THE ANATOMY OF A GOOD TEACHER
Delivered by Dr. Rafael Cruz Bundoc, MD Department of Anatomy College of Medicine, UP Manila 2005 Metrobank Oustanding Teacher, Collegiate level September 2,2005 Metrobank Plaza Awarding Ceremonies
Teacher, mentor, tutor, instructor, guru, sensei, coach, bossing (as one student teasingly calls me) are just but many words that different races, cultures, and religions use to designate that person tasked to impart and imbue knowledge and spark ideas in the minds of students or people. In fact it will not be too presumptuous of me if I say that each and every one of us in this room right now passed through one of them. We might even think that teachers come dime a dozen, but this is where we are wrong. International studies have shown that teachers comprise no more than 2-3% of any population and for some it might be much less.
Today we are here to honor only ten of them, supposedly for being the best in their profession. But are these ten honorees just lucky that their works were appreciated and they were nominated by the administrators of their respective institutions? Or probably luckier moreover by hurdling the very rigorous task that the Metrobank Foundation has set in filtering out the most qualified among them? Rigorous indeed, for where have you ever seen qualifying interviews with a stand by nurse at hand and an ambulance ready to ferry you to the nearest hospital just in case you choke on words that will not come out of your mouth.
It is a great honor indeed standing here today speaking in behalf of the other 9 awardees. When I was personally informed by executive vice president and executive director Aniceto Sobrepena that I was one of the winners for this years 21st search since it started in 1985 I was just too honored and I agreed too readily upon his request to deliver the speech. Little did I realize that this will be a tall order and that I will be spending practically 5 days preparing for this speech. What really made things hard for me is the thought that there are other more deserving teachers out there whose works have not been noticed as of yet. So I thought of delivering something not so much to extol the merits of my co-awardees for today but to pay tribute to all other teachers whose commitment and dedication to the profession of teaching is worth emulation.
I think this is the first time a teacher of Human Anatomy like me from a medical school is going to be given a national award for being an outstanding teacher. And so I have decided to give justice to that by doing what I am good at. Please allow me to dissect a good teacher and see what they are made of. Just what is the Anatomy of an Outstanding Teacher?
Having gone through voluminous literature about teachers, I have realized that many authors from different specialties have attempted to already define what makes a good teacher. To name a few, Alan Haskvitz enumerated 11 traits of a good teacher, Georgia Paschiardis gave 6 important features of outstanding teachers, Elaine McEwan mentioned and expounded on 10 in his book entitled Ten Traits of Highly Effective Teachers. There are many other more.
After studying and digesting their dissertations I saw that there were striking common denominators in their works. So as a teacher of Anatomy, let me dissect these common denominators – those that characterize a good teacher. So just what is the anatomy of a good teacher? I would like to compare the anatomy of a good teacher to an ‘arch’.
Why an ‘arch’? Architecturally, arches are engineering marvels created by men to hold great weights of structures above them. They can be found in edifices built by civilizations, from different races, philosophies and religions from the east and the west. Most of these that I am showing to you right now are still standing even after almost close to a thousand years even after they were ravaged by time, by nature and even man’s follies.
Teachers like arches are made of pillars on both sides. These are the human entity in them which is common to each and every one of us. To construct the arch we need the ‘voussoirs’ or the stone segments and these gives the defining character to the arch and these will represent the special traits of a good teacher. So let us try to build an imaginary arch and imagine this first segment as the first trait of a teacher. A teacher is himself a learner. Like what Richard Henry Dunn said “He who dares to teach must never cease to learn”.
When asked during the interview what is the greatest challenged he is facing now, Manny Belino my co-awardee for higher learning said that he wish he would have more time to finish his dissertation for his second doctoral degree. A learned man with 2 masters and a PhD degree already, why does he need another one for? Because he believes that this is the best way he can impart his teaching principles in the true La Sallian philosophy – “teaching minds, touching hearts and transforming lives”. Or take the case of Maylani Galicia of Ligao Albay who became the beacon of hope of her teacher-classmates while they were taking Master of Science in Teaching Mathematics at Ateneo. Because of the rigors of their curriculum many have quit early on the course. Maylani was on the mid and last terms of her pregnancy during that time but she wanted so much to learn more and finish what she started. All her classmates took inspiration from her determination despite her difficult physical condition.
