Making the difference
It was in second grade when we were taught to multiply numbers. Memorizing the multiplication table was like being forced to swallow a spoonful of bitter paracetamol syrup that our parents forced into our mouth: excruciating, stomach-churning.
I was studying in a typical public school in Tanauan, Batangas. I was sitting in the “last row of desks, near the rug box,” which meant being excluded from the list of honor students.
“Class, we have a recitation. Recite multiplication table No. 6.” Whenever our teacher (who made students stand the entire period in math and pulled the sideburns of those unable to recite) made this announcement, my classmate who had memorized table No. 6 was always first to raise his hand. He never stammered while reciting. In fact he was the fastest in the class to recite the entire multiplication table.
I was the exact opposite. I feared recitation, especially the multiplication table. It felt like I was on death row. That’s why I devised an emergency plan: Crumple a piece of paper, drop it under the desk when our teacher neared our row, duck to retrieve it (listening to my heart pounding, praying not to be called), and wait for someone else in our row to be thrust into that life-and-death situation. I was always relieved not to hear my name, and sympathetic to anyone who was called upon but failed to recite the table. (Try to feel again the pain of your sideburns being pulled.)
It was a traumatic experience. But when I was in fourth grade, our principal became our math teacher. And I began to like math, not because he was the principal but because he was teaching math easily. In the fifth grade, math became even more enjoyable because of my math teacher, my idol, Melecia P. Andaya.
She speaks English fluently, and she taught us that math is never boring, never hard to understand. She made sure that everyone learned the lessons. I realized that I love math, the subject that most everyone hates. That also became my starting point to look into the world of engineering, where math is the second language next to English.
But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that someday I would be standing in front of students, teaching the subject that once traumatized me: mathematics, specifically algebra and statistics. At first I was hesitant to walk the road less travelled with compassion. I disliked the idea of being a teacher; hence, I constantly rejected it. One reason was this: I was afraid of negative karma, not because I had no confidence in my teaching skills.
I was a stubborn student in high school. I hated the lame house-school-house routine. I wanted to be different. So I came to school late, cut classes, and went off to explore places I hadn’t been before. In class I constantly argued with my teachers to prove a point. That was the karma I was dreading. I did not want to experience the terrible things I did to my teachers.
But that’s being selfish.
After I graduated from college last April, I didn’t know where to go. It was like being in the desert, scorched by the sun. I didn’t feel like going into the manufacturing industry yet, where I, as an engineer, should naturally belong.
June came, and my instinct told me to venture into the academe. And I am fortunate because the institution gave me the chance to teach and help the students of my hometown. At first it was rough going, for I was still new in the profession. But as time passed I adapted to my new environment and realizations came one after another as I grew accustomed to my students calling me “Sir.”
Teaching may not let you shovel in the money, but there is a kind of satisfaction that tons of cash can’t buy. I appreciate now the concern of teachers for their students, a concern that students misunderstand and disregard. I appreciate now how hard, yet fulfilling, the teaching life is. The future of this country indeed lies in the prolific hands of teachers, the molders of society.
Now that I have taken on this noble profession, I realize that it is no mere job or livelihood. Teaching is where one sets the youth on a specific direction. It is where one makes a difference—not the difference that I craved in high school, but a certain guidance so students can decide where to make the difference.
I salute the people who have dedicated their lives to this noble profession. Kudos, and happy Teachers Month!
Randolph N. Arante, 24, is a math instructor at STI College Tanauan. He is a mechatronics engineering graduate of Batangas State University Malvar.
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