INTIMATE LINK BETWEEN GOOD TEACHING AND EFFECTIVE PERSONAL FORMATION
By “educational task” I mean both academic and personal formation.
The personal formation program for parents will not work if the teachers are mediocre or bad. The bad teachers will drive good parents away from the school. They will gut the formative message of the school.
On the contrary, when teachers are good, parents are positively disposed to receive the personal formation program of the school. “This is a school that walks its talk,” they say.
The worst enemy of a school is the mediocre teacher. The bad teacher is easily recognizable; the mediocre teacher is not, and by the time he is recognized, it may be too late. It may be very hard to remove him from the school from a legal point of view.
Mediocre teachers in a PAREF school are living contradictions of the spirit of St Josemaría Escrivá. How could his message about the sanctification of work be taken seriously by students or even the public at large in the face of mediocre teachers?
This does not mean that all teachers in PAREF schools should be Toy Estreras. To paraphrase St Josemaría, they may not be saints but they should be trying to be saints. They should be trying to be a Toy Estrera.
Good teachers are naturally attractive. Even before Toy was appointed a mentor—and he was not a mentor for many years—students, teachers, and parents would go to him for advice. Excellence in teaching and excellence in forming character go together.
A good teacher would not necessarily make a good administrator. The temptation is to value a good administrator more than a good teacher. This temptation must always be resisted. In crude material terms, the good teacher must be paid as much as the good administrator.
A good administrator does not have to be a good teacher. His work is necessary, but would be reduced to empty managerial efficiency if he had poor or mediocre teachers.
A school burdened with mediocre teachers is a sad, tragic affair. It will suffer from many problems, many of which will not be related to education.
Ideally, the school administrator should know how to recognize excellence in teaching even if he himself is not an excellent teacher. When the focus of a school becomes efficiency and not education, then that school is lost; when its focus becomes keeping financially afloat, then it has already drowned. The focus must always be on teaching and learning.
I DON’T TEACH SUBJECTS, I TEACH PEOPLE
Mr Estrera’s lapidary statement is well worth repeating: “I teach people, not subjects.”
This is so true of basic education, of grade school and high school. It may not apply as forcefully to college and graduate education, but its truth cannot be challenged in basic education.
I used to advise excellent teachers who were more interested in their subject matter than in their students to go teach instead in the university, where I am sure they did very well.
The good teacher is interested in forming the mind of his student, and that interest will lead him to form his senses, his memory, his imagination, his powers of attention, his reading, his writing, his speaking. It will lead him to form the student in all the virtues needed for learning. And it can lead him, as I have seen it do many times in the past, to interest him in the student’s parents or friends, in their values and attitudes, as influences on the student’s ability to learn.
The good teacher is an effective classroom manager. He does not stop teaching in the classroom, but continues to do so in the corridors, in the cafeteria, in the chapel, on the playing field.
The good teacher knows how to correct. He does not make himself into a caricature, a character in a B-film about high school students. The good teacher is wise in his relations with children and adolescents.
In other words, the good teacher, even if he focuses exclusively on academic formation, imparts a very deep and strong personal formation. All virtues are linked to one another, and so the virtues needed for learning lead to virtues needed for living.
THE TEACHER TRAINER PAR EXCELLENCE
A school can be said to have matured only when it has established a teacher training program. You need a small group of teacher trainers for such a program, which is why such a program takes a long time to set up: good teacher trainers are hard to come by and take a long time to develop.
When a school loses its good teachers for whatever reason, the school can be set back by several years and rendered mediocre. It is very hard to develop good teachers.
The good teacher trainer knows not only how to teach well, but also how to teach teachers how to teach. The latter skill is harder to find than the former.
A teacher training program can be called “serious” only when it involves classroom observation and when classes are observed from beginning to end. Because of this, the serious teacher training program always involves to a certain extent sacrificing the good teachers, meaning, their teaching load is lessened, which is of course sad as far as the students are concerned. But it is an investment.
