Most will shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them I used to be a teacher. They would say I don’t look the part (but how should a teacher should ‘look’ like anyway?).
Some however, guessed it correctly. They say it’s because I’m bossy, demanding, and a control-freak. And here I was, thinking that these were my charms.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed being a teacher, which is why it’s heart breaking to say this – teachers today have been replaced by technology.
Here’s how, based on my own observations.
Back in the 2000s, I was a teacher at a prestigious boarding school south of Malaysia. I taught there for five years.
To be honest, I didn’t want to be a teacher initially. But as fate would have it, I received a golden opportunity to go to UK to study Education, and I’d have been a fool not to go.
It was one of the best decisions I’d ever made.
Though I was a teacher in the school, I was also a student, learning from the senior teachers and colleagues. Not only that, the students there taught me a few things too, since we were about the same age.
When I was in school, both as a student and a teacher, I felt teachers were influential and played a huge role in shaping the students’ lives. They were highly regarded, both by students and parents.
In fact, I modelled my teachings after my own English teachers – I played music, put on foreign movies, role-played, and so on and so forth. Those methods worked for me, and I decided to pay it forward.
My teachers had been my encyclopaedias, my go-to sources for everything I needed to know. I owe my teachers a lot, and they have my utmost respect.
But a recent visit back to the old school shattered that notion.
Today, teaching has completely changed. Teachers’ roles have been ‘hijacked’ by technology.
Here are four examples of what I mean.
1. There’s free Wi-Fi in some schools
“It’s everywhere now, and sometimes I feel our school has become like the mamak joints or fast food restaurants with free Wi-Fi,” said Ms Sherry, a Bahasa Malaysia teacher of 20 years.
“Thanks (or no thanks) to the directive from the Education Ministry, students are allowed to bring their mobile phones and other gadgets to the classroom. Even if we teachers restrict the usage, they would sneakily play games, watch videos, and text each other.”
Students brazenly use their phones, even after the lights-out warning from the warden teachers.
“It is considered the norm now, even if we switch off the Wi-Fi, they can still use their data and be hooked onto their gadgets until morning.”
2. Everything is at their fingertips
Too lazy to take notes written on the board? Well, just snap a pic of it with your mobile phone. Too shy to ask the teachers about the Maths formula she just taught? Just Google the explanation.
“I’ve received many questions and requests for explanation via WhatsApp from the students,” said Ms Aisyah, a Mathematics teacher.
“The thing is, they refuse to speak up or even use the group WhatsApp to seek clarification. Gone are the days when students would come up to me personally to ask questions and have one of those one-on-one conversations.”
3. Parental intrusion
School holidays, after-school hours, and weekends used to be free, save for the odd question or enquiry from parents. But now that technology has taken over, parents and students have instant access to the teachers’ lives.
There are already too many WhatsApp groups for parents, students, and teachers. And then there would be those who would text the teachers personally.
Fiza, a mother who sent Farah, her daughter, to a boarding school enjoys this ‘privilege’.
“Instead of waiting for the school or my daughter to contact me, I can directly call or text the teacher for updates on my daughter. Farah can also call me when she feels homesick. After all, a teacher’s job is 24/7 right? I mean, especially if it’s a boarding school?”
Err, true but everybody needs a break and deserve a right to privacy too, Fiza. Which brings us to the next point:
4. No more privacy
There’s a set of rules for mobile phone usage set by the Ministry or schools, like the one in MRSM Pasir Salak in Perak, for example.
But most of these rules are impossible to enforce, especially since much of it is the teacher’s responsibility. Teachers already have a lot on their plate and controlling mobile phone usage is adding an impossible task.
What’s worse is that sometimes, the phone gets used on teachers themselves.
“Sometimes I feel like a celebrity on Instagram,” confessed Ms Aisyah. “I already told the students to keep their phones and gadgets away, but the next thing I know, I was on their Instagram feed! Mind you, they act like paparazzi sometimes. I can be snapped doing anything, anywhere!”
5. Just ask Google
Teachers are humans too, just in case anyone forgets. Not everything is at the top of their heads, and they themselves are learning as well.
“I feel there’s less respect for teachers nowadays. Students want instant gratification. They’ll look for the answers on the Internet if teachers can’t attend to their questions on the spot,” said Ms Sherry.
Sometimes, they even challenge the teachers with info they found on the Internet, if it was different from what the teachers said.
Now I for one encourage healthy debates and meaningful discussions. But to blatantly refuse what the teachers say just because you read something contrary online is just disrespectful.
“It’s a pampered and spoiled generation of students we have now,” said Ms Aisyah. “Not everyone is like that, but these are the ones who doubt teachers. They think, what’s the use of teachers now? We have the internet for everything.”
But after all this, do we still need teachers? Heck YES!
“We need human interaction and ‘touch’. That’s just something that piles of books or vast amounts of information online can’t replace – a teachers’ explanation,” said Atiqa, a former student.
“Thanks to the awesome teachers I had and the books we actually read for research, there wasn’t a need for us to seek clarification online. And hey, we turned out better than OK!”
And while technology is an excellent learning and teaching tool, some feel that it shouldn’t take over teachers’ roles as educators.
“We need to make and shape the tech-savvy generation into ‘becoming humans’ again,” said Ms Sherry.
“Surprise surprise, a lot of teachers still use the old-fashioned way of educating, by actually talking and listening to the students. “This ‘teacher package’ comes complete with intonation, feelings, facial expressions, and two-way interaction – things that robotic gadgets don’t possess.”
Ms Aisyah concurred, saying “We can’t stop students from using the technology via phones and other gadgets. We can’t possibly monitor and supervise them 100% either.
“But education is also about learning by example, preparing one for life skills and knowledge, including social contact and communication – there are certain things one can’t possibly get via technology alone.”
“A good teacher, like a good entertainer, first must hold his audience’s attention, then he can teach his lesson” – John Henrik Clarke
There’s no way of stopping technology from making its way into people’s lives. While it can be challenging, teachers must find a way to use as a complement to their teaching methods – only then can mobile phones be an asset in the classroom.
For more articles about teachers, read These Four Malaysian Teachers Went the Extra Mile for Their Students: Here Are Their Stories, and It Took a Lot to Make Me Leave the Education Industry. Here’s My Story.