Monday, December 28, 2009

WE DON'T NEED ANOTHER READING CURRICULUM

For the second time in two years, Veritas Parochial School hosted The Gathering 2, an overnight celebration of discussing books, meeting fellow book lovers, and listening to music. The school's book clubs have decided to do this every first Friday night of December. Last year it was all about Twilight. This year, it was all about 10+ books--a veritable explosion of pages! Students discussed George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, and Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games,among others, to listeners in their PJs, lounging on sleeping bags.

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Podcasts of Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book were broadcast. Top discussants won prizes and enthusiastic applause.

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Unbeknownst to the sleeping book lovers, I spent the night/early morning poring over reader's journals submitted to me by senior high schoolers who opted out of the book talk. The journals were a revelation, for like most journals, they chronicle the reading process meticulously, but unlike most journals, they were bursting in color, favorite passages, even a movie stills collage. Creativity to the fullest!

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All this leads me to wonder why the Department of Education can't see what's right in front of them: young people thumbing across the pages of books, discussing plot and character, making book trailers, making scrapbooks--generally enjoying the reading process. If you were a parent perusing the pages of the English curriculum, with all the macro-skills blah and the Understanding By Design-BS, you'd be afraid for your child. Could he really master all 95 reading subskills? Will not spotting the main idea outright jeopardize his job-acceptance chances? Will his teacher penalize him for not buying 3 textbooks and 3 workbooks in Language, Reading and Speech, respectively?

In my 17 years as English teacher, I can now safely assure all worried parents that the Philippine English curriculum does not decide the fate of their children. Former DepEd Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz, speaking to Diocese of Paranaque educators in June 2009, cites an international study claiming that a literacy-rich home environment is actually the BEST INDICATOR of student success:

100 books in the house
1 computer in the house
the child's own study desk in the house

(Source: TIMSS 1998, 2003)

And by student success, we don't just look at reading, but maths and sciences as well.

In Finland, a nation that consistently tops international examinations, the teachers are not boxed in by a national curriculum; they design their lessons with their students and make adjustments when necessary. Teachers and students practice equity in the learning process.

Bottomline: invest in books, a working personal computer, internet access, a study desk, and TIME with children as they read and ask questions.

As for me and the Veritas community, we just simply enjoy books, and make them available to all. We have future projects that will put 3 brand new non-academic books in every high schooler's hands for him to keep.

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I don't need an international study to tell me the overflowing benefits of reading for my students.

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I just listen to their book talks and browse their journals, and I'm happy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

TOILET TALK

From Blogger Pictures

As principal of a school with +/-500 population, I don’t get to mince words when it comes to reminding students to behave. So general assembly Mondays are always freaky, both for the guilt-ridden objects of my so-called ire, and for me. Sometimes, to keep a school running, I just had to be less than cool when I remind people about haircuts and unreturned reply slips. Discipline is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for young people who are simply testing the limits of teachers’ patience. Principalship 101 posits that I should step in when the teachers’ hairs are all frizzy and their freshly-manicured nails are all ragged, to do damage control.

So instead of giving the usual howdydo pep talk at the start of the school year 2008-2009, I decided to give a brief but succinct lecture on how to use the school’s spankin’ new toilets.

Why is that so vital? Because this is a school that has gone TWO DECADES WITHOUT RUNNING WATER AND FLUSH. So in case the students have trouble remembering what it’s like to swish-swish the toilet after every use, I had to give some pointers:

1. Flush, flush, flush, but don’t push the knob of the water closet knob to death. One gentle push is all it takes to bring down the “enemy.”

2. Don’t stuff the bowl with toilet paper and other inorganic solids (in the previous year our janitors found a ball of yarn, and some scratch papers!). Clogged toilets are the other enemy.

3. Don’t stand on the toilet seat. If it were made to be stood on, then it would have been shaped like your shoes.

There were a few snickers here and there as I intoned those reminders. I understand. But what really got them pumping their fists in the air and hollering like rallyists was when I said:

“We’ve got water from the faucets this year. Hallelujah!”