The good teacher trainer does not create clones of himself. He respects the personality of his co-teacher and tries to find the best style in which to teach, one that fits his co-teacher’s personality. He studies the strengths and limitations of his co-teacher and teaches him to make good use of those strengths and to helps him to overcome those limitations or at least to neutralize them.
The good teacher trainer is patient.
Although I am a great fan of one-on-one teacher training, there is something to be gained with talks and workshops. Toy used to say that he learned to teach from Southridge, not just in Southridge but from Southridge. He could only have been referring to talks and workshops.
Those talks and workshops were usually based on philosophical anthropology or psychology, not on education books. When there was something from education books we cited, it was because we looked into the anthropology or psychology behind it and tried it out first to see if it worked. We never stopped at just enunciating philosophical or psychological principles. We brought them down to their logical conclusion in real life with regard to subjects taught and subjects learned, with regard to students and parents
Most teachers in basic education are fresh graduates. In that case, teacher training is also helping teachers know what they should do the rest of their lives. Are they meant to teach or should they do something else? If they are good teachers, do they have other talents which perhaps they should pursue? How is their family’s economic condition? Do they need to support younger brothers and sisters, meaning, should they look for a higher-paying job?
Part of teacher training in the PAREF school is trying to win over the new teacher to the PAREF vision, to fire him up with enthusiasm. It is a work of proselytism.
That work, if the teacher is young, means also winning over his parents. It is surprising just how aggressive parents are in the lives of young men in their twenties. We used to invite the parents of young teachers to some school activities.
Teachers do not work in isolation; they are part of a community. But good teachers could be loners, or people with very particular tastes for friends. This was perhaps our biggest challenge: to develop a sense of camaraderie among teachers. This was a big challenge because good teachers tend to have a very defined personality that was not necessarily excited about mixing with others. Precisely, what excited most good teachers was the classroom—their students. That was their world.
Sports activities can help, but only to a point. What do you do with those who don’t play sports or who don’t like the sports the majority play? We had other activities for the formation of teachers: film appreciation, art appreciation, even a course on poetry appreciation. The faculty birthday celebrations were important, and a yearly outing, an excursion to far-away places like Vigan or Puerto Princesa or Banawe or Naga.
So camaraderie had to be understood as breaking down walls, not necessarily so that teachers would leave their individual worlds which were the classroom, but so that at the very least they could see from their world into those of others. They would notice others.
It helped to discuss problematic students. It helped to share teaching problems. Much more difficult was getting people to share teaching techniques. What if the other teachers didn’t think well of their colleagues techniques? Also, there is always the danger of striking others as being mayabang.
The real test of camaraderie came when particular teachers needed help, when teachers were paired together and asked to take care of school celebrations.
Good students can be corrupted by rewarding them materially: we tell this to parents. The same thing is true of good teachers. Good teachers are paid justly. They should not be “incentivized” (to use a dreadful term) materially.
The motivation of good teachers to remain teaching should never be money or fame or friendship with the rich and famous.
The motivation of the good teacher is sheer love for his students, which is revealed in his patience.
Good teachers are rewarded with respect—not necessarily through trophies or public recognition. Ideally, among the school officers there should be someone who understands the craft of teaching very well. That person’s respect will be golden in the eyes of the good teacher.
Toy appreciated what he called “little things” in our treatment of teachers. I am almost sure he was referring to our practice of bringing out teachers who were good and who had just gone through a very stressful time because of teaching. Tonton Torralba and I would bring them to a good restaurant, and we would end up just talking. This was something we did not announce, something we did discreetly.
We also celebrated certain birthdays with a gift: the 5th birthday, the 10th. The gift would not be something “generic,” like a ballpen or necktie. We would choose something that fit the person. Again, this was not something done publicly, although people would see the gift on the teacher’s table.
Justice and respect are the foundation of the school’s care for teachers.