Stuff you must read today (Sat, 18 Oct 2013) – The Productivity Edition

Focus on fundamentals: teach teachers to teach well

Dear Madam/Sir,

In “MOE reviewing policy allowing teachers to give private tuition” (Oct 5), it is clear that the Ministry of Education (MOE) – as always – has its heart in the right place.

This time round, however, the MOE needs to focus on fixing the core issue of why the tuition industry is thriving despite the internationally-recognised quality of the Singapore education system.

It is not the supply of tutors that creates demand for tutoring; rather, it has always been the demand for quality education that has created a supply of tutors to satiate that desire.

Hence, the issue is not about whether teachers should be allowed to give private tuition. It is more complex than that.

It involves two fundamental questions:

  1. Is the system preparing all teachers it produces to teach well?
  2. Does the reality at each school support the daily execution of good teaching?

By teaching well, I am referring to a teacher’s ability to deliver lessons effectively and efficiently.

This requires a good understanding of learning objectives, educational psychology, content knowledge, educational pedagogy, classroom management and time management.

While everyone is responsible for their own professional growth, the Ministry and schools must acknowledge that leadership and coaching is the main game-changer when it comes to training and developing teachers who can teach well.

The Ministry, the National Institute of Education, Singapore (NIE) and schools alike have developed good policies and strategies for implementing training and development programmes.

On the ground, however, these efforts are sometimes stymied by leaders of schools and subject departments who have everyone’s best interests at heart, but are so caught up in maintaining their “fiefdoms” that they forget about the core objective of making sure their teachers can teach well.

Over at the NIE, there are occurrences where teacher training is misaligned with real-world needs.

An example: the NIE trained many in my cohort to teach English Language and Literature in English at the secondary school level.

However, a minority of us were thrust into junior colleges with minimal training. We were then expected to teach the General Paper, English Literature and Project Work almost from the get-go.

Changing the above-mentioned mindsets and re-aligning training with the teachers’ needs will require a Gordon-Ramsay-like intervention at many levels à la Kitchen Nightmares.

This is a television show in which Ramsay travels to floundering restaurants and provides astute suggestions to modify behaviours – from those of the owners, to the chefs and even the servers – so the core problems of the business can be addressed and bottom-lines, improved.

Ramsay’s ideas work because he provides expert insight in a muddled situation, much like the Chinese proverb (当局者迷,旁观者清 – dang ju zhe mi, pang guan zhe qing), where one who is personally involved is unable to see as clearly as one who is not.

The MOE, the NIE and schools should review the coaching and guidance given to teachers; they can consider employing “Gordon Ramsays” – expert educational consultants to provide much-needed organisational clarity to leaders of schools and subject departments.

Though this move may not halt the demand for private tutoring, it will address the fundamental issue of training and developing teachers to teach well.

Ultimately, this will help resolve the “classroom nightmares” that lead students and parents to look to private tutors as a necessary vehicle for achieving academic gratification.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Laremy LEE (Mr)

(Published as “Focus on training teachers to teach well” on 8 Oct 2013 in TODAY.)

The thing about work

"The bid offer is so wide you could drive a bus through it".

A month ago, I wrote about love and how being with someone should make you more awesome than you already are.

(That hasn’t changed; please keep on with the search for finding that someone if you haven’t already found her/him.)

A month on, some of my friends and loved ones have moved from finding love and romance to finding new careers – or at least gaining some traction in their current ones.

I’m happy for all of them, and thankfully, this time, they’re relatively happy with what they’ve found.

Unfortunately, some of my other friends and loved ones are still stuck in jobs that they dread, dragging their feet into the office in the mornings to do work they can’t stand.


After five years of being in the workforce and one year of leading the freelance life, I’m convinced that the main reason why people hate their jobs and/or leave is because of the quality of the leadership.

No doubt, there may be other reasons at play.

But if my experiences – and those of my peers – are anything to go by, a good leader makes all the difference.

Like love, the thing about work is that it needs to add value to your life (assuming, of course, that you’re already bringing something to the table).

But a job is a job; it’s something that you do in order to earn your keep.

The real game-changer is the leader who’s giving you good feedback so you minimise the possibility of making mistakes; guiding you so that you avoid pitfalls; and providing you with opportunities for growth and demonstration of value, among others.

I’ve written and posted about the principles of leadership before (read Part I here – the difference between a boss and a leader – and Part II, on what kind of vision a leader needs to have).

Google also has well-researched rules on how to become a better leader, which reiterates what I’ve written about leadership.

At the end of the day, the easiest rubric for measuring how good a leader is is this:

How, and in what ways, is my leader preparing me to take over her/him?

I know this sounds counter-intuitive and self-destructive: who would want to consume herself/himself, break his/her rice bowl, etc.?

But think about it: the moment your leader actively begins to prepare you to take over her/him, isn’t s/he fulfilling all the requisite characteristics a good leader should have, namely:

  • Empowering the team and its members;
  • Being a good communicator; and
  • Helping employees with career development, among others?

(Assuming your organisation is interested in keeping employees, because of the benefits such as talent retention and utilisation, institutional memory, etc.)

Furthermore, if your leader is preparing you to take over her/him, it also gives her/him the impetus to either step aside so that you can grow – or move upward to replace her/his leader (who, ideally, should also be preparing your leader to take over her/him), and so on.

So borrowing from my earlier post about love, if you’re with a leader who constrains you; curtails your development as a human being; turns you into a shadow of your awesome self, then is that leader really good for you?

We shouldn’t let past happiness or promises of future bliss in the work we’re doing cloud our vision.

What we should be doing, really, is focusing on the fundamental issue of how much our leaders are preparing us to take over her/him.

And if the gauge shows a reading that is minimal, negligible – or even negative – then I’d say you know the answer for what you need to do to be happy.