ISA organizes a Public Lecture on Spirituality in Teaching

Teaching is a spiritual activity. It requires reliance on the Holy Spirit. Like many other professions, it can be extra-ordinarily fulfilling and love-giving if lived as part of a spiritual calling, a vocation

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So said Dr. Carmen Alviar, veteran teacher, retired professor and resource person at the Public Lecture for July held monthly by the Institute for spirituality in Asia (ISA) on Saturday, July 22, 2017 at the Chapel of Teresa of Avila Bldg., New Manila, Quezon City.  

ISA’s Public Lecture for July gathered together educators and other lay professionals, students, nuns, priests, an urban agriculturist and a retired pastor.

Before retirement, Dr. Alviar taught at the Dominican-run University of Santo Tomas and was visiting professor or dean in Assumption College, Irosin College and other institutions of higher learning. She holds a doctoral degree in Educational Management from De La Salle University, Manila.

Dr. Alviar has also spoken at conferences in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, the United States and other countries, and is a regular facilitator at a number of forums at ISA . She volunteers in organizing and systematizing ISA library sharing her rich experiences in library development. She had earned units for a masteral degree in Library Science. 

For her talk at ISA Dr. Alviar focused on “The Spirituality of Teaching”, and began by defining spirituality, on the one hand, and teaching, on the other.

“Spirituality,” she said, “is a personal quest for understanding the answer to the ultimate question about life. It promotes no religion. Rather, it emphasizes our connectedness, relationship between oneself, other people and the Divine.”

Dr. Alviar also quoted ISA Executive Director Rico Ponce, O. Carm, who has said, “Spirituality  is an important part of dealing with joys and hardships in life. It can give a sense of purpose and meaning, restore order to life situations and help people regain a sense of control.  It can be a powerful and important source of strength.”     

As for teaching, Dr. Alviar told the participants of the Germanic origins of the word, from Old English TAECAN which means to show, present and point out.  She added that teaching is a form of   interpersonal influence aimed at changing the behavioural potential of another person so as to educate and to help him or her how to reflect, commit and act. 

“I pray before teaching, and I ask my students to observe three rules in my class,” said Dr. Alviar. “I ask them to observe silence, to speak softly, and to be careful of what they say. Words can hurt or help.”

Dr. Alviar also discussed strategies in teaching:  questioning, listening, giving information, explaining some phenomenon, demonstrating a skill or process, and testing understanding and capacity.  But she also said how that these strategies must be carried out by a teacher with identity and integrity.

Dr. Alviar quoted Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, known as the Father of modern Turkey and who once said, “A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others” and Galileo Galilei, scientist, who warned, “You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him find it within himself.”

Good teachers can help students cope with hindrances and obstacles to good learning such as broken families – which can lead to loneliness and sometimes to suicide attempts  – and also lessened learning when many students become dependent on social media sites like Google for getting information.

“This had reduced their focus on learning and retaining information, since they are reliant on the accessibility of information on social media,” Dr. Alviar observed during the public lecture at ISA.

“The result of broken families and of a lack of focus on learning is the deterioration of moral values,” she explained.  “In Genesis 6:5-6;11-12, corruption, violence, murder and evil in the hearts of men reigned during  the time of Noah, making the Lord grieve  that he had made man and the earth.”

God wanted to eradicate the world through a flood but he still recognized the goodness of Noah and   his wife, and their three sons and their wives, and saved them.

But the days of Noah, said Dr. Alviar,   “are returning because we lack teachers who are spiritual in their teaching.”

An unknown sage once said, “To teach is to touch lives forever” and  Henry Brooke Adams has observed, “A teacher affects  eternity.  He/she can never tell when his influence stops.”

Dr. Alviar issued a warning against careless teaching as she quoted the letter to James 3: 1: “Not many of us should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Therefore, the “How” of teaching, according to Dr. Alviar, is, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7). 

She also quoted Proverbs 22: 6  – “Train a child in the way he should go and even when old, he will not depart from it – and showed a slide which she called “God’s training corral” of a closed line drawing of five sides for dedication, instruction, love, discipline and  example. 

During her lecture Dr. Alviar reviewed the history of teaching, starting from ancient times when there were no institutions offering instruction on the principles and practice of teaching.

 During the Middle Ages (476 AD), the only requirement for persons desiring to become teachers was the mastery of the subjects they wanted to teach.  But during the age of enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, democratic theories and movements asserted that the political, social, and economic development could best be achieved through education by adequately trained teachers.

Between 1680  and 1684,  John Baptist de La Salle – saint and educator –  founded the Institute   of  the Brothers of  the  Christian   Schools,  the earliest known institution to offer systematic  training for prospective  teachers at Rheims, France.

In 1794 the first government-sponsored teacher-training or normal school was founded in France also, where, in the I9th century, a rudimentary form of teacher-training was inaugurated by the National Society for Promoting  Education for the Poor.

What was unique about the National Society was how the system was based on the instruction of younger pupils by older ones who had been trained by regular teachers.  It may be said to come from the innovations introduced by what Dr. Alviar calls the best teachers: Socrates, Buddha and Jesus Christ.

Socrates did not write books and just liked to ask probing or humiliating questions which will trigger one to think and examine one’s thoughts. Known as the Socratic method, this way of teaching led to accusations that Socrates had poisoned the minds of his students – and to a death sentence to drink a poisoned potion.

Dr. Alviar also called Buddha (which means “The Awakened One”) as another of the best teachers.

 Buddha was Prince Siddhartha Gotama, who was protected by his father from all kinds of suffering until he escaped from the palace and met the ill and the poor. Meditating and becoming enlightened, he developed teachings (dharma) which focus on mindfulness; awareness without judgment of mind, body and environment; and the practice of meditation in daily life.            

Socrates’ critical thinking (“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think. The unexamined life is not worth living”) and Buddha’s wisdom and compassion (“Speak good. Think good. Do good”) – these are blended by Jesus Christ into critical thinking, wisdom and compassion founded on love, said Dr. Alviar.

She explained, “By love Jesus meant this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  This is how we know what love is: Christ gives his life for us. Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into two: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The Law of Love is the focus of his teachings.”

To Dr. Alviar, Jesus Christ is the greatest teacher the world has ever had.

 “Jesus taught people parables and discourses everywhere –   along the seashore,    under the trees, in boat and homes, when travelling and when walking from place to place,” she said.

In one of his teachings, Buddha had warned the world of a new danger that can cause its  destruction, said Dr. Alviar. “He called GAS  – Greediness; Anger; Stupidity  – a very dangerous element whose solution is good teaching.”

In one of the group works which had punctuated her talk, Dr. Alviar asked the triads thus formed to define a teacher. This profile included: Friendly, influential, beautiful, with a heart, happy, joyful, a model of good virtues, embodies what she teaches, compassionate, companion, mother, believer.

The group work had nuns showing their backs to the audience and gyrating to form the letters in TEACHER.  And when asked to make an acronym for TEACHING and to act it out even more creatively, one group responded with “Trust in Enhancing Availability to Children with Hope, Integrity and Nurturing them for their Growth” within a time limit that cut into their snacks.

The lecture ended with Dr. Alviar’s `take’ on the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971):  “God, grant me the serenity to appreciate the unique gifts of my students; the courage to challenge them to do their best; and the wisdom to help them become all that you have created them to be.”

The activity ended with words of thanks from Fr. Ponce on behalf of ISA: “Thank you for your time. Thank you for coming this afternoon, and thank you for listening.”

ISA awarded Dr. Alviar a plaque of appreciation for her excellent insights and challenges issued during the public lecture. # 

Perla Aragon-Choudhury