Thursday, March 8, 2012


Neriza Sarmiento’s
Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn

If there is anyone worthy of a Patience Award, our JP Editor Dennis, no doubt, will get it. I always run out of excuses each press deadline. And every time I ask for an extension, Dennis would say that “I would wait no matter what.”

Since February and March are the busiest months in school, students also go through a lot of stress reviewing for exams, submitting term papers and reports. I try not to demand more than what my students can deliver. After the final exams, I asked everyone to record their comments about the class. Ryo’s comment was quite touching and unexpected. ”I loved going to Neriza sensei’s class because I enjoyed every lesson and it taught me a lot about how to develop self-confidence!” He was late for class several times due to his soccer club practice. I always reprimanded him but, surprisingly, he participated diligently in class activities and came for make-up lessons. Moreover, he was the mood maker of the class and no matter how tired he was, IGOR (the nickname I had given him) would still smile and laugh at my jokes. Sometimes though, I felt that some jokes were too much for him considering our cultural differences and sense of humor.

Twenty two years of teaching at Osaka University’s Center for World Languages in Minoo is an affirmation of my love for teaching and the affection I have for any student I encounter. When I was still a young teacher in the Philippines, my mentor and chairman of the Speech and Drama Department- Prof. Naty Crame-Rogers, used to tell me: “To be a good teacher, you should entertain your class with interesting lessons. If they enjoy your class, they will be willing to learn.” This remarkable mentor later earned a national award for theater.

I taught at the Philippine High School National Arts Center for the Arts years ago. In a class of specially selected scholars, there was a quiet but very substantial lady that caught my attention. Every time I look into her eyes, I thought there was something special about her. It was already when I got in Japan where I read articles about her in Philippine magazines and in Japanese newspapers. Just over a year ago, she was featured in NHK’s Amazing Voice. Her name is Grace Nono - the Philippines’ foremost folk singer and known worldwide.

Teaching in Japan is a challenge. Natsume Soseki’s ”Botchan” was published in 1906 and is an amusing and humorous portrayal of some teachers and students in high school. In another book, “Rising Sons and Daughters” written by Harvard graduate Steven Wardell in the ‘90’s, the author related his experiences as an exchange student in Japan with the following observations: ”If a teacher was a little slack about discipline, there could be fooling around in class and the attitude of the students change with different teachers.”

My favorite columnist in the Daily Yomiuri is Ms. Helene Uchida who suggests teachers to follow the 4 Fs in the classroom --- Firm, Fun, Functional and Flexible! Teachers can be kind but firm with rules that students have to follow. Lessons can be very academic in nature but can be taught in a fun way. Lessons that are functional can help students in their future careers and as each student have different abilities and needs, teachers need to be flexible.

Every time I face a class, I think of it as a performance and know what their interests are. Igor likes soccer and AKB48. Aki is fond of yakimanju as it reminds her hometown in Gunma. Natsuki is a Gundam enthusiast like her mother. Miku showed me a picture of her idols Mr. Children because their songs give her strength and hope. Yasuko is fond of traveling and going to Europe during the school holidays. Miki likes chirashi-sushi. Yuma is fond of baseball and trains. Tomiso is a karaoke fan. Mitsuru from Kyoto idolizes tennis star Kei Nishikori. Yuki is going to the Philippines in March to study and had attended a Christmas party of a Filipino Community in Osaka. Mika, who graduated from Assumption in Minoo and stayed with a Filipino family in Antipolo, remembered how she liked the taste of “katsudon” she ate at the Mall of Asia. Momoka remembered how I taught her how to stand when delivering a speech. She was excited to say that she has the same birthday as Audrey Hepburn.

For a teacher, the greatest gift of all is seeing students succeed in whatever field they choose.
Once in a while, I bump into some of my former students. Sachi-San is now a Professor in a university in Hiroshima and is deeply involved in research on Filipino Migrants. Jun is now based in Thailand but never fails to send me a New Year card every year. Miki works in a publishing company in Nagoya. Kyoko is with the Department of Tourism office in Osaka. Masanobu worked in Manila Shimbun. Some are now High school teachers like Tomoko who had stage fright until I prodded her to be in the cast of “The Gaijin.” Matsutaro who played a bit role in the musical ”The Gaijin” is now a diplomat at the Foreign Ministry of Japan. And of course Yosuke Shohara is now comple-ting a year of being a “ryugakusei” in the Philippines. He was also the leader of all Japanese students in U.P. during the Japanese night in the campus.

There was only one thing I told my students: “You must like yourself. Respect yourself and
people will like and respect you!” As school term ends, it also marks a new beginning for teachers and students with an endless cycle of learning to teach and teaching to learn!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jeepney Press,

    Thank you for your kind words about my column Primary Advice in The Daily Yomiuri Newspaper. I very seldom hear from readers so finding your comments on the Internet made me VERY happy.

    Good luck with the fine work that you are doing.


    Helene Uchida