I intended to begin with “Dear Students,” like an open letter, but that seems insincere. Most of you are not dear to me, not reading this anyway, not reading your readings. I don’t even remember all your names. I am often bad with names but I remember the faces of the better and the worse students and how I categorized them as such. Perhaps ten percent of you convinced me that the future is indeed in the hands of the youth, while the rest have been inspiring me to challenge myself, tweak my teaching methods from time to time, manage class requirements, and so on.
Teaching the Rizal course for a couple of semesters, I shall rewrite one of his essays soon as “The Indolence of the Students,” so I can further understand delinquencies that have plagued my classes. I remember the student who 1) asked me to translate into English a take-home long exam (as if s/he has neither yaya nor friends to do so); 2) sent his/her relatives to negotiate on her behalf for his/her grades; 3) told me, without blinking an eye, that s/he missed the scheduled long exam because of a racket after the fact; and 4) “read” a nonexistent written report about the monkey and the turtle, as if a live performance of a failed trickster tale.
Of course, I expect the usual excessive absences, low grades, blind reception of readings as gospel truth, misplaced optimism to the point of being uncritical. But the surprises such as the four I enumerated animate the classroom and further prove how problematic our education system has been. Students behave that way not simply because they were once sloths who violated the laws of nature by killing human beings, wearing the skins of their victims, going to classrooms and annoying teachers. If they were, then there must be something terribly wrong with ecology (thanks, global warming) that sloths bother with too many activities, instead of their routine of getting tired of resting.
Likewise, teachers, at least most of us, feel frustration with you students not simply because we were sloth-eating jaguars or predatory eagles waiting for a chance to catch students off-guard so we can give you a low or a failing grade. I give you a syllabus, with rubrics for grading, which may be discussed and changed at the beginning of the semester. Knowing that this may not be enough, I try to be considerate with students who truthfully and apologetically explain their shortcomings. The ones who remain silent about the status of their learning, I cannot monitor one by one due to the number of students, and other demands expected from us, such as further studies, research and publications. And also, we are supposed to have lives outside the academe, in an attempt to make ourselves and society better.
Thankful as I am for my unit’s relatively enabling environment for pedagogy and pursuing knowledge production, I admire teachers of Lumad schools in Mindanao. I remember a brief conversation with Teacher Miguel before they speak at our college assembly to share the grave situation of his students and to call for support: When a student acquired consecutive absences, teachers drop by his or her home to find out what’s wrong. This is a common scene in public schools, familiar to most due to actual experiences and films such as Mila (2001). In the same manner, if students exhibit poor performance, or worse plagiarize, teachers never give up on telling them what is wrong and what is right. Lumad teachers face state violence among other hindrances to education, yet they have the time to be kind.
As for me, I am yet to learn how not to give up on some of your classmates who have given up. I return enthusiasm with enthusiasm, as I elaborate lessons in-depth when someone asks specific questions especially after class, safe from the judgment of fellow students. I just hope that you ask questions during class as your learning also depends on each other. But what to do? Understand, especially as someone who remains socially awkward and who feels more comfortable within smaller groups, despite being a teacher.
Maybe I teach the way I do because I look up to teachers that had an indelible impact on me. As a college and a graduate student, I was curious with “terror” teachers other students tend to avoid for the right reasons: demanding requirements. The consequence of my curiosity was suffering that I have been glad to deal with. Whatever the limitations and shortcomings of my pedagogical praxis are entirely my own. At this point, I can be an instructor, mentor or both, tormentor. Whatever I have been to you, you can rate me to my face and I will be more than happy to tell you what I think of your character and work ethic as a student. That is not a threat but a promise, as one of my humanities teachers used to say. But if you prefer safe spaces of anonymous websites, so be it.
Some of “terror” teachers I encountered, I tried to engage during and after classes, telling them what I think, no holds barred. It turns out they aren’t terrifying at all. Some just prompts thinking that comes with a critical sense of humor, which oftentimes offends entitled or sensitive students. Let me conclude this entry for World Teachers’ Day by thanking a few (without terror-tagging, for security purposes): from teachers in math and computer science, I learned discipline and logic; from EVD, Philippine literature in general; from DAA, science and literature; from BAE, critical writing; from BLL, CCL and BGG, research and creative work; from you, students, teaching; and from visiting professors among the national minorities during the Lakbayan and Kampuhan, struggling for education that serves the people and the communities. (davaotoday.com)Philippine education, Teachers Day, Tilde Acuna