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Stopovers and “Multiple Hats”

(My Journey as a Teacher – 2)

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When I thought of a title for the series of essays I intend to write to mark my 30th year in the academe, I initially thought of “My Teaching Career.” But I know there is a title more appropriate for my experience of having taught in 8 different schools. It’s like moving from one place to another until I reach a final destination. So I ended with “My Journey as a Teacher.”

A journey has a final destination and the places where you stayed along the way are the stopovers.

I consider the schools where I worked in the past as the stopovers in my journey as a teacher. Not that my stay in those institutions were brief and meaningless but that I was not meant to stay there longer than I did. I moved out and continued with my career as a teacher. I did not stop teaching after leaving thus I consider them as stopovers.

Nobody knows if where I am teaching now is the final leg of my journey…my final destination. I’d love to if given the chance.

I worked full-time in 6 different schools in the Philippines before a South Korean university hired me as ESL teacher in 2013. I stayed in the said institution for only a year and decided to apply in the university where I am currently teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. I am on my 6th year in South Korea and 30 years in the academe overall.

Where I am teaching now is my 8th school. Some people consider moving from one school to another so frequently as negative. Well, that depends on the reason for leaving.

If a teacher keeps getting fired after spending a year in a school then something is wrong. But if a teacher decides to leave for valid reasons then it should not be taken against him/her.

In the first school where I worked I was a high school teacher. I taught English and Social Studies subjects. Seeing that students in the night session there were not very active in extra-curricular activities, I asked the principal if I could open a theater group for them. I was given the go signal and “Teatrong Pang-gabi” was born. Night students joined. That paved the way for me to become the moderator also of the school’s main theater group – “Teatro Teresiana.”

In 1990, I resigned because I was supposed to work at a supermarket in Oman. I was enticed by the salary offered which was 500% higher than my salary as a teacher then. But chaos descended on the Middle East when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. My mother and many more dissuaded me from leaving. I heeded.

From Batangas, I relocated to Bulacan when I was hired by a technical-vocational school. There I taught English and Social Sciences . I was also the marketing officer and was asked to do some administrative works at the same time. There I stayed for 4 years and had to resign when I focused on my dream to have a school of my own. Unfortunately, I was not able to convince the prospective partners to whom I presented my business proposal to invest.

If only I had rich parents or siblings. Not one of my relatives and friends too had the sufficient funds to finance my project then.  If only the encouragement of my loved ones and friends could be converted to cash, I would have had the needed capital.

So, I set aside my dream of running my own school for the meantime and  sought teaching positions in schools in Batangas and Bulacan. I got offers from schools in both provinces but I opted to accept the teaching job offered by a technical-vocational school that opened only that year (1994). That makes me one of the pioneers in that institution. I decided to work there for the simple reason that everything about that institution resemble the school that I envisioned and wanted to open in Batangas had I found a capitalist partner.

I was assigned the same subjects I have been teaching in the past years. After six months, the owners of the school realized that they need somebody to run the academic and student affairs office of the school. The President of the institution could no longer attend to those matters. Even if I have yet to finish my Master’s at that time, having learned that I performed some administrative works in my previous school, the President offered me the position.

I did not hesitate to grab the opportunity. As a result, I did not continue with my Master’s in English anymore and instead pursued a Master’s in Educational Management so I would learn more about managing schools.

In addition, I was also the marketing officer until I found (and recommended for hiring) a very capable individual to teach and at the same time take my place as in-charge of promoting the school. Nobody was willing to be the moderator of the school paper so I had to be it also.

Then I learned from a friend that a college run by one of the country’s biggest congregations was looking for somebody qualified to head their Education program. The salary was much higher and it just so happen that the said college was located a few kilometers away from the subdivision where we were planning to have our house constructed.

The most practical thing for me to do then was grab the offer.

So, I left that technical-vocational school after 8 years and accepted the offer of a Catholic institution to spearhead their Education program and help in the promotion of the school. That was year 2002.

While working as chair of the education program, I also taught English, Literature, Social Sciences and Education subjects.

The sister president of that college at that time told me that if I wish to remain as head of the Education program beyond that school year – I need to pass the national licensure examination for teachers (LET). I was surprised for I wasn’t told of that kind of arrangement before. But I just took it as a challenge.

