Coming Full Circle – An Educator’s Post circa 2009

This article was written year 2009 when I visited the Philippines and conducted a few talks in Samar. The piece was supposed to be published as part of the Balud Project Initiative sometime 2009 but due to some unforeseen events, it has not come to pass. Since this has some bearing with our plans here in GatheringBooks for our 1st Year Anniversary this June-July, I thought that I would repost this here. A brief break from our usual book reviews to touch on educator’s reflections.

Coming Full Circle (2009)

I am no stranger to Samar. My mother, my husband and his family of origin (my in laws) all come from very small barrios in the Western and Eastern parts of Samar. I am familiar with the Waraynon warm spirit; the love for festivity (to a fault if I may add – images of flying paper money while dancing the a menudo flash through my mind); and of course the iraid, torta and bilanghoy. I am also intimately familiar with the unpaved roads, leaking roofs inside shanties that double as a school, the termites, and yes, the hungry, wide-eyed children. After three years (and one year in Singapore), I visit my mother’s and my husband’s birthplace.

As an educator and clinician, I have always believed in inspiring people – both young and old – to dream beyond what they already have. I have never grown tired in communicating the value and the power of knowledge (the geek in me celebrates this) – I believe this is more powerful than just handing out money and perishables (which I always feel is disempowering). Hence, it was truly my pleasure and honor to be invited to give a full-day Seminar/Workshop on my area of specialization, Giftedness, at Leyte Normal University (LNU); and a half-day lecture in Basey Elementary School.

Seminar-Workshop on Giftedness, LNU. Armed with my trusty notebook and my sets of powerpoint slides, I visit the alma mater of my in-laws (both of them being public school educators). I was truly looking forward to being with Pinoy Educators. For the past year, I have been educating teachers taking their graduate studies and professional development courses from Singapore and Bahrain. While it was a truly worthwhile (and socio-emotionally enriching) experience being in another culture and interacting with realities so widely disparate from yours – it was good to go back to your roots. Moreover, it contributed greatly that my family and I are a “team” (as one Philippine Science High School teacher noted): I give the lecture, my husband takes photographs and video clips, and my seven year old daughter distributes leaflets and handouts.

The morning session in LNU was devoted to the more theoretical aspects of giftedness (conceptions and models). The presence of some undergraduate students from Special Education later during the day also contributed a different feel to the discussion with fresh viewpoints being energetically volleyed back and forth. The afternoon session, on the other hand, was devoted to a more workshop-type session where the Pinoy educators’ thoughts (and misconceptions) about the gifted were explored and discussed.

It was moving to see and hear that at the end of a full-day session, they apparently want more training and seminars in connection to giftedness. While there were some educators who provide direct intervention with the gifted and talented (those coming from Science High Schools), majority had very little interaction with high ability learners, much less the awareness of how their needs could be more adequately addressed inside the classroom setting. While news coverage about the gifted abound in local television, a lot of it remain at face value, characterizing the gifted as quirky/strange creatures able to recite the capital cities of all the countries in the world, capable of doing instantaneous calculations in a short span of time – basically only a thin line short of the bizarre and the fantastical. It was good to be able to make intelligent and talented children (and adults for that matter) actual human beings. Add the fact that while others may perceive them to be already at an advantage given their gifts – most gifted children actually feel misunderstood. A great deal of them are underachievers and eventually drop out of school. Most get bullied (or even medicated) out of their giftedness, and made to feel embarrassed about the fact that they are smart.

Perhaps what made the session more meaningful was that while I bring forth novel conceptions and modern ideas pertaining to the gifted and talented, I was able to contextualize it to our local setting – in such a manner that the concepts did not prove to be too alien to most. I did feel that there was a desire to learn even more – everything that any educator could ever hope for.

The Balud Experience. Unlike Tacloban which has earned the title of HUC or Highly Urbanized City, Basey is a small, largely agricultural town. There were around 25 teachers from the District who came to attend my lecture on how to nurture the socio-emotional needs of gifted learners inside the classroom.

I knew after the first four slides that I had to reconceptualize the entire session. Basing from their responses during our discussion, the ‘dangers of globalization’ and
the dire consequences brought about by technology were issues that were not part of their realities. When the educators were asked as to what the primary concern of their students were, the clinician in me half-expected responses ranging from marital issues affecting the academic lives of the students to network gaming to identity-achievement conflicts. I realized that I was too immersed in urban living that I have taken the most basic of necessities for granted.

Some of the recurring issues that the teachers were facing with their students are the most basic, fundamental things that most people do not even realize they have. Teachers related that their students (they have on the average more than fifty students inside a classroom without ventilation) come to school hungry, not having eaten breakfast and only scanty dinner the evening before that. They have very few, if at all, books that the students could learn from. Education, much more gifted education, is a luxury most cannot afford.

During the discussion, some of the educators mentioned that while there are existing inter-school academic competitions to further hone and strengthen the skills of highly-able students, there are instances when they would specifically request the children representing the school to deliberately lose during the contest. Why is that, I asked? It sounded so counterintuitive. The teachers went on to explain that if the students win, they would have to go through the trouble of finding finances to bring them to other barrios as they move up in the academic competition – funds that they do not have provisions for.

The children are unable to do research since they barely have enough books among themselves. Moreover the students are said to suffer from mass hysteria whereby they hear voices and see otherworldly things and go into convulsion-like symptoms, very akin to states of possession. These are all socially sanctioned means of coping with hunger, poverty, and utter helplessness for most. For students whose primary concern is finding out whether there would be food on the table by the time they go back home from school – the recognition of talents and nurturing of giftedness seem to belong to a different realm altogether.

Yet despite the litany of needs and difficulties encountered, the Pinoy resilience and fortitude are clearly evident. These are educators who, despite the utter thanklessness of their job, remain loyal and steadfast to their group of students to whom they are committed to serve. While I did manage to share with them some innovative techniques and strategies to nurture the social and emotional needs of their learners – I believe they are doing far more than that. They are building dreams and planting seeds of hope in these young children’s minds who may not even see past today. I reminded them that while we have no means of controlling what goes on in the lives of our students as they leave our classrooms, these children are ours while they are within the walls of the school and under our care. And during that span of time, we, as educators, are capable of providing a safe place for them where they are free to nourish their ideals, ask questions, and satisfy their thirst to learn more, more and more – and to dream further and go beyond one’s self.

You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.  ~Maya Angelou.

The diverging paths of our lives may bring us to many amazing journeys in places we may have never dreamed of seeing. Yet regardless of how seemingly-wide our perspectives grow and how much we evolve as human beings, there is an invisible, almost-magical thread that would always link us to the place where we grew up in. For my husband who attended his first four years in elementary in Eastern Samar, in a public school not very much unlike Balud Elementary School, it was truly coming full circle for him. Seeing how much you have grown and how much some things remain the same. While there were many memories that flash through our minds as we journey through Samar and Leyte, it was also building new memories with our seven year old daughter who, is now more keenly aware of realities so diametrically opposite from the comforts that she is privileged to enjoy at such a young age.

As the Basey educators were singing their heartwarming “Thank You” song as I finish my talk, I am reminded of why we do what we do as educators and as clinicians. To live a life filled with meaning, with the quiet knowledge that the service you have rendered would always always live on.

*** All photos were taken by my husband and postprocessed by me.

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