Motivations to learn in Singapore | Perspectives of a Secondary School teacher

As a Secondary school teacher (handling students from the age of 12 to 16), a sort of ‘holy grail’ that we have always pondered on is how can we truly, effectively motivate our students to learn, to have them thirst for learning. 

In the last decade some strategies (there’s too many to list) which I’ve seen are numerous workshops where teachers attend (in fact some led by good wise people but a question I’ve always grappled with is the lack of real classroom experience in some of them touting their packages as the next ‘this is it’), the setting up of committees and even mandatory structures within school where for example teachers are to submit lesson reports and I guess these practices are now deemed as part and parcel of every teacher’s work beyond the daily guiding, teaching, engaging of students and parents, setting teaching and assessing learning resources and running whatever events or overseas trips which has been decided to add to the learning experience of the child.

Even lesson observations whether formative or summative to the teacher’s performance grade (yeap, teachers locally get ranked) aren’t always graded by people who do really know better and just happen to be in a managerial position. (Vice versa, I had good mentors before too)

Sometimes I ask myself, within all these chaos (sorry, structures) have the basics of making the sincere effort to know each child for their characters, strengths and setting work / assessments according to their competencies and the syllabus changed?

Have the basics of the teacher having to earn respect by having a strong repertoire of teaching and engagement methods changed?

I don’t think any decent human being who is a teacher will ever allow himself to enter the class without prior planning but nowadays it seems teachers have to prove they can indeed teach, according to hopefully not randomly set guidelines within the system.

I wonder , do we need these lesson observations, reports, student surveys, in depth results analysis etcetera to really inform teaching? Or to ensure information is passed down even if the teacher is made to leave tomorrow.

I can recall the teachers who made a difference to me because they were sincere and excellent role models of character but I can hardly note any teachers who were excellent in plying reports or being administrators.

I hope the complexity of all these while serving to inform that teaching is happening is not confusing & unsettling to teachers, that in our aims to settle the basics, i hope we have not unwittingly created more confusion as to what really is important.

This is Kei’s work from Chinese class in K1. Personally I feel it’s pretty difficult to ask of a 4 year old but I’m sure some kiasu (beings who will rather die than lose) parents will disagree but that’s another matter. (Here she was asked to write the mandarin character for letter/envelope and draw a visual to describe it too) 


Me: is this difficult?
Her: yes, it took a long time to complete this.
Me: did your classmates finish it too?
Her: no.
Me: so why did you do it?
Her: because I want to learn to write
Me: why so? We can simply communicate by talking
Her: because my teacher told me then I will be able to write letters to the people I want to.

🙂 I was glad to hear that, because this teacher had given her a meaningful reason to embark on a process to learn.

And as a teacher, if you are reading this, have you?

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