Finding and Living in that Sweet Spot*

This was written a few days away from the finish line of the two-year fellowship.

***

Teaching in the public school is a dream that I have put on hold for half a decade. And now that it has been fulfilled and about to culminate, my heart is swelling with gratitude for all the precious memories and insights that I have gained in this  journey.

13626372_10209084608047889_7516888367524361860_n (1)
As a state university graduate, I have always wanted to do something to give back to our country. Teach for the Philippines came at an opportune time when I was a hundred percent decided to do more for our nation.

 
Yes, volunteering once a month in a non-government organization that aims to improve the literacy skills of public school students is good, but if I can do more, why not? I came to a point when clicking the like and share buttons of posts by friends who are part of 2013 Cohort just wasn’t enough anymore, so I told myself– if they were able to take a step of  faith, step out of their comfort zones and step up for this cause, why can’t I also? These thoughts fueled me to embark on, by far, the most exciting ride of my career.

 

Turning Dreams to Reality

 

The public school is the nursery of many budding nation-builders. It is where I planted, watered, and waited for my dreams to flower and bear fruits.
One of my tasks is to make my pupils keep their dreams in mind. Countless times, I have asked them to write, draw, and talk about their short- and long-term goals. I have high hopes that doing those activities would instill the enduring idea that they should hold on tight to their dreams–to keep their eyes on the goal. That mindset, hopefully, would up the chance of putting them in a better life path. This came with our succinct battle cry for the past two years: “Malayo ang iyong mararating.”

10426543_10204611198495446_8991018656676466819_n

A day-trip at Luneta Park and Museong Pambata with four of our third graders–from Region 4A to NCR

But the reality is not everyone believes that they would go places. Case in point is Michael**. During our lesson on probability in Math 3, he told the class that chance of achieving his dream to become a soldier or even getting into college was very slim. This eleven-year-old Grade 3 pupil’s honest pronouncement hit hard on me. A brief, but to the point, lecture followed as I told the class the importance of holding on to their dreams because there would always be that someone who believes that they could achieve them. That day, all the idealism, twined around reality, made me revisit the importance of engaging all the stakeholders in a child’s education–the school, the parents and the community–if we really wanted to make a difference in these children’s lives.

 
Yes, I did cry over that experience. The initial feeling of powerlessness was turned into a challenge to do more, to teach better and to inspire students to dream bigger. And though far from the ultimate reward of witnessing him turn his dream to reality, seeing Michael in school regularly the following year gave me hope that someday he would make his dreams happen.

 
Being a teacher-fellow also reconnected me to some almost-forgotten goals. One of them is to get involved in campus journalism. I had a taste of being a school paper adviser when I was tapped to train contestants for various writing contests. I was thrilled and honored to impart my knowledge and experience on writing that date back to my grade school years. For a seasonal writer and trainer, the victories of the pupils under my wing reestablished the fact that the seed of being a writer is still in me and is waiting to be cultivated.

12122838_10207043931712256_2521643280202237574_n

Coached this pupil from a non-section class who eventually qualified for the Regional Sci-Tech Writing

10805708_10204701763239508_8552983423281537227_n

I also had a chance to take part in coaching students in their monthly performances/ contests. This photo was taken after the kids presented a children’s rights-themed dance. And we copped the top spot in the primary level.

 

Growing Where You’re Planted

 

In a profession where learning is the yardstick of success, the fellowship responds to this with flying colors. The past two years were full of opportunities to grow professionally. The Programming and Training Team provides a wide range of Super Saturday sessions that challenge us to try out new strategies to better our teaching, community engagement and leadership skills. The most memorable Super Sat I attended was the Learning Differences Festival where we got to invite our principal and co-teachers. Each Super Sat is also a good avenue to share and learn best practices.

 

I also appreciate the short and long observations and debriefs I had with my manager for two years Georgina Blackett. As an educator, I like reflecting on how I fare as a teacher. This part of the fellowship made me see my blind spots specially when I have already thought that everything in the planned lesson would flow smoothly. It also made me track my progress in areas for improvement my manager and I identified together. Before, I was afraid that post-observation conferences might just be a nitpicking party, but with TFP, they are a celebration of your strengths and a strategic planning activity to do better in the next observation.

12376129_992790764095980_612702536358262273_n

Team Malaban with our Manager (the most beautiful lady on the right)

 

An entirely new experience I had during the fellowship were the home visits. In other private schools, teachers are prohibited from visiting pupils and their parents to avoid rumors that they are playing favorites. In our case, it was different. We went to their houses to inquire about a pupil’s consecutive absences, to pay our last homage to a pupil who died, to follow up on our request for a birth certificate or just to bond with and get to know our students more. Going home with them and seeing their home environment gave me a deeper understanding of their context.

 

Picture3

One of our students lives here. How exciting!

 

Working Under Pressure

 

As an Education major, UP Diliman 2005-***40, I have felt the self-imposed pressure to model good teaching to my co-teachers. I believe that to a certain extent, I have achieved this. I have always been in a constant pursuit for ways to improve my teaching that fortunately translated to better student achievement. This means teaching and doing things in addition to what prototype lesson plans state. This includes our inter-section spelling bees, and literary contests, and poem memorization drills to name a few. On top of these, I can confidently say that I have religiously abided by the Child Protection Policy. Yay!

 

To engage other stakeholders, I brought in persons who also advocate for education to conduct a reading instruction seminar-workshop for teachers (Thanks Michelle Agas of ReadingReady Center and Prof. Portia Padilla) and an art workshop for pupils. I have also tapped the help of my network in raising funds for the needs of our pupils and for other curricular activities. I also got to lead our school group in conducting the Coordinates for Life program, which connected us closer to the parents of our pupils. Knowing that there are many people who are so willing to extend a helping hand gave me so much hope.

