The Real Reason For Teacher’s Day

Before he was awarded a strong First in Accounting and Finance at the London School of Economics, before he founded the Financial Markets Society (which became the largest club in LSE in its first year – it was really a mentoring program for investment banks to get an early pick of promising candidates), my husband began his education at primary level in the worst-performing class of a public school in a small town outside Seremban, Malaysia.

Kings developed a particular loathing for the English language early in school life, after encountering a teacher who threw his books out the windows and who constantly made unfavorable comparisons between him and an apparently “brighter” cousin of his. My husband cut school whenever he could.

I’m almost sure it’s why to this day my husband seemingly deliberately, defiantly makes basic grammatical mistakes in his English – despite tertiary education at LSE and stints on the derivatives desks of some major British investment banks in London. It is Kings-speak for “F- U English Teacher.”

By the time he was 12, Kings was in the worst class, the one meant for kids with no hope of academic success. That’s when Mr Chan came to teach Math.

As he scrawled on the blackboard, Mr Chan often made mistakes. He was, however, very appreciative when you pointed them out to him. Oh – right! WHY didn’t I see that! Of course! Thank you!

Class of Losers soon decided they were going to have to pay close attention to keep poor Mr Chan from embarrassing himself further. He was the teacher, after all. But it was everyone’s responsibility to ensure the class wasn’t a total shambles from the ridiculous sums scrawled on the board. Productivity in class was a shared responsibility.

By the time Kings sat for the SPM (roughly the equivalent of “O” levels in Malaysia) 5 years later, he had progressed to the “A” class, from the “K” class. But it was many more years before he paused long enough to look back and realize Mr Chan Math classes weren’t a potential shambles by accident. Decades later, Kings still wonders what his life would have been like without Mr Chan.

According to Stanford economist Eric Hanushek , your child is actually better off in a bad school with an excellent teacher, than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. “Teacher Effect” also greatly outweighs class-size effect (since class size was my only real concern about ESF because with the government subsidy from primary and up the government also sets the class size at 30, you can understand my motivation in digging this up).

The only problem is, especially to most grownups, a lousy teacher looks unsettlingly like a good one. (Since I believe in a good teacher's ability to motivate, I tend to be biased toward teachers who sure, command respect, but more importantly are also liked by the kids.)

Back when I worked and spent a lot less time home with Rockstar, we briefly hired a (on paper) highly credentialed teacher (along with a bunch of neighbors’ kids etc – we just wanted more people speaking to baby Rockstar in proper English and Putonghua, rather than leaving him home for extended periods with just the helper, when I used to work).

We fired this teacher within weeks. She was arrogant, we had to buy a bunch of music instruments, some of them duplicates of what we already had in our home (but she insisted on stuff like us buying the full package off her chosen websites), before she would even agree to come in. And she was extremely calculative about her time slots. If she was 10-15 minutes late (fairly often), she still left unfailingly on the dot.

But the last straw was when, unbidden, she volunteered that she frequently stayed beyond her allocated time slot to “work on something” with baby Rockstar - when in fact she never stayed (we knew this from our stay-at-home mum Aussie neighbor with 2 teenaged kids who had our spare key and used to stop by to play with our dog in the next room). Frankly we are not that calculative about the occasional early dismissal or late start – it was this teacher’s attitude that I didn’t want around the Rockstar. Cv be damned.

(And no I didn’t replace her with another teacher – Rockstar was well, a baby. It wasn’t like we expected him to have formal lessons, we just advertised for people to come talk to and play with him because we were off working long hours, but then she contacted us with this super cv and so we were intrigued).

In contrast, I then took little interest in the credentials of Rockstar’s Putonghua Tutor (partly because I can’t communicate with her very well haha). She spent a session with Kings taking notes about Rockstar’s personality, his liking for Disney Cars stickers and bugs – and showed up on her first day armed with the same.

After her trial run, she named her price – 25% higher than Highly Credentialed (on paper) Teacher. We agreed without much thought because we didn’t know anyone else. It was only after the first few months we realized Putonghua Tutor more than made up for the additional expense by paying out of her own pocket (which she was not expected to do) to tailor make her sessions to Rockstar. Looking around our apartment one day, we realized we’d been billed for less than all the stuff lying about. It was uh, kind of obvious.

But it was the day I noticed Rockstar fairly often selected Putonghua lesson books (with Pinyin cheats) when asked what he would like for storytime, that I knew she was cool. She can come as late/ leave as early as she wants.

Anyway. If attitude (more than paper) be a huge deciding factor in determining a good from a bad teacher, it isn’t that easy to do at a glance. And isn’t that the same problem very expensive international schools potentially also have when picking their teachers?

It’s inconceivable that a Mr Chan should be paid roughly the same as a Ms FU. Investment banking bonuses should be made available to the Mr Chans of the world – otherwise more of ‘em will end up investment bankers rather than teachers. In the same way every Ms FU should be fired – they have no business playing a part in something as important as the shaping of young minds.

As for the people blessed with the fun job of selecting Mr Chans from Ms FUs, shouldn’t they be getting the same kinds of incentives as the managers who pick players for the NFL, NBA and what-not?

It’s a sick world we live in, people who manage our money or entertainment on ESPN get paid way more than the people who deal with our children. And yeah I realize the irony, this coming from two bankers <sheepish>.

The least we can do is not bitch about salaries in the education field.

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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  • Kingston

    Sob Sob