Our second stone segment is the character of being knowledgeable. For how else can he or she be called if they do not possess the wisdom that should be imparted to their students. But this is where the difference lies. According to Louis Berman, “a good teacher is a master of simplification and an enemy of simplism”. Take the case of these two master teachers whom we can consider ‘teachers of teachers’ for the level of mastery of their subjects. Janet Amurao of Marikina City took pride in being assigned as an advisor to the below average section of her school early in her career while others considered it as a curse. Most of her students could not even read properly and what more teach chemistry to them. She prepared a special lesson plan for them and presented chemistry in simple words, simple strategies at a very slow pace and they learned from her the magic of this beautiful science. Diane Aure of Iloilo City is an acclaimed math teacher par excellence. She is very sure that she has been contributing to nation building by using the medium of mathematics in inculcating moral values and reasoning skills in making decisions in the daily lives of her students.
Our third stone segment is the trait of holding high expectations. A good teacher is unsatisfied, unaccepting, a non-conformist. She expects much from herself and likewise much from her students. She will give everything at her disposal but will expect her students to discover more for themselves. Like what Galileo Galilei said “You cannot teach men anything, you can only help him find it within himself”. Or as Plutarch succinctly stated “the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited”. For how else can Julia Capulong bring out the best in every visually impaired child she has handled. For Julia, one’s disability is not an excuse to be a burden to the family and simply be unproductive. Her high expectations and hard work allowed visually impaired children to develop skills and discover their potential to be productive members of our society.
The fourth stone is the quality to question effectively. ‘What is the capital of Zimbabwe?’ so goes one TV advertisement. Well of course, not like this question, but in a way wherein he promotes independence among his students. Josef Albers could not be more correct when he said “good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers”. As Malcolm Forbes emphasized “the goal of education is to replace an empty mind with an open mind”. A good teacher promotes critical teaching by effective questioning. Questions stimulate our students towards logical thinking. Perhaps this is what Thomas Carruthers was referring to when he said “a good teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. An unknown author placed it more metaphorically “a good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others”. Vilma Cabrera of Isabela cannot forget how she became a candle to her students when their class was caught in the crossfire of a running gun battle between the NPA and our government soldiers. Unperturbed by such circumstances, Vilma went on lighting the paths of grade 6 students in Isabela, knowing all too well that the questions she has posed to the minds of her elementary students have motivated them and prepared them well enough to venture into the new challenges of secondary schooling.
The fifth stone is the character of being diverse. One of the biggest challenges to teaching is working with students of varying learning styles, personalities, temperament, and rates of learning. A good teacher will experiment in utilizing auditory, visual, and tactile hands-on techniques. Rita Dunn summarized this when she said “if the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns”. Amelia Castaneda of Tarlac discovered that she has a natural talent in adjusting to their learning capabilities by adapting to different characteristics and personalities of her young students. She maximized this talent to bring out the best from her young students. She epitomizes what Marva Collins defined as a good teacher “a good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior”.
The sixth stone segment is enthusiasm. A teacher should manifest energy in his teaching. His eagerness for teaching will make a difference in the motivation of his students. Cicero could not put it any better when he said “the authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn”. Sometimes as teachers we have to put our guard down. A good teacher injects humor. He should infect his students with optimism. He sees to it that learning becomes a fun filled experience. Elnora Ordedor of Surigao del Norte considers her classroom as a magical place where anything can happen. She sees to it that her classroom is a child friendly and tension free place where they can learn, play, hone their talents and express their ideas. She gives particular attention to students with learning difficulties and helps them get out of their shells to love learning. As Albert Einstein once stated “it is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”.
