Andy Chung’s Soapbox
Andy Chung’s Soapbox
MR. CHUNG’S SOAPBOX
Why Teach? A Mother’s Influence
While I was working in business, I often wondered why I felt empty and lost. People regularly said how fortunate I was and how they wished they had my job. How little did they know that I felt my life wasting away. I knew if I did not change the path I had chosen, I would have gone crazy. I had to do something different with my life but the problem was I did not know what it would be.
After I walked away from my job, I had lots of time to reflect on my past and contemplate my future. What I often recalled were stories my mother told me of her childhood days growing up in southern Taiwan before and during World War II. At that time, Taiwan was a colony of Japan. I do not want to go into the pros and cons of the occupation, but one positive value that the Japanese held in high regard was education. Two stories told by my mother still impact me greatly to this day.
When Japan surrendered to the United States, one of the conditions of its defeat was the repatriation of the Japanese from her former colonies. Taiwan was to be returned as a province of China. Upon hearing this news, my mother wanted to say her farewells to her teacher whom she was quite fond of. As she approached the school, she heard noises coming from her classroom. Peering through the window, my mother saw her teacher wiping desks, scrubbing floors and putting everything in order. These actions were from a teacher who would never see her students and school ever again. My mother was so proud and moved by her teacher she did not know how to say good-bye and left. Little did the teacher know that her behavior that day left a lasting impression on one of her students and her future son as well.
Later that same day, my mother went down to the dock to say her “sayonaras” to her Japanese classmates who were waiting for their boat back to Japan. What greatly impressed her was what they were doing. They were studying! Their country was just utterly defeated and they were holding class outside!?! Now looking back at Japan’s history since their devastating loss in World War II, we see a country that rose from her ashes to become an economic superpower within decades, while more affluent countries fell behind. Many have questioned how a small island nation with few natural resources could have achieved this remarkable feat. I know the simple answer—EDUCATION!! The Japanese have developed their human resources to such an extent they overcame their other deficiencies.
Returning to an academic environment after 15 years, I am quite shocked and appalled to see how school has changed from the time I was in elementary school. The one constant I noticed are the dedicated teachers genuinely concerned with the welfare of the students. What greatly disturbs and saddens me is the lack of respect our society holds for teachers and education in general. At public schools, I have observed the non-support from parents, the apathy of students, and the lack of essential facilities—all needed for a successful education program. My friends often ask me why I would go into such a profession. All I need to find the answer to that question is to recall the stories my mother told me; stories that taught me the value of teachers and education to society.
When my mother found out I became a teacher, her reaction was one of pride and delight. She knows from her heart and experience that there is no greater impact on society than the noble teachers that influence its future.
Social Studies-The Most Human of Subjects
It’s true of all subjects, of course, but social studies can be especially boring or fascinating, depending on the teacher. Most history lessons begin with some sort of text, but it’s impossible for even good texts to cover everything with the depth of relevance, excitement, and fun we want our students to feel when they study history. For years, we have sent students to school and burdened them with the most tedious textbooks imaginable–deadly dull books written by one set of professors to be read by another set of professors, which completely sucked the life out of this most human of subjects.
Truth is not so cosmetically perfect. Our historical sense is frequently skewed by myths and misconceptions. Schools that package a tidy set of historical images are largely responsible for fostering these American myths. There is always a tendency to hide the less savory moments of our past. On top of that, the gaping chasms in our historical literacy have been reinforced from images of pop culture. For the most part, mainstream movies and mainstream television have magnified the myths and makeovers. It is important to understand that looking past these myths is revealing. The real picture is much more interesting than the historical tummy-tuck and truth is always more interesting than propaganda.
Someone will surely say, so what? Why bother with history anyways? What difference does it make that our kids know what the Declaration of Independence says or doesn’t say? Why does it matter that people think Watergate is just old news? The answer is simple. History is a consequence of our actions, large and small, and that has never been more apparent than the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. That event has changed many Americans appreciation of the past and what it has to do with the present. History can explain how we got where we are. We can use it to connect the dots from past to present. Take the Versailles Treaty—consider what this treaty, which supposedly settled World War I back in 1919 actually did. In a clear and obvious sense, it laid the groundwork for another World War twenty years later. But, look past that. You can draw a straight line from the Treaty of Versailles to the modern Middle East, Iran, Iraq, the Balkan countries of Europe and even Vietnam. All these hot spots of the past few decades were created in the aftermath of Versailles when the European powers carved up the world into colonies that they thought they could rule as they pleased.
