Advice For A Young Teacher (but also applicable for old ones)

Photo Credit: Kalexanderson via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Kalexanderson via Compfight cc

A former high school student of mine messaged me last week and announced that he probably might be a senior high teacher this coming school year. He asked for my advice on how to connect with students and how to handle unruly behavior. Since I was about to go somewhere at that time, I said I would get back to him but I forgot about it until today when I was reviewing messages that I recently received from other people. So to make it up to him, here’s a whole article’s worth of advice.

Note that this advice is what works for me, my personality and my character. It may not necessarily work for you or for other teachers. But since you chose to ask  me, then I will naturally share what I found most effective in my own experience.

  1. Be yourself. Do not put on a mask. Do not create a teacher persona for the classroom and another one for the outside world. This comes from my own experience as a student. I found that I was able to connect most to teachers who were not afraid to let down their guard, or who didn’t put on masks in the first place. They did not feel the need to project an air of authority all the time, but were willing to ask students their opinions and genuinely listen to and consider them. Students can smell pretentiousness a mile away and are easily turned off by it.
  2. Anchor your lessons on reality. If there is one aspect of teaching where you should expend most of your effort on, it is this. The one question that will always be on your students’ minds is “What does this (whatever the lesson is) have to do with my life?” It was in your mind when you were a student, and it was in mine as well. Share your own experiences whether they are insightful, funny or embarrassing (be yourself, remember?). You can talk about how you’re struggling to pay bills, or that particularly interesting conversation with the taxi driver, or misadventures in your love life (teenagers love this one). If it helps to drive home the lesson and bring it closer to how it will matter in their lives, share it. Your students will appreciate you more for it.
  3. Learn to be funny. Humor is a wonderful way to connect and make your students feel that you are human too — that you enjoy a good laugh as much as they do. “But I’m not a natural joker! It comes out corny when I deliver it,” is the objection of many who come across this advice. Well I have news for you. No one is a natural joker. No one was born a joker. All of us were born crying.

    I was not a “born” joker either. My humorous lines are either copied from others or accidental spur-of-the-moment ideas that are difficult to replicate. But I made a conscious effort to learn how to deliver jokes. There were a couple of classes I taught where the last 5 minutes or so of the class would be my joke time. I delivered jokes that I heard from other people, conscious of the timing and the proper delivery of the punchline. Later on, I learned to be more spontaneous with my humor. I learned to inject unexpected one-liners into an otherwise serious lecture. I don’t always get a laugh, and when that happens I shrug it off and just continue as if nothing happened. Never go into a meltdown just because your students didn’t laugh or didn’t get your joke.
  4. Mingle with your students outside class hours. When I was a teacher, I didn’t stay cooped up in the faculty room. I enjoyed visiting the classrooms during lunch hour. I liked going around the school and mingling with this or that group of kids waiting for their parents or guardians to fetch them. I had no agenda but to just say “hi,” then sit with them and listen to their stories, or tell some of my own if I think I have something interesting to share. I like asking them about slang words developed by their generation and it helps me learn their language and I even use it in my lessons. Young kids always find it funny when an old guy tries to mimic the way they talk. Sometimes, I intentionally misuse the slang and allow them to correct me.
  5. Be authoritative without being authoritarian. When I was a younger teacher, I had the tendency to be hot-headed. I would lose my cool and walk out on classes. I would shout loudly at them when I became irritated. But over time, I noticed that those methods diminished in effectivity the more they were used. The first time I shouted in class, they were all shocked and fell silent. But the more I shouted, the more they became used to it and it wasn’t so effective anymore.

    It was also at that time when I learned from the video “Molder of Dreams” by Guy Doud, that “obnoxious behavior is very often a cry for help.” So I learned to be calmer in my approach. When students started talking at the same time I was, I would immediately stop talking and just look at whoever was talking. Everyone would eventually stare at them as well until they got conscious and stopped talking too. It was a better way that didn’t require me to expend much energy and didn’t make my blood pressure shoot through the roof. For habitual offenders, I talk to them privately outside class and ask if they have deeper problems or issues with me.

