Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What does it mean to teach?

Being a Fine Arts graduate with nary a course on teaching, being accepted to the academe as a teacher was never a career I ever dreamt of having.  I have always seen myself as a Graphic Designer in some acknowledged Advertising firm or a well-known painter independent of any organization without a care in the world of what my place is in a capitalistic society. However, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I ended up to be a teacher. I may attribute it to karma for I was the teachers’ nightmare when I was still a student. Nevertheless, I was asked to teach and had to accept and embrace it for that was how the dice rolled. With neither experience nor proper training, I was left with nothing but my sheer guts and with the most basic sense of logic I could muster. I plunged ahead and taught middle school Art thinking it would be a walk in the park.
When confronted with a task unprepared for, what one can do is to search within the deepest recesses of his/her psyche and remember the things that transpired during one’s learning years.  What did my former teachers do right and what did they do wrong?  How did I learn? How much time do I prepare and how much time to I allot for every project and concepts to be learned?  How would I know that the students have learned what they are supposed to learn?  What concepts are important for them to know?  Which among the concepts are more important?  These are some of the questions that beleaguered my then young and inexperienced self.

My first impression of teaching was that I am supposed to be the source of all information.  I am the know-it-all, come-to guy who has the answer to every query my students have, be the solution to their problems, etc.  I cannot say “I do not know” for that would only mean I am not a competent, learned man which I am supposed to be.  I should be a sage of some sort, almost a prophet to some degree.  I am way above the children for I know things they do not know and it is my duty to teach them.  After a year of surviving the classroom, I began to doubt my concept. Several years after, I confirmed it. I knew I was wrong - totally wrong missing the mark by more than a mile!

I could not be the source of all information for I do not have a brain that works like a computer.  My memory could not retain as much information as a computer can.  Even if I were the champion of some trivial game show, there are still a ton of things I will not know.  And to think the questions coming from children are far from ordinary.  Sometimes, they are not even related. Oftentimes, they ask questions coming from nowhere, you would be amazed and just wonder what this or that child was thinking in order for him/her to ask such a question.   I had to research a lot, study my lesson so that there would not be a child’s question left unanswered.  And that is only about the subject I teach.  It was then that I realized it’s alright to say “I don’t know! Maybe we can both look it up and compare notes tomorrow,” or “why don’t we make that your assignment for tomorrow?”

I thought that because I was the master of the subject I teach, I could teach it with my eyes closed.  Never have I thought that there were complexities that would arise based on the different personalities of my wards, experiences based on the social strata where the students come from, demographics, among other things.  I would have to watch my language, make sure that my words are not too complicated and have to be within their learning level.  Most of all, I learned that teaching is like acting onstage.  You have to enunciate, make yourself interesting and be understood at all times. Otherwise, I will just be a blabber of inconsequentially irrelevant information.

I had to find ways of teaching the same concepts based on the age level of my students.  And this is not only because of the fact that I had to teach the same subject to students from Grs. 1 to 12.   That was the easy part.  The harder part was to teach it to the same Grade level, of practically the same age but of different learning levels for chronological age does not equate to the same learning ability.  I should make lessons that would not be too hard for slow learners but not too boring to the more intelligent ones.  

Another impression I had was that the students should learn how to accept what I was saying, hook, line and sinker.  I was wrong.  Most of my wards are just there because they have to. Society dictated that they have to be in school.  This is where I learned about the word “motivation”.  I should make my lessons appealable to these kids.  Short of begging them to do their tasks, I had to find ways that would make them work.  A teacher could not make a student learn.  Not by force or bribery. They have to “like” it like a candy appeals to them.  A teacher needs to make learning fun and that is a relative word.  Fun is not a word that has an accurate meaning.  It changes according to age. 

Another life learning lesson I have about teaching and which is probably the best one of them all is about respect.  One cannot demand respect, it shall be given to you, if you know how to play your cards right.  One cannot impose respect from another individual even from a toddler.  One has to earn it.  Try to impose getting respect from someone, you may be able to on the surface but this is all gone when you turn your back. 

I can go on and on but I know everything will lead to only one message.  The comparison between my pre-conceived ideas about teaching is very far from my actual experience in the classroom.  No one is prepared enough.  The challenge the classroom brings is limitless and change from time to time.  I have been teaching for nearly thirty years and in all those years, I still continue to learn.  Now that I am nearing retirement, I will not be ashamed to admit that I have spent half of my years of teaching as a learning phase just to know the ropes hoping that at least, one or two in my class learned something from me.