Greetings blogosphere! It has been quite a while. Again.
We are about to begin the last week of school on Tuesday. Thanks to the People Power holiday, we have Monday off but don’t let that deceive you: there will hardly be any rest.
The last two months of school are usually the busiest for me. It is when I culminate everything I’ve been working towards, tie up loose ends, or make up for lost time. That toxic triad makes for a race against time — a race I have every intention to win and a race I have had a good track record of winning. And yet, at the risk of mixing my metaphors, let’s borrow another one from basketball (since tennis, though I love it, does not convey the same urgency even when you’re 0-40, 0-5 down in the fifth set; desperation yes, but not urgency).
I am forcing the game into overtime. Last two minutes and I am three points down, and I have to make my play. I just need to make one shot. Or maybe two. Do you have my back? I want another five minutes and so do you.
This school year has had a very odd pace. We started a week late, lost two weeks to AH1N1, and lost another to Ondoy. The passing of a colleague left the community in a squalid pall for about a week, and then I had the honor of being sent to India for two weeks. We are ending this school year a week earlier compared to last year. And there have been oh so many long weekends sprinkled throughout the calendar to make a time management freak like me disbelieve the existence of time.
In sum, I haven’t spent as much time with my classes as I hoped to, or rather, as I would want to now.
I struggled in teaching Batch 2012 at the start.
We could hardly get any momentum off the ground. Whenever classes would be canceled, it would force us to adjust and reacquaint ourselves with school whenever we resume from an unscheduled, extended break. The students struggled to get into the rhythm of school, making it difficult for them to meet the high expectations of a teacher that relies a lot on independent study, full and focused attention during lectures, and undivided participation when it comes to class activities.
And I could see that they were having a difficult time. Many hated (and still hate) my pre-lecture quizzes. I literally felt them dragging their feet through my lectures. The intermittent class schedule in the first semester was unfriendly to the sort of time table-based group activities I design, forcing me to rely on lectures – which I really hated as well.
(Nonetheless, I did make it a point to make them look as good as I can. )
Trapped in a cycle of lecture after lecture, I made a silent commitment to myself that I will persevere. I wasn’t teaching the kind of class I wanted, but I will the moment the first semester (a combined first and second quarter) is through. If I were to rely on lectures, I had to do it well. If I were to expect my students to really read up before my quizzes, I had to push them harder. In my mind, I had to pay all of this off somehow. So towards the end of the semester I began reciting an unbreakable vow — “If I lecture half of the year, you will not hear me lecture in the other half.” By promising my students more activities once the third quarter began, I set the bar for myself. I knew I could do it; it was just a matter of time.
True enough, I began teaching the class I wanted to in the third quarter. I forewarned that it will be a project-oriented quarter and that in eight weeks I will only lecture a maximum of four times (I think I only lectured twice).
We kicked things off with their own version of The Amazing Race where I had my four classes cover different Asian regions. Each class was divided into six teams – one to oversee different aspects of the project, and five to be responsible for five different legs.
It was my way seeing what they were capable of. The first semester didn’t really allow me to know who the leaders were, but this definitely did. I also met the artists, writers, and performers; I’ve also seen who tend to take initiative versus those who were just in it for the free ride. I am generally satisfied with their work, though we are all in agreement that much more could be done if they had more time (they just had two weeks). And as their teacher I would’ve had more fulfillment if I had time to sit down afterwards and talk about every single thing that happened. But I was on my own Amazing Race – soon I had to board a plane to India.
Nonetheless, their projects did look very fantastic. You can check out their amazing race reports here:
CHAMPACA – Sand and Sword (Islamic World)
DAHLIA – All Under Heaven (East Asia)
ROSAL – Silk Road (Central Asia)
SAMPAGUITA – Spice Islands (Southeast Asia)
Upon my return we began work on our East/West Debates, a favorite of mine from last school year. I reprised it with a lot of modifications; in particular, I revolved each mock trial around a specific historical event rather than a general issue. Students can compare the guidelines for 2011 with the one for 2012.
For Batch 2011:
For Batch 2012:
I am very, very satisfied with the results this year. Revolving around specific events is simply the best thing I’ve done, since it allowed students to focus on building their arguments (rather than rely on my talking points like last year) and beefing up their witnesses.
