Let’s Hear It from This Well-loved Grand Dame
By Marivir R. Montebon
Teaching continues to be the noblest of professions, and for a community leader and teacher who spent much of her life teaching the younger bunch, there is no let up. Lumen Castaneda continues to illuminate in the growing Fil-Am community. Here is why she is well-loved and easily regarded its ‘Grand Dame’.
New York City — There is something about Lumen Castaneda that illuminates visible light each time she is around. Her aura and grace are almost always strongly felt, which not every one possesses.
Lumen, by the way, is defined as a “measure of the total “amount” of visible light emitted by a source”.
As a community leader the Filipino-American community and teacher in New York City, many agree that she is quite a light and inspiration. Always encouraging, ever active, and kind in her remarks about people, she is easily regarded as a ‘Grand Dame’ in the community circles here.
Since she came to the US in 1986, right after the EDSA uprising that toppled Pres. Marcos from power, Lumen had been teaching young children. This task of molding minds she embraced until her retirement year in the Bronx where she taught for more than 15 years.
Lumen finished her education degree at the Philippine Normal College (now University) and high school in Mapa High School, both in Manila.
While in college, she was a gymnast who competed in national competitions. She was also a folk dancer belonging to the Barangay Dance Troupe. Lumen was the president of the Homemakers club until she graduated.
For 25 years, Lumen spent most of her professional life with the Association of Filipino Teachers of America (AFTA) as secretary, vice president, and president for four years.
This year, she founded UNIFFIED or the United Federation of Fil-Am Educators with 10 active chapters in Los Angeles, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington, DC.
The Uniffied chapters will have their simultaneous election of officers this January, 2015. In May, during the Memorial weekend, the second summit of the organization will be held in Los Angeles. It will be a two day summit, with professional development on the first day and an awarding /recognition on the second day.
A Christmas party for families will be held on December 28 to cap the year it was formed with the launching of a raffle to be drawn in February, 2015.
At this age and time, her hands are full, and Lumen is enjoying it.
Having raised five children (three boys and two girls) who now have their families, there is no let up for the Grand Dame of Fil-Am community in New York. She lives with her daughter and her son in New Jersey. Her husband passed away in 2001.
Widowed, retired, and busy, Lumen regards good health and an expanding family as her most cherished blessing. “From my five children, I have eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.”
Excerpts from our interview:
1. As a teacher in the US, what were the things that you thought were so difficult to handle or manage?
When I was assigned to teach kindergarten in the day care in 1988 after I came from the Philippines, the first thing I noticed in the classroom were the children. Not that they were unruly but rather hard-headed. Some of this hard-headedness were brought to school from home. Perhaps because at home, they are permitted to have their own way or the parents are lax with discipline.
When I moved to the NYC board of education, the same was true and the parents added to the difficulty of managing the classroom. Not all of them are a problem but 1 or 2 can be singled out. They complain about the homework, the requirements, the rules in the classroom and every little things they can think of. But all in all, the classroom was manageable.
2. Although teaching is difficult and too much sacrifice is needed to be effective, what is in teaching that has made you decide to stick to it as a profession?
Teaching is the noblest of all professions, and has been said time and again. First, my father advised me to stick to teaching as early as when I wanted to get out of it. But then as time went by, I learned to love it because I saw that I am making a difference in the young minds of my students.
It is especially rewarding when I started to teach First Grade and Kindergarten. Children come to you not knowing the ABC, the numbers, things in the environment and after six or ten months, they can read books, can write sentences even short stories and can show you the states in the map, distinguish the different leaves of trees and can do numbers, add, subtract simple problems, these are the joys of teaching that cannot be bought.
3. What are the perks of being a teacher? where is the joy in this profession?
It is especially joyful, when after so many years, you will be called on the street and greeted by a student you had many years ago and will be told that he/she is now a professional: an accountant, a nurse, a doctor and will tell you that he/she remembers what you said to them to be serious of their studies.
It is the legacy that you leave in their minds and hearts that lives forever and brings joy to you as a teacher. I am always reminded of an author, who said, “what legacy did you leave for others to grow?”
4. Is there any difference in teaching American and Filipino chidlren? How did you adjust to this situation?
As I said earlier, children are difficult to handle here in America. This has been the culture shock of the thousands of teachers from the Philippines who came to teach in America. The children here are used to be talked to in a loud voice and called by name. If you don’t call a student by her/his first name, they will ignore you and they will keep on doing what they are engaged in. Not like in the Philippines, when you keep quiet, they will sense that something is wrong and they will close their mouths.
I did learn to call their attention in different ways since I was in Kindergarten. I put on music, I play or tap an
instrument, I asked them to stand and do some movements or ask them to dance or sing. Kindergartners have short attention span and so a teacher has to have lots of tricks up her sleeves.
5. Is there a particular style to be an effective teacher? What is this?
Teaching has to have a variety of styles if you want to be successful. Definitely, there is no particular style to do in the classroom. One day you are tough as a lion, the next day or moment you are quiet as a lamb. One day you are singing and reciting poems, next day you are all over the place dancing, prancing, jumping and rocking.
There are times you are sitting with the students, reading a story to them and the next second you are rolling on the mat with everybody following you. What interest the students is also when you are in costumes of about anything.
To be an effective teacher, you must love what you are doing and must be interested in making a difference in your students. I realized this on my last year of teaching before I retired. My principal told me that some of my students were going to her to ask her not to let me retire. She said that my students have learned to love me so they want me to stay some more. That was an inspiration for me. (Photos by Velzon Hizon Photography)