So I decided to push my luck. I went on to remind them about the newly painted lockers. I warned them that if their lockers did not remain pristine and pearly-grey by the end of the school year, there will be blood (okay, not that graphic). I pointed out that the canteen–er–cafeteria is now a queueing place, and the food is not all fried. So take heed, I said.

Then I had an inspiration. I said something like, “The changes are not just in the facilities. We expect that there will be changes in you as well, since you’re all one grade level older. You should be more mature now, more responsible. That way, the changes are really relevant.”

Do I hear applause? Is that a slap in the back? Hardly. It was a somber student body that looked back at me as I ended my little speech. I hope it was a look of reflection and realization: yeah, we’re all one grade level higher. That must mean something.

For us teachers and administrators, our words of wisdom can spell the difference between a mediocre performance and a truly stellar one. Section advisers who can level with students sans the threats and clenched fists fare better, eliciting more attention and long-term respect. As a section adviser in previous years, I would have an outline of what I want to say if I know I am about to give a sermon. I practice my piece before I deliver it. I want maximum impact. So with my little toilet talk that first hour of the school opening, I tested if indeed I made an impact: yes, thankfully, all the toilets were clean, happy places at the end of the day.

(reposted from Go Teacher Go blog, June 11,2008)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

GLOBE TATTOO, I DON'T HEART YOU

Globe Tattoo, I don't heart you.
Ok, you're fast. You're very fast. Faster than Smart? I know not.
I've had you for 14 days and 14 nights, and I was satisfied.
But today I bought a prepaid card (300), dialed 223, as instructed.
But did you respond? No.
I called you (Ok I called 730-1000), but you weren't much help.
You got all my numbers, promising to call.
Did you? No.
I waited.
Waited (I gorged on chocolate while I waited.).
My brother got into the act, calling you. Calling you spiteful names.
No response.
I was heartbroken. How could I access facebook without you?
Dusk arrived. Dinner passed.
Still no call.
Until,
Until,
Until...it dawned on me: a bright idea.
(How could I be so stupid?)
I hurriedly called you (223) again from my other phone.
(I'm glad I kept the other one).
It worked!
And then I shared it all with you.
Always back to you.

But you should know,
the fact that I'm SMARTer than you,
doesn't mean you can just lie back
and ignore your deficiencies.
For next time,
I'm not going through the pain again.
I'm not going about in circles.
You'd better clean up your act,
clear up your signals,

OR I'M GETTING YOUR TATTOO OFF OF MY BACK.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

MUGaling! MUGaling! MUGaling!

Two of the best gifts I received this Christmas are mugs. Seriously. While a lot of Pinoys may wrinkle their noses at the sight of their Nth mug from underneath the Christmas tree, I, on the other hand, am and will always be a grateful, ecstatic receipient of that ceramic coffee-cradling wonder.

Because people have generously gifted me with mugs throughout the years, I have never felt the urge to buy one for myself. For that, I thank my benefactors! And so, in the spirit of Yuletide joy, where a cuppa cappuccino or scalding hot chocolate is second only to family, I'm featuring my TOP 5 FAVORITE MUGS:

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This is a gift from my friend and colleague Dong Lapira. It's one of the many cool designer mugs from Multiple Choice.

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This mug is a survivor. I once had half a dozen of these, from an old Nescafe grocery store promo. This much-used, much-loved mug is perfect for those tiny sips of coffee while soaking in sitcoms like "Will and Grace" and "How I Met Your Mother."

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Ok, I admit I bought this one for myself. I wanted a maroon mug (Go Maroons!), but the UP Shopping Center had none on stock. This is the one I use in school, promptly at 3pm every afternoon.

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Peanuts! I love Peanuts! This classic cup has never been used for drinking, at least not by me. I once used it as a pencil holder, and now, it just sits in our dining room glass case with the rest of the breakables.