I believe it my responsible to make important events of our past as interesting as possible for our students. This is what I intend to do this year. The only way to make history and politics interesting is telling stories of real people doing real things. Traditionally, we have wanted our heroes to be pure and unsullied. But, the greatest heroes of the American epic are still people, often flawed people with deep contradictions. The simple views of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln as perfect heroes don’t always stand up to scrutiny. The American story is not that simple. There are moments in America’s past that can breathe cynicism and disgust, yet there are other moments that evoke pride and admiration. But, it is the humanity of these people and that they accomplished great things, in spite of their flaws and contradictions, that make them so fascinating.
The history of this country is not a smooth continuum moving towards a perfectly realized republic. American remains shockingly divided among racial and economic lines. One can look at this rift and feel pessimism, but the optimist can point the distance America has come in a relatively brief period of time. Of course, that is a small consolation to those who have been on the short end of the stick. Perhaps what is important is the commitment and acknowledgement of the true American dream-the dream that Jefferson voiced more than two hundred years ago. Even though his vision his vision of “all men are created equal” is probably different from our modern understanding, it remains the noblest of dreams and the greatest of aspirations.
It’s All About Connections
Integration is a concept that should be at the forefront of education. Life is all about connections in which we apply knowledge to solve problems—whether we are using prior learning to understand new concepts, utilizing knowledge in one field to visualize another, or just harnessing what we have learned in the classroom to our lives.
What is interesting to note is that physiologically our brain cells also make connections through synapses as we have new experiences. We now have the technology to actually see these connections being made in young children as they learn or experience new things. Conversely, it was also found synapses disappear if a child is not stimulated.
This is why I believe thematic mini-units are a great vehicle for integration. Lessons can be built upon in which knowledge learned is used for following lessons. Too often teachers introduce new material in which students have no background of the procedure or content of the material. Not utilizing past learning in an effective way is a formula for students eventually forgetting information and ideas taught in school.
I have often heard from students the comment, “Why are we learning this?” If students fail to see the purpose of school, they will lose motivation. It is sad to see bright students do poorly in school because of lack of interest. What is even more of a tragedy is when these kids direct their talents into negative anti-social behavior. Relevant, meaningful learning would go a long way in helping students enjoy school.
What Happened to Those Carbon Copies that Smelled So Good?
Being halfway through my life, I often find myself in a contemplative and reflective mood. Entering education after being in business for so long, I had many surprises when I returned to school. I noticed children don’t sit alphabetically in rows anymore. There is much more emphasis on critical thinking than on memorization. There are many more learning tools such as computers, videos, and even copier machines. What happened to the film projector my teacher always had problems using? Where are those worksheets that had the blue ink that smelled so good? Where is the card catalog in the library?
One thing that bothers me is the lowering of standards in our schools. I hear comments like, “All kids can learn.” I agree but I do not want the ceiling of standards to be lowered to have this accomplished. What about all the bright and eager students in our classes? Yes, all kids can learn, but I approach this thought by raising the floor so everyone can have higher standards regardless of academic ability. I believe self-esteem is built on high achievement. We often tell the students that they are all right no matter what they do. Does this mean that they don’t need to improve, that they don’t have to strive for anything?
I worry because giving children false self-esteem will have them ill-prepared for the realities for the world outside of school. I ponder these questions because I have two young children. I want them to be always happy but at what expense? Do I intervene to the point where they make no mistakes? Do I give them a chance to struggle and figure out problems on their own? Will I give them the “gift” of failure, so they will need to overcome their fears and doubts? Being a parent and a teacher leads me to reflection because I am always wondering what is the “right” thing for the children.
Mindless Teaching and Math Phobia
As most of you know, I come from a world outside of teaching so my perspective is very different from people who have been in education all their lives. I am always questioning, “Do the kids need to know his?” “What critical thinking skills are essential for them to succeed outside of the classroom?” “What attitudes are needed to be a productive member of our society?” I do not want to be a person who teaches irrelevant and meaningless topics for the sake of creating an illusion of teaching and learning. It is a waste of time for the students as well as myself. I feel there is too much of this mindless teaching in our education system.
