Monday, January 07, 2008

Sharing Nugget #62

#62: Reflections for Internship

Here is a reflection entry I submitted for my internship report.

The main bulk of my experience comes from handling Normal Technical Students from Bukit Batok Sec Sch and Hilllgrove Sec Sch. I learnt that these youths are the outcast of the mainstream education system. They are considered deviants. Teachers assigned to these classes have a hard time, and most of them give up on reaching out to these students. After taking them for a few classes, I understand why. These students have very short attention span, and are generally more mischievous than their peers in other streams. Some are painfully more childish in mentality than others. They are not motivated, often get into trouble and bask in deviant behavior. Undesirably language is a norm and there is no respect for teachers to be found in them. They have limited interest in academics, and often play truant.

With such a bunch of students, how do teachers reach out to them? This is a critical issue because if they are not engaged and shown the acceptable norms of society and the consequences of their deviant behavior, these students will face tremendous hardships later in life, and some of them might pose a threat to the stability of society. Someone has to teach them the social skills, or show them a way where they can be constructive members of the community. Also, the aim must not be to make them conformists; rather, the aim is to show them the routes to a better life. I believe this is where we SEL trainers come in. MOE has allocated schools a budget to tap into the competitive market of SEL training providers. I must admit that although I have seen a few inspiring teachers around, many are simply ill-equipped to impact life skills to students. For example, my younger sister told me about her teacher who grabbed her diary and read it aloud the class, causing her great embarrassment. I believe that it is a fair decision, in the face of mounting difficulties of reaching out to these students, to give the SEL trainers a try at taking on this issue.

This is the attitude I adopted going into the program. I wanted to help, to motivate, to inspire, to make a difference. I came into the program feeling motivated – wanting to reach out to these students. However, despite coming from a neighborhood school and having had deviant youths as friends in the past, I find it difficult to reach out to them and make an impact. I feel drained after a few lessons. I find it hard to deliver the entire lesson plan because most of the time spent is on crowd control. However, despite all the heartache, frustration and exhaustion, I did learn that they do respond to some methods of reaching out to them.

Firstly, they love to play. Be it sports or simple games – whatever takes them out of them classroom – they love it. If the game is interesting enough, most of them are willing to settle down and listen to the rules and participate. While we avoid conventional sports and games like soccer or basketball, they do respond to games like dodgeball and Frisbee. In themselves, these activities can be used as mediums to teach new skills and get them out of their comfort zones, or a reward for participation in drier lessons.

Secondly, they are very hands-on people. Some of them have high energy levels – which may be a reason for the short attention span in class - while others will also prefer to participate in physical activities rather than attend a passive lesson. For example, even the boys loved the baking classes. I can see them being excited about making puffs and pastries! Likewise, a survival skills lesson generates more excitement for them if they are able to experience physically how to build a shelter etc. Thus, a way to engage them is to get them to participate hands-on.

Thirdly, they hate to be lectured. Thus, it is difficult to teach anything in the classroom setting. Our usual methods of a reflection or discussion during an activity work for a portion of students. But there are some others who simply tune out. However, I observed that these students do pick up lessons in other ways. And these ways are usually more subtle. For example, when playing a game of soccer with them, my behavior on the pitch, and off it, serves as a role model for them. For example, one of them commented to another that even the teacher (me) do not do this or that, so they should not too. This role modeling might not yield the desired results in the limited time afforded by the schools, but it is an effective means that deserves more attention.

Lastly, many respond to being treated as friends or matured youths, rather than being talked down to. Trainers who befriend the students receive much more respect and attention and thus find it easier to impact wisdom. However this requires commitment, patience and dedication. If someone cares, they will respond.

As such, I believe that if an SEL program contains the few points above, it will certainly receive a better respond from the students. This will allow trainers to better deliver the social-emotional skills to those students who need it. This internship experience has shown me a side of society and the educational system that remains a constant social issue that needs to be addressed. It has given me a good glimpse of the harsher side of a teaching career. Now, I can make a more informed decision should I decide, one day, to become a teacher.


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