Improving education part 8

Last week, I received an email from a high school teacher: “I like what you wrote about improving the education system but you do not teach in my country and do not know our current situation. After several years of teaching and dealing with many issues, I do not think we can change anything, I feel helpless and thinking about quitting … ” I wrote back to her in a private email but also want to share my view with other teachers too.

As a teacher, you have selected this career NOT ONLY to educate students BUT ALSO to make a difference in their lives. Do NOT think that you cannot do anything about improving the current education system. The fact is you can do much more than you think because every day you have the opportunity to help and positively affect the lives of your students. As a teacher, you share your knowledge, you help students to learn, you encourage them when they feel discouraged, you guide them when they confused, you support them when they need, and much more. You do all of these things NOT because it is our job, but because you CARE.

As we start a new school year, I encourage you to do a little more than past years. If all of us are willing to do just a little bit of extra work, we can make a big difference in our students’ lives. It is easy to get frustrated with small issues in our daily works but there are many larger issues outside of our classroom and we need to look to the complex world that most of our students will be facing soon. They all need our help to prepare for their future because, by the time they complete their schooling, the world will be very much different from today. Our students and future generation will have to deal with many issues that are beyond what we are facing today.

Do NOT think that until the education system changes then you can do something. Instead of thinking as teachers, you are the ones who change it. The education system can ONLY change if it involves the teachers. If the teachers do NOT change, no matter what teaching techniques the system used, what curriculum it brings in, what resources it has, nothing will change. A quality education is one that provides all students with the capabilities they need to become productive, knowledgeable, be able to make a comfortable living, so they can contribute to their society. For students to succeed, they need encouragement, motivation, and mentoring so they can learn and where do they get that support if not from the teachers?

If the students are having difficulties in learning, you need to give them the opportunity to talk about it. You need to listen and use the information that they share to guide them. If you can show them that you care, their attitude will change and some learning will happen. If the students do not think you care then you will not change anything. When you talk to your students, DO NOT act as an authority but as someone who cares about them, it can mean a lot to them. When they feel comfortable with you, their attitude will change and the learning will take place. The fact is students DO NOT learn when they DO NOT like the teachers or feel uncomfortable in your class.

No matter what class that you teach, you always have students with different ability levels, different learning styles, and different attitudes toward education. If you teach every student the same, you will NOT have the same results. Therefore, you need to evaluate each of them and using motivation approach to encourage them to learn by making sure that what they learn is relevant to their view. If they see no value in your teaching, then how can you expect them to learn? It is important to show them the connections to what they are learning and the world in which they will be facing. For example, Instead of focusing on the formulas and facts (i.e. WHAT) you need to spending the time to teach them about the reasons and applications (i.e., WHY and HOW). As teachers, you have to make sure of what they are learning in school is practical and relevant.

If your students are not paying attention, perhaps they are bored. You may need to challenge them. When they know that they are being challenged, they may respond at a much higher level than if you are giving them ordinary work. The fact is most students know what they like and dislike, and what to learn and not learn on their own. As teachers, you are the person who guides them, support them, and make them learn. Basically, it is up to you to make education improvement happens.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University