Springs of Joy: Where do I go from here? PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 25 November 2011 14:34

BY Jane dela Cruz Bascar

Teaching last semester was definitely not even a blip on my radar screen at the start of the year. I had set my sights on what I believed were “bigger things” but Fate had the last laugh I guess, putting me where I never intended to be.  The unexpected detour turned my world upside down – I’d like to think in a good way – this despite having had to cope with many physical as well as psychological and emotional demands. First, there was the constant battle with the scorching and almost intolerable heat of the classrooms. Then, there was the exhausting climb up the stairs to a room on the 4th floor in one building, down and up again to another room on the 4th floor in another building. All these accomplished in a span of five minutes which was the break between classes. What a test of physical endurance and stamina! But these were not what posed the greatest challenge to me. It was the teaching experience itself…   

Although it’s only been a little over five since I last taught, it feels closer to a millennium. The students today are markedly different - both in substance and in form.  First the form. I don’t know how I managed to mask my initial shock when I first laid my eyes on some male students sporting nose rings, earrings, spiked-, long-, colored hair, and oversized earphones. I had the same knee-jerk reaction when I first saw some female students all dolled-up with blazing red, orange, rainbow, dark blue or black nail polish, dangling earrings, tight pants, tinted hair, arched brows, and glammed-up faces. These on top of glossy “rebonded” hair and braces.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a staunch advocate of self-expression and even believe that repression is probably the root of our many dysfunctions today. But I found this disproportionate emphasis on external appearances unsettling and wondered if this was the best kind of self-expression possible. Still, what floored me was not so much the startling transformation in the physical appearance of today’s students as their blasé attitude towards learning and their lackluster academic performance.

Let me show you what I mean. Often, when I’d pose a question or even when I’d just say something, I’d be met with blank stares, glazed looks or bowed heads. It’s like I’d suddenly sound incoherent to them - like I’m speaking a language they’ve never heard before – Latin perhaps?  Or I’d ask a question in English and a student would answer in Pilipino. Even more shocking was that majority of the students (some of them 4th year college students at that) would do their oral presentations in Pilipino! When I’d insist that they speak in English, I’d see them struggle and stumble over the explanation and definition of simple words like threat, flexibility, enhance, conscience, fame. Dismayed at their weak command and lack of comprehension of the language, I felt torn between insisting that they stick to English despite their obvious difficulty with it and allowing them to express themselves in the dialect they’re most comfortable. I am tempted to believe the better option is the latter especially as I see how the lack of fluency in speaking English has never been an obstacle to the success of our Asian counterparts like the Japanese, the Chinese, the Koreans. What saddens me, however, is that there was a time when I wouldn’t have had to face such a dilemma. Students then were articulate in English, had better comprehension, came to class prepared, and were more disciplined, diligent, responsible, and focused.

What went wrong? Where did we go wrong? What has caused this deterioration in our educational system? Does the problem lie with us teachers? With the students? With the numerous subjects? With technology? With the confusion over “true values”? Or is it just me? Have I lost my touch? Have I gotten so bad at this that I can’t capture my students’ interest and sustain their attention? I remember how I’d get this faraway look from them as though I were but the backdrop for their thoughts, triggering another set of questions: Was I making sense? Was I connecting? Was I bringing enough to the table? And if I were indeed the problem, considering the cost of education today, do I then for humanitarian reasons simply turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to some of my student’s apparent lack of readiness for more advanced lessons? Or do I ruthlessly hold them up to the standards I believe they should meet? 

Alas, I do not have the answers to these questions and can only hope that my future interactions with my students will bring me greater clarity and wisdom. However, am I really meant to be a teacher?

Someone once said, “when you’re in the wrong place, your right place is empty.’ So if teaching is not my best contribution to the world, I might be claiming a spot that someone else can fill so much better than I can. And somewhere out there might be lonely, empty space that’s just waiting for me to claim. That would be the saddest thing unless I find my answers soon. I hope I do.

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