they can teach in English medium or not, otherwise they will get a choice of retirement along with some incentives”. Again, the assumption; to provide quality education, teachers must be able to teach in English. Everyone already knows the quality of government school English language teachers is very unsatisfactory and now the government wants other subject teachers to teach using English language. This is absurdity on a new level.

It obviously shows that Nepal’s government lacks a solid understanding of what quality education really means. (Hello ministers, hello policy makers.) And at the same time, it has apparently given in to the pressure created seen and unseen forces (globalization, standardization, donor agencies, success of private schools, people’s belief about English language, technology, internet, and so on).

I think the government should completely stop comparing the state run schools with the private schools and just focus on how to make education more accessible, practical and useful to the general people. Most importantly, the government should believe in itself and expand that belief into the public. Unfortunately, we see almost all government employees (from the ministers to the peons) send their children to private schools. Bitter truth: no one really trusts what the government plans and does, not even the same government employees who draft the plans.

I am not claiming that private schools are not money-grabbing opportunists (they are registered as private limited companies for dog’s sakes) but simply blaming the private schools for government’s failure is just a pathetic excuse. If the government wants to implement English medium in public schools, it should do it not because it feels threatened by the private schools but because it believes that by doing so the quality standards of education improves.

Or may be, just may be, the government just doesn’t want to improve the quality. Because once it does, the foreign money would stop coming in. Education is very political, just to quote critical thinkers. The government will thus let private schools create social inequality and at the same time it will play passive, act dumb, point fingers and blame others.

* Link to the news:
http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=67499