Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Qualities of a Teacher

Innovative educators and professors: Dr Felipe P Briana and Dr Kristine Molina-Doria of National College for Business and Arts , and Dr AV Rotor (center) of the University of Santo Tomas. Together they are coming up a book: Humanities Today - An Experiential Approach with Compact Disk supplement, which will be launched on February 18 this year.

Dr Abe V Rotor

When I opted to retire early and was only about fifty, I saw blue water and a fishing rod and a hammock waiting in the breeze. Seemingly I entered old age too soon. Isn't one entitled to a happy life after years of work, and taking risks and trouble shooting?

And the days went by. I never had a real catch, and the breeze was not gentle enough. I was reading Victor Frankl's "Search for Meaning."

"Go back to teaching," I heard myself saying. But I was trained a technical man, a biologist, an entrepreneur, a researcher - or whatever the bureaucracy needed me - except a teacher. As if I saw myself in a concentration camp, imprisoned with fear of returning to the open world, unheeding a call.

"Quo vadis?" Was it a passing wind? It was shame not to escape. But teaching is not an escape. It is a choice. It is a dedication, I soon found out. It is a noble profession, too. It is in fact a vocation. That is why it is not easy to decide to become a teacher for life.

Since 1989 I have tried my best to be a teacher. To be a teacher is to keep on learning. It is through learning that we keep the flame of idealism alive. Alive in our hearts and minds, and those we teach, especially the young. Otherwise it is difficult to survive in a jungle of reality - the antithesis of idealism. To me this is the greatest trial of a teacher. It is the preservation of values, which are the pillars of idealism, but more than idealism it is the pursuit and preservation of truth itself, at all costs.

I believe that change starts with the teacher. We do not have to go far to look for that teacher. He is with us - the Great Teacher from His torch we lighted ours like little stars that conquer the darkness of evil and ignorance. As a teacher I learned that a teacher too, could draw lessons from almost everything. Do sheep eat flowers with thorns? Ask the Little Prince.

I like to believe I am a full pledged teacher now. I teach in the UST Graduate School and the SPC, QC. Every summer I conduct art workshop for children. Now and then I give lectures and demonstrations to farmers either in the field or over the radio.

Age does not matter as long as one is willing to learn. There is a saying that the most difficult part of learning is "learning to learn." Thus, whether one is young or old there is no end to learning. Teaching and learning are like a horse-and-carriage relationship.
And knowledge is like Maslow's ladder. It is stored and organized in the head, expressed by the hands, valued by the heart, spread through the many fields of humanities.

It is true. The teacher is the key to enlightenment, as Rizal once put as precondition, "if we must enjoy freedom." He meant more than physical liberty; it is a kind of freedom that makes man live in a better world where education is the denominator of harmony, peace and understanding.

One way to illustrate this concept is a drawing exercise. On a piece of paper I ask my students "to make a dead tree live again." It is like playing God so to speak. As they draw, I play the violin with a couple of meditative compositions such as "On Wings of Song" by Mendelssohn and a Filipino classic, "Ma-alaala Mo Kaya." Upon completion they check the others' work following these criteria.

1st, there must be the sun;
2nd, there is water; and
3rd, the tree produces leaves, bears flowers and fruits.

Such is life - biological life.

There are other trees of their own kind representing family, and other living things that represent a community. This illustrates social life. There is rich biological diversity - insects, birds, animals, etc. Now the scenario completes a landscape with its natural features. Of course, the presence of man completes the scenario. It is at this point that unity and harmony transcend, a principal characteristic of an ecosystem. The orderly processes and organization of Nature are truly the greatest manifestation of spiritual life - that which keeps our faith in our Creator, God the omnipotent.

It is not an easy exercise. Students are generally confined in books, and usually just use the left side of the brain, where reason is as important as imagination. The exercise requires simultaneous working of both hemispheres of the brain - which proves in the holistic nature of education. Knowledge cannot be acquired by parts or according to specialization alone. Even if all the parts are summed up, the picture is not complete. It is because learning works through synergism. Learning cultivates the eight realms of knowledge.

I salute the teacher who can motivate the student to make full use of all eight realms of his intelligence - logic, music, languages, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial and naturalism - combined. Logic in mathematics and argumentation makes us engineers, philosophers and lawyers. Music brings out the little Beethoven in us through skill or good ear. A man who speaks many languages is rare, but it is more of our ability to communicate that is important. Body language is another kind. It belongs to kinesthetic, that intelligence in athletics and dance. Interpersonal intelligence makes statesmen and actors, while the intrapersonal makes poets and priests. The highest expression of art is in spatial intelligence - painting, sculpting and architecture. Again there is a little Michelangelo in each one of us "Green thumb" is intelligence of naturalism. I know of good farmers and gardeners who did not take up agriculture in school. We know that good doctors are not only those who are specialists, but those who are gifted with "natural healing" power.

I wish to be that teacher who does not only succeed in making his students put back the life in a tree, but in creating an ecosystem out of a single tree.

To me it is never too late to accept challenges that change can bring. The blue sea and hammock in the breeze can wait.~


Exercise: Re-create this tree in its prime.

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