Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why am I teaching?

"Why am I teaching?" As a teacher, have you ever asked yourself such question? Why do you keep on coming back to school after long years of going to school? I remeber the responses of my classmates in college when interviewed on their experiences during student-teaching. Most of them were happy with what they were doing especially that most of them, considered teaching as their first-hand experience in handling individuals.

For me, teaching was out of my plans when I was in high school and about to go to college although it's been a part of my ambition when I was yet a small kid. When asked what course I would like to take in college, I usually answered Political Science or Mass Communication but ended up as Mathematics teacher.

Anyhow, I don't have any regret for not fulfilling my dreams for teaching became a profession and career of my own. Being a teacher, is a poetic fulfillment of the dreams that I have for me and my family. Although many negative tags are attached to teaching and to the teachers, teaching will always be the noblest profession but I always keep on coming back on the question as to why I chose this profession? My life as a teacher would never be complete without molding a philosophy which would guide me through the years of molding dreams.

I believe that learning is a life-long process by which learners acquire knowledge and skills necessary for living. Knowledge and skills can be best imparted if learners are given reason as to why they need to learn a specific task or material. Hence, meaningfulness should be provided. Meaningfulness can be provided if students recognize connection/s between the materials to be learned and their own needs and interests.

I strive to live within my belief that the students’ engagement to life-long learning can be achieved if the students have positive attitude towards learning. Therefore, reinforcement of the positive learning attitudes must be provided at stake. This can be done by understanding the students’ emotional and social needs. If learners show negative attitudes and behaviors in the learning process, thorough investigation must be done in order to identify the cause/s of such dilemma and to provide immediate solution. Students must be given a sense of responsibility by involving them in every-decision making task and making them accountable of their own deeds. It should be understood that students have limitless capability to generate ideas for the advancement of mankind. Therefore, creativity should be highly-favored in every teaching-learning experience.

Providing eagerness to learn among the students means inspiring them to learn by showing untiring passion for teaching and learning with them. A teacher must be willing enough to go beyond the horizon of traditional teaching-learning process. The best thing that a teacher can do to a learner is to inspire him to explore his own potentials and encourage him to be the best of himself and that is teaching students how to live.

P.S. This philosophy was crafted during my course on Curriculum and Instructional Development at St. Theresa-INTI College in Bangkok, Thailand. I give credit to Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan for his utmost desire to develop every teacher as he struggle to design a healthy system of education where every learner is given importance. Thank you for the inspiration!

Friday, July 4, 2008


Going abroad is a dream of almost every Filipino. Millions of Filipinos are scattered in every part of the world working in different fields. I am one of the millions who tried to find greener pasture in a foreign land.

After knowing that Thailand is opening its doors for foreign ESL/EFL teachers, I confidently crammed up my things and headed to the “land of smiles”. At first, it was very hard to decide since it would be my first time to stay away from my family. However, as I glimpsed on the brighter side of working abroad, I cannot help myself but to deal with my passport and book a ticket going to Thailand.

Things happened promptly that I woke up early one day joining the buoyant applicants in the field of Teaching English as Second Language (TESL). I really thought that things would happen as easy as facing a school director and hearing, “You can start teaching tomorrow.” But it was the other extreme.

Contrary to what I believed, seeking a job has never been that easy in Thailand. I had to hurdle every hump along the way and cling on to my faith that someday, I would be facing Thai students inside the classroom. I have encountered so many unlikely incidents along the way such as the slur of not being entertained because you are not a Caucasian and the number of hours browsing for jobs in the web and finding nothing but the famous slogan, “ENGLISH NATIVE SPEAKERS ONLY”. Looking into possible teaching jobs in the schools around Bangkok, bringing “Thai Phrasebook” to communicate with the people but left dumbfounded for not being understood is such a funny experience. I even tried my luck in the remote areas of the provinces where nobody understands why I was in their school. Those were funny and discouraging experiences which make me feel the sweetness of having a TESL/TEFL job in a school where I am regarded as a first class educator and not as a second rate brown man.
After being turned down by a number of schools for various reasons, (i.e. no vacancy, they need English native speakers only, etc.) I tried my luck in the province thinking it might be more feasible to find a job there. I never heard of Samutsongkhram province before and I never thought of that small settling in the mouth of the Maeklong River. It was my friend who brought me to this province, which is actually the smallest in Thailand. I am thankful for having dropped by Anuban Samutsongkhram School where the head of the English department was eager enough to talk to me. I told her that I was looking for a teaching job and I wanted to know if there was a vacancy in her school. I thought that she would turn me down when she said that they have two English native speaking teachers from Canada and England. However, I got an accolade from her when she said, “You speak English well,” and she was sounding like she wants to hire me.