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Teachers Mine, Arra and Tine gave me this one for Christmas. When I opened the bag, I said to myself, "Finally!", for I've given so many Starbucks mugs in the past, and have never really received one. The classic, clean design of this one is a testament to my everlasting love affair with Caramel Macchiato.

Edit: This just in! (Or I just unwrapped this):

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Though obviously this is not a 600-year-old mug, it represents a much-revered Vincentian institution. I know that whenever I use this, it would feel like drinking from a holy cup. :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

HELP COUSIN PATTY. BUY VINTAGE LPs

LPs, vinyl, plaka (Tagalog). I have about 200 of those, inherited from my septuagenarian relatives, Auntie Charito and Uncle Sito who have since discovered the iPod and liked it. With those LPs came a Technics Quartz SL5300 record player that conked out last year when a stuffed Pooh fell on its arm in the middle of "Flashdance" (Imagine the scratchy explosive sound that blasted through my speakers!). So unless I go to Raon or have a vintage technician rehabilitate the thing, the LPs are just going to have to gather dust in my room.
From Blogger Pictures
From Blogger Pictures

All the portable music players with their bottomless playlists cannot, in my archaic opinion, replace the vicarious thrill of sitting by a record player, sans remote, lifting the needle with care, counting the rings to estimate the track of my choice, replacing record after record until there's a pile of vinyl discs surrounding me on the floor.

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But some thrills have to come to an end. I am selling the LPs, and the Technics player to anyone out there who have a better means of preserving and enjoying these treasures. The proceeds of the sale will go to the fund for my cousin Patty Rosal, who has been confined in the hospital for two months due to aneurysm. Half that time she was in the ICU, near death, holding on to life with the help of prayers, machines, tubes, medicines and TLC. As I post this, she's still barely conscious and totally dependent on others (what's sad is she's only 41), and still in need of funds to pay the hospital bills and sustain her medication.

Please leave a comment with your name and contact number if you're interested to help and buy some records, preferably all of them.

Click this to view the titles. Prices are negotiable especially if you buy in bulk:
http://seroquella.multiply.com/journal/item/1/LONG_PLAYING_RECORDS_INVENTORY

From Blogger Pictures

Monday, December 21, 2009

ENTERTAIN OR DIE: THE HUNGER GAMES REVIEW

Imagine fighting to the death just so your loved ones could eat. We who have food on our table take it for granted, but not Katniss Everdeen, 16-year-old resident of District 12 in the country of Panem, a make-believe world where hunger, poverty and deprivation are everyday occurrences. The Capitol, Panem's Ruling District, has decreed that the 12 districts, as an indelible, chilling reminder of a quelled rebellion by District 13 against the Big C, should send one boy and one girl, aged 12-18, every year, to compete in The Hunger Games, a live action TV reality show broadcast throughout Panem. But The Hunger Games are no "Survivor", "Amazing Race", or "Wipeout." Competitors aren't just eliminated, they are murdered. The victor, the last man (or woman) standing, gets the ultimate prize: food for his/her district for one year.

I just described the Games. Wait till you meet the characters. Katniss, a coal miner's daughter, volunteered to compete in her 12-year-old sister's place. Her male counterpart is Peeta Mellark, a baker's son, who confesses on National TV that he's had a crush on Katniss since they were five. Media hype or true love? That's for the rabid televiewers to decide, and they seem to love the idea of star-crossed lovers with only one, or none, surviving in the finale. Katniss and Peeta, along with 22 other contenders, battle natural and artificial disasters, and each other, but in the end, the real enemy, The Capitol, becomes the target of social unrest once again. What happens next is in book 2 of the trilogy, Catching Fire.

