Monday, November 5, 2007

Budget Shortfalls and Teacher Salary Reclassifications

The Public School System’s Commissioner for Education, David M. Borja, has said recently that due to budget shortfalls, the Board of Education must take action and PSS will have to reclassify teachers’ salary schedules. To put it simply, what he’s saying is that PSS cannot pay teachers what it’s supposed to pay them.

Before I share my opinion on this, it helps to understand the history behind this issue.

In compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act, the BOE and PSS adopted a new salary schedule that is commensurate to a teacher’s education, experience, and performance on the Praxis. PSS had to take this approach to ensure compliance with NCLB’s requirement for highly qualified teachers (HQTs). Otherwise, PSS would not have been able to continue receiving federal funding from NCLB.

Many of you will recall the controversy that emerged when the BOE and PSS implemented these new standards for teachers. Many teachers suffered a pay cut and some teachers even lost their jobs. However, overall, the drive to have highly qualified teachers in classrooms has been good for our schools and good for our students.

Now, because the governor’s office is proposing only 75% of the original budget request from PSS, and because the entire government remains on a continuing resolution budget, PSS does not have enough money to pay teachers who have acquired HQT status. This budget quagmire is exacerbated by the overcrowding and understaffing in public schools.

So, what’s my opinion on this? I think it is unprofessional, unethical, and unfair to have encouraged teachers to spend money and time in acquiring HQT status, and then deprive them of the very incentive you promised they would get. It also strikes me as rather irresponsible for the commissioner to discuss this possibility openly with the public without first discussing it with the board. The media is the wrong venue to bring such matters before the board.

What, then, should be done? First, the governor’s office should return the money it “borrowed” from PSS. Second, the governor’s office should reinstate the original budget and budget request of PSS. If the governor’s office refuses to do either, then it should reimburse the federal government for NCLB funds that PSS has received because refusing to pay for highly qualified teachers is equivalent to reneging on NCLB.

Third, assuming that the governor’s office will do nothing, the board should work with the legislature to reinstate its original budget request and to secure an emergency appropriation. However, this will be difficult to do with a lame duck legislature. Hopefully, members of that lame duck legislature will have enough of a commitment to the public that they will use their remaining time to help PSS. After all, without reelection worries looming over their heads, perhaps now they can make some bold decisions that may be politically unpopular.

Fourth and last (for now), assuming both the governor’s office AND the legislature do nothing, PSS has no choice but to look internally at what its options are. PSS and the BOE made a commitment to have highly qualified teachers and pay them as such. Now it’s time to live up to that commitment. I know that there may be nothing left to cut, but something must be done now before we lose good teachers or before a lawsuit is laid against the school system, a lawsuit that would sap even more cash from a cash-strapped system. And as I’ve said before, mitigation is so much more affordable, and preferred, than litigation.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Why AM I running anyway?

Picture above: My dad, Ben "Rai", who used to always say, "If you can do it, do it."
Warning: The following commentary is long, but I hope you will bear with me because what follows is an open and honest discussion that any candidate for public office should have with her/himself and the public.

Given that elections are tomorrow, it seems rather late of me to explain why I am running for the Board of Education. However, up to this point, I thought it was more important to share my thoughts and insights on education with the public than to explain why I’m running because voters should know my approach to education before they know my approach to campaigning.

So, to the question at hand: Why have I chosen to run for public office? Before I answer that question, I want to explain why I, or anyone else for that matter, should NOT run for office. For now, I have six reasons.

Reason one: It’s expensive and time-consuming. It doesn’t have to be, but it usually is. On the campaign trail, you spend money and time publicizing yourself. If elected to office, you spend time in meetings, community gatherings, and all sorts of other engagements. Once in office you also spend money on donations to this or that charity, helping someone with their CUC bill, or giving chenchule to the family that invited you to their Christening, wedding, or funeral. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I have seen too many politicians lose money both in and out of office. Therefore, it doesn’t surprise that some politicians take bribes or kickbacks of some kind. They’re simply trying to recoup their losses. Why would I want to sacrifice all that time and money only to put myself in a position where I might be tempted to compromise my integrity and convictions? It would be wiser to invest my time and money into my family.

Reason two: People often expect too much from government, especially here in the Commonwealth. We live in the aftermath of the Trust Territory welfare state and the boom economy of the 1980s and 1990s where government doled out jobs and money and favors left and right. We, the people of the Commonwealth have been trained to believe that the government is the answer to all our problems, which is a far cry from my grandparent’s generation, for whom hard work over a long period of time was the key to a successful life. Today, we want instant gratification and magic solutions from a government whose benefits we feel entitled to. Such inflated expectations are virtually impossible for anyone to fulfill.

