A teacher’s turn
What’s your dream?
I was asked this question back when I was 4 or 5 years old. I immediately answered “to be a teacher.” I was so excited to be on the opposite end of the classroom. I wanted to see and look after students. I was hoping to make a difference in their lives. I was so drawn to stories of teachers like those in the movies “Dangerous Minds” and “Dead Poets Society.” Michelle Pfeiffer made it look so fulfilling. The late Robin Williams made it so meaningful. So when I entered my first teaching job back in 2007, I was raring to really make a difference, to find meaning. Oh boy, was I so wrong.
There is nothing easy about my job. I work beyond the eight hours of regular employees, with no overtime pay. In fact, my pay is not even a fourth of most corporate jobs. Plus, some students and their parents look down on me with disdain, thinking that I am at their mercy for being their “salaryman.” Oh, I failed to mention that I live in a society that is ever unappreciative of my job. There’s even an idiom that goes, “Those who can’t do teach.” It’s no surprise then that a great number of teachers, after studying to be teachers, choose to become caregivers or domestic helpers abroad instead, for the proverbial better life. Not that these professions are any less, they are in fact noble. But what is the point of learning how to teach if you cannot do it?
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. It’s just too hard sometimes. I wake up very early to prepare for class. I sleep late to check papers. I have even encountered inconsiderate colleagues and students in the past who do not seem to at least acknowledge the work that I do. It’s simply tiring. The temptation of a better life abroad is just so sweet. At the very least, working abroad will bring in cash.
In all honesty, I have reached a point in my career when I am seriously thinking of throwing in the towel and just change paths. Thirteen years of teaching is a good run. I have taught in four schools. One forgetful year in a private school in Quezon City where I had to shed all my idealism. A year of switching in between companies teaching English to Koreans, which made me decide that I am made to be a classroom teacher. A painful year in a school in Makati, which brought me to my knees, forcing me to accept my faults and start over as a teacher. Six bittersweet years of making my own mark as a teacher in a school in Mandaluyong.
And, now, four very eventful years to date in a Chinese-Filipino school, where I feel I have come full circle. Thirteen years. Five different work environments. Hundreds, or perhaps more than a thousand students (with probably a dozen of whom still remember me). I think these are more than enough. Still, thoughts of leaving teaching saddens me.
How did I reach this point? I only dreamt to have a meaningful purpose. Why must I subject myself to such bitter conditions? Why must teachers face these realities? Why must we teachers bear the brunt of pain and blame when all we ever wanted is to make a difference?
The pandemic happening of course did not help answer those questions. We are all now in unfamiliar territory and an irreversible circumstance. There are new things to learn. There are old strategies that need to be updated. There will be more rounds of painstaking changes that would again push teachers to more sleepless nights after studying how to navigate learning management systems, or websites, or apps. Passion slowly flickers away. The fire is dimming. We are drained and exhausted.
I was worried about this new normal. But I was more anxious about my students, such that a few months ago, when the pandemic struck, out of whim, I sent out messages to several batches of students to check on them. To my surprise, a student from a couple of years ago replied, saying something along the lines of ‘cher, thank you, I hope this pandemic ends before I graduate because I want to personally thank you.
These words: thank you. Reading these beautiful words just took my breath away. Whether teachers admit it or not, these two words are fuel to the fire, to the passion that we have been struggling to keep, making us stay for decades in this difficult discipline of delayed gratification.
But now more than ever, it’s just sad that our worth as teachers is greatly reduced in a society that values superficiality. Still, teachers march on. As this new school year slowly progresses, we will continue breathing in dust in our unkempt rooms, so we could show the solutions to a problem. We will strive to learn that new app or website, so we could deliver information about history, clearly and profoundly. We will subscribe to any online resource or learning tool if we have to, so we could check or mark the essays and guide the very hands that typed the words. We are teachers, and in more ways than one, the unwitting parents to sons and daughters who are not ours, but in a sense, also ours.
What’s your dream? If I would be asked again this question, if I could go back in time, I would still say that I dream to be a teacher. Teaching still is my reason everyday for waking up. Maybe, in the future, the world would also suddenly wake up and regret giving teachers a hard time. Or maybe not. But as long as even one student remembers to be grateful, my fire will keep burning, and I will keep teaching.
If you could, send a message to a teacher that you know. If you could, in better days, in the future, embrace a teacher of yours. We need all the warmth you can give to keep us going.
Brian Jeffrey Moreno of Antipolo City is a thirtysomething teacher in a Chinese-Filipino school. He spends his spare time writing, creating lesson plans and watching K-dramas. He simply wishes to help change the world for the better through one life at a time.
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Posted by INQUIRER.net on Wednesday, February 13, 2019
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