Stepping Back

So there is this unpublished draft in my dashboard which I wrote sometime in June 2014–during the onset of my two-year fellowship with Teach for the Philippines.

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Week 1

Frustrations greeted me on the first day of school. This had never  happened to me in my five years of teaching. I had always been the jittery-excited teacher who was eager to meet his pupils and do all sorts of gimmicks to make the opening salvo of the school year worth remembering.

But I forgot; I am in a new school now. This time, I am not the teacher; I am a pensive observer from the outside looking in. No getting-to-know-activity, no I-Can’t burial. 

My frustrations stemmed from my unmet personal standards for teaching. This I will explain in due time.

Five days of sitting in in that third grade class made me reminisce my basic education years in public schools. Those 10 years were the best training days of my childhood. I gained a lot of indispensable life skills (sales talk, commuting, taking turns, etc.) that no private school training would have taught me that early in life. 

Another  thing I could not bear, for lack of a better term,  during my Week 1 observation was the poor ventilation of the classroom. Everyone was damped in sweat at 8:00 in the morning. The whisper of the rusty stand fan in row one did not help, at all. Imagine how everyone smelled at 4:00 p.m. dismissal time. I call this whiff: amoy-whole-day.

Twenty-eight months later, and no longer wearing my teacher hat, I would stumble on this unfinished piece–trying to extract something insightful from this chance encounter.

Is this the Universe’s way of reminding me to continue my journey–to pack up, and go back to the place where I used to feel most alive?

That my two-year stint in the public school was just an appetizer–and the best…the main course (and yeah, the dessert) has yet to come?

Will this step back lead to a bounce back–to a comeback?

It is five months before the opening of classes. A lot could happen between now and June.

P.S.

‘Cher Jerson is now at the DepEd- Central Office–serving as a technical assistant under TFP’s Alumni Ambassadors Program.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.*

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Malaban Elementary School co-fellows before Year 1

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After Year 1

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After Year 2

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

**not his real name

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.

Saving Sharks

Capped off a series of Reading lessons on sharks with a conservation campaign.

Immensely proud of the sixth graders for pulling off informative and entertaining #sharkconservation campaigns from Grade 1 to 4th year HS.

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Highlights:

One group made first graders hug the shark.

Selected pupils, who were assigned to wear the shark costume, had more fun than those who did not.

Students have unlearned myths about sharks.

Challenges of the Sea

Challenges of the Sea

I’m pretty excited for the next batch of selections we’re having in our Reading 6 class. The unit’s theme is Challenges of the Sea.

We’ll be perusing a chapter from Sperry’s Call It Courage–Mafatu and the Ma’o (shark). There’s also a chapter from another YA novel. It’s about the heroine Paloma who survives a series of unfortunate events (i.e. leg cramps, shark attack).

Now, that’s two stories that present the terrifying side of sharks. But worry not shark protection advocates because there are also non-fictions that discuss the not-so-explored nature of sharks–how they use their senses to find food. Then I plan to insert mini-lessons on the different species of sharks, shark captivity and conservation.

I’m dying to have the mini-lessons because I’ll be wearing (for the first time in my teaching career history) a (shark) costume during some parts of the lesson.

On the more local side, we have some selections about a secret island, muro-ami, fishboys and Badjaos.

I have also asked my pupils to ready their sea-related trivia every meeting.

It feels great to be a teacher when you have those ideas pouring in.

Pumping Up the New Year

Going back to school (and work) after an almost two-week vacation is an enormous challenge to some students. Rarely would you find a class with all the students present after the holiday break. The Holiday Syndrome.

So Teacher, what do you do on the first school day of the year to pump up those sleeping neurons?

The writing of New Year’s Resolutions is a staple in many classes–from kinder to grade 10. True story. (I guess that’s one reason why some students opt to miss the first school day of the year.)

Today, I almost did the same.

  • In my sixth grade class, my pupils listed down the good practices (last year) that they will continue doing this year.
  • In my third year class, my students wrote a letter to 2013. Personified version of 2013 actually. They made requests, whispered their wishes and bargained with him/her.
  • In my third grade class, my pupils wrote a ‘thank-you’ poem to God for all the blessings/gifts He blessed us in the previous year. I’ve provided the first and last line of the poem, so technically it’s just a list poem. Regular rhyme scheme was emphasized during the writing activity. This is where the real challenge begins.

So Teacher, how did your day go? Share your best practices and let’s begin the new year right.merry