Reason three: While people expect too much from government, it is very difficult to achieve anything in democratic government. Democracy is meant to be slow and prudent because you have to work with other people. As I’ve said before, getting a group of opinionated people with ideas and interests of their own to agree upon a single course of action is very, very hard. Add to that democratic process the red tape of a bureaucratic government and you get a recipe for paralysis. You get a situation where nothing changes easily or quickly, if anything changes at all.

Reason four: Jumping into the public arena subjects me to the scrutiny of an often unforgiving and overly critical public eye. As a private citizen, I can pretty much just be myself and make decisions that I think are right, without having to worry about too many critics and snide remarks. If I make a mistake, I deal with manageable consequences and work to fix what’s wrong. However, campaigners and public servants have to deal with all sorts of people who have anything and everything to say about anything and everything that you do. And if you make a mistake, even if you’re humble enough to admit it, you must face a firing squad of critics, pundits, angry voters, and opponents who are all too willing to take advantage of your blunders.

Reason five: I am busy as it is. I am a full-time principal, full-time father, and full-time husband, who also teaches two classes and advises some extra-curricular activities. The last thing I need is another heavy load on my plate. For my own personal sanity, it would be better to avoid additional commitments, like public office.

Reason six: Am I truly qualified for the position? Who am I to think that I can or should be in a position to make important decisions about thousands of students, hundreds of teachers, and a system that has a profound impact on the welfare and future of our Commonwealth? The burden of that responsibility alone scares me. While I do have over a decade of varied experience in education, it would be arrogant of me to say that I definitely have what it takes to take on this position.

I bring up all these reasons against running because I believe that anyone who decides to run for public office should have reasons compelling enough to outweigh those reasons listed above.

In my case, I am running because of something my dad taught me a long time ago. My dad used to wake me and my brother up every Saturday morning to work on the yard. I hate yard work, so it was a constant struggle with me. However, when I finally got behind that lawnmower, my dad would always say, “If you can do it, do it.” That has always stuck with me.

Despite all the reasons above, I believe that I can and should make a difference. I’m tired of helping my students understand what our community’s problems are, without doing anything to change things for the better. It is hypocritical of me to point the finger at what’s wrong, without lifting a finger to fix what’s wrong.

I may lose money and time—but I will not do so inappropriately or unethically. People may expect too much, I may not accomplish much, and I will probably be criticized much no matter what I do or don’t do—but it’s still worth a shot. And I may be busy as it is and I may not be qualified enough—but I am committed enough to make time and make a good effort.

I am very passionate about education and I sincerely believe that a good education system can make a positive difference in our community. The Public School System has accomplished a lot so far, and I want to help it accomplish even more.

In short, I am running because I want to do my part to help our community.

And as my dad used to say, “If you can do it, do it.”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Problem" Students?

I am sometimes questioned and challenged about how I deal with “problem” students. In fact, at times, I am criticized for siding too much with students. It is a fair criticism that deserves an explanation on my part.

To be sure, I firmly believe that when students make mistakes, they must be held accountable for those mistakes. In the real world, we must all eventually face the consequences of our actions. Thus, it is only fitting that in schools, we prepare students for the real world by holding them accountable for their mistakes, albeit within the confines of the school’s policies and procedures.

That said, I believe that punishment is not enough. When students make mistakes, we must guide them to fix those mistakes. For example, when a student intentionally breaks a window, it makes sense to have that student pay for the window’s repair. Not only does that hold the student accountable, but it teaches him or her the value of remedying one’s mistakes. In law this is called restitution. In laymen’s terms, it’s called responsibility.

Furthermore, when a student makes a mistake, we must genuinely care for that student and help him or her learn from his or her mistake. When coaching public speakers and debaters, I always tell my students that they will learn more from losing than from winning. Losing forces you to reckon with what you could have done better, for you can only improve when you know what needs improvement. Losing also gives you the drive to do better next time. That’s why I tell them this paradox, “You have to lose if you want to win.”

I fear that we can sometimes be so judgmental and vindictive that we forget to help student grow from the experience of making mistakes. As I mentioned above, punishment is never enough. True concern and care for our students must drive us to help them remedy their mistakes, as well as learn and grow from them. In my mind, to do any less is just bad teaching.

Over the many years that I have been teaching, nothing has been more rewarding than seeing a “problem” student turn his or her life around, and knowing that I helped him or her at least a little bit. Besides, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “problem” student. Rather, there are only people with problems who sometimes make mistakes—and those people are all of us.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What IS Wrong with Our Education System?