    In terms of handling students who think they are right (but actually aren’t) — but whom I want to impart the lesson of looking at the question from a different point of view — I don’t use the “I’m a teacher, you’re a student, so shut up and listen” argument. I try to convince him by using reason or by showing evidence or actual experience why his opinion might not be so valid after all — and I give credence to whatever part of his argument is worth praising as well.

I’ve had many students who have become teachers, and some are even teaching my own kids today, but I am always glad to hear of one more who has decided to go into the profession. Teaching is not just about imparting skills and sharing knowledge. It is sharing yourself and your life. It is planting a seed whose fruit you may not see until many years have passed.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

The Gospel of Balance

 

Photo Credit: ersIII via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ersIII via Compfight cc

It was a few years ago when my wife and her friend were having a conversation about personality and zodiac signs. They were talking traits about themselves and other people, how one is aggressive and goal-driven because of this sign, and how another is dominant and authoritative because of that sign, and so on.

After a while, I butted in, “What about me? I’m a Libra.”

“Libra?” She said, “You’re all about balance.”

While I do not take astrology seriously, and highly doubt that the time of my birth juxtaposed with the position of the stars have any bearing on my life, this made me pause and think because it was true for most aspects of my life.

I am not the workaholic that my father was. I enjoy a good balance between work and play. What would be ideal is if I could make my work as play — but I guess that is everyone’s pipe dream.

In terms of food, I enjoy a bit of everything. In terms of activity, I enjoy reading, playing computer games, and watching movies/TV series with my wife, but I also enjoy social activities like getting together with friends or meeting new people in freethinkers meetups. I also practice kali/arnis which I incidentally found attractive because of its balance between the rigid form-based philosophies of Japanese arts like karate or aikido, and the practicality of street-fighting.

My facebook friends list shows different extremes. The just-concluded elections showed that. There were friends who were extremely pro-Duterte while others were extremely anti-Duterte. I also have friends who are devoutly religious while there are others who are militantly atheist. Some are ultra-conservative while others are ultra-liberal.

I like having the best of both worlds. When faced with a decision to choose either this or that, I tend to ask, why not both? And I tend to find ways to get what I want from either side.

This is not to say that I have always been balanced. There are times when I have veered off to the edges. In terms of religion, I was born and raised as a moderate/conservative evangelical. Then my passion drove me to a form of charismatic/pentecostalism.

In one environment, there was a rigid adherence to the program. There was a set time for standing, singing hymns, communal prayer and so on. If the sermon went overtime, an old lady in front would shout, “It’s 11 o’clock already,” and that was the pastor’s cue to wrap things up.

In the other, the singing would just go on and on for an hour or more. There was wild dancing, people bursting out in “tongues” and rolling on the floor. It was chaotic and frenzied. People would clap, cheer and shout during the sermon.

Today, I am agnostic leaning towards atheism. I do not really know and cannot really conclude that there is no god or some form of higher power, but I live my life on the premise that he either doesn’t exist, or that he just leaves me to make my own choices and decisions — in other words, to live my life as I see fit. And there do exist forms of theism which accept this kind of thinking and I am quite open to them.

And of course, to balance things out, I’ve also read an article debunking the truth of zodiac-based personality assessments. A paper written by Geoffrey Dean and Ivan Kelly entitled, “Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi?” talks about a large-scale study of twins (some born less than 5 minutes apart) having wildly different personalities — which effectively nullifies the personality assessments about them.

They also had detailed analyses of more than forty controlled studies showing that astrologers were not able to significantly perform better than pure chance in making predictions.

Still, seeing my personality laid bare (and accurate to around 80%-90%) in some horoscope websites was amusing. Sometimes, one needs to suspend disbelief and just play around with ideas to make life interesting.

This is the gospel of balance.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Tolerance

http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/opinion/2016/05/12/uyboco-tolerance-473318
Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc

The recent election season was very heated and polarizing. Friends were unfriended. Relatives had minor feuds. Death threats, insults and lawsuits were thrown around. People were judged as elitists, idiots, fascists, cultists, cowards, unpatriotic, and so on based on the candidate they supported. Some people shot to fame. Others drowned in shame.

