Looking back, Moving forward (Remembering Grade 2 Banana)

It was the first week of class and the principal had just informed me that I was going to have a section of Grade 2 pull-outs. Pull-outs comprised of non-readers and with kids with behavioral challenges. In my mind, I was excited and I never expected that it would not be as exciting or challenging as the picture I had in my mind. I had even chosen the name for my section – Grade 2 Banana. It never crossed my mind that it would be hard, unexciting, and would take everything that I had to make it work.

I went to my grade leader’s classroom and my level teachers were smiling, more like smirking, and asked me “Andam na ka para sa imong kalbaryo?” Huh? I asked. I was not expecting that at all. It was far different from what I had in mind. They repeated it again. “Andam na ka sa imong kalbaryo kay di ra ba sayon.” “Oh, ma’am, excited kay ko. Mao ni akong ganahan jud buhaton, gi ampo. Na makatudlo sa public school.” “Bantay ha. Basta pag andam lang.”

The next day I went in to class armed with all the visual aids of my class rules, claps and motivational chants – ALL IN ENGLISH. To say I was excited was an understatement. I could not sleep the night before the first day. I was very excited and thrilled to have my own class.

I stepped into my classroom and found most of the kids running around the classroom, with some boys tumbling at the back and doing somersaults. A couple of kids were running on the benches. Some were jumping. I went to the front and said “good morning” but still the ruckus went on. Nobody listened to me. A few stopped and went to their seats but would stand up again when the activity at the back seemed to be more interesting. I was wearing my best “teacher outfit” complete with high heels and accessories kind of what I am wearing today and I was wearing makeup because I remembered my mentor, miss Dabon, that one should wear makeup in class especially when one was teaching younger kids.

I thought I was ready but I was not ready for what I encountered that day. It was very hot inside the classroom and when my grade leader went inside my class during the 2nd or 3rd period (I was given a self-contained class which means I taught all the subjects straight for 6 hours) to check on me, my hair was sticking out in different places, sweat was plastered on my face and my makeup was melting. I look harassed and ready to cry she later told me after the class.

I kept telling them (in a very soft voice), “Please sit down. Please keep quiet.” They all looked at me as if I had come from another land. One of the mothers standing outside the classroom finally took pity on me and said “’cher, pag binisaya lang kay di na sila kasabot ug sit down or stand up.” What?! These 2nd graders did not understand simple phrases in English. I had gone into the classroom armed with my lens from my private school experience. And it was only the beginning, there were more instances like that day: times when I would go into my class seeing them from my point of view and my experience instead of knowing where they came from.

KNOW YOUR STUDENTS. I know this has been repeated over and over again in many an Education class but I can’t emphasize it enough. It is important that as a teacher we get to know not only our students’ learning styles but their family background and stories as well. As the school year unfolded while I was teaching in public school, I learned about my kids’ stories and how they affected their learning and their classroom behavior as well. I began to understand why one kid was always absent and why one slept during class. I began to learn why one kid was a bully and a “siga” in class and what motivated him to do good.

But I started only to know these things when I let go of what I had and started to get to know them like really talk to each of them. I let go of what I wanted to do in class and started listening to how they learned, what they liked, watched at home, what interested them and what made them fearful or happy perhaps. I started to let go of my own background to know theirs. I exchanged my chants, songs, rules in English for ones written in Bisaya, something they could better understand. As my dad told me,

“Why tell them the story about the Hungry Caterpillar when they cannot relate to the food and the desserts in that story? Read them a story they can relate to. After you have taught them and built a relationship with them, then you can share with them the story of the hungry caterpillar. Do not teach them songs that they do not know yet. Start with the songs they know.”

Part of knowing our students is to know where they are at so we can start there. I began to observe, study and note my students’ interests, learning styles and level to help me plan my classes. I stopped planning from my point of view and started planning my lessons based on their ability and their level of learning. I adopted the Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) way in my class since I realized that most of my students were in the preschool level in terms of literacy and numeracy. I had to teach them the letter sounds as well as the letter names. They were grade 2 but their academic skills were in the Nursery or Pre-K level. The reason for this was a lot of factors combined and not just because they were “slow” as they were labelled by some teachers. It had to do with class size, family background, nutrition and mass promotion.

I started teaching them the alphabet and numbers through play and they loved it. Most of my kids in Grade 2 Banana were very active and were kinesthetic learners so it was not a surprise that teaching through play appealed to them and became effective to them especially to the ones that really wanted to learn, was always present in class and highly motivated to learn and achieve. I began to see their behavior change as well after six to seven months. From a group of jumping and running students, they became a class that listened to instructions, walked in line even if I was not around (as long as I gave instructions) and became accustomed to our class system and procedures. They became so attuned to it that if I missed a classroom procedure, they would remind me about it.

One thing that really worked for them was a system of class leaders and daily tasks assigned to them. Leaders and people assigned were changed on a daily basis and since we had the whole afternoon, I would take the first 15 minutes of our class to assign a class leader, an “eraser”, a paper collector and distributor, someone who put stars on our daily star list, column leaders and other responsibilities. Oh how it worked and worked well! It was amazing to see them work together even if I would step out of class because I was called out by the principal or the grade leader for brief meetings. The class would “operate” based on the system I had already put in place.

