Having Fun At Work

What I consider as one of the most memorable moments in my career as a teacher was when one of my students asked me this question, “Why do you seem so happy when you’re teaching?” That question caught me by surprise. My initial reaction was to say, “Really!” He nodded and said some other kind words. Then I told  him that I just love what I am doing.

When I went home after work, I reflected on that exchange between me and that student. Do I really love teaching? Well, the love affair between me and this profession I wholeheartedly embraced  started in 1988. I have been in this “romance” for 34 years (24 in the Philippines and 10 here in South Korea). And I don’t see me and this profession divorcing even when all my hair turns gray. Teaching is one of my passions… the other two are writing and lifelong learning.

That question my student  asked did something else. It  made me recall the usual comments my students would write when they evaluate my performance at the end of every semester. They are as follows:  “His class is fun.” and “He is a funny teacher.” I did not pay attention to those  comments until I was asked that question. It made me glad that what I do as a teacher in the classroom would create that kind of impression among students. I just hope that aside from having fun, my students are also learning. The thought that they are having fun, even if to some or many of them language learning is difficult, is consoling.

Indeed I have fun when I teach. I am happy doing it. Is it because I love public speaking and talking in front of people excites me? It could be the result of my embracing what Confucius asserted, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Maybe it is  an offshoot of my creating a unique teaching philosophy. Yes, I do have a personal teaching philosophy. Each teacher must have one. A teacher without a teaching philosophy is like a person who journeyed into the wilderness without a compass.

I didn’t pattern my teaching philosophy after  any of those classical “isms”  made popular by the great philosophers.  Neither did I use contemporary educational philosophies to guide me in its creation. The personal teaching philosophy I created is unconventional and it reads…

“The classroom is my playground, the students are my playmates, and the subject that I teach is our toy.”

It doesn’t sound like a philosophy, right? But to me it is. The things I do in the classroom and the way I treat my students are informed by that statement. It works wonderfully.  Perhaps it helps also that I subscribe to the principle that the “students are the reason schools exist… the reason I am a teacher.” A woman cannot be called a mother without a son or daughter… biological or adopted. In the same vein,  I cannot be called a teacher without students. It doesn’t make me feel less of a person, much less a professional, if I say that I serve my students. Teachers can always opt to practice servant leadership if they want to… and I do.

That principle aforementioned and my personal teaching philosophy are the lamps that illuminate the path that I tread in my journey as a teacher. They make me love what I do in the classroom… the reason I am having fun out there.

In addition, what helps me have fun at work is my acceptance of  the reality that there is no such thing as a perfect workplace. To think otherwise is tantamount to being delusional.

When I was young, I dreamt of finding a workplace where everything is perfect – systems, policies, and relationships. Who wouldn’t want to belong to an organization where everything is as you expect them to be. The problem is a perfect workplace is nothing but a utopian dream. Nowhere in the world it could be found.

So, I figured that if I think my workplace has become toxic and it has stopped me from growing personally and professionally, I just leave. I would not stay a single day in that kind of working environment.

What I consider the craziest people (pardon the adjective) in the schools I joined (both past and present) are those who criticize the policies of the organization, express their dislike of the work we do, and say all the negative things they could say about our employers. They call our employers inutile and incompetent who have no idea what they are doing yet when they are offered a contract for the next school year, they would gladly sign their names on the dotted lines and agree to stay for the next school year… another school year of whining and whinging. Isn’t that crazy?

It’s plain and simple. Changes in the workplace are inevitable. Employers have to do what they need to do in order for their business to prosper or simply survive. When they do that, they are ready to lock horns with anybody who disagrees with them. They are not foolish to have not considered all the legal ramifications of their actions. They know what they are doing.  Making them change their minds is like “beating a dead horse.” It’s a quixotic undertaking… most especially when you are not a citizen of the country where you are working… like me.

Fighting the windmills is not fun. I leave that to the Don Quixotes in our organization. As for me, I just work and perform the duties and responsibilities as stipulated in my job description. I control what I could. I would walk an extra mile if need be particularly if that is something that I need to do for my students.


On The First Day of Class

Each meeting with my students is important but it’s the first day that I consider very special – the most strategically important. It’s the day that I would attempt to accomplish one of the hardest things to do in education – to shatter the students’ image of the classroom as a prison cell, with them as  prisoners and the teachers as nasty prison guards. It’s the day when I begin to lay the foundations of what every teacher should endeavor to forge between them and their students – a good rapport.