Albert Einstein once said, “The formulation of the problem is often more essential than the problem.” That may be the case with our education system.

Ever since the historic Nation at Risk was published in 1983, everyone from business leaders, politicians, and the media has debated about “what’s wrong” with our schools. Despite all that debate, however, no one can agree on what exactly is wrong with our schools. As I have said before, the business community blames our schools for not churning out a skilled workforce; politicians blame our schools for low test scores and lackluster student performance; and, at least nationally, media pundits and cultural warriors blame schools for the breakdown of society and traditional family values.

Much of this confusion over what exactly is wrong with our schools stems from confusing expectations of schools. Business leaders expect schools to produce a workforce. Political leaders expect schools to produce students that are smarter than other students. And many media voices from the right and the left expect schools to produce morally upright, culturally literate citizens.

These divergent expectations don’t necessarily lead to the same result. For example, to succeed in business one need not score that well on standardized tests and one need not know Shakespeare. Conversely, someone who scores perfectly on the SAT and can quote Shakespeare from memory may not be the best candidate for a corporate job.

Some might argue that we can and should fulfill all of the above expectations by producing well-rounded students. I actually agree with that liberal arts approach. And in the best of all words, that would be great. But, in the real world, budget and time constraints limit us from doing all of the above. That said, it then becomes a matter of prioritizing our goals and expectations.

But we haven’t done that. Instead, all of these conflicting expectations have only confused teachers and students. Any teacher can tell you that if expectations are not made clear to students, you doom them to failure. After all, how can you tell if you’ve achieved your goals, if you don’t know what those goals are in the first place? As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you end up going nowhere.”

I, for one, don’t want our students to go nowhere.

So, I believe the first step towards going somewhere is to engage all stakeholders—parents, students, teachers, business leaders, politicians, and the media—in an open and honest discussion about what we want from our schools. That kind of discussion is going to require mutual respect, a willingness to work together, and a focus on the most important part of the education equation: our children.

Ultimately, it means developing and casting a shared vision for our education system, which I must warn you is going to be very, very hard work. But, the work will be worth it, for nothing less than the future of our islands is at stake.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We Are Student Centered

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which oversees accreditation for virtually all schools in the Marianas, has a pretty cool nick name for its acronym, WASC: We Are Student Centered. That is a great way to think about education.

But what does it mean to be student-centered?

First, I think it means to focus not on teaching but on student learning. It doesn’t matter how great one’s lecture is if the students just don’t get it. A focus on learning shifts the attention away from how much the teacher knows to how much the student learns.

Second, being student-centered means respecting the goals and expectations of each student. Sometimes teachers assume that a student’s goals are the same as that of the school or of other students. However, students have different expectations of school and different goals in life. Educators must pay attention to those goals and expectations and incorporate them into their instructional design. Research has shown that making learning relevant to students is one of the most effective ways to improve their motivation and drive to learn.

Third, being student-centered means accommodating the different needs of different students. Students have different learning styles and personalities, all of which should be acknowledged and harnessed in the classroom. In education circles, the multiple-intelligences saying goes, “It’s not how smart are you, but how are you smart?” By building on one learning style that is strong, you can enhance a student’s other learning styles. Respecting the diverse, unique needs of students requires that we differentiate our instruction.

Fourth and last, being student-centered means truly caring for each and every student. I know this can be very hard in our day and age when students don’t respect teachers like they did in the “good old days”. (However, I often wonder how good were the good old days.) While students should definitely respect their teachers, we educators must remember: respect that is earned is better than respect that is commanded or demanded. We can earn the respect of our students by respecting them in the first place and by genuinely caring for them. Perhaps, when we care for them, they will begin to care for themselves and their learning.

As Maya Angelou so aptly put it, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And what better feeling to plant in students than the love for learning, for that love will take them farther than any lesson I could ever teach in a day or even a year.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Promises Compromised

At the recent education forums sponsored by the Association of Commonwealth Teachers, one particular question has been posed at every forum: “The common perception of teachers is that politicians are supportive of education while running for office, and then neglect PSS once in office. What do you think has caused this perception, and how will you address these concerns?”

To me, the answer to the first half of the question is easy: It’s not a perception. It’s the truth. The real question, then, is how and why does that happen? Why do elected officials make promises, only to break them once in office?

Let me just say this: I don’t believe it’s because politicians are evil. I sincerely believe that most politicians start out with good intentions and are, for the most part, concerned about the public good.