STUDENT LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATION. When you start treating students as leaders, they will begin to measure up to what you have called them to be. I began to see that the students who were very unruly and siga to begin with were actually leaders. One just had to let them channel that dynamism and energy into something productive. These kids began to be the ones who would call their classmates’ attention when they misbehaved. They also became very motivated and instead of me always trying to make them behave, they would now copy lessons on the board and actually finish it, they would even argue who would volunteer to do things in the classroom like clean up after class or erase the blackboard after every subject, most of the students were even very active during class recitations.

As these students started behaving and started learning, I now began to see actual learning take place both academically and behaviorally. During the first week, I was both surprised and aghast to hear a student say “psst!” and signal for me to move away from the notes he was copying. During the last months of our school year, our class was abound with words like “thank you, please and excuse me”. They also began to care for one another. Take note that the kids I had in my section came from the poorest of the poor. Some walked to and from school because they had no money for fare. Some I had to buy them lunch because they only had pancit canton or biscuit for lunch and they would try to hide it from me.

The first time we received our first batch of donated books, their faces and eyes lit up like ones who found a gift under the Christmas tree. They were that happy to have books because they did not have one at home. Some of them were always absent due to a myriad of reasons:  one had to tend to her baby sister when her mom had to go to work, another one had to help his father in the farm or go to the market with them or help them cook lechon (roasted pig), one student had to stay home on some days to do the laundry.  This was their reality.

It was heartbreaking, hard to accept at times but – at the same time – the most heartwarming experience I have ever had.

As the class grew closer, I now could start teaching them concern and care for each other. You would now begin to see instances where kids shared their baon, give a portion of their food or something that they really liked to a friend and students caring for each other especially when one got sick or was absent for days. You’d hear them telling me, “cher, ig dako nako mag police ko” or “cher, mangita jud ko ug mayo na trabaho para sakong mama ug papa” or “mag teacher ko inig dako nako ky tudloan nako ang mga bata mo basa.”

My third point is the concept of puso or servanthood is one I teach and emphasize to my students in the school I am currently teaching. In contrast to the ones I handled last year, most of these students come from families of well-to-do Chinese who have big businesses, some of which they are already trained to handle after they graduate. I keep reminding them that hopefully someday they will begin to see that their knowledge, education and businesses are there to make an impact on the lives of others. Hopefully when they study or go to university they would have a mindset that what they do and what they choose will create ripples of change on other people’s lives. I say it part jestingly and seriously that when they study and choose a course in college to “think of the Philippines” and what they can do to make our nation better.


Learning curve

I saw it on their faces.  It was something I  often “wore” on my face at times when I really want something so bad.  Some call it hunger.  Others call it passion.  Still, some call it drive.  I saw it on my Grade 11s’ faces one afternoon during one of those cheer dance practice sessions.

I do not know what drives them to do well during practices but I have been proud of this fact and I tell them this that during their practices I am happy to note that most of them cooperate, follow our choreographer’s instructions and even think of ways to improve our dance.  If they could only see what I see from the bleachers or from the back when they practice.

As someone who believes that nothing should be done half-hearted, I was fascinated by that passionate look on their faces.  I have always believed that an individual’s actions, choices and decisions should be driven by passion.  A passion to see change, a passion for excellence, a passion for God and to know Him more, a passion to serve others.

The grade 11s do not know this but every time I watch them practice, they – unknowingly – teach me.  This afternoon I was struck by several of them who said something very simple and probably random to them but for me spoke volumes.  They – in different versions – told me “Miss, you got to always speak positively or build us up because we need it.”

These kids (they will always be kids to an adviser) are very creative, talented, thoughtful, smart and witty but like any other young person or perhaps any adult, need positive, kind, encouraging words to show them that they have what it takes to go out there and win it.

This afternoon I learned that we can never be positive or encouraging enough.  We have to constantly say it out loud and over their lives.  Young people need to hear it and hear it often.  They need to hear that they are good and great and are loved in spite of their frailties, quirks and mistakes.  JUST LIKE US, TEACHERS.

I think the looming end of school year (EOSY) season is making me maudlin these days because it has made me look back to the vision I made back in June when classes first started and I wrote a class vision for myself and for my class.  I started with the end in mind.  Unfortunately, I got so caught up with my personal issues, ambition, a desire to do something greater and beyond what I have right now that I forgot what I was called to do.  God called me NOT ONLY TO TEACH BUT, FIRST AND FOREMOST, TO LOVE.

As I always say, “to teach is to love”.  My grade 11s and my 7th graders taught me how it is to be given second chances when one messes up, to be forgiven in spite of our faults and they have constantly reminded me of God’s love.

This afternoon these 16/17 year olds again reminded me about something I momentarily lost this school year because of the daily grind, paper work and all my other issues and that is passion and hunger.  I lost a bit of my joy and passion along the way but thank God He restored it bit by bit this time.

So to my grade 11s, go out there and give it your all.  No half-hearted moves.  Only 101% not only on the dance floor but in everything that you do.  To me, you will always be the best team this Saturday. 🙂