The entire semester is a long haul and I know that winning their hearts  would make our journey together as enjoyable and productive as it could be. If I succeed in making them trust me, half-of-the battle is already won. Earning the trust of my Korean students is very important to me as an expat teacher teaching English. What makes that task  of earning their trust not only necessary but also (doubly) challenging  is the fact that I maybe  an ESL teacher with the proper qualifications and training but I am not from any of their preferred native English-speaking countries.

There’s nothing very special about the way I conduct my first meeting with my new students here in South Korea. It’s just a bit unconventional.

My introduction would always include telling my students the nickname which I adopted with the intention of eliciting laughter whenever I deliver a talk – Tonitonipoponibananananapoponinomimayfofoni. (That’s inspired by the song “Name Game.”) Amazingly, when I tell my students that and jokingly threaten them to memorize it if not they would fail in my subject, they would try very hard to repeat it after me and laugh at themselves if they wouldn’t be able to say it.

Then I would add, “Whoever could say my nickname correctly will get an A+.” I don’t mean it of course. Luckily, up until this time, no one among those who tried succeeded. It was I who would always succeed – in getting their attention.

From there, I would give them the necessary information about me as their teacher. The most significant of which (as far as I am concerned) is the number of years I have been teaching. It’s 34 years. The point I wish to drive home for highlighting to my students how long I have been teaching is – I wouldn’t stay this long in the academe if I don’t love my job.

The next part of my first-day-of-class script would touch on the boundaries of philosophy.

I would be delivering something like an“eve-of-battle” speech. The way they do it in movies.

I would ask my first question: “Why am I a teacher?”

Puzzled, the students would grope for an answer.

I would give follow-up questions after that – Would you call a woman a mother without a son or a daughter? Are your mothers and fathers mothers and fathers without you as their children?

Amid their “aahs” and nods I would then say, “I am a teacher because of the students. My reason for being a teacher is each of you. Without you, I am just a person – not a teacher.”

That’s my way of telling my students that the most important stakeholder in a school are them. Schools exist because of them. School administrators and teachers have work because of them.

That’s my way of telling them that I exist (as a teacher) to serve their interests.

I would end that part with the following statement: “Thank you for having me as your teacher.”

After that, I would show them a video clip from the movie “Collateral Beauty” – that part where Howard Inlet, the character played by Will Smith, delivered a speech in a gathering of his employees at the beginning of the movie.

  • “What is your why? Why did you even get out of bed this morning? Why did you eat what you ate? Why did you wear what you wore? Why did you come here?”

I would pause the video clip after each question and would ask them to give an answer.

Then I would ask them follow-up questions. (These were the only questions I asked when I was not yet using that movie clip.)

Why are you here in school?

Why do you want to finish your studies?

The last question I would ask is– Why did you enroll in this class?

I never failed to ask the said questions because I want my students to understand that for them to succeed not only in their studies but in all their present and future endeavors, they need to set goals. They ought to know their whys. They must know the reasons why they do what they do, say what they say, and think what they think.

I would tell them also that the worst “why” to have for studying is to get A+  – that grades are not the be-all and end-all of schooling.

All of the foregoing would be finished in twenty to thirty minutes.

I would then ask the student to introduce themselves.

After all of the foregoing, I would proceed to the presentation of  the course syllabus – explain the course objectives, give the topics to be discussed weekly, and tell them what activities will be done in the class and how are they going to be graded.

In explaining discipline in the class, I would simply ask this question – “Are you small children?” They would of course say “NO.” Then I would tell them this – “I, therefore, expect you not to speak and behave like small children.”

Then we proceed to the finale – the presentation of course requirements.

It’s not surprising to see the students frown when they see the course requirements on the last page of the syllabus. That’s the time that I would deliver the last part of my “eve-of-battle” speech.

I would ask – “Is learning fun?”

As expected, majority would say “no.”

My next question would be – “Is work fun?”

Of course the students would say “no” again. And every time I would ask that, one or two would say “There were many times I heard my father complained about his job.”

