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Online Uni Life #11: Sympathy and empathy Part 8

Knowing and experiencing

It’s not that I was in denial that the struggle is real. I just didn’t go through it as badly as some. The University of the Philippines, particularly the Los Baños campus, was not a place of hardship for me. It was home. It was, and still is, my comfort zone. While in the past, I probably wouldn’t argue if anyone told me that, having spent most of my life in or around a UP campus and being a second generation academic in the university. But it wasn’t until now, as I write the final part of this rather long series of blog posts, that I fully realize what that meant for me.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention anything in a PhD programme in UP or anywhere else in the Philippines. My feeling was three degrees here was already excessive. I wanted to go out and come back with something new to offer as a teacher and researcher. What I didn’t expect was that among those new things was a fresh perspective on student life at UPOU.

I wonder, though. Is this heightened sympathy and empathy going to affect how I teach? It will be a while before I can tell for sure. But I have already been consciously gauging myself. While I have been on study leave for more than two years now, I have never stopped interacting with my former students in social media. I have also made it back to a UPOU online classroom, albeit on a very limited capacity. I remain grounded by the belief that in order for UP to uphold its prestige, students and teachers alike must be held to commensurate standards.

What needs to change

I’ll never stop trying to get the best out of students. There’s just no way I’ll feel good compromising that. But perhaps I need to take a different approach. Just this weekend, I held a Zoom session for a class. One of those in attendance was a student whom I had in a previous class. I remember her, because she was probably the first student who directly asked if I was mad at her. It was the first time I really looked back at previous exchanges to check if I went too far without even realizing it. I wasn’t, but I sort of got why she thought that way. I had to quickly respond to her to assure her that it wasn’t the case. And again, last weekend, I made it a point to bring that past incident up in the discussion to make sure we were good.

I also had this habit of playing little mind games with my students, particularly with ones whom I believe have the potential to do exceptionally well, but for some reason don’t go for it. Another former student recently brought up once such example. Apparently, I scared her when my feedback to her assignment only had one statement: do better. I don’t remember writing that to her specifically, but I do know my reason behind it. I was hoping for one of two things – either she already knew how and only needed to act on it, or she would make me explain that rather vague feedback. Obviously, it’s too late for that, but I’m glad she brought it up years later so I can explain myself.

The path forward

I have a bunch of ideas how to make changes. But it’s become clear that I don’t always know what’s best for students. The makeup of the student population keeps changing. It would therefor be reasonable to assume that their needs change accordingly. So, what’s the best way to keep track? Simple – I ask. And that is exactly what I have been doing lately. I’m now weighing the pros and cons of casting a wider net across more groups and platforms. It has so far been quite enlightening.

How this whole experience translates to how much I improve as a teacher, I don’t know yet. Time will tell. But right now, I am liking my outlook.

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