I had no chance to enroll in a review center. My plate was full. I had to work from morning till late afternoon from Monday to Friday and had to pursue my PhD studies on Saturdays.  But I was confident I would pass because the subject areas covered in the LET were the subjects I have taught in the past years.

So, in 2003 I took the LET (Major in English) and passed.

My first seven years in that Catholic institution were my best years in the academe. The sister president that time was the one of the best (if not the best) school administrator I have worked with. She influenced me in so many ways and squeezed out the best in me. I learned a lot from her. Well, I could give her name… S. Viri.

It was unfortunate that the congregation would allow a religious to head their school for 3 years then they have to be transferred to another school. There were times that they allowed an extension of 3 more years.

So after 6 years, S. Viri bade us a tearful goodbye.

I had it so great in that institution that I told my wife that I would see there all my hair turn gray and my hairline recede… or so I thought.

The next sister president of the institution made me realize that God had other (and better) plans for me. This I articulated in of the essays in this series. The subtitle is “The Decision.”

It was in that “stopover” where I stayed the longest. I really thought it was the final destination in the journey.

From a string of private institutions, I was given a chance to work in a public school – a city college. I was hired as a College Dean, the highest academic position I had. Educators from private schools were transferring to the public schools because of the salaries and benefits becoming better. I was glad to join the exodus.

But there I spent the worst school year in my career. I had encounters with two people that I never thought I would have in a place where supposedly educated people work.

I was warned by the teachers I was supervising and the non-teaching personnel about those two people. I told them about my experiences in my previous employment and they said greater are the challenges  I would be facing.

Having heard that, I became very careful with everything that I do and say. I stayed away from school politics  and just focused on my job.

I held two positions in that city college – College Dean and Dean of the Education Department. I gave my all, I always do. I always make sure that I would deserve every cent in my pay. I strictly adhered to the tenets of professionalism.

The first and only time perhaps that I lost my cool was when I asked the College President to allow me and one of “the two” to have a dialogue in front of her. I told him nicely to review his job description and not to intervene in my duties as College Dean.

That proved to be my undoing. I just locked horns with one of the President’s dearest allies. I prepared for a possible consequence.

It came.

At the end of my first year in that city college, after I secured the government permit to offer BSED – Major in Mathematics, I was informed that the following school year I would still be Dean of the Education Department but no longer the College Dean.

They could not provide me with a valid reason for the demotion. They could not present an official  document showing the results of an evaluation that would show I fared poorly. I said that had I performed poorly as an administrator why retain me as Dean of the Education Department.

The writing on the walls were very clear. I should not stay in that city college a minute longer. I resigned the following day. I’d rather go unemployed than work with those kind of people.

To my amazement, amusement, and bemusement, I was told later by one of “the two” that the announcement about my demotion was just a test. They were just trying to see how I would react. They wanted to see what stuff I am made of specially that they were about to inform me that my “item” (that would make me a regular public school employee) from the government was already granted.

“What?????”

That was the worst joke I heard.

I wasn’t treated professionally.

(If ever those  people would come across this article, they are free to refute what I wrote here. My colleagues and friends in that city college could attest to the lack of professionalism of those people.)

From that city college, I became the principal of a basic education institution ran by Pakistanis who own a network of schools in their country and some parts of Asia. That school gave me the highest salary I had in the Philippines. They were  about to send me also to Pakistan at that time for the training of their school heads. It would have been all-expense paid.  I declined because we were preparing for the FAPE re-accreditation. I was familiar with the accreditation system for tertiary institutions but I never had an experience doing it for a basic education institution. I figured I could not afford to be out of the country for a month. I needed to spend those times for the paperwork and legwork for the re-accreditation and for studying the accreditation policies of FAPE, DEPED guidelines, and the school system that my  Pakistani employers wanted to implement. It was something new for me.

We passed the FAPE re-accreditation.

What my unfortunate experiences in that city college and  the amount of work and adjustment  I had to do in my new role as principal, particularly at that time that we needed to pass the FAPE re-accreditation, did was make me experience BURNOUT. Those two years were emotionally and physically draining. It did not help that it came at a time that I was also having a serious “personal problem.”

