I am an agile, ethical, and inclusive educator committed to the academic success of my students by designing and teaching classes and courses that are reflexive, co-creative, plural, and based on design-thinking principles and mindsets.
Have you ever been to a live performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (Ode to Joy)? Imagine if only a few musical instruments are playing that piece, how would it sound? Now, imagine if you have a full orchestra composed of a myriad of musical instruments producing a multitude of sounds from strings, wind, base, percussions, and more. They then blend into one powerful, magical, and enchanting masterpiece of a composition that Beethoven has intentionally made to invoke passion and awe so that the audience may savor, enjoy, and fill their senses with emotion and beauty. The preceding analogy is what diversity is to me. Diversity is that vital ingredient in the orchestra of life that enables us to live a more meaningful, colorful, and flourishing existence.
As an educator, I do not like putting students into boxes or giving them labels because I do not want to propagate the stereotypes people associate with categories of people. After all, ideally, people are people. However, as a person living the intersectionality of a number of these "boxes" (i.e., as a foreigner in Japan and the US, a first-generation college student, and as someone who had a speech disability in my childhood), people's background or context does matter. As such, I am mindful of my conscious and unconscious biases (systematic or otherwise) and prejudices so that I avoid stereotyping minority groups such as people with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, women, and foreigners. Coming from that place of being part of the minority myself, I continuously remind myself that student voice matters, whether they say it out loud or as a whisper.
My life and learning experiences helped informed and forged my view of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I was born and raised in the Philippines as the eldest child of three siblings. As a result of poverty, neither of my parents finished high school, and in the process, trapped themselves into the vicious cycle of ignorance and poverty that has permeated the Philippine society then and now. During the formative years of my life, we lived in hardship where putting food on the table was a daily struggle in itself.
Ironically, the very same life of constant struggle I grew up with taught me at an early age, one of my most important life lessons, and as Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1968) aptly put it: the liberating power of education. Education frees people from ignorance, which then gives people opportunities to make informed decisions to break free from the shackles of oppression, poverty, and meaningless existence. This realization would eventually set me on a life-long journey of learning as well as developing a passion for becoming an educator and champion the cause of diverse, equitable, and inclusive education.
Diversity is also not just about categories of people. In its core, diversity is about the diversity of thoughts and ideas from a kaleidoscope of people of different backgrounds, cultures, contexts, and geographies. Hence, I welcome and encourage students to express themselves in their unique style, voice, and individuality.
To help students find and share their voice, I use concepts and principles of universal design (UD) in developing my course from instructional design to classroom execution (in-person or virtual). For example, at the beginning of the course, I actively seek student expectations from the course as well as letting them know of my expectations from them, and for the succeeding lessons, I share with them the goals of those lessons. I also give students options on how they can turn in their assignments (e.g., digitally, paper-based, video-based, etc.) as well as provide regular feedback in their choice of modality (e.g., in-person, virtual meetings, phone, email, etc.).
Another strategy I use in helping students is what I call cautious scaffolding (providing students with the right amount of assistance/help without totally making them dependent on the scaffold supplied to them). I am a teacher-practitioner, and as a matter of teaching principle, I combine both theory and practice in an environment that uses academic and real-world settings. In short, I want to simulate the real world in my class by using real-life case studies, examples, and scenarios. For instance, to ensure that everyone (English and non-English speakers alike) participates in the class discussions, I may prime introverted or silent students that I may call upon them so that they can be prepared and avoid any surprises or being put into uncomfortable space. I have also used close captioning (CC) technology to help non-English speakers or those attending virtual classes understand the course materials better.
Lastly, as an international educator, I am deeply mindful of the cultural context, academic practices, and DEI policies of any educational institution where I am privileged to teach. Also, I proactively seek to understand the student body itself in terms of its demographics, learning challenges as well as opportunities to contribute to their learning journeys.
Renowned American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to make some difference that you have lived and lived well." While I do not necessarily agree with the first part of his quote, the second part resonated and still resonates very strongly with me. It helped me define my meaning in life, my raison d'être (the reason for being), to become an agile, equitable, and inclusive educator so that I will be able to make some small difference to future generations of students and learners.
Only then, will I be able to say that I have indeed lived and lived well.