It was as if the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” had come true.

Nothing divides people more than religion or politics, and the truth of this adage came alive before my eyes. Yet amidst all this divisiveness, I also heard other voices — voices that uttered words such as tolerance, compassion, healing and unity.

Tolerance.

I used to be pretty intolerant. I was bullied as a kid, not physically but verbally (in hindsight, it wasn’t even serious bullying — it was just some older guys having a little fun and calling me names). But I hated my bullies with all the passion a 6-year old could muster. I didn’t want to see them. The very sight of them would send my blood boiling. I wished them dead. I was that intolerant of them, and it took me a while to get over that feeling whenever I saw them.

I grew up in a conservative evangelical church. I was pretty intolerant of other faiths and even other Christian denominations. But going to a Catholic school filled with mostly (what else?) Catholics, I of course made friends with them, but when it came to religion, I was pretty sure they had it wrong. I was that intolerant.

I remember when I joined Toastmasters — the standard program included an invocation to start the meeting. The recommendation was to deliver an invocation that was neutral and did not favor a religion — in order to be inclusive to a general audience. I didn’t follow the recommendation and continued to pray in my own fashion, invoking Jesus’ name. I was that intolerant.

I was intolerant of the LGBT community (though they weren’t called that back then). My bible condemned them. I thought they were weird, social aberrations. I remember attending a leadership seminar where there was in attendance, a man dressed as a woman. Part of the seminar activity was for us to be blindfolded and walk around the room to clasp hands with someone. The person we clasped hands with would be our partner for the entire duration of the seminar. I remember thinking and praying I wouldn’t get the cross dresser. I was that intolerant.

Fast forward to today. I’ve given up religion and prayer. I have good friends who are gay males and females. I even learned that my childhood friend was gay, and I felt no repulsion whatsoever, and was in fact happy that he had found himself. Perhaps, I have become more tolerant and accepting.

Last night, a few of us former classmates gathered at the wake of one of our classmate’s mother. Most of us were Digong supporters, but one was a RoRo supporter. One confessed that she had voted Marcos for VP, and some mentioned others who also did. But there was no condemnation from any of us. We joked and laughed and swapped stories. Friendships and relationships should go far beyond politics and religion after all. We recognize that underneath all its trappings, we are fellow humans trying in our own best way to figure out what this thing called life is all about.

From that recognition comes tolerance.

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

How To File An Election Complaint

With elections just around the corner, many people are concerned that there will be massive cheating. As previously discussed in this column, IT experts who have reviewed the source code of the Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) and Canvassing Computers (CCS) concur that while cheating may be possible, it will be difficult and will require the complicity of many people.

Some people have insinuated that the cheats have been built into the code such that 20% of the votes for candidate A will go to candidate B and so on. However, our independent experts have already verified that no such scenario is possible.

What is possible though, is that ALL the votes for candidate A will go to candidate B, and this is not due to a cheat built into the code, but rather an error in the configuration files used to initialize the VCMs. Remember that the VCM does not read the candidate names. It only takes note of the position of the shaded area and counts that as a vote towards a particular candidate.

If configured wrongly, then that is the time when votes for candidate A will go to candidate B but it will count ALL votes and not just selected or randomized ones.

This error will also show up in the voting receipt one gets after feeding the ballot in the VCM.

