Teaching in the 21st century

Last year I was asked to share some of my thoughts on teaching millennial learners in a student congress.  Looking back, I realized that I had dwelt too much on making use of technology, reaching out to them through their learning styles and preferences.  But if I had a chance to give that talk again I’d think I would focus more on “life-focused stuff and relational stuff” instead of the academic stuff.

Something happened in the classroom today that reminded me that, as a teacher, as much as I emphasize excellence and hard work in the classroom, it is also equally important to teach and model to students “how to fail”, how to deal with failure and mistakes and modeling forgiveness and grace. Are we hard on ourselves and others when we and they commit mistakes? How do we deal with mistakes in the classroom that teaches students how to deal with it in real life?”

If I were to revise my talk on Millennial learners, I’d add humility and a willingness to learn from others; having integrity; having the initiative and resourcefulness to find knowledge and truth instead of relying on news without verifying it first.

I would tell them that more than the lesson plans, strategies and techniques, that teaching is love, servanthood and kindness towards our learners.  For when we love, we want the best for our students and will find ways to make learning accessible and easy for them to understand.

I guess teaching isn’t as hard as rocket science but not exactly the easiest thing to do.  For loving another person also means laying down one’s self and rights for another — just like how Jesus did it.

I still have a long way and a lot of lessons to learn about teaching.

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Full circle

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This view always reminds me of Diliman. 🙂

During a “messy” time in my life and career, my former boss, sir Pascual, once told me, “Yen, take a break from teaching and History for a while.  Try other things and explore other places.  When you think History (and teaching) is really for you, go back to it.”

Fifteen years after he said those wise words — an advice that really helped me a lot — I’ve finally come full circle today, this semester, this school year.  I am no longer teaching in USC but I am back as a graduate student of History and finally with the wholehearted choice that History is for me after so many twists and turns, so many delays, lessons learned and mishaps.

I am back in one of sir P.’s classes again and the first day our class met, his lecture reminded me why I have always loved History.  I went home inspired after that first session.

In my mind, I was already expecting this weekend trip to Tangub to be “challenging” and “hard” given the fact that going to the place via Dipolog City was something I was not quite familiar with.  Somehow I  also knew (subconsciously), I would not be reporting but I had set my heart on coming here.  I wanted to see the place I once fell in love with the first time I set foot on it. A place that held so many precious memories for me. The thought of staying here even crossed my mind back then, well, only for a minute but the lack of coffee shops back then made me think twice. 😉 I chose to come in spite of the additional expense it would entail because I felt that it was something I had to see and feel:  coming full circle to a profession, a school and a department I left because of a broken heart.

When I had my first heartbreak fifteen years ago because of someone I met in the university where I first taught, I mistakenly “personalized” the experience and disassociated everything related to him as something to be shunned, forgotten and left off for good. I stayed away from USC for quite a number of years.  And in a sense, I threw away a lot of opportunities in my attempts to forget, move on and make peace with the past.  I heard that he is no longer with the university but even then if he still was it would still have been okay.  I guess forgiving one’s self and the other person makes it okay. 😉

TC 3This year, I knew it would be a different season.  The first time I entered USC TC to process my admission, I no longer felt the familiar twitch of pain that often accompanied every visit I had since 2002.  I walked up to the 4th floor of the AS building and snapped a photo of the cement road from the entrance gate to ISMED and breathed in the fresh air.  Sounds OA I know but I reveled in the fact that I could finally say I’ve moved on. 😊

I only remembered the happy memories I once had in Talamban.  Of times spent with students talking with them after classes, of friendships made with co-teachers at the faculty room and of walks I took in TC to the chapel to pray, walks with a “friend” after checking papers at the faculty room and just good old plain memories hanging out in the canteen overlooking the soccer field, of times spent in prayer sitting on the steps leading to the chapel.  That place was quiet and far away from the crowd back then.  It made for a perfect place to pray and read the Bible.