However, along the way, promises are compromised as politicians struggle with the reality of politics. Unfortunately, that reality isn’t necessarily about the public good. That reality is riddled with special interests, opposing parties, the complexity of issues, and the plain difficulty of getting a group of opinionated people to agree on anything. In that reality, it’s easy to lose sight of your promises and convictions.

To make matters worse, many politicians become convinced that in order to accomplish anything in politics, one must game the system by manipulating people, brokering deals, and orchestrating all sorts of schemes. In short, well-meaning politicians come to believe that they need power to make things happen. Then, it’s only a matter of time before the pursuit of power overpowers good intentions.

So, you either get lost in the mix or lost in power. Either way, you compromise your promises, which leads to the more important question: How do we keep this from happening?

That, my fellow citizens, is the trillion dollar question that has puzzled political theorists for thousands of years. While I don’t think we’ll find the answer in the weeks before the election, we can at least remain vigilant and remind leaders, once elected, of the promises they made.

Of course, it would be just as good if politicians promised less and delivered more. But would such candidates get elected? There’s another good question for another time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Personal Vision Statement of Education

Every student can, should, and will learn
to lead meaningful, purpose-driven lives
as competitive yet humane participants in the emerging global marketplace
who ultimately work to make their world a better place.

To these ends,

All students will become better analytical and critical thinkers
who have a culturally sensitive global understanding of their world.
All students will become well-rounded individuals who are developed
spiritually, morally, socially, mentally, emotionally, creatively, and physically.
All students will become sympathetic and empathetic servants to others in need.

All teachers will become professionally proficient, passionate educators
who enthusiastically help students reach the highest academic standards.
All teachers will proactively cultivate learning among their students by
engaging the diverse learning styles of all their students.
All teachers will manifest a sincere and concrete care for each and every student.

All administrators and staff will secure a safe and welcoming school environment
that is conducive to learning.
All administrators and staff will provide resources and opportunities
for learning and professional growth.
All administrators and staff will respect teachers as professionals
and give them the support they need to do their jobs.

I will ardently listen, communicate, and promote dialogue to the best of my ability.
I will humbly assist, elicit assistance, and promote collaboration to the best of my ability.
I will passionately lead, empower, and promote synergy to the best of my ability.

All I will do is all that I can to help students, teachers, administrators, and staff succeed.
That is all that I can, should, and will do.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Adios Sister Remedios

Sister Remedios Castro and her fellow MMB sisters from Saipan.
She was never elected to public office. She never made a penny of profit. And she never penned a condemning word about anyone. Still, she has probably had more positive influence and done more good for our islands than any politician, business person, or critic. Sister Remedios Castro has thus left us with a moving legacy of humility, charity, and love. It is a legacy that brings vivid life to the words of Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; [s]he can never tell where [her] influence stops.”

And even though she has passed on, we can still learn much from this great teacher. Her example teaches us that it is better to serve than to be served; that the greatest rewards in life come not from material possessions; and that kind, supporting words help people grow more than harsh admonishments.

And whenever I find my ministry as a teacher and principal too much to bear, I remember the patient love of Sister Remedios and I struggle on. That is the lesson that I continue to learn from her.

Sister Remedios will be missed dearly by many, including myself, but I sincerely hope that her spirit will live on in our hearts and in the way we treat each other. For if we are to be worthy of her legacy, then we must learn to live the life of love that she lived every day of her life.

Adios Teacher.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Education is a Partnership

At a recent forum on education sponsored by the Association of Commonwealth Teachers, Tina Sablan, a candidate for the House of Representatives, noted that education must involve everyone in our community, not just teachers. Her comment echoes one of my long-held beliefs about education and is something we must take to heart. Education isn’t a passive process whereby teachers fill students’ minds with information. Rather, education is an active and interactive partnership, where students construct knowledge on their own, where the focus is on learning not on teaching. In this model, a teacher is not a sage on the stage. Rather, he is a guide by the side of the student.

But this progressive perspective is not shared by many people, many of whom blame teachers for not teaching. Furthermore, teachers and schools have increasingly become the scapegoats for all that’s wrong in our society. The business community blames our schools for not churning out a skilled workforce. Community leaders blame our schools for low test scores and lackluster student performance. And, at least nationally, pundits and cultural warriors blame schools for the breakdown of society and traditional family values.

But, the truth is that schools cannot and should not bear the brunt of all this blame, for true education is a partnership. At the individual student level, that partnership involves teachers, parents, and students all doing their fair share. At the community level, that partnership involves schools, businesses, and community leaders working together for a shared mission and vision.