I read somewhere that more than two-thirds of American adults fear and loathe mathematics. Math is up there with snakes, public speaking, and heights. It’s the least favorite of the three Rs of education. I often hear, “Only some people are good in math.” “Math is for nerds.” I hear other teachers say, “I was never good in math.” “I hate math.” Many students as well as teachers ask me why I emphasize math as much as I do and try to make the lessons as interesting and relevant as possible. I believe the negative attitudes and beliefs that people hold about math have seriously limited them personally, both in their daily lives and long-term options. Nationally, this will hurt our ability to compete in the global marketplace as well as develop new technologies to protect our environment. I believe teachers are to blame for this negative attitude. Hopefully, I can give them one year of math in elementary school in where math will spark their imaginations and give them confidence in the subject.
Brave New World
Did you know that in 1850 there was an invention for the classroom that teachers absolutely hated? There were newspaper articles declaring this “contraption” would never catch on. Do you know what this invention was? It was the blackboard! Previously, teachers never turned their backs to the students. Turning around and writing on the board was so uncomfortable for the teachers that there was much resistance to using it. They were too suspicious of what their students were doing behind their backs.
I mentioned the blackboard as an example of resistance to change and innovation because I too have the same problems with technology. I remember the first calculators when I was in 5th grade…when “apple” was just a fruit…when my dad carried around a slide rule…and when the first video game “Pong” came out. I didn’t grow up with technology. Instead, I built treehouses, made models, and played baseball during the summers.
Becoming a teacher much later on in my life, I realize it is now a different world for our children. This is their world and I have to prepare them for the world that is now. I force myself to use technology in the classroom, and try to use it as naturally as I would a blackboard. We have computers, the internet, smart boards, ELMOs, LCD projectors, Power Point, CD and video players. I struggle to find a way to integrate all this technology in enhancing my teaching. I constantly ask myself what does a 21st century classroom look like?
In using technology, I realize that we have to have good habits just like in doing anything else—always remember to save periodically…organize your files so you can find them later…label your work specifically so you know the content of files…and so on. I am realizing it is not enough just teaching children to use technology, but how to use it responsibly. What a brave, new world we live in now!
Use of Technology-Good Teachers Are Irreplacable
Without sounding redundant, I believe we teachers should step back and carefully consider the use of technologies in our classroom before we plunge headfirst. Just because we have it does not mean it is necessary to use it. We must constantly ask ourselves does the incorporation of a certain technology enhance learning or detract from it. Does it foster critical thinking in our children? Too often, I have seen students spend wasteful minutes playing with what type of fonts to use when writing a report. I have also observed students who have taken the first source they encounter on the internet without regard to the source. Technology is a means to the end which is to promote authentic learning in students. It is a tool and it takes a reflective teacher to effectively incorporate technology to enhance the education of the students, That is why I believe a good teacher can never be replaced.
I have experienced presentations by adults in which they just turn on a computer to show without any interaction with the audience. I have seen Power Point presentations in which the letter was so light I could hardly read the text, or in which the graphics and audio were so dazzling, yet distracting that it took away from the content of the presentation. I know it seems I am “pounding out the same beat” at times, but I believe we, as teachers must always question our approaches and methods in instruction in order to create critical thinkers, and not mindless automatons who do not question why when they do something.
After watching the video “Did You Know,” I am sure many of us questioned how we can prepare our kids for a world that is hard to imagine and anticipate. As a teacher, I believe the most important thing I can impart on my students is the ability to learn how to learn. It is not what you know that will set you apart, but how you learn because what you learn today will be out-dated sooner than you think. To learn how to learn, you have to love learning because so much about learning is being about being motivated to teach yourself.
This is where technology is invaluable. This passion to learn and curiosity for discovery can be enhanced in an environment in which we teachers can make available all the technologies for students to discover the world for themselves so they can educate themselves in a rich way. I like the question on the video that asked, what did we do B.G. (before Google). When students ask me a question now that I don’t know, we can instantly look it up and have a rich discussion on topics such as: Is the source reliable and are there other viewpoints on the subject?