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It feels good to be back, feeling lighter, a lot happier and no longer haunted by past mistakes.

It feels good to make peace with the past — finally.

As I look to the future with expectation (especially this August), I understand how important it is to study History not to be held back by the trauma and mistakes of the unchangeable past but to be enlightened and strengthened by it.  I think that is how Philippine history should be taught to students.  Not just merely a string of events but a book of lessons and stories, both good and the bad, that makes one a better person, a better nation.  The bad should not be covered up or revised but examined with a different set of glasses and a heart ready to learn from one’s mistakes and stand up again after a fall.

Thanks to this rainy, circuitous trip to Tangub, I have finally come full circle and said goodbye to the ghosts of my past.  The future looks bright and happy. 🙂

Teach. Research. Community work.

Seventeen years after graduation and letting go of my fears and apprehensions, I am now able to articulate 3 areas where I want to focus on professionally:  teach (part-time), do research and write a book and write articles and do community work.

It has taken me that long to let go of my fears and sort out what I really want.

When I was much younger, it was the steady income and money that was uppermost in my mind.  I wanted a stable job never mind if the teaching requirements took up most of my time from doing research.  After an experience teaching 2nd graders in a public school and teaching 7th and 11th graders in a private school, I finally put my hands up in surrender and mustered enough courage to pursue what I want and what I enjoy doing and that is to teach a subject or two, read, read and read books and articles and write and have time for my blogs and other creative ideas.

As my dad again reminded me this morning during breakfast, “Tsi, don’t think about the money.  Work on what you’re passionate about first and then the money will come later.  Sow first by doing unpaid work first and then the income will follow.”

I guess I now have the strength and self-awareness to admit to myself that I am not cut out for an all-out teaching career.  The kind of teaching career that makes one stay all day in the school churning out lesson plans, grading papers and working on all the paper trail.  It makes my brains go out, makes me restless and bored.  I want to work outside the box (literally and figuratively).

I would rather go to school for my classes only, mentor a few students for their papers, work at the university library for research work and publish a book and some articles.  At the same time, I would want to work on a community project that combines some of the things I am passionate about which are:  community development and history.

It was scary at first contemplating about this move but it has been two months now since I left the school where I once taught and so far this has been the most restful, “busy but not stressful” and enjoyable time of my career.  It is a bit challenging though not to have a fixed schedule as you have to be mindful of keeping time blocks to make sure that you work on the research projects you are involved in.  I have found that these days while I do not have a fixed schedule and a time in, time out schedule, I am more punctual without absences at this time.

Hopefully, I get to work on my planned Instagram and blog for Cebuano History and Culture.  That’s always been my dream:  to someday work on something that will make the ordinary Juan de la Cruz and the Bisayang Dako (like me) passionate, more aware and more knowledgeable about our local history.

 

*Photo mine – Taken at the Museo Parian sa Sugbo 1730 Jesuit House*

 

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. 🙂

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Why I teach

It’s been 16 years since I graduated from college.  Yes, I’m that old if you do the math.  I’m that old but the freshness of the reason or the raison d’etre for my teaching still remains.  This morning, I talked to a former teacher of mine who’s now my co-teacher in the Senior High School department and our talk brought me back to those last few months in college and that passionate, zealous desire to come back to Cebu because I had two reasons:  to teach because I wanted to “change the world.”

I realized today that 16 years after and after so many failures, setbacks, burnout episodes and mistakes, that same reason still resonates within me.  That I love to teach and mentor younger people because I believe that by doing so I am creating ripples of change in society and doing my part in helping change the Philippines.

But I learned along the way that more important than changing this nation is first changing yourself and that by ourselves alone we cannot change.  Only God can do that by the power of His grace.

