Trust our children

At the start of the year, I wrote about how Shobe tries to skirt the limits of her physical prowess and climbs up everything. In that article (Tulay, Jan. 16-Feb. 5, 2018 issue), I emphasized trusting our children because they know their bodies best.
This time, I’d like to focus on their minds. As they know their own bodies best, children likewise know their minds best.
In early May, I attended a talk by Finnish educator Eeva Pentilla, whose key point was trust. She showcased how education in Finland is the entire society’s goal, with each member of the education sector, government, and parents trusting each other.
One of the main points that resonated with me was that the goal of education is to make every person in Finland productive citizens of the country. I think most countries have the same goals, but the way Finland meets this goal is to have all agencies work together with all citizens to mold children as early as possible.
In this vein, if and when a student, at any level, develops mental health issues, no one tries to hide it. Instead, parents, teachers and government agencies will provide the necessary assistance and help this student’s needs.
From a business perspective, it is, after all, more costly to have a citizen totally dependent on welfare for 50 years of his life (assuming he graduates from secondary school at around 18 and dies at 70), than helping him cope and manage his mental health issues.
Because education is such a premium in Finland, all teachers have to have master’s degrees before they even step into a classroom. This is equivalent to around seven years, from undergraduate studies to master’s level work.
Not only is the educational requirement grueling, even entering the program is difficult. On top of cognitive exams, students must take psychological exams to prove they have the capacity and capability to become future teachers.
Subsequently, because of such a challenging journey to becoming a teacher, Finnish teachers are autonomous. They subscribe to a core curriculum that outlines certain aspects of education that need to be taken up. For the most part, the way they take up core curriculum content is up to them.
The principals trust that the teachers are doing their best for the children. Parents trust that teachers will guide their children. And best of all, parents, schools, teachers trust that the children will learn.
Children have such huge capacities for learning. Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge. However, identifying what that little nudge should look like or when it should happen is the challenge for teachers.
In a training program I conducted for a group of teachers in the Visayas, I observed the Science teacher whose topic that day was to teach children about the equator.
Teacher brought in a globe. Before class even started, students clearly showed interest in the globe. When teacher showed the globe to the students, the reactions were varied and so much fun to watch!
One student already identified it as the earth. I pointed out where we were in the Philippines and left the students to sit at the back.
One student from Bohol kept asking where Bohol was. He even asked if the bottom part (Antarctica) was snow. Students asked if the blue part was water. One student pointed to the equator line and asked if it was the baglis, Waray for waist or middle.
Teacher did not respond to the child’s question.
To teach the new lesson, teacher returned to the beginning of her lesson and started defining terms from the textbook – equator, lithosphere, hydrosphere, northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere. Ouch.
As the evaluator, I could not interfere, but I was so tempted to step in and start teaching her lesson starting in the middle then back to the beginning before heading to the conclusion.
The student who identified the baglis already had it right. It is exactly the definition of the equator. There was really no need to define it again in English.
It would have been so easy to associate the equator as the waist of the earth, that it is the exact middle and “cuts” the earth into the north and south.
This is where things get murky for me. Here in the Philippines, we do not trust many of our teachers. I have heard my friends complain about what teachers do and do not do.
Because I am in the field of education, friends consult me about their school’s action, asking me if the school is warranted or not. I often get caught in the middle and try to play it safe, especially because I am unfamiliar with all the factors involved.
I don’t blame parents entirely, nor do I blame teachers entirely. If there was anyone to blame for the shortcomings in Philippine education (which admittedly is far below the ideal), I would blame the system and, to some extent, our culture.
In all my years in education, I have seen two reactions people have when they find out that a person is a teacher, or an education major. First is the noble reaction complete with gushing compliments.
“O wow, you’re going to be a teacher! That’s so amazing. Your students will love you. You are so noble of heart!”
The second reaction is more of a snarky, “Oh, you’re going to be a teacher? That’s goooooood. [Thought balloon: that’s because you’re not smart enough to be anything else].”
Both these reactions are negative for me.
When we gush about education majors, we sometimes forget to hold them to higher standards.
When I taught at university level around 10 years ago, I told an entire class of sophomores to shift out of education because they were not fit to be teachers, nor do their students deserve to have them for teachers.
These sophomores were all 18- or 19-year-olds but behaved like five-year-olds. They were loud, could not stay on task, often complained about assignments, discussed and talked like they were in the palengke. After half a semester, I had had enough and told them off.
But other teachers would give them leeway, because they were in education for a noble cause. Nope. When a person decides he/she wants to be a teacher, he/she needs to be held to a higher than high standard. A teacher’s effect is exponential and is often carried by students for life.
The other point-of-view of teachers not being smart enough for “real” jobs is just as damaging. Unfortunately, it is also often true.
Years ago, I encountered a teacher who finally passed the Licensure Examination for Teachers after 13 years. Assuming that she took the exam once a year, she was on a streak and finally hit lucky 13.
On paper, the policy is for test takers to enroll in 18 units of Education again after failing the LET thrice. This is not strictly enforced.
Why is she in education? Why did she try for that long to finally pass? She definitely is not qualified. I have seen her in the classroom, and I wanted to hit my head on the wall. Correction, I wanted to hit her head on the wall.
Like many in education, it really is the salary, and I cannot blame them. There is a national standard for teachers’ monthly salary at around P20,000. Minimum wage in some provinces is only about P8,000. There is nothing to think about. Whether or not a person is qualified, whether or not the person wants to, he/she will take up Education.
And then we revert to our earlier “noble” impressions. I spoke about my sentiments to a lawyer who worked for a senator. Her response to me after my very short rant: “But shouldn’t we reward this teacher for her perseverance?”
I was speechless. On hindsight, I should have asked her to take her children or her nieces/nephews and put them in that teacher’s classroom for a year. If she agreed to it, I would shut up forever.
With these images in mind, who do we trust now?
We trust ourselves and our children. Most Tsinoy children are in private schools. There is, of course, a higher level of trust from the parents. We trust in the schools we choose and in our own children.
Our children will learn what they can learn. When we bring them up with a thirst for learning, they will continue to learn even when we are not around. They will continue to learn for life if we give them the tools to awaken their thirst for learning.