To a Filipino teacher
By now, perhaps you’ve gotten used to the life of a teacher. You have a grasp of what to teach, and how to teach it. How to be close, but not too close, to your students. How to manage them without being too strict; how to inspire them without being preachy. At the end of each semester, you feel fulfilled, even grateful, at the privilege of being able to reach out to young minds.
But sometimes, you also wonder why you’re teaching instead of doing something else.
You think of the struggles in your line of work: the reports, the extension work, the interminable faculty meetings. Perhaps you mistakenly thought that academic life would be free of the politics in government, the restrictions in the private sector, and the conflicts in both. You are awed by the dedication of your colleagues, their tenacity, but unsure whether you are willing to go through the same.
You also think of what goes on behind each class: preparing for each lecture, disciplining the occasional pasaway, dealing with the parents, and, the most tedious of all—checking papers and exams. You remember your own student days, and, in hindsight, you realize how kind and patient your own teachers were to you.
And then you think of opportunities to teach elsewhere; to pursue your dream of taking further studies abroad; or to explore possibilities beyond teaching itself. When you meet your old classmates, they commend you for the path you’ve taken. But their own careers make you ponder upon the ‘what ifs’ in your life.
Thinking more deeply about your misgivings, perhaps you realize it is not really academic life that you object to, but the way it is in your institution. For one, the compensation is low, certainly much lower than what you can otherwise earn. “Will it be enough to support a family?”, you sometimes wonder.
Another misgiving you have is the fact that institutions are slow to recognize different talents and trajectories. People who are very good in teaching are removed or not promoted because they do not have research output, while people who are very good in research or administration work are forced to teach so many subjects. When you ask why certain practices are done despite their pointlessness, you are simply told: “That’s how it’s always been done!”.
These faults notwithstanding, you also realize how much impact your institution has on the youth. Your former students would suddenly come up to you in random places, and their enthusiastic greeting warms your heart. When you see how successful they have become, part of you are envious. But, mostly, you are proud, very proud, that you were part of their growth.
“We will support you,” your loved ones say when you share with them your concerns. But can they really understand your dilemma? They care for you, but, ultimately, the decision is yours alone.
The doubts linger, and perhaps you realize they, too, are part of any vocation. But life goes on, and you put your act together; after the thoughts of the night come a new day. I must not be late, you tell yourself, knowing that you have to set an example to your students —and thus you allow yourself to be woken by the alarm. I must look proper, you think as you carefully choose your clothes—and have a second, third look at the mirror.
And so you arrive in class, ready to teach anew. You already know the names of those who tend to come early, and those who usually come late. You already know who will be likely to participate, fall asleep, or sneak a peek at their smartphones. But, most of the time, you understand, because you also know their struggles, their life stories, their weaknesses and strengths.
In any case, you have to give them your very best. No one ever told you that each class is a performance, but there is a saying that has formed in your heart: A good teacher never lets their students down.
“Good morning,” you say, and proceed with your lessons for the day.
But even as you’re sharing your thoughts and insights, your students do not know what’s going on in your mind.
They do not know that when you’re facing them in the classroom, you’re also facing your reasons to stay.
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