μεταcole

Choose the Teacher, Not the Subject

Posted in all posts, teaching by coleman yee on October 1, 2006

Some of my students were asking my opinion on what subjects they should choose to enrol in the next semester. You see, the institution where I work requires students to do a certain number of “interdisciplinary” subjects, subjects which are not related to their course of study. This means a Mechanical Engineering student can also enrol for subjects like Social Psychology, Financial Management, or Basic French, and a Business student can do subjects like Photography, Drama & Poetry, or Literature Appreciation.

The typical advice for students would be to pick the subject which they are most interested in, or at least the one that sounds most interesting, or the least boring one (if none of them seem remotely interesting). If all else fails, pick the one that seems easiest to get a passing grade. For instance, Photography would probably be easier than Social Psychology.

The advice I gave to my students was to pick the subject with the best teacher, regardless of whether the subject seems interesting or not. (Of course, I then had to help them identify the best teachers in the list.)

With a great teacher, any dull subject can be transformed into a meaningful and engaging one, inspiring the student into deep and profound learning. All the student has to do is to step into the classroom with an open mind.

Those who disagree with me on this point probably have never been inspired by a great teacher before. Which, unfortunately, is not too uncommon, because great teachers are a precious few.

And if the student is already interested in a certain subject, but the teacher isn’t a good one, I would still advise that student to choose the subject with the best teacher instead.

Besides not being engaging and inspiring, a poor teacher can even kill whatever interest the student has in that subject, so the student will actually be worse off at the end of the semester.

We don’t have anything on the History of Carpet Weaving in Turkey, but if we do and a great teacher is teaching it, I’d make sure all my students sign up for it. I might even request to join in some of the lessons!

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10 Responses

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  1. Trisha said, on October 3, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    hmm…interesting post. I remembered being inspired to pursue English at the University (even though I was from a pure Science stream all along) after I’ve had a couple of very inspiring GP teachers in college. On the other hand, although I was very comfortable with Maths and Science subjects, I have never really met any Maths/Science teachers who could fire up in me an interest to explore the subject beyond the textbook.

    So maybe you’re right. It also makes me shiver to think that – I – have the ability to kill the interest of students I teach. Very scary thought!

  2. Hui Nee said, on October 4, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    wah!! cool cool. so who’s the best teacher for like ISP n Jap? haha.. i chose ISP over photography cuz i no digital camera.

  3. marilynn said, on October 6, 2006 at 10:53 pm

    i so agree with what you said! haha

  4. zzz said, on October 19, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    Are you a teacher? I thought your designation is Technical Support Officer. Where do you get your students? Definition of great teachers is very subjective. It’s better for the students to discover on their own. Your experience with your teachers does not necessarily mean that all teachers should be categorised according to your standards, right?
    Students have the responsibility to determine their own learning outcomes, instead of blaming the teachers when they have no interest to learn. After all, they pay the school fees and spend that amount of time in the classrooms!

  5. jeremy t said, on October 20, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    zzz: Are you a teacher? If you are, I don’t want to be your student because you are defensive and incoherent. We pay school fees so we have the right to expect to have good teacers.

  6. Hui Nee said, on October 21, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    yup. I agree with jeremy t.

    zzz: u dun have to worry abt where he got his students. I’m one of them. and he great himself. I guess u just haven’t met wonderful teachers who could really interest you in their subject yet. wait till u have. u will noe how great it is.

    not to worry about me, I’ve met a few of such great teachers b4, like my pri 4 maths teacher, my pri 6 chinese teacher, my sec 2 english teacher, my sec 3 n 4 chemistry teachers, as well as some poly lecturers. They were all excellent teachers n their lessons were never boring. Even the dry-est lessons could be made interesting n fun by them.

    and as long as you are in schools, no matter what u work as, you will have certain exposure to students. Even those office non-teaching staffs, TSOs… students can even be extremely good friends with them.

    and yes, coleman is great. no doubts about it.

  7. thecoralbay said, on October 22, 2006 at 11:28 am

    zzz:

    In your own words, ” (The) definition of great teachers is very subjective”. So how can someone’s designation affect his ability to be a great teacher? Can’t Technical Support Officers be great teachers in their own right?

    How can students have interest to learn if the teacher is boring or ineffective in the first place? Students have their own responsibilty to learn to the extent that the teacher is able to teach effectively. As such, great teachers are neccessary, not sufficient. You are saying that great teachers are not neccessary in the first place – and that sure is a nice way of pushing the buck.

    I am reluctant to do a point-for-point attack because your other fallacious statements don’t even support your arguments in the first place.

    Try harder.

  8. coleman yee said, on October 25, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    zzz said: “Students have the responsibility to determine their own learning outcomes, instead of blaming the teachers when they have no interest to learn.”

    Whenever I found that my students weren’t engaged during my lesson, or didn’t learn very much, I ALWAYS take the blame first, before pointing fingers elsewhere. Sure, students have their part to play, but that’s that doesn’t keep me from doing whatever I can to make the lesson engaging and meaningful.

  9. The Power of the Marginal « μεταcole said, on November 21, 2006 at 11:43 pm

    […] I can’t help but notice how this is quite similar to my recent *ahem* post “Choose the Teacher, Not the Subject“,  The typical advice for students would be to pick the subject which they are most interested in [….] The advice I gave to my students was to pick the subject with the best teacher, regardless of whether the subject seems interesting or not. […]

  10. jianhui said, on February 3, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    actually ISP is much more easier and fun than photography, which is tedious. haha.


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