Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Whither Thou Goest, PPD or School, It's All Up To You

Today a friend asked me for some advice.  Should he go to the PPD (education district office) or stay in school?

Well, it all really depends.

I know why he asks me for advice.  I am currently working in the Kota Kinabalu PPD and I have past experience working in the State Education Department.  I've also racked up a reasonable number of years in school, if you'd call 11 years reasonable. 

Here's what I want to say to him and I'll make it clear that this is my OPINION.

How many years has one been in school?  Two years?  Six years?  I'd want to have at least three years of school service time under my belt before I try the challenging walk of a PPD officer.  Some people would scoff at that and say more years are required.  However, if a teacher has been in school almost seven years, I'd advise him to stay put.  He has better promotional chances in school.  HOWEVER, there are many reasons for one to serve as a PPD officer (note that I use the word 'serve'... more on that later.)

Anyway, some of the posts in PPD are for DGA29 and DG41 officers.  Such officers only last about nine years, after which they move into a higher grade.  So if the boss wants experienced staff, he'll have to be ready to see these officers go after a few short years.  So it may actually be smarter to take on a 'young' DGA29 or DG41 officer who's got six more years to go before he qualifies for time-based DGA32/DG44.

One should also consider whether the post is 'hakiki' or 'secara pentadbiran'.  To take a post that is in the PPD structure is preferable to being posted to the PPD but one is still 'with' the school.  There are disadvantages to this and there can be confusion with things such as leave.  But at this moment, there is a situation in my own office where the new structure has yet to be actualised but the officers are already being posted in.  Which is why they find themselves in the slightly-undesirable position of being a school teacher doing work in the office.

While experience would really help one hold one's own as an officer, a positive attitude and a strong work ethic would be more useful.  PPD officers can't 'clock out' at 5.00 p.m.   If an MOE officer is in town to check on things, the PPD officer has to be ready.  If a district function takes place at night, the PPD officer has to be present and on the job.  Hmmm, teachers do this too, don't they?

Another inescapable fact of life for every PPD officer is they are reference points.  They must be able to answer questions and guide teachers and schools in their district in their effort to achieve academic excellence.  At the same time, the PPD officer needs to have circulars and ministry guidelines at their fingertips, if not in their laptop hard disks.  If they don't know something related to their sphere of influence, then they must know where to get the info. 

Here's where I would remind my friend of the word 'serve'.  The PPD officers are meant to be enablers and guides to schools, not little Napoleons.nnOne mistake some officers make is to think that they are almighty.  Well, my dear DG41 PPD officer, you may be in the position to send letters to that DG52 school principal or make phone calls to that DG44 senior assistant but in 12 years' time, you may find that principal or senior assistant looking at you from his post as State Education Director.  So watch your tone of voice... nobody is asking you to be slavish... surely being civil isn't difficult. Govt officers are very into hierarchy :) The schools follow your directives, not because the directives are YOURS but because you are representing the ministry.  'Saya Yang Menurut Perintah', remember????  That translates to 'I Who Follow Orders'. 

Whoops, I've gone a bit off track.

But, dear friend, if you're not aiming to be a Master Teacher or a Form Six Academic Teacher, going to the PPD is not a bad thing to do.  You'd gain plenty of invaluable experience.  Hmm, let's see now what you can get out of the experience...

Experience in Translating Plans Into Action
The MOE and State Edu Dept are wonderful at coming up with plans.  But the people who have to see the plans translated into reality are usually those in the PPD and the schools.  When things go wrong, the ones to get lambasted are usually these poor creatures.  That friend of mine will also find out the wonderful agony of trying to pull a group of diverse (& fickle?) personalities together.  When things go well, it's a feeling like no other!  Conversely, the feeling of doom is like no other, either.  Ha ha.

Great Network of Friends
After a few years, a friendly officer (who is also a joy to work with) will have gained a network of friends in schools, PPD offices, the state education dept, the ministry and also, if he's lucky enough, in the private sector.   When you need info or help, these contacts can really work wonders!

