If heroes hold power, they have to be responsible for it. We learned that from “Spiderman”: that “with great power comes great responsibility.” We teachers are called heroes because we hold the power to shape the future — or so many believe. Shaping the future is not easy. And even if people call me a hero, I won’t deny that there were times when I wanted to quit. But hey, I’m still here.
I’m three years out of college and once worked as a language arts teacher in a private institution where all resources were easily accessible. Now I work as a public school teacher. I decided to apply to teach in a public school because of a deep sense of national responsibility and a passion to contribute to nation-building through education.
But imagine 50 students in a classroom that lacks proper ventilation and that moves everyone to remember Dante’s “Abandon all hope ye who enter.” Imagine that half of the students are already in the upper grades yet have difficulty reading and comprehending texts; most can’t even construct simple sentences. To put it mildly, using a millennial term, I was “shookt” when these things welcomed me. These were the key reasons I thought of resigning after a mere two weeks. All of a sudden, my image of myself as a passionate and idealistic teacher collapsed when I was faced with the dreadful realities.
I didn’t know how to cope with the daily anxieties and the heavy workload assigned to me. I always ended up doing everything in a rush; every task was completed in urgency. But going to bed late at night and waking up in the wee hours weren’t enough. Doing my best seemed futile.
I felt like I had been thrown into a piranha-infested river and left there to be reduced to a gleaming white skeleton. I thought with horror that I couldn’t do anything for my country. I was frustrated and devastated. I was no hero.
But then, there was hope. Despite having to negotiate a steep and rocky path, the little amount of hope left in my heart was rekindled and pushed me to forge on toward my goal of taking part in nation-building through education when I saw in my students’ very eyes the hunger to learn and the courage to face tomorrow.
Rancho of “3 Idiots” was right: Our heart scares so easily so we have to trick it, tell it that all is well. Yes, it doesn’t solve the problem, but at least we will gain the courage to face it. So I repeatedly told myself: “Pal, all is well. All is well.”
I still vividly remember the day when my students’ life stories came rushing down at me like a surge of water from a mountain. I was overwhelmed by the raw power of reality. I realized what a fool and how superficial I had been. I was terribly ashamed of
myself for wavering so easily. My philosophies and goals were diminished by trivial reasons.
Resources are not always available in a public school. This I knew even before I entered the service. What I didn’t realize was that my students are also fighting their own battles.
Student A can’t read because no one at home knows how. Student B rarely comes to school because no one else will babysit her little sister. Student C is always late because he has to walk a long distance to get to school. Student D doesn’t know what he will be in the future because he’s certain that his family wouldn’t be able to afford his college tuition. Student E gathers wild guavas as a substitute for lunch. Student F was dropped last year because he and his family had to flee after his father was shot by unidentified gunmen.
Maybe all of us need a heavy dose of reality so we can make our ideals work. The realities of teaching scared me and struck me to the core. They still scare me, and they always will. But they keep me human.
Every World Teachers Month we celebrate the heroism of teachers. I say that my students are heroes, too. They may not be clad in brightly colored leotards and flowing capes, but they make me see the wonders of the world of teaching. They unceasingly motivate me to embrace and love my craft. Sometimes I feel like I am not the teacher but the student because I learn more from them. In turn, I inspire them to act like heroes. I always tell them that they hold the great power to change the world, but they have to be responsible for it. Heroes dream of a better world, so we dream together.
Now I’m more sensitive to and understanding of what happens inside and outside my classroom. I have also learned to value the importance of commitment, competence and patience. Learning shouldn’t be done in urgency: It’s a process. Progress can be slow. We cannot grow a tree overnight.
Teaching may be an unappreciated and thankless job, but no amount of money can compare to the happiness I feel when I share my talents and my students learn a new skill. Holding the power to shape the future is not easy. I might still go home exhausted from my everyday lessons. I might consider the idea of quitting once in a while. But that fiery hope in my heart will no longer be quenched. I have the power to shape the future. I can make a difference.
This is what I am. This is what I have always wanted to do. In teaching, I gain life and inspiration.
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Jackson G. Orlanda, 22, is a public school teacher in Bolinao, Pangasinan.