The seventh stone segment is the character of being flexible. Good teachers are resourceful and practice ingenuity. I think this is the reason why Metrobank Foundation discouraged us from using high tech equipment like computers during our demonstration lecture to the board of judges. The foundation stripped us down to the barest essential and provided us with the best teaching material; yes, the foundation provided us the best manila paper and colored marker pens to use as our teaching aids. Yes, no PowerPoint presentations, no LCD projectors. For a while I thought that was unfair, but wait you are supposed to be a good teacher, so even if Metrobank Foundation has to give you a banana leaf, well, you should deliver your lecture convincingly. I believe that what Haim Ginott said aptly applies to most Filipino teachers – “Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that they accomplish this impossible task”. Menia Alvidera took her teaching skills beyond the classrooms by imbuing knowledge to her students and co-teachers as a guidance counselor, a civic worker, a community leader and even as surrogate mother to her students. Menia knows all too well that wherever a teacher could be, she has to be flexible enough to utilize that environment as a venue for learning. This gives credence to what George Santayana has already said “a child educated only at school is an uneducated child”.
The last character represented by the last stone segment of our arch is the trait of a communicator. When all of us 4 finalists in the higher education level finally finished our grueling interview we all felt that the final interview was more of a measure of how well you answer questions and none at all of how good you are as a teacher. We felt it was like a beauty pageant. It appears however that good communication skills are one the basic traits of a good teacher. It can be almost considered a talent. Eloquence can translate to charisma, charisma oftentimes inspire people. William Arthur Ward cannot be more explicit when he said “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”.
Our special traits of a good teacher – a learner, knowledgeable, high expectation, questions effectively, diverse, enthusiastic, flexible and a communicator. All these stone segments which represent the traits of a good teacher will collapse if it will not be locked by the last segment – the keystone. The keystone completes and stabilizes the arch. For our arch the keystone represents 2 interchangeable words – commitment and dedication. Or are these 2 words really interchangeable? Anyone can commit himself to teach – either verbally or in writing shall we say as in a contract but it will take more than that to actually do it, it will take dedication to endure and persevere to practice the art of teaching. Commitment is a priority, dedication is essential.
All these stone segments represent skills. The keystone of our arch represents one important quality – love for the art of teaching. And in the manner that John Ruskin concisely stated it “when skill and love work together, expect a masterpiece”. In our case that masterpiece is as precious as it can get – a great teacher.
As simple as I can put it, this I believe is the modest way of describing the anatomy of a good teacher – an arch that provides the widest opening to any edifice, a structure so simple yet so strong that can carry great weights, one that can last many lifetimes. A good teacher, like an arch, opens himself or herself to the lives of their students, and carry great physical, emotional and psychological burdens in being mentors, counselors, friends and even surrogate parents to their students. Like any other human they will grow old, get tired and retire, or probably die of natural causes while still in the service of their duties as teachers. They say that old soldiers never die they just fade away. We cannot say the same for teachers. Old teachers never die, they are well remembered by. Henry Adams had a better way of expressing it “a teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops”.
Jacques Barzun once said “teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition”. One man took upon himself the initiative to laud the people in the forefront of this tradition. Recognizing the valuable role that they play in imparting values and cultivating the skills and intellect of young students, Dr. George S K Ty, chairman of Metrobank and of the Metrobank Foundation was disheartened to note that, back in 1985, many of our teachers were marching in the streets asking for better working conditions. He then conceived of an awards program, which would pay tribute to educators and extol teaching as a noble and rewarding profession. Thank you Dr. Ty for bringing much pride in our profession and the hearts of our family. This is an inspiration that Carl Jung noted years ago when he said “we think of the effective teachers we had over the years with a sense of recognition, but those have touched our humanity we remember with a deep sense of gratitude”.
Today we dedicate our awards with a deep sense of gratitude to our parents, wives and husbands, children, friends, colleagues, teachers and students. And of course to the great Almighty above who gives us a purpose to our existence.
The month of August of 1986 was a very sad one for my family. My mother – a very good teacher succumbed to a heart attack while teaching. We deeply mourned her passing away. During her wake, my family was awed and overwhelmed by the multitude of her students who paid their last respects to their dear teacher. They came in all forms – a priest, doctors, a nun, engineers, a taxi operator, a dressmaker, a lawyer, a barangay captain, businessmen, a professor and teachers of different grade levels. They expressed their condolences and narrated how my mother has touched their hearts and minds. It was the time I committed to myself that I will teach someday. Though I took up Medicine, I fulfilled that commitment and dedicated myself to the art of teaching. Today I wish to dedicate my trophy to that person who opened my mind to the art and tradition of teaching – mommy I hope you can see this right now, this is for you.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in Sept 19th 2005