In addition, this exposed them to my real teaching style and I got to see how they measure up to the high expectations I’ve set. I only delivered a two-session lecture on basic concepts about imperialism, and in some sections I didn’t even finish (and it doesn’t really matter). Then it was mostly research work at the library. Then I pointed students towards some websites they could use. To those who had difficulty contextualizing their research, I provided frameworks. What they came up with genuinely surprised me. They discovered texts I never really studied yet and made characters out of historical figures you can’t find in standard history books. It sounds cliche whenever teachers say that they learn from their students too, but in this case it is very real. If next year the East/West Debates get even better, it is only because of Batch 2012.
My Third Quarter Periodic Exam gave them a taste of what I really look for in my students. Dealing with texts we haven’t touched on a single second in class, they answered a pure essay test where they had to choose questions that fit their interest, knowledge, and individual capabilities. While difficult and seemingly impossible to check, it continues to be the most important exam I administer to my students.
And finally, the fourth quarter.
We started big. The Middle East Peace Summit has been done since Batch ‘09 and since then it has been reserved for the last week of February. Instead I pushed it a month earlier, kicking off the new year with a four-part lecture on the Middle East to provide them context for the summit. I also set the tone with a personal favorite, Win As Much As You Can, an ingenious game utilizing the principle of game theory. From a teacher’s perspective, this is a brilliant combo. It teaches them about cooperation and betrayal without having to utter a single word. It sends them off to the Peace Summit knowing that what they are about to do isn’t impossible – if people really remained true to their word and left themselves open to compromise. I didn’t have to say anything to teach them this, they just did it.
(By the way, 2012, do you want to know how previous Batches did it? I wrote reports for ‘09 and ‘10 but stopped with ‘11 since the reports spoil the action. But you can read about how other batches did here: Batch ‘10, Batch’09)
And this, in another wonderful twist of fate, sets up what we’re about to do starting next week.
Batch 2012 is the sixth batch I’m handling. Yet, I am introducing an activity for the first time.
It is something I’ve wanted to do since I started teaching Asian Studies – a simulation of the ASEAN in a truly open-ended and student-driven format.
I am confident enough in my abilities now to pull off something this ambitious. I can see from the preliminary requirements – a Country Profile detailing their objectives for the forum and a Position Paper that basically serves as a draft of their privilege speech – that my students are ready as well. I can see that they have gotten used to the rigor and hard work I expect from my students, and for that the First Semester paid off somehow.
Throughout the year, students have often asked me about things I personally believe in. What is your religion, sir? Who are you voting for? Does our country have hope? I often decline answering. Over the years I’ve realized that education is not about telling students what to think, but to help them – and empower them – to think for themselves. And yet, if they ask me what I believe in now, I will gladly answer.
I believe in you.
I will say nothing more about the coming Model East Asia Regional Forum for I want us all to be surprised with what happens next. But for sure, there is no struggle on my part now. I’ve seen my students grow tremendously over the past months; I no longer see the weariness of trying to keep up with my expectations but the anxiety of whether they will in fact meet them one last time.
You guys will.
Hence, I can’t help but look back at how things could have been (I do teach history). If we had all the time we lost, there is so much we could have done with five more weeks. There are films we could have watched; lectures on Japan and Southeast Asia I could have delivered. Perhaps I could have thrown in an extra week for The Amazing Race and I could have lectured a bit more before the East/West Debates in order to provide more context. We could all take a session after the activities to talk about what happened. And perhaps you could have known me a little bit more than the teacher with super planned time tables and detailed guidelines.
But alas! Such is the fate of every teacher. We’re given only so much time, and there are no last minute plays to force the game into overtime. In the end, I can only hope that you learned a thing or two and felt that all your hard work was worth it. I make no apologies for being tough, but am willing to hear you out if you feel that I haven’t been fair.
We teachers never really get second chances despite a new year that awaits in June; our current batch has come and will be gone, and I hope we’ve made our limited time together truly mean something. For I will be eternally grateful just for that, and it is always a teacher’s prayer that the same is true on the other side.
Batch 2012, good luck in your last two minutes!
BONUS! Below is one activity which we had no time to do at all. I was planning to, but replaced it with The Amazing Race instead. Did I make the right choice?