Rant & Rave

By Cherie Chun

Tuesday, August 20, 1996

Some teachers need to
learn to teach

Besides all the usual reasons for screaming when they enter college this fall, freshmen might experience the most anguish from finding that their high schools did little to equip them for further academics.

This and other issues related to the improvement of the public school system will be discussed when Department of Education school board members and University of Hawaii regents meet in October to examine "academic damage control" or the minimization of higher education struggle through adequate preparation.

One issue they should explore is why so many public school graduates don't have basic math and English skills. They could start by focusing on English teachers. Unless I had all the bad ones, no public school English teacher of mine included sufficient writing practice or critiques of writing in their classes.

The most writing I ever did was in a senior Advanced Placement European History class. The teacher from that class yelled at us for the inability of a number of students to compose a basic essay. "You should be getting this in your English classes!" she screamed.

I'm not suggesting that English teachers spend the entire school year nitpicking about grammatical errors. Neither am I saying that all teachers are deficient in this respect. But some of them need to devote part of their time to helping each student improve their writing. Even if students won't be going to college, they should possess writing skills.

ANOTHER matter the DOE and UH need to examine is the absence of critical thinking skills among students - that is, the ability to apply analysis and reasoning in formulating an opinion, rather than taking every so-called "fact," stereotype or bias at face value.

For all I know, teachers might not be very good at critical thinking themselves. Just like their students, they may not have had the chance to sharpen or develop this type of thinking when they were in school. Therefore, their students won't have the chance to develop those skills either.

Unless there has been a major change within the school system after I entered college a year ago, the majority of public school teachers rely on dull methods of teaching, at all grade levels.

The most common method is the "memorize and regurgitate" technique, "learning" by memorizing facts from a book and repeating them during tests.

Students who can follow this method are deemed intelligent and rewarded with A's. Meanwhile, others, who may have poor memories, but who can think and participate in class discussions, may have to settle for lower grades. These same students might later excel and be rewarded in college-level discussions.

Don't get the impression that I want memorization eliminated. That can't be done, especially in math and foreign languages. It just appears that too few teachers know how to or attempt to conduct their classes in a way that will foster critical thinking.

Having said all this, one thing should be obvious. There are different learning and teaching techniques best suited to different students and teachers. So who has to conform to whom?

Students must learn to adapt to various teaching techniques, because they will encounter many styles throughout their school years. If students must do this, teachers should meet them half way and adapt to their needs, rather than relying on a single method of teaching.

Hopefully, when the DOE and UH meet, they will do their part to try and improve the public school system so that students won't find themselves braving unnecessary obstacles in the future.

Any improvement in public schools does not let families off the hook. Parents and children together need to make efforts to reach academic success.

Cherie Chun will be a sophomore at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the fall.

Rant & Rave is a Tuesday Star-Bulletin feature allowing teens and young adults to serve up fresh perspective. Guys and girls speak up by fax at 523-8509; by answering machine at 525-8666; snail mail at P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, HI 96802; or e-mail, features@starbulletin.com

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