However, it has become all too common, easy, and even fashionable to blame schools for our social ills. This is very unfortunate because school teachers, staff, and administrators all work very hard to give the best possible education they can give, with what limited resources they have. And they keep at it, doing the best they can, even though some of their “partners” in education spend more time pointing the finger than lifting a finger.

There is simply too much at stake to keep passing blame. And what’s at stake? Our future and the very livelihood of our islands. Given those stakes, it’s time we all did our part in this partnership of education. It’s time we talked more about responsibility than blame. It’s time we found not blame, but solutions—together.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What We Spend Our Money On Reveals What We Value

When I got back from college in 1997, I was astounded that Marianas High School was still the only public high school on Saipan for thousands of students. I even taught there for a while and was shocked to see as many as 40 students crammed into each windowless classroom. The simple fact, as verified by credible research, is that overcrowded schools and classrooms are difficult to manage and, therefore, difficult to teach.

What was even more shocking was that while MHS waited for a new gym—one that had been stalled for almost a decade—it took no time to erect a new court building and prison facility right next door! And while now we may have two new public high schools, it’s still a shame that we can build courtrooms and a state-of-the-art prison facility, but we can’t even fund toilet paper for MHS, let alone renovate or build new classrooms. And don’t even get me started on the challenges faced at Hopwood.

On top of that, discussion is underway to give government attorneys higher pay at the same time that PSS is facing severe budget cuts.

And from a national level, it sickens me that while thousands of billions of dollars are spent on the military, most schools have to beg and fundraise and panhandle just to buy textbooks. You have to ask, when was the last time the military had a bake sale?

I’m not saying that we don’t need the military. Nor am I trashing on our men and women in the armed forces, for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. I just think our priorities are a little warped.

After all, what are our priorities?

Why do we spend more money to build courtrooms and prisons instead of classrooms? Is it more important to put people in jail than to keep them out?

Why do we spend more money on attorneys than teachers? Is litigation more important than education?

And why do we spend more money on weapons and bombs than on schools? Is it more important to destroy than to build towards a future?

In the end, what we spend our money on says so much more about what we value than anything else. So, while the adage may be that actions speak louder than words, our spending priorities must be so loud it’s deafening. If that’s the case, have we grown deaf to the symphony of destruction blasting away? I certainly hope we haven’t.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

After a storm, only the trees with the deepest roots remain standing.

The following was a speech delivered to the Mount Carmel School graduating class of 2007.

I remember my high school graduation. Unlike my classmates, I couldn’t wait to get out of here. I just wanted to get off this rock and set off for a new life. And unlike my classmates, I couldn’t stand the idea of following a clique to the same college. I wanted to be on my own. So that’s what I did. I enrolled at a college where I was the only one from the Marianas. People had no idea where Saipan was, which is exactly what I wanted.

But when it came time for my college graduation, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay in college.

And I had every reason to stay. I had just been nominated for both the Rhodes and Marshall fellowships, two of the most prestigious fellowships in the world that would have allowed me to study at Cambridge or Oxford in England.

I had professors who paved my way into graduate school at the University of Washington. On top of guaranteed admission, free tuition, and a paid stipend, I was going to publish a book with one of my professors. Had I taken those opportunities, I probably would be a professor right now with my college roommate and good buddy, Dr. Kevin Price, teaching in the University of Washington’s Politics and Government program.

Instead, here I am where I swore I’d never return, back on this rock, back at Mount Carmel School. And I’ve been here now for eleven years.

What happened? What went wrong? Well, nothing really went wrong. In fact, things went very, very right.

At first, I returned because my mom was in tears, begging me to come back home.
And trust me, when I got back home, I hated it. I complained about everything, even the pizza on island. But in my first year back, I had one of those once in a lifetime opportunities to fix things with my dad. You see, I grew up hating my father. He was an alcoholic who played poker, was very abusive to my mom, and didn’t seem to care at all about me. But, when I returned, he was a different man. Or, perhaps he finally revealed his real self.

He and I ended up having some simple yet important talks. Nothing serious. We would just sit in the garage and talk about the orchids he grew or about family. But those talks brought us closer. And I got to see the real man behind the alcohol, behind the gambling, behind the abuse.
I got to know him as a man who regretted the mistakes he had made, and only wanted to make things rights.

At the same time, I also learned from my mom how proud my dad was of me. He never said anything to me, but he would always brag to his friends about everything I was doing. And it was at that time that I also learned that he was not, in fact, my biological father. Despite that, he still treated me like his own son.

