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The long goodbye

It is the last week of June. Along the broad avenue that is the main entrance to the main campus of the University of the University of the Philippines, a riot of sunflowers lent color to the University annual commencement exercises. Closer to home, in my own family, the conversations have turned to parenthood, primarily because last month, we welcomed the very first member of the third generation in our family, a grandchild. It seems apropos then to finally write on a topic that’s been simmering in the back of my head for almost a year. 

I had occasion to discuss this topic during breakfast with an alumnus of the Asian Institute of Management at the beginning of this year’s commencement season. He is in the education sector now and was preparing for the graduation of his first batch of students. At the time, I told him that, for me, teaching is like parenting. They are both, essentially a process of parting – a long goodbye.

I have always thought that two of my most important roles in life have one thing in common. As a parent and as a teacher, my most important goal is to prepare my children and my students for a future when I am not around. I need to make sure that they are ready for a life without me. 

Teaching

In recent weeks, I have had occasion to think about what I have learned as a teacher and my own personal thoughts on what it means to teach adults. 

As a teacher, my aim is to ensure that our students will have, not just knowledge and skills, but the attitude, courage and confidence necessary to succeed with honor, to lose with grace, to rise from disappointment, and to always seek to move forward.

In management classes, I tend to handle either the tough and technical topic of finance or the wider, constantly changing but equally tough topic of strategy. When the going gets tough, I constantly remind myself of one of the most important pieces of advice I had received in my early years of teaching. “We teach students, not subjects.”  The goal of every episode of contact between teacher and student is for the student to learn. Part of this is being realistic about absorption rate and not trying to deliver too many topics in one go. This means focusing on a few key take-aways for every class.

This also often means finding the best way to communicate the topic. I am always reminded that the language of Finance can pose just as much of a language barrier as English does to a non-native English speaker. 

The communication challenge is especially important in a classroom of entrepreneurs. A class of entrepreneurs will be extremely heterogeneous – far more so than, for example, a class filled with MBA students or those taking a major in applied finance. In an entrepreneurial classroom, you will find managers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, scientists, and artists. Sometimes, this means being able to teach a concept multiple times in the different languages and approaches it takes to ensure the student learns.

Journey

Every educator truly believes that every class is a journey of discovery. This is especially true in an adult classroom, and is especially true in the participative classroom. 

What this means is that the student point of view, his specific situation and goals, needs to be considered in the planning of class. Much like creating space for innovation in a corporation, this means providing flexibility and space in the class plan.

The late Prof. Mel Salazar used to say that our goal is to provide light, not heat. I always think about this when I enter a conversation with students. Our job is to provide light. More than anything else, we want our students to be able to make their own decisions, chart their own paths. In the AIM classroom, we do this by questioning and challenging. We don’t aim just to give answers. We aim to make sure our students can find the answers for themselves.

At the end of the day, we need to remind ourselves that this part of the journey, this time in the classroom is merely a stage in a longer journey, one the student must take without us. 

To the question of role modeling as a parent or a teacher, I give the same answers. I don’t aim to make either student or child into my mold. My hope is that they discover their own truths, build their personal centers, and be their best selves. 

Succession

In the corporate world, much the same thing happens when managers plan for succession. No manager aims to keep a position forever. Part of the job of every manager is to prepare somebody to take over for him. 

Much like the transformation of students or the rearing of children, the development of new managers involves more than knowledge or skills, it involves helping them figure out who they are as leaders, their personal values, their own unique take on managing a unit, on leading a team. 

It is a lesson I share with many of our manager students. Every journey forward and outward truly begins with the journey inward. 

And this, at the last, is the legacy we hope to leave with. When we finally say goodbye, whether it is at graduation or when a child goes off to establish his own household or family. We hope we have given them enough. 

 

Readers can email Maya at [email protected]  Or visit her site at http://integrations.tumblr.com. 

Topics: Asian Institute of Management , Opinion , Teaching , Journey , Succession , Mel Salazar
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