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10 things I learned as a UP prof

The past three semesters will be most memorable for me, as I served as a full-time faculty in UP Diliman. Now that this teaching spell is over, I want to write down my insights, knowing that I will never experience the novelty of being a first-time UP prof again. Moreover, the UP students of 2019 will be different from those of 2009 or 2029, even as I’m sure some things never change…

Students think that teachers don’t notice what they’re doing in class. But like a panopticon, we actually see everything—we just choose to ignore most of it, from the discreet tweeting to the not-so-discreet napping. I have to admit I was guilty of the same things when I was a student,  but had I known then what I know now, perhaps I would have acted differently.

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The difficulty lies not in the teaching itself, but in the preparation. You have to entertain, not just educate, the students; you might know the subject matter, but the challenge is not really what to teach, but how. This is why attendance means a lot to an instructor: One cannot help but feel “sayang” for those who did not get to experience an activity to which you put considerable time and thinking.

The internet is both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a challenge because you have to compete for attention with NBA games and Instagram feeds. But the internet is also an opportunity: I’ve used YouTube videos to complement my lectures and even made a crude “podcast” once; I suppose we will all have to learn and experiment more on this front in the future.

It’s hard to get students to read. I always tell my students to read, but this is increasingly challenging with so many distractions at hand. I believe there’s still irreplaceable value in cultivating the discipline and joy of reading, but to what extent we should adapt to the times or insist on educational orthodoxy remains an open question for educators.

It’s hard to read students. Sometimes, students have problems—financial, mental, emotional—that you will not detect by just observing them in class; sometimes there are reasons they are missing class beyond mere laziness. This requires a conscious effort to make one’s self available to them, and to try not just to be a teacher, but to be a mentor.

Participation means a lot to a teacher. Even though many students prefer to show off their learning in exams and term papers, students who participate are particularly appreciated because they not just display their knowledge, they also help the teacher get through a lecture; I suppose this is particularly true in the all-important realms of social sciences and humanities.

You can’t teach the same subject twice. Even when I was teaching the same subject in two classes, I found myself teaching it differently in both. The timing matters, and, yes, so does the mix of students! This is a great comfort for those who fear that teaching will become boring as the years go by.

The demographics of UP students is changing. More students are now affluent, driving cars from one part of the Academic Oval to another, even competing with faculty for parking space—even as many others remain needful of financial support. With free tuition a fait accompli, attention must now turn to ensuring educational equity.

UP itself is also changing — mostly for the better. The inefficiency and intrigue that have bedeviled many UP faculty are diminishing, even as opportunities for research and academic exchange are increasing. I still wish there were more resources and less bureaucracy, but overall, I think the future looks bright for the national university.

Teaching is a great learning and life-affirming experience. In a span of three semesters, I learned that teaching is a vocation that entails great commitment, leaving me with great respect for my colleagues. I also learned a lot from my students, and will continue to draw inspiration from them.

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It is not easy to think of it this way when one has to agonize over lecture preparations, wake up early and try to hold your students’ attention for one and a half hours. Yet I will surely look back to my classes in Palma Hall not as a burden, but as a great privilege.

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TAGS: Gideon Lasco, Second Opinion, teaching at UP, University of the Philippines, UP professor, UP students
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