Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Of the weather, teaching and hope

It’s the last week of classes and exams and students have been passing by my desk saying hello and hoping to get a chance to ask me if I had finished checking their project and folder and whether they passed or not.

While I’m getting a headache from the constant temperature changes; the Library where I’m stationed is air-conditioner cold and when I get to pick up my daughter from her school at noon, it will be like 49 degrees, desert-summer hot! Heading back to my desk after lunch, I feel like an old candle at my wick’s end, melted to the last of my still standing wax. However, lately, I suspect my headache also springs from reading the projects and going through folders of the three sections that I teach this semester.

When once a student I’d give my project to my teachers well in advance of the deadline, my students seem to start working on theirs only ON the deadline. Folders and portfolios were also a big deal. They represented the bulk of your work for the entire semester. These folders represented you! The neater, more complete and with high scores they are, the more you feel good about yourself and what you have achieved. Somehow you take pride in what you have accomplished and take painstaking measure to ensure that you submit a portfolio that is not only complete but perhaps shows a bit more and beyond what the teacher has expected. Not in these parts of the globe.

I’ve received folders that have melted and wrinkled under the heat of the sun, left for hours in students’ cars instead of being taken with them to their classes. I’ve seen folder filed higgledy piggledy with papers facing the back or upside down as well as right side up. There have been portfolios with nothing in them save for a few tasks the student has remembered to file. There were even some who photocopied their classmates’ tasks, not even bothering to change or erase the original names and pass it as their own!

Of course there are the good projects and portfolios as well, but these are few and far between. The mediocres and sub standard ones rules the very few who really take an effort to pass with flying colors.

Perhaps it is the culture of being part of a community, a tribe, than being recognized as one. Perhaps it is the laid back way of the desert dwellers where a passing grade is often good enough. Why sweat it out some more when I already passed, claimed several of my students who were happy with projects graded in 70’s and 80’s when they could have re-done it and got perhaps 90’s or even the perfect 100. “No thanks, too troublesome” like Shikamaru, a favorite character in the anime Naruto would often say.

For now that have passed and that’s what matters. No need to shine, no reason to step up. It is still a communal attitude that rules here and though I take comfort in the relative lax attitudes of my students, I often wonder how they will become as future bosses, leaders and law-makers of their country. Would this laxness prevail or would they slowly grow out of it as they grow older? I’ve been to government offices here where employees work like cogs on a wheel. On the other hand, I’ve also been to quite a few where employees get to drink tea every few hours.

So there’s this pull at the opposite ends of the socio-eco-cultural spectrum that makes up this foster-homeland that I’ve lived in for the past 13 years. With so many cultures in the population each with a different kind of work ethic, the locals are at odds which way to go. Would we preserve the communal and traditional way where one celebrates the glory of a tribe and not go beyond that? Or would we better take the individual and train him to be at par with the many other expatriates that clamor for the same job post locals have access to? How else would you justify hiring a local over an "expat" (expatriate), one who works like a cog and takes pride in his initiative and ambitious drive against the former who is happy to have worked off a few things for today and leaves the rest tomorrow, Inshallah “God willing”, to be handled tomorrow?

Most of my students smirk or give funny, uncomfortable faces when I tell them they must work harder because later on they will be their country’s pillars. They might think of me as some kind of a lunatic with all the drilling I push them: “File your work properly; you are after all college students, NOT kindergarten.” Or the more often sarcastic query I make, “What, you left your folder at home?! How will it ever get completed there?”

I go back to my own memories of first year college when being a green horn in my country’s state university, I had to prove myself to my professors, peers and the thousands who have gone before me that I too am worthy to be in a state university, perhaps there was even the small hope that I would best so many of the others, yet.

With a sigh I submit my final grades to the course coordinator. It’s been lean this semester and though I tell myself that I really should get used to it, having been teaching to the same bunch of first year intakes since 1999, I still wonder whether the rantings and lessons I’ve instilled in my students would ever take root. Or will I be forgotten by the next academic year, passed on as that strict Filipino teacher in the Library who made students do a lot of difficult things. I keep praying for the roots.

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