Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Teaching Blues Part 2

In the Philippines, teaching is considered the noblest profession, and rightly so, I think. Teaching is not something that one can take on as a job; anyone who does so is either a fool or a masochist because by no stretch of imagination can the financial rewards match the efforts that go into it. Teaching has to be more than just a job. It must be a passion, a consuming preoccupation, a calling perhaps.

However, I think that the real essence of nobility needs to be defined because I fear that some people equate the nobility that goes with teaching with simple dogged persistence and patience without taking into account the quality of the output. Thus, we have in our midst today tens of thousands of public school teachers who have been bestowed the honorific designation of belonging to the noblest profession simply for having been able to stand and drool in front of a classroom in some god-forsaken public school in the last twenty years.

Please do not get me wrong. I do not look down on public school teachers. Nor am I advocating a class system in the teaching profession. My mom was a public school teacher for more than 40 years and most of her cousins of her generation are in that profession as well. I grew up exposed both to the good and the bad, the admirable and the deplorable aspects of the teaching profession.

Practically all of the more than 40 years that my mom spent teaching was devoted to a barrio a good one-hour trek from our farm house. Forty years! Since she taught the only grade one class in that school, practically all the kids in that barrio was her pupil. No one escaped her clutches. My mom could have transferred to the central school in the middle of the town (my grandfather was after all a district supervisor). She was competent. I knew she taught well because she was my first teacher and I actually sat through many of her classes. But she couldn’t leave the barrio and the barrio people. She was concerned that someone with less dedication and less commitment would take over her grade one class and younger generation of siblings would not prove equal to their older siblings who were her pupils.

But I know of many teachers in the system who bring dishonor to the profession. One teacher (who was a relative) was notorious for letting pupils pull grass in the school backyard under the heat of noon while she whiled away the time preparing and wrapping pulvoron which she sold as a sideline. Another one taught erroneous stuff. What can be more tragic that a teacher who teaches wrong stuff? Still another one I know required pupils to bring all kinds of stuff – from fruits, to root crops, to dried fish and gave special awards to those who brought better material things.

Yes, there are dregs in the public school system. But there are many gems too. I remember my Grade 3 teacher – a spinster who spent her own money on teaching materials for her pupils. She would feed us, specially those who had no money for baon. And she was a great teacher too – she acted out stories with such animation and gusto. She would bring us out of the classroom and conduct classes under the trees and allow us to chase butterflies while she tried to link our lessons to the things around us. She gave us challenging and exciting projects. I remember once, she asked us to do a scavenger hunt and then asked us to inventory our finds into two categories, those items that can be used with the article “a” and the others with the article “an.” To this day, I remember that lesson!

For our science class, we actually nurtured tadpoles and observed them transform into frogs. We conducted experiments that were fun and stimulating. What a way for kids to learn!

Looking back, these influences strengthened my desire to become a teacher, but with a major difference. I would be a teacher that enabled and ennobled.

(more to follow)

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