This afternoon, I watched and listened to my students in the STEM strand debate about the implementation of the Senior High School program.  There were several good speakers and I wanted to chime in and say, “why are you in the STEM strand when you’re so articulate and eloquent?”  But then I realized that why not?  As my brother Jim puts it: “We need more articulate and eloquent scientists and engineers in this nation.”  I told my class “the science and technology community needs people like you because maybe that’s the reason why there is a disconnect between the community and the academe because scientists cannot articulately explain their findings and inventions (to the eloquent scientists out there please do not get offended, this is for most of the scientists who have difficulty explaining their work in layman’s terms) to the community.”

Today’s activity made me reflect about my WHY for teaching these young minds and the vision that I made just before classes started.  I tweeted and posted it on Facebook tonight so I would be reminded over and over again about the reason why I go to school every day.  Here is my vision for my students in Senior High School this academic year.

This is what I’m praying for my SHS students and this is my vision for my classes:

My vision for PCGS’ SHS: Students who passionately love Jesus, love to learn, are smart, who have excellent character & are “men/women for others”.

I hope that these students can see themselves the way I see them:  that they have so much potential in them, so much creativity and intelligence and so much passion.  My constant prayer is that they’d encounter Jesus Christ and know His power, love and His dream for their lives and for this nation that it will totally change them and how they see things.  I hope that they see how precious and loved they are.  

That they’d see that studying in PCGS is not just because their parents want them there but in all things (like Romans 8:28) God orchestrated everything because He has a greater plan for their lives and that He will make everything beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  

More than the lessons about social norms, Culture, politics and qualitative research this semester, my prayer (as what I told my students in the past) is that after they leave my classes, they would learn to love the Philippines, serve this nation and love God with a passion and a zeal that only young people like them have.  By then I will be able to say that I have taught well not only in “head knowledge level” but in the heart and character level as well. 🙂

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Happy teacher

I reread all my entries last year and I thought to myself, “I’ve come a long way.  I’m now happy.  The once stressed and exhausted teacher is now a happy one.”  Happy even though I’m not in my “dream place” – my dream profession which is that of a public school teacher and a policy maker at the Department of Education.  Sometimes my natural mind cannot comprehend it.  That this is the happiest teaching stint in all my teaching journeys combined.  Last year, I thought that getting my prayers answered and teaching in the public school would make me happy.

I am wiser now.  Joy is not being in the middle of our “dream place/job” but it is being found at the center of God’s plan for our life.  And most of the times, I have learned, it is far different from our original plan.  Growing up, teaching in PCGS would be the last thing to enter my mind since I have always seen it as a strict and very conservative institution.  As a teenager, there were a lot of times that I did not want to conform to the school’s culture.  That’s why I find it ironic that the very thing I promised to myself (which is not to go back to PCGS) has become one of the reasons for my happiness at this point of my teaching career.

I’ve been through all the levels.  I have completed all five:  preschool, elementary, Junior High School, College and now the new Senior High School level.  I have taught in a private school, in a public school, in a university, a college, big and small schools. I’ve taught in a school where only the richest kids study and handled the last, poorest and most disadvantaged class in a public school.  Yes, teaching extremely different types of learners.  I never expected though that I would find happiness in a very conservative environment.

Of course the teaching load can be exhausting during some days but I am amazed that seeing the kids’ faces and hearing their voices and greetings is always enough to snap me out of my tired reverie.  I would say that it’s the kids who make teaching fun, who make you happy even when some can be noisy and create ruckus in the class but I would not trade these kids for anything in this world.  Yes, I still feel a bit of restlessness within me at times like that desire to pursue my graduate studies in Manila but then again I remember my promise to Dr. P to wait for this first ever Senior High School batch to graduate in 2018 and I tell myself to wait for one more year.

I am grateful.  Happy and content.  It’s not a walk in the park but this is the happiest I’ve been as a teacher and for that I will always be grateful for God’s second chances, grace and mercy in my life and my career.  Thank you, Jesus, for each and every young person in my care in my Grade 11 and Grade 7 classes.

The students make teaching worth it.