A Frustrated Teacher Finds a Better Way

‘Where 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 grated on 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 becoming the type of teacher who transforms 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.

teacher thailand stemFrustrated but not without hope, Pannee set out to discover the secret to capturing her students’ interest in math. As you would expect, she started with those closest to her – the other math teachers at Tonkeaw Padung Pittayalai School – but because the school had too few teachers for too many students, no one had time for Pannee. Next, she went on YouTube to find out what instructional techniques had worked for other teachers to create engaged learners; however, these teachers were from wealthy schools in Bangkok, and when Pannee tried the same techniques with her kids in rural Chiang Mai, they were ineffective. 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 policy of a refrigerator.

As she moved closer to the cliff of her patience, an advertisement for Kenan’s teacher professional development program caught her attention and, 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. While the other trainings were delivered entirely through lectures, Kenan taught teachers as if they were students themselves – meaning they had the opportunity experience the power of hands-on, inquiry-based learning firsthand.

At the conclusion of the training, Pannee had learned how to analyze the Thai curriculum, empathize with her kids by considering their perspective when designing lessons, and use high-impact teaching practices, like problem-based learning. This process led her to consider critical questions, such as ‘what do my kids need to know?,’ ‘how can I deliver content in an engaging way?,’ and ‘how can I relate math to the lives of my kids?’

Energized by the training, Pannee immediately 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 in her classroom, Kenan was with her every step of the way. Unlike the other professional development programs that ended as soon as the PowerPoint went black, Kenan’s program provided continuous mentorship support through its professional learning community (PLC) model, which forms a network of participating teachers in a given area who meet 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 remarkable teacher she had 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, to teach her students the Pythagorean Theorem (one of the most important concepts in geometry and highly relevant across STEM fields), she doesn’t simply ask her kids to memorize A2 + B2 = C2, but rather to test the Theorem out in the real world by using a compass to triangulate the distance between objects.

Today, Pannee’s is filled with excitement and can’t help but smile when she enters her classroom teeming with kids fully 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 richly rewarded, because nothing fills her with happiness like having parents tell her how much their kids love her class – something she now hears all the time.

Kenan Asia

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