The story of why I became a teacher is a story I don’t often tell. Perhaps because it is a story with dharma at its heart.
I chose psychology as my major because of my desire to be a lawyer. As a psychology major, I had to take psychological statistics. My cute group mate aside, I was surprised that I enjoyed it. I attributed this enjoyment to: a) my teacher, Ma’am Mitch, who, by using relatable examples, showed the value of statistics and who, by having us work together, made statistics much more delightful; and b) my falling in love with psychology. Until now I remember that aha moment — how I was so fascinated by psychology that I just had to teach it!
And so after that class, I changed my goal from my childhood ambition of becoming a lawyer to the specific aspiration of teaching at the UP Department of Psychology. Even before graduating, I had let the department know that I wanted to become part of the faculty. The junior faculty members who knew of my desire to teach were quite encouraging; it helped that my grades were mostly 1s and 1.25s and I had expressed wanting to get an MA very soon.
Unfortunately, when I graduated there were no openings… until a week before classes started. Suddenly, one professor had to leave for the United States and the department needed someone to teach his classes. I felt the universe telling me that teaching psychology was really for me.
While I am still a bit embarrassed by how I taught my first Psych 101 classes, it was clear to me from the start that teaching was what I was meant to do.
I just love how immediate and specific the feedback is in teaching. When your students don’t get a psycholinguistic concept, it’s on their faces, in their essays. Similarly, when everyone in the room is hanging on to your every word on attraction or enjoys a game that cleverly illustrates evolutionary psychology, you know it right away. The great thing about clear and instantaneous feedback is that you get to act on it immediately. Continuous improvement of one’s practice then becomes easy.
I also discovered how fun instructional design is. From trying to have three different 25-minute chunks to sustain my millennial students’ attention to coming up with variations of group work (i.e., “jigsaw strategy” for tackling multiple readings, creation of a class mind map, or even an Amazing Race activity that requires groups to recall personality theorists and concepts), designing each class was really quite exciting!
Finally, it is through teaching that I found the value of collaborative learning. As an undergraduate, I was not a fan of group work. As a new teacher, I saw how important a teaching community is — from getting good leads to possible activities and classroom material to seeing a range of assessment strategies. It was also from colleagues that I developed the habit of reading journals on teaching psychology and action research. Even if I am no longer part of that Learning Action Cell, I am proud to say how that group of friends has continued to present in conferences together; publish together; develop new courses together; and influence the psychology department in ways that would not have been possible had we not bonded at the lounge and reflected on our practice together during lunch, after classes, and, sometimes, during long checking evenings.
Beyond having the right predisposition for teaching, as well as the abundance of flow experiences and powerful insights (e.g., that being in the classroom automatically makes me more compassionate), I knew then (and I still believe now) that teaching is for me because of an unshakable feeling that it is indeed for me. I know that sounds quite woolly, but talking about one’s calling is never easy.
I started with the divine so let me end with the divine. May I share this mantra with teachers, especially with my colleagues in psychology and at the Department of Education — Ong namo guru dev namo: I bow to the subtle divine wisdom. I bow to the divine teacher within. (Snatam Kaur has a lovely version of Ong Namo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1XCS0g6J4A.)
Sept. 5-Oct. 5 is National Teachers Month, and this piece is my way of shining the spotlight on teachers and your practice, your engagement, professional growth, and, yes, your joy in being teachers! Para sa gurong Pilipino!
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Krupskaya Medel Añonuevo is working at DepEd as part of the Basic Education Sector Transformation (BEST) program.