When I finally realized all of this about my dad, I built up the courage to tell him some of the hardest words any man can tell his father.

I told him that I loved him.

A few weeks later, he passed away.

While his passing away was sad, I was happy that I had the chance to mend things with him before it was too late. I was happy that I came home to do that. Had I gone on to graduate school to do all those important things I was supposed to do, I would have missed my chance to do something even more important.

So, the sacrifice was well worth it.

And since then, I’ve had the opportunity to do many great things, from teaching to drama to meeting my beautiful wife and starting a wonderful family.

I tell you this story for two reasons.

First, never miss an opportunity to show your love and appreciation for other people. You, yourselves, have learned that lesson all too well this year. Remember at the beginning of the school year when I asked you how you would treat someone if you knew that person were going to die tomorrow? Can you imagine how different this world would be if we all treated each other that way? It would be a very different world. It would be a better world.

Second, I tell you the story of my homecoming because just as my mom asked me to come home many years ago, I ask that you, one day, come home too.

I know this seems strange, at a graduation, to ask this. should be telling you to fly off to the horizon of your future.

But, to be quite honest, I am tired of seeing people leave, especially when we need them the most. Too many people from our islands have left for “the states” for a better life, rather than making life better here. And we so desperately need life to be better here. For that, we need your help.

Sure, go off and get your education, get some experience, but then bring it back here to help us.
God knows we need it.

I’ll admit, coming home won’t be easy. It wasn’t for me. But, I promise you, it will be meaningful. It will be worth it.

If you don’t believe me, let me share one more story with you.

In 2004, I was pursuing my passion to make movies and was all ready to head off to film school.
But, just as I was receiving acceptance letters, Bishop Tomas Camacho asked me to apply for the principal position here. I didn’t answer Bishop right away, but I promised him that I would think about it and pray on it.

And so I did.

And one of my favorite times to pray is while running in the mornings. Well, it so happened that one morning right after Typhoon Paka, I was running along the beach pathway, thinking about it. When I stopped to catch my breath for a bit, I noticed that there were a lot of trees that were blown down, but a few remained standing. I stood up and just stared for a long while trying to figure out how those few trees withstood the typhoon’s 100-plus mile-per-hour winds, heavy rains, crashing waves, and massive flooding and erosion.

How did those trees do it? Well, as I looked closer, my eyes moved down towards the ground.
It was then that I realized that the only trees that remained standing were those with the deepest roots.

And that’s when it hit me.

My roots are here.

And only by digging deeper roots will I remain standing, no matter what typhoons come my way.

So, that’s why I gave up film school to come back to Mount Carmel.
I came back to dig deeper roots.

Now, I urge you to remember your roots. Remember where you came from. And one day, come home. We’ll be here, ready to welcome you back with open arms and open hearts.
Until then, know that we will miss you—I will miss you—and we’ll do our best to hold down the fort, eagerly waiting for your return.

Thank you and congratulations.

Why We Need to Support Teachers

I will always be a teacher. And I will always have respect and admiration for other teachers because, in my biased opinion, no other service helps people and society more than teaching. Whether it be Socrates, whose teaching started Western philosophy; Lino Olopai, whose teaching offers wisdom in our modern times; or the countless teachers in our classrooms whose teaching inspires young minds and hearts to achieve great things, teachers make a world of difference in the lives of all of us. Indeed, Henry Adams got it right when he wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he [or she] can never tell where his [or her] influence stops.”

Moreover, teachers sacrifice so much to help our children. Even in these hard times, teachers dig deep into their own pockets to buy supplies and surprises for their students. They stay up late into the night writing lesson plans, grading papers, and thinking about how to help little Johnny who’s having a hard time with his multiplication table. And while some voices in the community pay only lip service to education and others outright bash the education system, everyday, in the trenches of our schools, teachers fight the good fight, moving forward one student at a time, against the daunting tide of criticism and empty promises.

Some say that we have to be practical and realistic about education and the economy, a perspective often used to undercut education. Well, if you want to be practical and realistic about the current state of affairs, how can you not see education as the practical and realistic solution to our problems? An educated workforce is a skilled workforce that attracts high-paying jobs and profitable industries. An educated electorate is a thinking electorate that will not tolerate government corruption, incompetence, and indifference. An educated people is an enlightened people that will work together to find common solutions to our common problems.

