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From Theories to Practice

“The more we know, the more we know we don’t know.” Thus was a statement by National Geographic Channel on its billboard that I have seen displayed along C-5 Road two years ago when we were on a field trip during my first year of teaching. The message has been disturbing to me because during that time, I was still reviewing for my licensure examination. Although I spent four years in college and I started working already, I was still alienated with some terms and concepts in my reviewers. As I forced myself to digest each theory and notion, I came to realize that there were a lot of things that I still did not understand. Theories will still be incomprehensible until I come to experience them all in the portals of the classroom.

Two years have passed since I graduated and I stood the test of my board exam, but only then that I have started to understand the real meaning of the field that I have chosen. Theories of learning, methods and strategies in teaching, styles in classroom management, types of assessment, and many other topics has become vividly clear to me when I encountered them in the classroom and applied them in my teaching.

However, my early experience was not an easy one; it was tough and frustrating. Applying the theories that I never mastered became a crucial task for me. I have to face unmotivated and at-risk students, promote a classroom environment for a set of diverse learners, and interpret assessments of learning arbitrarily. But before I give up in the calling that most people in my generation called a noble job, I pursued a Graduate education to revisit the theories that I believe will answer my questions and eventually solve my dilemmas. Thus, I chose to enroll in Educational Psychology program, which I think will let me see clearly the different facets of teaching and learning and help me ambitiously to put everything into practice.

In my first semester, I enlisted Psychology Applied to Education (also known as EDFD 211) as one of my two major subjects that I enrolled. I thought that it was only like a single Professional Education course that I had in my undergraduate degree, but it was later when I realized that most of the things I learned back then were squeezed into this one subject. Still overwhelmed that I passed the MATE and I have finally enrolled after several procedures, I started to be apprehended if I would be able to pass all the requirements diligently, meet all the deadlines promptly, and grasp even the most formidable concepts that I need to learn. I just tried to remind myself (like what my best friend, who convinced me to continue my studies,   always tells me) that I need to develop my craft in order to be an effective educator. Similarly, Howard Hendricks said on his book Teaching to Change Lives, “Students learn more from a flowing river than from a stagnant lake.” This has become an encouragement to me until now.

On our first meeting, I immersed myself with my fellow students (some are teachers; some are teachers-to-be). I saw myself in them when I felt that we aspire a common dream – to improve ourselves as teachers. As we introduced ourselves to one another, I discerned that we all wanted to develop the way we conduct our class in the best way that students will learn.  The icebreaker activity led me to a realization that my Graduate class will help me to improve—not because I will learn theories and concepts again, but because I will learn them through the experiences of my fellow teachers as they practice it on their own in their respective classrooms, schools, and institutions. In that case, my passion was rekindled because all I will learn now are raw, alive, and real.

During that activity, a very simple yet serious question demanded for an answer: “What is your goal?” As I played soccer before, my goal has always been bringing the ball on the opponents’ side of the field. As I make my daily lesson plans, my objectives include cognitive, affective, and psychomotor changes that will happen to my students within the time of instruction. But what would be my goal in this subject? “Putting theories into practice” might sound good for the ears, but this grand cliché has never been enough to drive me because of its broadness. Even after that meeting, I had sleepless nights and unending daydreaming when I traveled just to answer that question.

What else would be my goal besides applying the theories in the classroom? As I recall my hardships in becoming a good adviser to mostly misbehaving students in my first two years, I will consider a new approach in managing a class. As I look at my recitation stubs and seat plans, I think I’m ready to accept another method in motivating students—for them to realize that there are a lot of things that are more important than grades. As I check my files in previous years, I’m willing to review my tools of assessment and improve my teaching. As I enter my classroom everyday and face all my students, I realized that my goal should not end in me. When I look through the eyes of those young people who hunger and thirst for knowledge to achieve their dreams, my goal became bigger than myself. Being enrolled in EDFD 211 will be more than taking down notes, listening to lecture, and teaching well in class. I reconciled with the goal of helping my own students to fulfill their dreams as I apply well-tested research-based methods and strategies that ensure learning will take place in the classroom.

When we were asked to choose a topic for our research paper on our first meeting. I chose MOTIVATION. For me, motivation has always been my concern like any other leader or facilitator in other fields of professions. Any individual who understands his existence is interested in doing things when they know the reason for doing such things.

I experimented different strategies in motivating my students. I tried to use rewards such as candies, recitation stubs, recitation sticks on the seat plan, and additional points. I also used the long list of saying “very good” to students from “good job” to “excellent!” This school year, I started my class in all my sections by writing the names of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander the Great on the board and asking them to tell me the connections and identify who was unique, emphasizing the accomplishments of Alexander the Great. Then, I asked them who among them would like to be great and introduce themselves by adding the words the great to the name they want to be called, tell me their dreams (I encourage them to remember the dream that they told their teachers before or anything that came in their mind in case they don’t have one at that moment), and the reason behind their dreams. On our first day, I did all that; and I challenged them to work for their dreams for the rest of the school year while many young people of their age will be busy in other stuffs such as Facebook, online games, socializing, etc. When I did my research, I realized the beauty of making students identify their goals. All this time I knew that it was only all about my goal; I was enlightened when I recognized the value of making students set their goals as a way of motivation.

Why and how do students learn? All along I thought that environment, facilities, and even the teacher comprise the major factors that affect learning; but when we talked what gets students’ attention, I realized that there must be something in the topic that will drive the students to learn. In a very long and tiring day, students will not learn a subject presented in monotony without any changes in its packaging like consumers who would one day be tired in buying Jollibee and McDonalds. While enumerating the list, I was actually daydreaming and imagining my class and how I can make it musical, beautiful, peculiar, significant, simple, familiar, and new. At the back of my head, I realized another role of teacher that I need to work on—an advertiser trying to sell the subject matter to students.

I researched about motivation because I thought that was my primary need, but when we discussed learning, I realized that it was actually my most important concern. On my first day of this school year, I asked my students about their dreams so I would not be a mediocre teacher. Thus was also the reason why I pursued my education. If I will not teach well, I will compromise the quality of future engineers, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who attend my class. I boldly told my students that my goal is to teach well and their goal is to learn. This school year, there were times that I was happy to return to the Faculty Room because of fulfillment; but there were times that I had second thoughts if my students really understood the lesson. Whichever happens, the burden that I feel inside of me grows deeper.

Most of the people I know, especially my colleagues in my school, will tell me that the theories and concepts that we studied and all the education-themed movies that I watched are too idealistic and unbelievable to take place in the real classroom setting. For me, I see them happen and now I am already conscious when they occur. “Much is given; much is expected.” Instead to be afraid, I felt that what were being unfolded to me now are not pressures but weapons on my battle as I prepare my lessons, face my students, and teach.

There are still many things to learn. When I made my decision to continue my education, I accepted the gravity of my role as a teacher. Taking the road less traveled, I need to understand what happens in my world and what I can do to make it better. I still have a lot of questions in my mind that are still unanswered. There are pages in the books that are unread and topics in the Faculty Room that for so many years have been unresolved. I have issues that I still carry every time I enter my classroom and concerns that I need to address when I deal with my students. The school year is still long, and I hope that I would be learning more and sustain the passion that I have as I continue in this journey.

When I reflect in College, I sometimes hated my professors when they give negative comments. I understood them now. My words are now more powerful, more real, more alive, more believable, more natural, and more radical than never before because I finally know and feel what I am talking about.

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