What I’d Teach the Teachers

I’m cross-posting this on several of my blogs because…well, because I think that it needs to be said, and I hope that my Indonesian friends who are teachers will take this in the collegial spirit in which it was written. This was first posted on the Jakartass.blogspot.com website.

What I’d Teach the Teachers

International teachers who teach in a developing country generally teach at the best schools that the country has to offer. Quite often national students are not allowed to attend those schools, or the tuition is too high for them to afford. In many developing countries, there are a variety of choices for national students: the government schools, private schools (either religious or non-sectarian), and international schools. From my experience, the average national school in developing countries is on par with the worst of our schools in the United States. There are many reasons for this – money (for facilities, resources, training and salaries) being the main one.

It’s heartening to see so many international schools develop community projects that revolve around helping the local schools. But, like international aid projects, those kinds of programs can only do so much. Developing countries need to develop and fund their education systems, and the rich and powerful need to be leading that fight. When rich Indonesians or Indians or Pakistanis can put their kids in private schools, they have little incentive to improve the national education system.

I’ll be honest about this. My wife and I became more involved with the local schools when our own children left the international school system and entered the national school system. It’s time that the movers and shakers got moving and shaking on improving Indonesian schools. What follows are some of my thoughts on Indonesian education, starting with what I know best – teachers.

Let me start off with a little background. First, I started teaching 32 years ago, and I’ve taught students from ages 3 to age 60. What’s that mean? I’ve either been fairly good at what I do, or I’ve been lucky, or I’m an expert at CYA. Most probably a bit of all three. Second, I have a lot of respect for many of the Indonesian teachers that I’ve met – they work for peanuts in crumbling schools with few resources and little parent support (not to blame the parents either as most of the ones that I know are occupied with trying to scratch out a living and provide as best they can for their children). My wife and I give as much support to the schools as possible, but here are a few things that I’d like to teach the teachers.


·          Don’t teach to the test

·          Students will respond to interesting lessons

·          Long fingernails may be personally irritating, but they don’t have much to do with           education.

·          Use your time wisely.

·          Individualized education is a possibility

·          Listen to what students have to say, you might be surprised at what you hear

·          Professional development, professional development, professional development

·          Parents are Partners – include them in the education of their child

·          Organize and develop a real teachers’ organization


Don’t Teach to the Test

This isn’t just for Indonesian teachers, although the amount of time that my children spend cramming for the national exams is outrageous and takes away precious time that could be used for some real learning, i.e. that is developing knowledge and understanding, not memorizing facts and figures.  Barack Obama said something very interesting last week in a speech in Virginia when he was discussing education. He said that the US needs to expect excellence from our students, but that we need to stop teaching to the test. High stakes testing is found everywhere these days; it’s time that we all realize that doing well on a test is not the same as education. Take a look at the 21st Century Literacy movement. It’s where we need to go. 

Students will respond to interesting lessons

Reading from the book (when our students have them) and parroting back answers is boring. It’s boring for the students and boring for the teachers. Bring in outside resources, get the students to do the presenting, break them up into groups and have a debate, let your personality come through in your lessons. One of the things I almost never hear an Indonesian student say about their teacher is that he/she is interesting or cool or fun. Education shouldn’t be a drag. 

Long Fingernails and Hair

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched a child run back in the house because they just figured out that they might get punished by the teacher for having fingernails that are too long or hair that needs a trim. I thought the hair thing went out in the 70s. Take a look at the hair on kids on tv, quite a number of the cool ones are a bit shaggy. Shaggy might be cool. I can’t quite figure out why my kids are more concerned with the length of their hair and nails than their homework.

Use your time wisely

The school day for most Indonesian children is short enough as it is – my son in 6th grade does a period a day less than my students do. That’s ok if you use all of the time for teaching, but what about all the days that kids spend hanging out doing basically nothing around exam times, and the days spent sweeping the school? The schools should have a sufficient janitorial staff to take care of these duties. Provide some jobs for the folks that need them.

Individualized education is a possibility

We can individualize our teaching. I watched an Indonesian teacher at a “good” school spent forty-five minutes on a lesson that most kids had figured out in 15 minutes because a few kids didn’t get it. One size fits all only in cheap nightgowns. Students learn and work at their own pace; we can keep them engaged if we give them lessons that challenge them. A class that is always all on the same page may look good to someone, but it most likely won’t be to the students.

Listen to what students have to say

Students have a lot to say about a lot of things. They think, they question, they want to understand how the world works and that means that they have to work at it. They’ll get more from telling you about a concept or an issue or what algorithm works best for them, than they will from you telling them about it. What ideas and backgrounds and mindsets are they bringing to class? That’s where we need to start. It’s old hat now in Western education to say that teachers should be guides rather than the final authority, and most of us have gotten that (well, I hope so). According to Edgar Dale’s book, Audio-Visual Methods in Technology: “After 2 weeks we tend to remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we hear and see, 70% of what we say [and] 90% of what we both say and do.” It’s time this lesson reached Indonesia.

Professional Development

I can’t stress enough how much good PD has done for my teaching and my understanding of what it is that I do everyday. And there’s still so much to learn. Read about your subject, think about it, talk about it, discuss it with your colleagues. Push for PD. See below for more.

Parents are Partners

As a teacher, I know that some parents can be irritating, rude, and difficult to deal with, but the overwhelming majority want what’s best for their children, and they will support a communicative teacher with all their resources. Let them know what the homework is, give them regular updates on how their children are doing, create a school or class newsletter. Have an open house night for parents to see what’s going on in the classroom. Get them to provide extra resources if they have them. Children will be more responsible for their education if they know that there is regular communication between school and home.


Teachers need to be paid more, they need professional resources, they need professional development, they need modern technology in the classrooms. They won’t be given all this by bureaucrats and politicians. They have to demand it, and they need to do it with their students and their parents as partners. It’s time that the government takes education seriously and realizes that by shortchanging children today, they’re shortchanging the country tomorrow.


~ by drbrucepk on March 3, 2008.

7 Responses to “What I’d Teach the Teachers”

  1. […] drbrucepk wrote an interesting post today on What Iâd Teach the TeachersHere’s a quick excerptDeveloping countries need to develop and fund their education systems, and the rich and powerful need to be leading that fight. When rich Indonesians or Indians or Pakistanis can put their kids in private schools, they have little … […]

  2. This is an interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing this with those of us that teach.

  3. […] Dickerson gives the gift of literacy to low-income children – We need more people like this.What I’d Teach the Teachers –  An interesting perspective on effective teaching.Is Plagiarism a Problem for eLearning?Take a […]

  4. Yes yes I agree, but I’d teach the teachers to dress properly too….. I am going to miss you when you go. Please stay! Who else with a brain is going to be here to talk to when you leave.

  5. Is this a comment about my wardrobe? It’s probably an Aussie thing. I did win best dressed teacher three years in a row in Pakistan believe it or not. Thanks, I think that most everybody else will be glad to see me leave.

  6. […] What I’d Teach the Teachers – An interesting perspective on effective teaching. […]

  7. Please note that, relevant though Doc Bruce’s article is worldwide, it was originally a ‘commissioned’ essay for Thoughts Outside The Indonesian Box, rather than my personal blog, Jakartass.

    I’d welcome more contributions relevant to Indonesia, and not just those related to education.

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