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.”
Can Anyone Teach? (The Extra Mile Teachers Walk)
Search any site on the internet for the highest-paid professions in the world and you will not find “teachers” in the top 30. Expand your search and look for the list of professions in different countries where the practitioners receive the best compensation packages and you will find out that teaching is not among them. You will not find a country where teachers are ranked among the highest money earners.
Teaching not classified among the highest paying jobs, of course, is not surprising. That has been the case since time immemorial and it is most likely not to change anytime soon. One possible reason teaching as a profession is not getting the recognition it should get is because of the pervading notion that “anyone can teach.” You cannot say the same for law and medicine… not just anyone can practice those professions. But how true is it that just anyone can be a teacher?
But even if teachers do not get the recognition and sufficient remuneration they deserve, they wholeheartedly perform the role they have embraced. Indifference and poor salary are included among the thorny steps in the extra mile that teachers need to walk when they have accepted that teaching is not merely a profession but a vocation. It is not merely a job to perform but an obligation to carry out.
Acknowledging that teaching is not merely a job but a duty to fulfill is what makes teachers go the extra mile, to do what is more than required in the performance of their tasks, including sacrificing personal resources and sometimes even happiness. Teachers understand and fully grasp the nature of the responsibility that they agreed to fulfill when they signed up for the job. They know it’s not easy. How in the world would one consider it easy to be responsible for the education of other people, especially the young ones? When did it become easy to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and values and the development of skills of your fellow human beings?
Teachers would be one of the highest-paid professionals if only pay would be commensurate to how significant is one’s job in the enlightenment of the soul, the preservation and enhancement of the fabric of society, and the socio-economic development of a nation. Teaching would certainly be at top of the list of the highest-paid professions in the world.
But it is what it is. Teaching is not a profitable profession. If it is material wealth one would like to accumulate, teaching is not the profession to have. The realities confronting the teachers in the academe could really make them say a lot of things in the “present unreal conditional” form. There are times that they couldn’t also help but make a “wish statement” like “I wish that I were a health care professional.”
Healthcare professionals like physicians, surgeons, and dentists, consistently round out the top 10 in the lists of highest-paid professionals.
What they (the medical practitioners and their fellow health workers) do, maintenance and restoration of good health are very important. For that, they deserve the pay they get, most especially during the time that the coronavirus pandemic was raging. But nurturing the human spirit…helping a person achieve holistic development is as equally important, if not more important. What professional endeavor could be more meaningful than helping your fellow men achieve their full potential for them to become responsible human beings and productive members of society?
And not only are the teachers not getting the pay commensurate to the importance of the work they do and the effort they need to exert when doing their job, but they also don’t get the recognition they deserve.
A study concluded that American society does not generally view teachers in the same way, as they view other professionals; the belief that “anyone can teach” is not found in other professions. For example, not just anyone can play professional baseball, be an accountant or engineer, or practice law or medicine.
Such is the indifference teachers, as professionals are getting.
But how true is the contention that “anyone can teach?” Those who know what it takes to become a teacher would say that it is a fallacy. That “anyone can teach” is an erroneous assumption.
Education is not just a matter of whether you can teach or not but also whether or not you can make the students learn. Even if a person is an expert in a particular field, it is not a guarantee that they can teach what they know. Knowing something is different from knowing how to teach it.
Hiring just anyone to become a teacher is doing a disservice to the teaching profession. Hiring somebody to teach a language just because they could speak that language is a mistake. Not because somebody is good at math that they should be allowed to teach math. It takes a lot to become a teacher. Teachers undergo rigid training for them to hone their pedagogical skills. They read a lot knowing that teaching and learning are both grounded in Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, and other related fields. They understand that they need to be familiar not only with their field of expertise or chosen subject area but with different principles and strategies to effectively deliver learning and teaching. They know that when they are done teaching in the classroom, their work is not done yet. There are other things to be done – checking graded activities and preparing a new lesson plan. The preparation of a lesson plan, in itself, is a tedious process.
The list of the things that teachers need to know and do is long. At the end of that long list are two characteristics that teachers need to develop if they wish to succeed in the profession. Those are PASSION for their work and COMPASSION for their students.
With all the aforementioned, what would anybody assume that just “anyone can teach?”
Be that as it may, teaching will forever be a NOBLE PROFESSION! Nothing can diminish its intrinsic value.
One thing is for sure, all successful professionals in the world – business executives, lawyers, architects, engineers, surgeons, physicians, dentists, nurses, brokers, and what-have-you – know that their teachers, who did not mind walking the extra mile contributed a thing or two or more into whatever they have become.