Sunday, June 23, 2013

What Luna is Teaching Me

      About a month ago, three beautiful bouncing bundles of joy entered our lives. We got three rottweiler puppies, and our lives have been indescribably enriched. 
      We've had four dogs in the past, but never so many at one time! And perhaps, now that we're older and more mature, we're more able to appreciate the joys of having rolly polly puppies around the house.
      Luna is my darling girl, the only rose among the thorns. Her two brothers are adorable little rascals, but Luna is special because she is mine. And I wake up joyfully each morning at 5 a.m. so I can make sure she and her siblings are fed, and perhaps have time for a bit of a romp before I go to work.
      Dog owners (especially those of big breeds) will know that, due to their innately aggressive nature, these puppies will inadvertently nip their owner a tad bit too hard at times, or leave long welts on their owners' arms and legs in their attempt to shower their owner with love and affection. It's not all perfume and romance, so to speak, when handling rambunctious puppies! Especially three of them at once!
      But I've gotten used to it. I've grown accustomed to the small cuts and bruises on my limbs, on the affectionate tugs that they give my pony tail (they probably think it's my tail! And wonder why it's attached to the wrong side, hehe). It's a small price to pay for the sweet joy of having their shaking bodies pressed so closely to mine, and yes, they SHAKE all over from the excitement of seeing me, as if each time, it's their first and last and not the daily ritual that it's been for me.
        It's become a favorite part of my day to fondle Luna's ears, caress her belly as she gobbles down her food as fast as she can. I often wonder... if I can feel THIS much love (which sometimes startles me in its fierceness) towards a puppy... what more towards my own child or mate?
        And I've also reflected that... perhaps a decade or so from now, God willing, Luna will still be around to romp around with my own kids. :)
       I've also thought how wonderful it is that, despite my heart having been broken from the deaths of our four previous dogs, there's still so much love left inside for our three new ones. I am slowly realizing that the limits of the human heart are boundless, that we can eternally continue to love. Despite the cracks, bruises, and cuts from friendships betrayed, affections unrequited and trust in our fellowman unreturned, we LOVE because that's what makes us human and partly divine. 
        And it's the same for my students! Each year, I think to myself that I can't possibly love my students more than I loved mine last year, but I am always wrong. This year's batch is every bit as lovable as last year's! And it's so wonderful to be among the bouncing bundles of cuteness that the Grade One students are, and to see how grown up my previous students have become this year.
        "You know what I think prolongs life? Art and music. Beyond that, it is to have a heart full of love." -- from IF I LIVE TO BE 100: LESSONS FROM THE CENTENARIANS

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Thread That Runs So True

I'm entering my sixth year of teaching, and it both gladdens and worries me.

I'm glad because I'll be among children again, the loves of my life. The past two months of easier living, while certainly more leisurely, have been strangely empty for me. Simply put, I NEED to be around my pupils! And I can't wait to see them on June 10!

I'm a bit worried because the literature on the attrition rate for teachers suggests typical burn out anywhere from 3-5 years of teaching.

So when I go back to the classroom on June 10, I would have already "outlived" fifty percent of my batch mates, fellow teachers who started teaching in 2008. My co-teachers who will be returning to the classroom as permanent tenured teachers (after their probationary three years) will have outlived one third of their batch mates.

And so I find myself asking: How do we solve this problem? How can we stop good teachers from leaving the profession?

And on a more personal note, I ask myself: How can I avoid burn-out? How can I get rid of past bad habits in teaching, and continue to improve as a teacher?

I found a kindred mind in author Jesse Stuart, who wrote The Thread That Runs So True way back in 1949, and yet continues to impact teachers everywhere with the beauty and truth found in its pages! If Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain sent young men to the priesthood in droves, I'd be willing to bet that Jesse Stuart's book did the same for teachers! :) It is SO well written, and I cannot praise it enough. It is everything you want in a book, and the best thing is that it's all true!

Whenever I find myself in a petty, ungrateful state of mind, and start to compare my work load with some of my contemporaries... all I have to do is think of Jesse Stuart who taught in a rural classroom when he was only 17 years old, where he had to teach 54 classes in the span of six hours every day, where he was also janitor and all around handyman in charge of the privies as well as the classroom.

His words are wise and beautiful, and I really should etch them in stone sometime and display them in the faculty room!

~ ~ ~

On hearing children sing:

"The needle's eye that does supply
The thread that runs so true,
Many a beau have I let go,
Because I wanted you."

"The needle's eye is the school teacher. And the thread that runs so true could only be play... Learn to work by play. All work should be play. Actually, teaching to me was a game. Maybe this was the reason I loved teaching."

~ ~ ~

"If every teacher in every school could inspire his pupils with all the power he had, if he could put ambition into their brains and hearts, that would be a great way to make a generation of the greatest citizenry. All of this had to begin with the little unit. Each teacher had to do his share. Each teacher was responsible for the destiny of his country."

"Within this great profession lay the solution of most of the nation's troubles. It was within the teacher's province to solve most of these things. He could put inspiration in the hearts and brains of his pupils to do greater things upon this earth. The schoolroom was the gateway to all the problems of humanity."

"I was a member of the greatest profession of mankind."

"Do not let the talent of any pupil born upon this earth with a fair amount of intelligence, be lost to the whole of humanity."

~ ~ ~

[When the financial crisis hit hard and teachers' pay checks were frozen all over the state, and no one had any idea when they would be paid again]

"I learned what the members of my profession were made of. They were working with their backs to the wall. I hadn't known members of any profession, up to that time, who had worked without pay, and without knowing that they would ever get their pay. But the members of the most underpaid profession did not whimper nor ask too many questions about their salaries. They kept on working... We lived on scant rations, wore the best clothes we could afford, worked on and on without the promise of a dime for our labors, and kept our big school system from collapsing."

"I told my fellow teachers to walk proudly, with their heads held high, and to thank God that they had chosen the teaching profession - the mother of all professions; that they were the ground roots of democracy. No other profession has influenced the destiny of so many people as has the teaching profession."

~ ~ ~

"I wanted to make my school not a model school, but one that would do a great service to the community. I wanted to make this school a beacon of light to eradicate the illiteracy of the older people and to educate young."

"In the big school, only a few could squeeze through to the top, while hundreds could never know the light of glory in achievement that often develops youth. A school was a stronger unit, no matter if it were small, where every pupil knew the teachers and every teacher knew all the pupils."

~ ~ ~

It makes me sad though, that even a very dedicated teacher like Mr. Stuart had to leave the profession he loved, several times in his life, simply because he could not make enough money to raise a family.


On the other hand, he went on to write several books and was named Kentucky's Poet Laureate. :) And he returned to teaching later on in life, as a Principal and a university lecturer.

"First, last, and always, I am a teacher," he said.

If you could read only one book about teaching, let it be this one! Who knows... afterwards, you may decide to shift careers (like what my parents did!) and join us crazies fight the good fight.

On a side note, I'm really looking forward to the first batch of Teach for the Philippines, who will be starting their 2 years of teaching tomorrow!! Good luck, and may your tribe increase!
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