Suddenly, I began to dislike my work as school administrator. I just wanted to teach… to write. I no longer wanted to do any  administrative and supervisory works.

I needed a break… a change in environment.

I pursued seriously my application as ESL teacher abroad at the turn of 2013.

My dear God listened to my prayers.

On March 2, 2013, an Asiana Airline plane brought me to South Korea to have the fresh start  I badly needed. I had a reboot of my career as a teacher.

 

Paddling Through Waves of Discouragement and Doubts

(My Journey as a Teacher – 1)

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2018 marks my 6th year as an ESL teacher here in South Korea and my 30th year as a teacher in general.

I dreamt of becoming a lawyer but I know my parents wouldn’t be able to support me financially had I decided to take up Bachelor of Laws upon completion of my AB English in 1988. So, I decided to pursue what came second among my career choices back then – teaching.

When my friends in the boarding house where I was staying learned that I applied to several schools, one of them told me frankly this:

“Who would hire you? You’re too short and skinny  to be considered for a teaching position.”

His name is Nick and I would never forget him.

I stand just a shade over 5 feet and weighed probably around 45 kilos at that time.

Some (or is it most?) people (like Nick) tend to underestimate those who are shorter than they are. They think that their being taller makes them better than shorter people.

Well, I got used to being underestimated because of my height. But I never allowed it to affect me. I very well know my value as a person. It goes way above my 5-foot frame.

The truth is, wherever I go, (modesty aside), I feel like “a dime thrown in with a whole bunch of nickels.”

So, despite the discouragement I heard that day, I pursued my applications vigorously.

I had no good  clothes at that time. I just borrowed a friend’s polo which I wore when I attended three interviews and three teaching demonstrations.

A week into SY 1988, I joined a conversation among my friends in the boarding house. Present then was Nick, the one who gave me the discouraging remarks. I told them the dilemma I was facing.

“I was hired by Western Philippine Colleges (High School Department) then this morning I was informed that St. Theresa’s Academy is waiting for me and they’re offering a higher salary.

I asked.

What shall I do friends?”

Of course I knew what to do then. I just took that opportunity to prove to Nick a point. I wanted him to know that there were two well-educated school principals who measured me using a different yardstick and saw that I am qualified to be a teacher… that I am valuable despite my small frame.

Nick was not the only one who tried to shake the foundations of my confidence.

In the summer of 1990, I worked part-time selling encyclopedias (Lexicon Encyclopedia). During one sales training session, I introduced myself and said that I am teacher. The lady seated beside me (her name is Carol) commented:

“Are you sure you’re a teacher?”

What could have prompted her to ask me that was probably same as Nick’s – my being short and skinny. I didn’t gain much weight after 2 years and she probably found it too hard to believe that given my small frame and simple clothes a school would hire me as a teacher.

I wanted to tell her that actually I had to turn down an offer from another school. But I chose to keep quiet for I did not like to have an argument with a lady.

I just took what she did in stride. At least I was right of my  impression of her as being a prima donna.

My paddling through waves of discouragement and doubts did not end with Carol.

When my friends learned that I was applying as ESL teacher in South Korea, Japan and China, they chorused:

“It’s a long shot.”

They had a point in saying so. All of the advertisement I checked during those times indicated that universities in the said countries hire only native English speakers. But I learned from other sources that there are Filipino teachers (in South Korea) teaching English and content subjects. That gave me a glimmer of hope.

A Nick-Carol type of individual told me this:

“You’d passed through the proverbial eye of the needle before you could even get an interview for an ESL teaching position.”

But I was more than willing to squeeze through a hole smaller than the eye of a needle in the pursuit of my dreams.

Then that small (or shall I say microscopic) opening presented itself when one day while checking job openings at a website (www.workabroad.ph)  I came across  a job opening at a university in South Korea (Gyeoungju University). It said urgently needed are English teachers. It did not say that only native speakers may apply.

I immediately sent my application. A week later I got a response advising me to prepare for an interview right there in the Philippines.  It was held at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intratmuros, Manila.

The rest was history. I got hired and in March 02, 2013 flew here to South Korea to work as an ESL teacher.

