A Frustrated Teacher Finds a Better Way

21st Century Education: Teacher Professional Development

teacher thailand stemWhere are my kids?‘ Ms. Pannee Sriyab would ask herself as she scanned her sparsely populated classroom. Few of her students were interested in math, and even fewer wanted to watch Pannee squeakily scribble combinations of letters and numbers on the whiteboard. The formulas, after all, seemed as useful to their lives as the sundial is for telling time.

It got so bad that rather than going to class, many of her students would spend the entire 50-minute period hiding in the restroom or cafeteria.

The indifference of her kids broke Pannee’s heart – she wanted desperately to make them care, to understand the importance of math, and to find beauty in the magic of numbers. She dreamed of transforming the lives of kids, and yet day-after-day for five years, she found herself lecturing to half-empty classrooms, where boredom was the norm.

Frustrated but not without hope, Pannee set out to discover the secret to capturing her students’ interest in math. She started by asking the other math teachers at Tonkeaw Padung Pittayalai School for help. Because the school had too few teachers for too many students, no one had time for Pannee. Next, she went online to see what other teachers did to create engaged learners. However, these teachers were from wealthy schools in Bangkok, and the techniques weren’t easily transferable to her classroom in rural Chiang Mai. Finally, she joined a couple of in-person professional development programs for teachers, but these advocated for one-way rote-learning methodologies that kids find about as engaging as reading the warranty of a refrigerator.

She began to think teaching might not be for her when she was offered the opportunity to join Kenan’s teacher professional development program. Despite her bad experiences with other programs, she gave it a chance. As soon as she entered the training venue, she realized that this program was different. Unlike the other programs, Kenan trained teachers as if they were students themselves – meaning they had the opportunity to experience the power of hands-on, inquiry-based learning firsthand.

After the training, Pannee knew how to analyze the Thai curriculum, empathize with her kids when designing lessons, and use high-impact teaching practices. This process led her to consider critical questions, such as ‘what do my kids need to know?’, ‘how can I deliver engaging content?’, and ‘how can I relate math to the lives of my kids?’

Following Kenan’s advice, Pannee flipped the focus of learning from herself to her students. No more lectures; No more blindly memorizing formulas; No more copying what’s on the board until your fingers go numb.

As Pannee started piloting the new approach, Kenan was with her every step of the way. Unlike the other trainings that ended the second the PowerPoint went blank, Kenan provided continuous mentorship support through its professional learning community (PLC) model. The PLC brings teachers in the area together regularly to share effective practices, discuss common problems, and receive feedback from Kenan’s master teachers.

Each PLC meeting helped Pannee grow the skills and confidence needed to blossom into the great teacher she dreamed of becoming. Now Pannee’s 7th and 8th-grade math classes are group-based adventures, where kids apply concepts from the Thai curriculum to the real world. For example, when teaching the Pythagorean Theorem (an essential concept in geometry and STEM education), she no longer asks her kids to memorize A2 + B2 = C2. Now they test the Theorem out in the real world by using a compass to triangulate the distance between objects.

Today, Pannee cannot help but smile when she enters her classroom, teeming with kids engrossed in the world of math. Since joining Kenan’s program in 2016, the results are clear – attendance has increased, engagement has skyrocketed, and test scores have improved.

Had Pannee given up her search to become a great teacher four years ago, hundreds of kids would have never experienced the power of a 21st-century math education. Fortunately, Pannee never gave up, and her perseverance has been rewarded. After all, nothing makes her as happy as when parents tell her how much kids love her class – something she now hears every day.

Ready to learn more about Kenan’s professional development program for teachers? Visit www.kenan-asia.org/teacher-professional-development

Kenan Asia

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