The art of/in teaching
There is perhaps nothing more theatrical than the drama that transpires inside the classroom. For at least an hour or so, the commitment to portray the roles assigned to us becomes crucial to the success of the show. We all put on masks; there ought to be a well-mannered teacher and good-standing students in this act. We must all play our part until the bell rings and the curtains close. Then, we repeat the performance.
In my three years of teaching in the university, I have encountered countless stories, most of which are tragedies. I teach a public speaking course and have heard speeches and personal narratives of all sorts — a class clown’s unending battle with depression, a lover’s first love and heartbreak from a five-year relationship, a college scholar’s struggle to balance work and academics just to make ends meet. Sometimes, as they speak, they cry. And to be very honest, sometimes, I find myself crying with them. It makes me think: Why of all stories do you choose to tell this? How long have you been burdened by this baggage? What can we do to make the pain count?
Formal education can show us the way to be hired, but it cannot teach us how to wear off the sad or how to be kind. Nonetheless, through our encounters, we inevitably learn them. Once, a student came up to me and admitted he lied about his absence, saying he was not really sick but did not know how to properly mourn his father’s death. I told him I appreciated his honesty and that he could share more when he was ready. Once, a student asked me to go out just to talk and give her advice on whether she should just drop out of college instead of letting her parents dictate a career path she did not like. We agreed to meet the next day to talk about her concern over lunch. Believe me, I did not know what to do or what to say at that time. I was not a professional on such matters, and the last thing I wanted to do was to meddle with family affairs and only make situations worse.
There is no manual on how to handle the afflictions of the youth. There are no clear-cut instructions on how to comfort someone who aches. And so, it becomes instinctive to be human, to just be there for someone when your presence is requested, more so needed, to live up to the promise of The Oblation to
be an offering.
It was never in my plans to be a teacher. The profession demands so much more than the institution is willing to give. Being an educator translates to juggling overbooked classes, postgraduate studies, administrative load, conference presentations and publishing requirements, and others. It translates to showing up to class prepared and enthusiastic, gracefully carrying the weight of whatever heartbreak we must set aside to properly carry out our job. Being an educator sometimes means overextending ourselves, and choosing not so say “no” because when we ask ourselves if the students are worth it, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
I may be less exhausted, less frustrated elsewhere, but I found purpose here.
Classroom encounters taught me to strive not only for excellence, but also for kindness. It taught me to be ready for anything, be it a difficult question about the lesson I’m discussing or a personal consultation on how to come out as a gay person to someone’s parents.
In the theater, unexpected turns of events can happen. Things do not always go as planned; same as in the classroom. But every performer knows this: The show must go on. Never mind if the run did not turn out flawless as intended in the end, because everything and everyone is a work in progress. After all, art does not have to be perfect. It must strive to be meaningful.
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Christine Magpayo, 25, is an instructor in the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts, University of the Philippines Diliman. She writes in her personal blog, Let there be Arts, at www.imquotingquotations.wordpress.com.
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