As adventure stories go, this belongs to the family of "dystopian" literature where an alternate world is viewed as dark and depressing, where the characters are forced to compromise their very human nature due to their dire circumstances. William Golding's classic "Lord of the Flies" is an example, where boy scouts stranded in an island gradually lose their civility in the battle for jungle supremacy. Collins wrote a gem of a young adult novel, balancing bittersweet romance with often brutal cunning. Whether she intended it or not, The Hunger Games is a commentary on a materialistic society that preys on young people, making them crave, claw, and clamor, and in the process, lose their dignity and humanity.

Like the garden variety reality shows that smell suspiciously scripted,The Hunger Games has its contrived moments, beginning from the lottery that brought about Peeta and Prim's names, and Katniss' volunteerism. Put that aside, the book is a beautifully-written, character-intensive, techno-adventure novel teeming with love for family and simple joys of living. Older teens (15-19) will surely like it, and jump right into the sequel.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Clueless Ramen Girl Dies

RIP Brittany Murphy
People remember her as Alicia Silverstone's character's sidekick and rival for the affections of the guy played by Paul Rudd in Clueless. I saw her last in Ramen Girl, a pretty little TV movie about an American who follows her boyfriend to Japan, only to get dumped there. She's not red carpet huge, but she's well-loved, as i take it from the Associated Press report.Expect movie marathons in tribute to the sunny actress.

Friday, December 18, 2009

WHEEEE! FOR GLEE


I HATED HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. ALL THREE OF THEM. High schoolers bursting into song aren't exactly endearing to me, or realistic, since I deal with high schoolers everyday and believe me, they aren't always up for pep squad or choir duty.

A HIGH SCHOOL GLEE CLUB ("NEW DIRECTIONS") BURSTING INTO SONG ON TV, AT LEAST THRICE EACH EPISODE IS SOMETHING ELSE. It is something else,entirely: funny, poignant, preposterous, sarcastic, campy, classy, witty, cheesy--you can't pigeonhole what the first 13 episodes of GLEE have been. You just can't stop with the pilot and assume that you've heard one song, you've heard them all. Instead, you watch on and sing, breathe, quip, cry, snicker with the characters.You hold your breath to find out who won the Rachel vs. Kurt diva sing-off using "Defying Gravity" as the contest piece. You cringe along with Teacher Will as he sings "Don't Stand So Close to Me" to an infatuated student, Rachel Berry. You get goosebumps as a guest hearing-impaired glee club signs John Lennon's "Imagine." So many moment, so little time. I AM SO LOVING THIS SERIES, it hurts that there won't be a 14th episode until April 2010.

The ensemble cast is just magic. Except for Jesalyn Gilsig (Spanish teacher Will's shrewish, duplicitous wife) whom I've seen in Boston Public, CSI:NY and Nip/Tuck, the rest of the cast are unfamiliar to me. Every single actor, from the regular leads (Teachers Will and Sue, Sophomore diva Rachel, singing quarterback Finn), to the recurring characters (Coach Tanaka, Guidance Counselor Emma, the other diva Kurt)carries his/her designated stereotype with gallant humor. Of course, the razor-sharply-worded script can be accredited for the actors' spot-on performances. While all the episodes teem with heart and soul, the penultimate "Mattress" episode rocked my Christmas socks off with the glee club's bouncy version of Van Halen's "Jump", revelations of each character's inner turmoils, and a very nasty breakup.

Perhaps Glee's unique charm lies in its unabashed championing of misfits and underdogs. The very premise of the show, that high school's pariahs can overcome their real and imagined handicaps and sing their way to success, may be the stuff of feel-good fantasy, but it is also an affirmation of what education ought to be: a venue where strengths are harnessed, talents are nurtured, and disappointments are dealt with courageously. Schools ought to be a home for diversity and tolerance, not a factory churning out model spare parts. Much props should go out to Ryan Murphy, the show's creator. Glee is a seminal television masterpiece that should delight a broad spectrum of audiences. Episode 13 airs locally (Jack TV, Mondays at 8; ETC, Tuesdays at 10 and Sundays at 8pm) in a week. Then it's 4 months of marathons. Pop the corn!