2020 Q4 Cityscapes Features

The Iniquities of Complacency and Mediocrity

The grade school teachers of Letran College have instilled in me the rigors of academic learning.  Whether these be the principles of diagramming in order to understand the English grammar or the speed of computing mathematical equations, Letran did not settle for mediocrity.  I had to live up to the academic expectations of this venerable institution of learning.  Academics reigned supreme. (Arriba, Letran on its quadricentennial celebrations!) Add to that the fact that I was following an older brother who was always ranked first in their class – the valedictorian.  I had to live in his shadow, for the teachers barely knew me, except as the younger brother of Mauro “Duke.”

Going into secondary school, having been extracted from the august halls of Colegio de San Juan de Letran, I was finally able to develop a character of my own, yet still imbibed with the pursuit of excellence in any undertaking.  Family expectations, with a dash of individual aspirations, transformed the pursuit of academic excellence a sine qua non throughout my formative years. A doctorate, no less, was the goal.  And should there have been qualified instructional endeavors beyond that degree, I would have targeted those as well.

Fate has intervened though, and by an “accident” (which is a totally different story), I ended up with the privilege of being a high school classroom teacher. Nine years of teaching in Colegio San Agustin Makati gave me the opportunity to work with excellent teachers whose passion for teaching can never be underestimated.  Imbibed with the spirits of the greatest teachers that history records, these colleagues of mine breathed teaching, helping mold the youth into becoming the best of who they can be. Physiologists would have discovered similarities in the genes, blood, and brains of my contemporaries. They were the educators beyond comparison. Indeed, passion has been our battle cry.  Though we lived in a third world country, our particular clientele generally had the trimmings of a privileged class.  Ergo, there should be no excuses for failures in that ultimate goal.

Fast-forward and now I find myself once again within the hallowed walls of a high school classroom. The subject matter remained the same; the subjects became different.  The ages were constant; the classes were similar.  In the Philippines, my students were the privileged in a third world country; in the United States, my students were generally “Title I” in a first world nation. What an interesting dichotomy.  (Educators would be familiar with the Title I nomenclature.)

Educational supplies were basically unlimited.  I had to repeatedly remind my students that Philippine students sometimes do not have pencils and similar needs.  Some come to school without having had breakfast, and with no lunch or dinner in sight.  (Of course, not in Colegio San Agustin, Makati.) Here, some break pencils, throw free breakfast and lunch items, and act without experiencing accountability for the goods of this land of plenty.  Seeing some students throw oranges to the waste can like a basketball, infuriated me.  Of course, I never stopped reminding them of the consequences of their feeling entitled. 

Resources were just the tip of the iceberg.   Instruction followed a similar pattern.  Students who were frequently absent had the option to do credit recovery.  Failures cannot be implemented without sufficient documentation that teachers have exhausted all measures of communicating with parents (requiring proof of response), providing make-up exams, tutorial sessions, and a string of endeavors to help the student succeed.  I do believe that all students should be assisted to succeed.  However, these have metamorphosed into complacency and mediocrity.  A street-wise student would have reckoned that he can pretty much relax his initial efforts as long as he makes up for lost learning opportunities through the myriad opportunities that the U.S. public education structure provides.  For a teacher who breathes passion, this scenario becomes pretty disheartening.

Then, the pandemic. Indeed, students have become at a loss, trying to make do with the unprecedented scenario of virtual learning.  The previous school year ended with instructions to give a student a 100 as long as he shows up in a virtual class. The minutes don’t count.  The efforts – forget those.  Anyway, the grades won’t count for the G.P.A.  How disheartening for the achievers who put their all into the first two months of the spring semester.  How frustrating for dedicated teachers who took a lot of personal time to encourage students to make the best of the curriculum.

Finally, a new school year bloomed. Teachers, as front-liners, had to explore all available technological tools to fully implement hybrid learning.  Once again, the mandate was to consider the students’ situation at home.  Rather than simply paying attention to the exceptions to the rule, the exceptions became the rule.  Give all the students all the opportunities to comply with the learning opportunities.

After going out of our way to remind students to comply with completing tasks, the schools have instructed that if the grades on the second grading period are higher than the first grading period, the first grading period has to be adjusted to be equal to the second period.  Woah! The rationale – the students must have been experiencing difficulties in adjusting to the new normal – virtual learning.  Translation – all students were experiencing difficulties!  What a saving act for those who exerted minimal, if any effort, in meeting class requirements in the first grading period!  How frustrating though for teachers who poured a lot of effort in encouraging the students to do their best under the present circumstances. Imagine all the time and effort spent in reminding students, contacting parents, providing make-up opportunities, supplementing educational task – all these – leading to the conclusion that the first grade efforts were generally washed away. Once again, complacency and mediocrity are rewarded!  Determination and hard work are pushed to the back-burner, all within the umbrella of understanding the students’ difficulties. 

The final blow! My students’ ears were perhaps already burning from hearing me reminding those who have not done their tasks to pleeeeease complete those.  My fingers must have lost some skin from touching the buttons on the phone in trying to call parents who generally did not answer the calls. And the tabulator of my leisure time must have complained for my having exerted all the efforts to complete my record book with the missing assignments, tasks, and tests.  It was telling me to take it easy and relax.  However, I know that it is my responsibility to pursue that goal – completion, as proof of having learned the skills.  Then, the district has come up with a general instruction to drop the lowest test grade.  I then realized all my efforts to remind students to complete those missing test grades will go to naught.  Anyway, the lowest grade will be dropped. So, why do I need to follow these up?

Epilogue. A new semester is fast coming up this January. Should I still be passionate about teaching? It behooves me. Yes! Because I am an educator. The minds of my educands become paramount in my classroom where life lessons are the norm and deeper meanings reign supreme.

Manuel "Earl" Marasigan
"Fray Earl” joined the Dominicans after finishing high school at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Seminary in Makati. Three years with the Dominicans gave him the opportunity to be a postulant at Manaoag, a novice at Iloilo and a Corista at Santo Domingo. Thereafter, he earned his A.B. Philosophy degree from UST Manila. He subsequently earned a Master of Science and a Doctor of Education both with a major in Educational Management at the De la Salle University, Manila. Career experiences began with 9 memorable and heart-warming years of teaching at Colegio San Agustin, Makati. Later, having migrated to Houston, Texas, Fray Earl managed occupational rehabilitation facilities for 5 years that led to another 4 years of accreditation consulting for rehabilitation facilities. Realizing the dire need for teachers in the USA, Fray Earl then partnered with his immigration lawyer brother in bringing 187 teachers to the USA, starting with his colleagues from Colegio de San Agustin, Makati. However, when implementation of immigration laws became difficult for teachers to be brought, Fray Earl returned to his original passion – teaching. This is now his 7th year of teaching in a Texas independent school district where he teaches pre-AP English, serves as English Department chair and sponsor of the National Honor Society. His pastime now includes a lot of gardening, as well as volunteering for various services in his home parish – St. Thomas Aquinas, Sugarland.

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