“IF WE CHALLENGE OURSELVES,
WE CAN ALSO CHALLENGE OUR STUDENTS”
Three young teachers reflect on their efforts to improve
their teaching and transform their STEM classrooms
Teachers are the sole most important school factor in student performance. No matter the facilities, service or leadership of the school, studies find that good instruction has a two to three times more powerful impact on student learning compared to other school factors.
More so than the availability of textbooks, or number of desks in a classroom, it is the teacher who conjures the magic that can inspire a lifelong love of knowledge.
“I like to teach because I like to hear the students say ‘aha,’” reflected Kongsith Itthiyophasakul, a math teacher at Saithonguppathum School in Chachoengsao Province. “Students are filled with curiosity and a great desire to learn.”
Even so, entering the classroom day after day to a room full of children and molding them into future citizens is not an easy task. The writer William Arthur Ward once explained, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
‘Great teachers’ are wonderful yet rare; it takes years of concentrated self-development to develop pedagogical practices that rouse students’ critical thinking, creativity and passion. Especially in science and math classrooms, rote memorization of facts and formulas has been the default practice for a long time.
“When I was a student, teachers will just come to class and speak, and we would listen. We had to recite, fill worksheets and do homework exercises,” reflected Rattanasak, who has taught science at Watlaemfapah School in Samut Prakarn for seven years. “When I see our country’s ONET and PISA scores, I know that we have to improve.”
“I realized that I have to change my teaching style to encourage students to find their own ways of learning,” Rattanasak declared. “I would like to take part in revamping our education system.”
Recognizing that professional development for teachers is one of the single most direct ways to improve student achievement in the classroom, the Chevron Enjoy Science project has formed over 120 “open classroom” Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) across Thailand, engaging over 2,000 teachers in more than 650 under-resourced schools with inquiry-based STEM learning materials and pedagogy.
In an “open classroom” PLC, a team of teachers and experts craft a lesson plan based on inquiry-based pedagogy, and a ‘master teacher’ executes the lesson to a classroom. One observer will sit with each table of students, taking notes on whether the lesson is translating into student learning. After the lesson, teachers and experts will dissect the lesson together, reflecting on which approaches were ineffective, road bumps in the lesson plan, missed opportunities to engage students, and share strategies to refine both the lesson plan and execution.
“Now that I’ve had the chance to actually experience a PLC, I see that they can be much more than I had thought,” said Kongsith. “It teaches us to see how students think and analyze from their perspectives. New techniques I’ve applied in my classrooms have helped me reach ‘aha’ moments with my students.”
“[PLCs] are a chance to exchange professional points of view with other teachers,” explained Rattanasak. “In the past, teachers planned their activities on their own, but today, we have formed a team of lesson planners. It comforts teachers not to have to work alone.”
Who are the teachers molding the future generation of Thai students, and what support do they need to reach students powerfully and effectively? We asked three young teachers from three provinces to reflect on challenges in their work as they strive toward becoming ‘great teachers.’