11248800_10206745828259856_2967505723662544952_n

A college blockmate facilitated a Cherry Blossoms Painting Workshop for our kiddos. Thank you Precious Gamboa!

 

Of Impact and Success

 
How can I measure my impact as teacher-fellow? Two years was not enough to significantly affect their (National Achievement Test) NAT or Language Assessment for Primary Grades (LAPG) performances. What are the chances that they would remember some, if not all of the concepts and skills we learned together? Ten months of instruction could not give me that assurance. What I hope that they would remember more vividly was the fact that they had a teacher who believes in who they are and what they can become. That they had a Sir /’Cher who compensated his shortcomings with careful words and actions. That they had a teacher-fellow who tried his best to make learning fun, excellent, inclusive and relevant.

 

My measures of success were the ‘ambush parent-teacher conference’ with Piolo’s mother thanking me for the renewed interest of her son for school, the excitement of students to perform on stage during the monthly convocation, the eagerness of pupils to answer in English, the healthy race for the top ten, the giggles when my pupils correctly spelled multi-syllabic words, the teacher’s day letters and flowers from pupils I have and have not handled, and the overflowing joy that I have felt inside the classroom.

 

The experiences and insights I have gained from my years in the classroom are my guiding light as I continue to push for education equity beyond the classroom.

 

Why do I teach for the Philippines?
Simply because education is my sweet spot. It is where my passion, purpose, and skills meet.*

10527379_10202392610279051_5812140460746198289_n

Malaban Elementary School co-fellows before Year 1

11143237_10205911813049997_7302416048167087274_n

After Year 1

12439111_10208336600148159_4953720589934273741_n

After Year 2

*inspired by Max Lucado‘s Cure for the Common Life

**not his real name

On How TPR Saves ESL Classes

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) has always been a challenge to language teachers across different levels. One factor that contributes to this difficult feat is the little exposure that a learner has with the target language. The amount of experience spells the richness of one’s vocabulary, the knowledge of the rules that govern that language and the confidence of the learner to express himself/herself using the language learned.

The dearth of meaningful experience with English leads to learners who are either tight-lipped during English time or the other extreme—garrulous to the point of disrupting the class with their antics and clowning around. Then out of frustrations for the seemingly unresponsive class, the teacher resorts to translating from English to the local language. Learning a new language, then, becomes an arduous task to both teacher and students.

To address this impending distaste to learning English among students,  we can use a well-researched, language teaching technique–Total Physical Response (TPR).

James Asher, an American professor of psychology developed this teaching method. It is based on the theory that the memory is enhanced through association with physical movement.  When you pair up a sentence or any other statement with a physical action, and you do this repeatedly, would increase the likelihood of a successful recall.

TPR is most often used when giving imperatives. Instead of plainly asking your students to bring out their notebooks, raise their hands, or sit properly, couple these statements with appropriate gestures. Upon doing this, you are actually making them experience the language without explicitly teaching the grammar rules. The goal here is that they become familiar with the language and at ease hearing and responding to it.

This technique could also be used with different levels of learners too. For those who already have a considerable amount of vocabulary and a good command of the language, the students could be asked to add actions to his/her answers. For beginners, responding to imperatives is already a sign of understanding of the command or request.

TPR is best used with verbs that call for physical action, but adjectives lend also themselves to this method. For instance, brave is act out with a raised fist, fast is miming a runner with both arms swaying in an acute angle. The key here is to think of a definitive action that the children could easily associate with the given word.

Thank You for the Music

I am not Music teacher,  but I could say that music has been playing a big role in the way I teach and reach out to my students.

If a student ha200213800-001ppens to be in my Hekasi class, he should know at least one song that is related to the topics we’ve had. He probably knows, like the back of his hand, the lyrics of the unofficial opening song of our Hekasi class–Ito ang Hekasi–primarily because it is sung to Taylor Swift’s Blank Space. His favorite line might be “Mahaba-habang kuwentuhan, h’wag sanang antukin”.

Halina at pag-aralan
Kasaysayan, Sibika
Pati na Heograpiya
Nitong ating bansa
Mahaba-habang kuwentuhan
Huwag sanang antukin*
T’yak na ‘ka’y matututo
Ito ang He…KaSi

*At mga gawain (alternate)

I also hope that the songs from different ethno-linguistic groups like Bontoc’s Bagbagto, Visayan’s Si Filemon or Chavacano’s Porque would help him remember how diverse and rich the culture of the Philippines is. The Donna-Cruz-inspired song about population that one group of pupils composed is an affirmation that the lesson’s objective has been achieved.

Songs are also staples of my English class. Concepts stick to memory more easily if they are delivered through songs. The 23 linking and helping verbs are effortlessly remembered when they are sung to the tune of London Bridge.

Be am is are was were been
Has have had
Do does did
Can could shall should will would may
Might must being

Lessons on sentences and subject-verb agreement become less complicated when pupils know the aforementioned song. Transition songs like the Banana Song, with its engaging movements and You Are My Sunshine, with its calming effect, help me manage my Grade 6 pupils.

Aside from helping me impart the target concepts and managing my students, music also gives me a glimpse of my students’ personality and interests. In a survey we have had in class, I have learned that a lot of them listen to the same songs–usually those that are (re)played in different radio stations and other mass media platforms. For a teacher, who does not watch TV that often, this was very indispensable information. I now have a pool of songs that I could use the next time I compose a song in the next months. And I have a wide array of pop culture info that I could use in our discussions.

Indeed, teachers also learn from their students. It might be about the ‘in’ songs of the present generation and how to turn them into a lesson or about how the teacher’s inclinations, in my case, my affinity to music, affect his teaching style.