So, why in our darkest hours do we cut funding for our schools? Now, more than ever, we must invest in our schools. The most important resources in any given community are its human resources, and you cannot have that without good schools. Despite businesses and industries that run to protect their access to cheap labor, the new global market increasingly demands a high-skilled, high-knowledge workforce. As the National Center on Education and Economy put it, “only countries with highly skilled workforces could successfully compete in [the new global] market.” In other words, we don’t need cheap labor. We need smart labor.

That is why, instead of investing in lobbyists, consultants, and a third-world model built on cheap labor, we must invest in our children and we must support our teachers.

For teachers have not given up on our children and our future. Neither should we.

Galvin Deleon Guerrero
Candidate for the Board of Education
“From the classroom to the boardroom—an educator for education.”
Garapan, Saipan

p. s.
I don’t claim to know it all and welcome your thoughts and comments. Feel free to email me at

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Err on the Side of Hope

As a teacher, I often reflect on a long-running debate about human nature between another teacher, Plato, and his student, Aristotle. At the risk of oversimplifying that debate, as an idealist, Plato, in the guise of Socrates, argued that people are inherently good. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that while people could be taught to be good, they are generally more self-interested, hence his claim in The Politics that “man is by nature a political animal.”

As educators, we stand somewhere in the middle of this debate, albeit leaning more towards Plato. We don’t quite claim that people are inherently good, but we do believe that they can and should be taught to be good. In this sense, our dilemma is better contextualized by the contrasting ideas of Plato and Aristotle about art. Whereas Plato argued that art should portray an abstract ideal, Aristotle argued that art should reflect concrete reality, with all its imperfections. Aristotle summed up this contrast in his distinction between the potential, or the ideal, and the actual, or reality as we see it.

As educators, we tend to idealistically believe in the potential of our students. Other professionals, however, are much more Aristotelian in their practical inclination towards baser aspects of human nature, namely self-interest. Lawyers work within an adversarial framework that pits parties against each other, each struggling for its respective self interest. Businesspeople play off of people’s self-interests in a competitive market driven by commercial consumerism. The medical profession has profited off of people’s insecurities with products such as Botox, Viagra, and plastic surgery, rather than encouraging everyone to live healthier, balanced lives. Politicians and the entire American system of federalism rely on conflicting interest groups, under the fatalistic and paralyzing expectation that these interest groups will cancel each other out. Journalists thrive on bad news about people who do bad things. Police officers spend most of their time hunting bad people, all the while trying not to become bad themselves. Even accountants operate under the assumption that someone somewhere at sometime will steal something.

In short, most professions are premised on the reality of self-interest. However, for us teachers, our profession is premised on the ideal of potential, that is, the ideal potential of our students. Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time communicating with politicians, business leaders, and other professionals in the great education debate. Maybe their pressure for accountability stems from an Aristotelian perspective of education, a deficit perspective that sees children as incomplete and broken machines that need to be fixed, not as “living systems [that] grow and evolve of their own accord” (Senge, 2000, p. 37), which is how most of us teachers see our students.

Yet the Aristotelian perspective is validated by our shared history, where violence and bloodshed eclipse our few, ephemeral moments of kindness and charity. Indeed, if the usual outcomes in human history are any measure, I can’t blame the realists for wanting to err on the side of caution and assume the worst of humanity.

In this light (or darkness?), ours is not so much the noble profession as it is the idealistic profession that requires quantum leaps of faith. And as one such professional, I confess that I profess that faith.

And at times, my faith is validated by a few but proud outcomes; like when Marvin, whom everyone had dismissed as lazy and stupid, one day understood and related to the children of Polonius in “Hamlet”; or when Nicolette, an overachiever obsessed with building her resume, humbly learned the value of service when tutoring a child at a battered women’s shelter as part of a National Honor Society service project; or when Rabban, a troubled kid who once came close to being arrested, found the drive to do better in school in order to land a disc jockey job we had arranged for him at a local radio station; or when Marie, after her father had passed away, found solace and meaning in my own story of my father’s passing. There are many moments such as these, moments that give me reason to hope.

Thus, while the Aristotelians choose to err on the side of caution, I’d rather err on the side of hope.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Transformation: More Than Meets the Eye

Dr. Gini Shimabukuro’s reminder that “Catholic pedagogy calls educators to transform students” (Shimabukuro, 2007, B-1) might seem too obvious. After all, that is why we entered Catholic education, right?

Another obvious insight is that the responsibility for learning should not rest solely on the educator, especially if we are to shift our focus to “academic processes that will empower our students to interiorize their learning” (B-1). And that is probably the hardest thing to accept, that the most we can do is to create the most optimal conditions for student learning, for ultimately, the responsibility for learning rests on students, not teachers or schools.