Then I would go on and tell them the following:

“Nothing is to be given to you in a silver platter. You need to work hard to achieve your dreams. Studying and working would require effort – you have to exert mentally, emotionally and physically. But something could make studying and working fun – your attitude. Your attitude towards studying will be dictated by your whys. Your whys put together is your philosophy.”

I told my students that I would be lying should I tell them that studying is easy. Then I added the following…

“Going to the gym to exercise is not also easy. Doing all forms of exercises… lifting barbells and dumbbells is stressful. You stress your muscles. But what would be the result? Your body will look better and you will be healthier. That kind of stress is good. But you have not only a body but a mind as well. You need to develop both. Now, imagine the books as barbells and dumbbells. You read them to exercise, not your body, but your brain. Reading… studying… that’s the way you develop your mind.”

I would spend another minute or two to explain something about “personal philosophy.” At the end I would tell them that each teacher has a personal teaching philosophy and mine is as follows:

“The classroom is my playground. The students are my playmates. The subject is our toy.”

How surprised they would be whenever I say that when I come to class I don’t work, I play. Work is hard. Play is fun.

As we end the first meeting I would tell them, “Come back next week and let’s play.”

On To My Next Decade In South Korea

The 2nd of March (2023) marks the completion of my first decade here in South Korea. My heart is bursting with gratitude for having been given the chance to work and live here for the past ten years. I could not thank God enough for guiding me and helping me find a niche most suitable for my personal and professional growth. I am forever indebted to Dr. Mark Celis and Dr. Larry Chong for considering me qualified to teach paving the way for my entry to this country via Gyeongju University. A lot of thanks also to Dr. Sheri Slick and Mr. Damon Osburn for opening the doors of Hanseo University (where I have been teaching since 2014)  for me.

Salute to the universities aforementioned for believing that teaching English should not be made exclusive to citizens from native English-speaking countries. Thanks to the universities here in South Korea for believing that Filipinos like me can teach English. In my 10 years here in South Korea, I did a “quiet comparative analysis” of ESL teachers from those “seven countries” and mine. I focused my comparison on the areas of pedagogy, professionalism, and attitude. My findings… universities here in South Korea and elsewhere should seriously reconsider their policy of hiring teachers from the said countries only.

Teaching overseas is in the list of my career choices ever since. It was part of my career pathing. I prepared and trained for it. Eventually, I decided to take this path for three reasons – “greener pasture,” job burnout, and a personal demon that I had to slay.

Many of my loved ones and friends considered my going to South Korea  a bad move. I had a great career in my country and the pay was not bad. I had other sources of income as well. They considered it unwise for me to still want to work here. But as I said, I wasn’t just seeking financial stability. I really got tired of my previous jobs supervising people and doing administrative work. I wanted to just teach and pursue my other passion – writing.

I was really at the crossroads of my career at that time and it did not help that I was also suffering from a personal crisis. I felt I had to do something. I had to do one life-altering decision. I was like Jake Sully, the main character in the movie “Avatar”  saying, “Sometimes your whole life boils down to one insane move.” So, I made the move. I decided to come here. As it turned out, this country is the perfect place for me tame a “toruk makto.” Not that mythological creature in the movie but MYSELF.

Honestly, the past ten years were the most productive years of my life personally and professionally speaking. God willing, I would still like to spend the next ten years of my life here. This country has become  my second home. It has been a channel of blessings for me and my family. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for this country, its people, and the two universities that granted me the opportunity to serve.

We are required to render only 19 hours of work weekly staggered in a 4-day period. There are 168 hours in a week. Imagine the amount of free time that we teachers have here in the university where we are teaching. We don’t even work for a total of roughly 5 months (but we still get paid) because of the winter and summer breaks. So, how did I spend my free time in the past 10 years?  

Given all the free time that I had in the years past, I was able to pursue my other passion vigorously – writing.  I was able to create not just 1 but 3 websites.  Last year, I created 2 YouTube channels. Those websites and channels are my workshops – they serve as my training ground and a haven for self-expression. In addition, almost yearly that I was able to finish research works that were either presented in international conferences or published in indexed journals (or both). Those free time also allowed me to pursue “self-improvement” both as a personal activity and advocacy and… to count my blessings.

My journey will continue. I will tread the same path that I have been treading in my next years here in South Korea. My desire to achieve my full potential as a person and as a professional is a torch that will remain lit to brighten that path.

To God be the glory.

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