Although the head of the English Department of that school responded positively to my application, I never expected too much since I also heard the same from the schools that turned me down before because they did not have a vacancy. I was just surprised when somebody called me up and asked if I could report to Anuban Samutsongkhram School for a demonstration lesson and an interview. I was so glad but a problem sprouted when I realized I did not know anymore how to get back there! That day, I immediately called my newly found Thai friend and asked her how I could get to that province. She eagerly gave me the sketch. The following day, I dressed up well and appeared at the school the earliest time possible. I had visual aids and a lesson plan with me and was so ready for a twenty-minute demonstration lesson but they asked me to teach on the topic they prepared earlier so it was an on-the-spot lesson. I tried my best to impress the crowd who were Grade two pupils and English teachers of the school. After the demonstration, we talked about my teaching experience in the Philippines and my perception towards teaching Thai students. I did not have much to talk about Thai students since I did not have teaching experience in Thailand yet. Anyhow, I assured them that if given a chance to work in their school, I would do my best to showcase the ability of the Filipino teachers. Much was discussed and to make the long story short, I was hired! The following week, I signed the contract and processed my NON-B visa and work permit with their assistance.
Things might have turned as easy as I would want them to be right now since I got the job already but this is really just the beginning of the real battle. Forgetting all the possible obstacles, I had to run the race with dedication as I have to stand true to my words. I won’t turn my country down as I won’t turn them down.Way back in college, my training was not on handling small children. I graduated with a degree in Secondary Education, major in Mathematics. I am not an English major but I am tasked to teach English to Grade 1 to Grade 3 pupils and expected to design and execute activities for the English Club in Grade 4 to Grade 6. I have two English native-speaking counterparts in the school but I don’t know why the task is given to me. Providing a right perspective, I thought that something must be in me that is not in them and that something must drive me to work well as what the school expected.
That time, I started to browse ideas in the web regarding language teaching and ESL activities for young children. I looked back on the strategies I learned in college and modified them. I also borrowed resource materials from friends who have been teaching ESL in Thailand for years and assesed my students’ needs. I did everything possible to make my class more interesting and interactive. Trial and error was one of the ways I learned from my mistakes and I dug into the deepest of myself to find the right perspective towards teaching young learners. I have to undergo great adjustments so I kept my mind open and became so susceptible to new ideas. My students knew whenever I felt disappointment at their mistakes and fostering a friendly environment where teacher-learner interaction is evident became my focus in class. I tried to mingle with them every now and then and showed interest on what they tried to share to me [their language, culture, interests, etc.].

In the end, I understand the real value of education from my young Thai students. I am able to look at education with a greater perspective because of them. They may not understand what I am saying sometimes but I know that they understand me little by little. The happiness is incomparable when I see my English Club students performing a variety of speeches in front of the huge crowd and my Grade 2 and Grade 3 students delivering simple speeches. I learned that teaching is not more on mere feeding of information but it’s more on inspiring the students to learn more and making them feel confident of what they have and what they are. As an education student, I learned so many learning theories from different philosophers, psychologists and educators but realizing how those theories work is much more fulfilling.
My students made me feel that I am existing. They defined my purpose, which I have been searching for. They let me feel my worth as a human being and gave me reason to stay on the track. As I look at the difference I made in their lives, I never thought of my main reason in coming to Thailand for I get more than what I needed.

The following school year, my school hired another Filipino and they never hired English native speakers anymore. I felt that I was not only successful in teaching them but I became successful in letting them know that they never had a mistake in hiring a Filipino and we are more than what they think we are. I learned so many lessons from my experience and I just want to share it to my co-Filipinos out there who are so discouraged for they think that Filipinos are not welcome to teach English in Thailand. Just remember that behind those schools posting “WE WANT ENGLISH NATIVE SPEAKERS ONLY” are great schools, which believe in the ability of Filipino teachers. Know yourself, define your goal and work for it. I was 20 years old and turning 21 when I decided to join the TESL fore in Thailand but my age did not hinder me to pursue that elusive goal- to teach Thai students and show them what I’ve got.It is not your age, your degree, your nationality or your appearance that would make you successful in a certain field.
It is your attitude towards it that would make you find yourself to the place you want. Never think that because you are a Filipino, you are not qualified. Posses a positive attitude and always exert an extra degree to every effort you’ll give for that extra degree of effort will make all the difference. Funny it may seem but in life, we often get the best if we refuse to accept but only the best. I will be celebrating my first great year in Thailand on September 6 but I know that something more is yet to come.