But this does not absolve teachers and schools of their own respective responsibility, namely to, in turn, take responsibility for their learning. “We must simultaneously allow ourselves to be transformed [and]…shift our focus from teaching to learning” (Palmer from Shimabukuro, 2007, B-1). Indeed, taking responsibility for one’s own learning may be more difficult than relinquishing responsibility for the learning of another. In other words, it is easier to preach than to practice. This too should be obvious, right?

Another obvious insight is that “an effective curriculum development process hinges upon routine teacher reflection and dialogue among colleagues” (Shimabukuro, 2007, B-2), where teachers come together as true learning communities. Despite this call for teacher reflection and dialogue, I have heard and read many laments that teachers do not do enough of either. However, I have found that teachers will reflect and dialogue in their own way, usually around the water cooler or in a remote corner of the faculty lounge. I believe it is only human nature to reflect on our experiences and share those reflections with others through dialogue, or, in this case, gossip. Our goal, then, as school leaders, is to steer that reflection and dialogue through healthier channels that lead to the fulfillment of a school’s mission. In fact, healthy reflection and dialogue should be about just that, the school’s mission. Shouldn’t this also be obvious?

All of this might seem obvious, but it is funny how, when we get swept away by the currents of everyday school life, we become oblivious to the obvious. Perhaps what we need is not only a transformation of pedagogy but a transformation of perspective, one where we stay attuned to the obvious. When we do that—when we transform our perspectives—we might ironically find that there is more than meets the eye.

And so, to paraphrase one of my greatest teachers, Optimus Prime, I call on all educators: “Transform and roll out!”

What about Catholic Pedagogy?

Industrial-Age vs. New Science thinking. Where do I stand? To be quite honest, with one foot in each. To speak to the Industrial-Age pedagogy, we cannot deny and should not neglect the utilitarian nature of education. In one way or another, it is incumbent upon us, as educators, to prepare students “to deal with the stress of the real world” (Senge, 2000, p. 28). To do any less would be irresponsible and almost criminal. Perhaps it is the privilege of first-world countries to worry so much about Abraham Maslow’s coveted self-actualization, but the fact remains that before you can reach that level of fulfillment, you must first fill your stomachs. And quite frankly, “deepening our sense of who we are and what we are committed to” (p. 35) does not feed your stomach. So, educators must accept the real world in which their students exist, which is still very Industrial-Age in its preference for educated workers who can outperform their peers. However, the changing needs of the new global marketplace also place my other foot in New Science, or systems, pedagogy. Peter Senge noted, “Employers of tomorrow likely will place a much higher value on listening and communication skills, on collaborative learning capabilities, and on critical thinking and systems thinking skills—because most work is increasingly interdependent, dynamic, and global” (p. 51). So, even from a utilitarian perspective, we must employ systems pedagogy if we want our students to be competitive in the global marketplace.

However, I did not get into education for strictly utilitarian reasons. That is why I work at a Catholic school, whose mission not only subsumes both Industrial-Age and systems pedagogies, but also transcends utilitarianism. My school’s mission states, “Mount Carmel School educates the whole person to see with Christ’s eyes.” From an Industrial-Age perspective, to see with Christ’s eyes means to perceive with the clarity of Christ’s vision and recognize how different parts of a whole work, just as Jesus recognized how the different laws of the Old Testament worked. From a New Science perspective, to see with Christ’s eyes means to discern with Christ’s wisdom and recognize how the different parts work together as one whole, just as Jesus synthesized all the old laws of the Old Testament into a new and profoundly simple new law. My school’s mission, which integrates both pedagogies, also offers utilitarian value to students’ education by equipping them with the analytical and critical thinking skills they will need to succeed in the real world. However, that same mission sees students from a holistic perspective and calls on them to transcend utilitarianism to find a higher purpose, a deeper meaning to their life on earth. For what does it mean to see with Christ’s eyes but to see people as Christ did, and love them as He did?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

...and I am an eduholic.

My name is Galvin Deleon Guerrero...and I am an eduholic.

I have been an educator for eleven years now. In that time, I have spent one year as a Vice Principal for Student Discipline, three years as a Director of Institutional Development, four years as a regent for higher education, two years as a board member on a humanities council, two years as a principal, and every year as a teacher, drama advisor, speech coach, and education enthusiast.

However, I don't proclaim to be an expert on education. In fact, I am constantly learning only to learn that the more I learn, the less I know.

So, I encourage y'all to read these thoughts as catalysts for further thought. In other words, I hope my thoughts galvanize your thoughts.