I should be thankful to the Nicks and Carols I encountered in life and in my journey as a teacher. They strengthened my philosophy of not allowing other people to define who I am. They made me more resolute in establishing my own standards in measuring happiness and success. Because of them I became deaf to prejudices and biases of self-righteous people. I believe that in the pursuit of my dreams and desires, the opinion of other people don’t count. Yes, I listen to wise counsel but at the end of the day, after praying hard, I do things my way.

My confidence come from my strong faith in myself and in my God.

On Philosophy and Teachers

 

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No two teachers are alike. Even if they are from the same race and culture and graduated from the same university, don’t expect them to embrace the same educational philosophies and to develop the same set of beliefs and values. You won’t see them apply the same methods and strategies in the classroom, approach teaching and learning with the same degree of passion, and treat the learners in the same manner.

Teachers are different in many ways.

Teachers decide which perspectives they would use in looking at their role as mentors and in treating their students. Such perspective depends on either the philosophical foundations upon which they are grounded or their personal set of beliefs… or may be both.

Teachers may have read too much of Hegel,  Kant and Plato that they may have developed idealistic tendencies indoctrinating their students into believing that they do not exist for themselves but for others and for a higher purpose. Or like Aristotle, Locke or Rousseau, who all tried to debunk the ideas established by Plato and company, the teachers maybe slowly training their students to subscribe to rational thinking, that the latter need to think critically and scientifically. They could be pragmatists like Dewey and Kilpatrick, guiding students to keep themselves in touch with reality for they believe that there is no other world aside from what can be perceived by the senses.

Their educational philosophies determine the way they talk, think, and behave as professionals.

Whatever values and beliefs teachers bring to the class don’t really matter for as long as nothing they say and do in the while teaching is inimical to the interests of the lerners. What is important is that everything that transpires in the classroom is intended to make the students the best persons they could be and make them prepared to live life.

So be it if  the teachers are like Satre, leaning towards Existentialism in guiding the students to take responsibility… in deciding who they are in order to make themselves authentic individuals.

Nobody can claim that this or that philosophical perspective in education is superior over the other. It’s fine if the teachers wish to embrace all the philosophies and combine their best features to serve and guide them in shaping their set of values and in choosing their methods and strategies.

Combining the philosophies, by the way, is not a novel idea. In Scholasticism, St. Thomas Aquinas, harmonized Idealism and Realism.

What about coming out with a philosophical perspective combining the four major philosophies in Education?

The philosophies aforementioned have shaped the teachers into the kind of educators that they are today. Whatever they knowingly and unknowingly say and do in the classrooms are offshoots of their set of values and beliefs. And this set of values and beliefs constitute their philosophy of education.

Teachers may have also accumulated  through the years a personal system of values that govern every decision they make in the classrooms. Thus we see them approach their teaching (and deal with their students) in different ways. We see them display different degrees of enthusiasm in teaching. Some display no enthusiasm at all.

There are teachers who are “sages on the stage” who believe, the way the realists and idealists do, that knowledge emanates from them being the authorities. So, the students should be spoonfed. Conversely, there are teachers, who, like the existentialists and pragmatists, act like “guides on the side” painstakingly guiding the students to self-discovery.

There are teachers who would choose specific methods and strategies without considering the specific needs of their students. But there are also those who would be conscientious enough to take into consideration the heterogeneity in the class before deciding what learning system they would put into effect.

There are teachers whose mere mention of their names would send shivers down the spine of students. Conversely, there are teachers who try to make learning fun making the students enjoy, and not fear, the classroom.

There are teachers who consider the classroom a workplace, while others consider it a playground. They work playfully or playfully work happy doing what they are doing in the classroom thereby rubbing off to the students their joyful spirit.

There are teachers who have seemingly forgotten that the students are not just empty sheets waiting to be filled-out as in Locke’s Tabula Rasa. The kids in the classrooms are not wax figures with empty minds which the teachers need to stuff with all the knowledge that the curriculum requires. These students are not just intellectual beings, they have emotions. They need more that education. They also need love and understanding. They should be treated the way parents treat their children.

Whatever the teachers decide to be… whatever system they implement… whatever method and strategies they apply… however they view learning… however they treat their students… would depend on their perspectives as dictated by their educational philosophy and their set of values and beliefs.

At the end, the way  teachers conduct themselves as professionals and the way they treat their students depend on whether they consider teaching a means of livelihood or a way of life.

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