In order to properly file a complaint, make sure you follow these steps when voting (thanks to Dr. Pablo Manalastas for the original steps):

  1. Before shading your ballot, take note of your BALLOT ID NUMBER found at the UPPER RIGHT CORNER of your ballot. Write down this number on a small piece of paper or on your hand.
  2. Shade COMPLETELY the oval of the candidates of your choice. DO NOT make any extra or unnecessary marks. Feed your ballot into the VCM scanner, and wait a few seconds for the VCM printer to finish printing your receipt. Note that once you feed your ballot into the VCM, and you get your receipt, you cannot get your ballot back. Acceptance by the VCM is final.
  3. Step away from the VCM so that the next voter can cast his vote, and walk towards the black box receptacle for the receipt.
  4. Read your receipt and if there is any error, then WRITE YOUR BALLOT ID NUMBER onto the back of the receipt, sign it and complain to the BEI (Board of Election Inspectors), telling him/her of your objection.
  5. The BEI is required to LOG your complaint. Make sure that he/she does. With the Ballot ID on the receipt, Comelec can then match your receipt to the correct ballot and check the validity of your complaint. If the Ballot ID is not written on your receipt, there is no way to match the receipt to the proper ballot, and so your complaint may be ignored by Comelec, or Comelec might charge you with frivolous complaint.
  6. If your receipt matches your ballot exactly, deposit your receipt into the black box receptacle. you can not take your receipt with you out of the precinct — this is an election offense.

Remember, before everything else, COPY YOUR BALLOT ID NUMBER. You will no longer have access to your ballot once you feed it to the machine, and without this number, there is no way for you to match your ballot with your voting receipt and thus make a valid complaint.

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

A Plea

Photo Credit: symphony of love via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: symphony of love via Compfight cc

A few more days to go after today.

This article will not be about my chosen candidate or yours. It will not be about political or econcomic views. This is about you and me. This is about the people you know, the people around you, the people you work with, the people you grew up with.

A friend and former college classmate, Freddie Tan, shared the following piece on his Facebook account. It is a quiet and thoughtful piece, one I think a lot of us need as the election frenzy will only grow wilder as we go through these last 10 days. Take a few minutes, breathe deeply and reflect on Freddie’s words below:

In my entire adult life I have never lived through a more polarizing and divisive election campaign season as this. The last time an election was this polarizing was 1986, and I was still a child then and there was no social media, and it was a bit harder to get into fights about politics. If you are my friend I will not let your personal decision affect our relationship. I will respect your decision as I can never truly imagine how you came about your decision.

In my experience, I have come to the conclusion that all human decisions and actions are motivated by emotions. I guess that is why it was called e-motion, as it is what moves us. We can all pretend to be logical and reasonable, but we only use our logic and reason to get to a desired end goal of which the value we have personally determined emotionally.

Therefore I plead that whatever decision you make, let it not be borne out of the negative emotions of hate, fear, anger or frustration. Don’t let your decision be about fear of crime, fear of another dictatorial rule, hate of a certain candidate’s way of talking, or some other negative emotion (This only leads to the dark side).

The decision we are about to make as a nation is far too important for it to be based on negative emotions. Let our decision instead be based on HOPE, LOVE and COMPASSION. What we hope our country to be. What we want for our loved ones, and what we hope for those who are less fortunate than us.

I personally see good and bad points with all the candidates, I’m not particularly enamoured with any of them, and actually always complain that this is probably the worst crop of presidential candidates we have ever been given. At this point in the campaign, I doubt if anyone who is not undecided could still manage to change their opinions. Anyone who already feels strongly for one particular candidate is probably dead set on their choice.

I now come to my second plea. I ask that whatever results come out on May 9, we learn to accept the decision of the people. If in case your favored candidate doesn’t make it, then please give the winning candidate a chance. If you’re dead set on protesting or causing trouble if you don’t get your way, then you doom all of us and are no better than the dog who would not let the cow eat the hay just because it was hungry (look up the fable, if you fail to get what I mean). Cooperate with him/her as this is the only way to move forward. Do not deliberately try to sink the boat to prove your point. On the flip side of the coin, if in case your candidate wins, please don’t be blinded and always remain critical of him/her and do not forget to hold them accountable.

Whatever happens, and whoever wins May 9. I hope we all manage to set aside our differences and work together. They will have six years to prove themselves to us, but you and I will still be friends beyond those six years. During those six years and beyond we will still be working to better our own lot and hopefully in the process also better the lot of others with us.

PEACE BE WITH YOU.

AND MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU ALWAYS!

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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