In conclusion, I strongly feel at this moment (who knows what thoughts I might have in the future), in this day and age, it is essential to use technology effectively and the sooner it is implemented (in a responsible way), the easier it will be for students in the long run. What comes to mind are projects involving Power Point technology I have assigned in the past. The creation of an effective overall presentation involved important and invaluable skills such as planning, synthesis, organization and visualization which students will use as building blocks for more complex and demanding projects in their futures. I know this is only the tip of the iceberg. The possibilities are endless.
What Makes a Good Reader?
What makes a good reader? Does it mean that you can read quickly? Does it mean you read a lot of books? What I believe makes a good reader is a person who THINKS when they read. I love when a student tells me that the book they are reading reminds them of something that happened in his/her life or he/she connects the story to some other subject that we are learning. It is wonderful to observe students question what they have read or imagine what will happen next.
I realized that this concept does not only apply to reading. Whether you are listening in class, playing games, or just watching television, I believe it is important to actively participate by thinking and reflecting on what is happening. These are the habits of mind that will create successful individuals. What I don’t want to see happening is when a child stops thinking and questioning what is going on around them.
Literature and Student Ownership
When I think of assessment and evaluation, what comes to mind are the endless quizzes and tests I took as an elementary school student. Classrooms were teacher-dominated with students expected to memorize what was taught. Those who knew how to play this game were the ones who got the good grades. How relevant this was to our growth as life-long learners was not considered. I understand now that those teachers wanted to guide us young and inexperienced students, but I fear this education was an “indocrination” to a rigid approach in which students lost their capacity for originality and problem-solving. (I also believe many teachers lost their ability to teach creatively as well). As students grow older, they become merely replicas of the system or reject learning altogether.
Student ownership is a concept that should be applied to all subjects. I believe development of a student’s ownership in learning is the ultimate goal of education in which students develop a positive attitude toward subjects such as reading and writing in order to accomplish real-world tasks and enrich their lives. When a child proudly states, “I love to read and write,” he or she will more than likely apply his or her learning at home as well as at school.
This is why I believe literature is art and should be appreciated in terms of the larger picture in which it is the continuous journal of the human imagination. So often are we focused on the process of teaching students critical thinking skills that we instruct reading as a series of unrelated steps in which we want our students to memorize and master.
This approach is at times so stale and wearisome that students lose interest in reading. If we can capture a child’s imagination that literature is something we humans share, students will naturally use their critical thinking skills because of their intrinsic desires to explore and discover.
Sunday, August 26th, 2007
It was a sincere pleasure meeting all of you at Open House. Your concern and love for your child touched my heart and reinforced my desire to do my best for the students.
While driving to school today, I was thinking of how much I love my job. I look forward to stepping into my classroom every morning, and during the day I never watch the clock to see if it is time to go home. In fact, I wish the day was longer. No matter how carefully I plan, I never know what to expect at the start of each day which makes my job very exciting.
I look forward to another fun week of learning. Personally, I get to relearn all the subjects that I daydreamed through when I was a student.
My Vision-Ka‘iwa Ho‘owehe (New Hawaiian Cultural Center)
I believe the use of the new Hawaiian Cultural Center should reflect what type of Hawaiian leaders we want to cultivate as well as the realities of our global world.
With a rich history and deep knowledge, Hawaiians have much to teach the world about values towards others and the environment. Hawaiians managed to live in a sustainable way before Western contact using the ahupua‘a land management system. Natural resources were conserved while the ecosystem was protected. From the wisdom of their kupuna, I would like our keiki to learn the true meaning of malama i ka ‘äina at our new cultural center, to become leaders not only in the Hawai‘i, but globally as well.
We are developing students who can move past their history and into their imaginations. But the type of person who will succeed in our brave new world is someone who can also transcend race and build relationships—someone with a spirit of cooperation who is tolerant of others. It will require people who think before they react and who understand the consequences of their actions. It calls for self-respecting people who feel good about where they came from and don’t apologize for who they are, and it calls for people who will continue to grow and develop and who will bring value to themselves and those they represent.
I foresee Hawai‘i as a center for teaching the world about sustainability, marine science, alternative energy sources, and even race relations. With the world gone wrong in so many ways, we feel a different perspective will be needed to solve problems in the world.
I believe this new cultural center can become an integral part in creating Hawaiian leaders who can be an inspiration to the world.