The Ability To See Your Vision Come To Life
If you have always had passionate ideas about what should or could be done by teachers, with teachers and for teachers, you can make these ideas come to life as an officer in the PPD. 

When I was an ICT officer, looking after ICT teachers all over Sabah, I wanted them to have access to information and courses... I wanted them to be able to be up and running on the first day of teaching the ICT subject... I wanted them to feel that working in a school deep in the jungle wasn't too much of a handicap as compared to to their counterparts in the cities.  I wanted them NOT to need the help of an officer in the dept.  So what I did was to set up online networking (blog and group) and also a system of information sharing.  Made them share one test paper each year (imagine if 50 teachers shared 55 test papers every year....).  Made them share their strategies, ideas and materials.  I left that job years ago... but that network is still in place.  They don't need to meet IRL to get info.  The net is their world.  Some have left Sabah... but they are still in touch. 

A teacher can invite colleagues to share in an endeavour but an officer can make a project and a program out of an idea.  Those ICT teachers weren't all of them keen on sharing (LOL...) but there was this adamant and pushy officer who just wouldn't stop harassing them...and she used directives to back that bossiness up. 

Confidence In The Public Eye
Like it or not, a PPD officer has to conduct and/or chair meetings, make speeches and debate points with just about everyone.  After a few months/years, a new officer is sure to have gained more self-confidence and a stronger sense of self.  Unless he has decided for himself to collapse under the challenge.  Although why he would do so is beyond me.  I strongly believe that if you lack something within yourself, you should have the sense to go out and find it or learn it or borrow it till it becomes yours.

When all is said and done, a PPD officer is a teacher identified and lifted out from among other teachers, expected to handle education programs at the district level.  This officer is given the chance to show his mettle.  So what he does and shows is up to him. 

In past posts, I griped and moaned about leaving school for the PPD.  It wasn't because the PPD is such a terrible place.  It was because I hadn't had enough of school yet.  I hadn't seen my plans come to fruition in my previous place of work yet (2 years and 4 months was just not enough time).  But now I've come to terms with what has happened.  And I'm 'waking up'.  So watch out, Maths and Science teachers in KK...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Unwritten Teacher Skills

Or should I call them survival skills?

Skill No. 1 : How To Be A Team Player

The school organisation is like wheels in a cog, fitted together, sometimes well, sometimes awkwardly.  But STILL fitted together.  Those who aren't team players will find themselves facing hard times.  They'll still get on... but not as easily as when they take the team into consideration.

Skill No. 2 : How To Identify Team Leaders In The Staffroom

Every school staffroom has leaders.  They could be the Loud Busybody or the Strong Silent GC or the Smiley I-Love-Everybody Gossip.  They could be the principal's first cousin or the Education Director's wife.  But usually what they say goes.  And it tends to go a long way.  Getting on these people's good side is usually the smarter thing to do.  Unless you really have no choice.  Then I wish you luck.

Skill No. 3 : How To Identify Clique Leaders In The Classroom

In any group of people, there will be the followers and there will be the leaders.  In my first year of teaching, I found out that I could control a whole class of grim-eyed, knuckle-cracking teenagers just by identifying the three clique leaders in the classroom and getting them on my side.  Why didn't my lecturers ever tell us about this?

Skill No. 4 : How To Prioritise Work

Or in simpler terms, how to recognise work to complete and work to keep in the file.

Teachers now have so much work to do that it is just IMPOSSIBLE to finish everything.  So a smart teacher will decide which work to complete and which to shelve (until available time opens up.. such as during a flood or storm).  Usually, the most important things to do will be the teaching record book, student records-keeping (especially the attendance record!) and the marking of books.  Next will be data that needs to be submitted to the District Office or the Ministry of Education.  Other things come low on the list.

Other skills are optional :)