Still teaching 24/7 | Inquirer Opinion
High Blood

Still teaching 24/7

I never thought ageism—defined as “prejudice or discrimination against a particular age group, especially the elderly”—would hit me.

I reached the university’s mandatory retirement age of 60 on April 22, 2007. As I expected and acknowledged as the university’s prerogative, and as stipulated in the faculty manual, I was rehired (“recycled,” as I jokingly term it) on a yearly contract twice—the first time for three years and the second for two years—until I turned 65 in 2013.

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Even before hitting 65, I was offered a post as professor emeritus. I was about to accept the post until a colleague warned me of its consequence: a part-time, no longer a full-time, teaching load. So I declined. About five months before turning 66, I was informed verbally by my department chair that I could no longer teach a full load of 30 units a year but only a half-load (15 units) because of a memo issued by the vice president then to the personnel director in 2002.  The memo was never disseminated to the faculty concerned or written in the new edition of the faculty manual.

My initial reaction to the bad news was concern for my scholars. I was then supporting eight scholars on my full-time salary (nine, if my World Vision scholar is included). By “scholars” I do not mean gifted students but students without financial resources and parental support. So I posted on the house refrigerator a memo in Filipino stating that those graduating from high school could no longer count on me for their college studies. It took a while for those affected to understand the situation, but they eventually left the house.

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Learning of my reaction, the dean of the School of Humanities offered to set up a foundation for my scholars. I refused, telling her it would only complicate my life. But the real reason—and those in similar circumstances know this—is that when you adopt a scholar, you also adopt his/her family, and you cannot justify this in a foundation.

My initial reaction was followed by an inquiry: What was the rationale for the policy? I was told by the humanities dean (later affirmed by the university president) that the rationale was not to save on costs because senior rehired faculty would be paid more than newly hired junior faculty. What then? I was told that it was to give way to junior faculty to teach the senior faculty’s courses. Of course, I felt uneasy. There was something irrational with this rationale; it was ageism.

After listening to speeches by alumni on how their education and their teachers had influenced their tasks in the public and private sectors, and learning that my name had been mentioned by a governor in a session that I did not attend, I was moved to write a letter to the board of trustees stating my objection to the policy. I said it was tantamount to making the teaching of the rehired faculty at par with that of the junior faculty, depriving students of the chance to learn from seasoned teachers. I also said that while some rehired faculty may feel their teaching energy dissipating and would like to spend more time on research, others like me feel more alive in the classroom and want to make a difference to a bigger number of students.

There was no reply to my letter, and I felt demoralized. During the annual Service Awards I went up the stage to receive my 45-year award certificate, feeling cold despite the warm applause. It’s been said, correctly, that the effect of ageism is low self-esteem.

I turned to the Lord for consolation. In my prayers, the verse that is supposedly repeated 365 times in the Bible would strike my heart: “Be not afraid.” In the Graduate School of Business, there is a Daily Dose glass bowl containing scripture passages that anyone can pick up at random, and in three separate occasions I picked up the same verse from Deuteronomy 31:8: “It is the Lord who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed.”

It was not easy adjusting to half the salary I used to receive. I tried to cut my monthly supermarket expense to half, often unsuccessfully. I must have learned this from my late father who told us when we were children that we could and should save on clothing and other things but never on food.

But the offers came: to teach another class of business ethics, to speak at conferences in various cities. There was a month when I had four conferences one after another. And I was appointed consultant in the K-to-12 “Edukasyon sa Pagpakatao” for Grades 7-10, my work entailing helping the team of module writers produce the content of the reading for each topic, and editing and approving their drafts.

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After the writing of the modules comes the training of trainers, where I lecture on the overall view of the grade-level topics. I was also given the task of designing the syllabus of two philosophy subjects in the K-to-12 senior high school (Grades 11 and 12), the introduction to the philosophy of the human person and the introduction to world religions and beliefs.

I consider my work in the K-to-12 program my legacy as a teacher and philosopher. As Br. Armin Luistro said both seriously and jokingly in one of our workshops, “We will not see or feel the effects of the K-to-12 program in our lifetime, so let’s have our photos taken for posterity.”

When I told my nephew Ken about this development in my career, he wisely quoted a line from the musical “Joseph the Dreamer”: “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”  The window is small compared to the door. The honorariums and extra pay are not enough to recover the loss from the reduction of my teaching load. But then, St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity (a prayer I recite at the start of my class) comes to my mind: “Teach me, Lord, to be generous… to give without counting the cost…”

I am single but “married” to my teaching ministry. Like marriage, teaching is a total commitment, a 24/7 job. My salary is measured according to the units/hours I teach in the classroom, but my work extends beyond the classroom to correcting papers, preparing and updating my lectures, researching on my discipline, and counseling students.

In my 46 years of teaching, I have learned much from my students. I rejoice over their successes, mourn their failures, and regret their misconduct. I love my teaching, and love is a total giving of oneself to others. I am grateful to the Lord for this gift of teaching. But like the Parable of the Talents, if I am given two talents, I cannot just bury them under the ground, or utilize only one, but make use of the two.

Last Jan. 15, I had dinner with two former students, Basil Valdez and Tony Calpotura. Our conversation mostly dwelled on their classmates in college and their professors. I told them the bad news that their former professor (and mine), Dr. Ramon C. Reyes, was very sick. Then Tony casually asked me how I would like to die. I said, “I would like to die teaching in the classroom.” Two days later, on Jan. 17, our beloved professor passed away. In one of the wake Masses, his wife Nena shared a remark he made when his illness forced him to stop teaching: “If I don’t teach, I’ll die!”

So, despite ageism, I continue to teach 24/7 because if I don’t teach, I’ll die. And when I die, I hope to have answered the questions from the musical “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”: “Was I brave and strong and true? Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?”

Manuel B. Dy Jr. says he now teaches in four campuses. He is one of the Metrobank Foundation’s Outstanding Teachers for 2004.

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TAGS: education, High Blood, Manuel B. Dy Jr., opinion, teaching
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