Of X’s and Why’s

It’s been two years now. Ever since the time when I, together with a bunch of misty-eyed young people decided to take a chance and be a public school teacher as a fellow of Teach for the Philippines.

I was naïve, passionate, and hopeful. Overconfident, if I may add. Then reality blew up in my face. Of overcrowded classrooms, of kids coming to school with empty stomachs, of students with behavioral problems acting out in class. Add to that the unmotivated learners, and the non-readers, and the list just goes on.

I decided to put on the mean teacher mask. I became super strict and tried to employ a military style of classroom management. But I was like a mad man as I switched from the non-smiling disciplinarian to the overly enthusiastic persona when delivering a lesson or a story.

Oh and there were occasional bursts of anger but admittedly I was really angry most of the time. Angry at the system, angry at myself, angry at parents who don’t attend to their children’s needs, angry at these kids for being their rowdy selves which I couldn’t blame them for because, well, they ARE kids!

Despite the challenges and frustrations, there are moments when I felt like I was doing something right. When I saw the sparkle in the eyes of my students when they learned something new. When I observed behavioral changes and academic improvement. When I witnessed these young individuals demonstrating creativity, optimism, and kindness.

Fast forward to now. My former students back in Third Grade are finally graduating from Elementary School. I don’t know why the occasion brought so much pride and joy to my heart as I look at these faces and think about the ups and downs we went through together. They made it. They’re a step closer to their dreams.

It’s a bit conceited to think that I contributed to their success. It’s of course mainly brought about by their own will and perseverance. But then again, maybe I was somehow a part of it, being the positive influence that I wanted to be.

A parent told me that her son could still remember the words I said in class about dreams and working hard to achieve one’s dreams. That right there reminded me of my why. I do it not for myself but for the kids. After all, it has always been about them. And I may not be a teacher now but the experience continues to motivate me to strive to add value to people’s lives in whatever I do.

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The Mean Teacher

I’m an alumnus of Teach for the Philippines, an NGO that enlists some of the country’s most promising young leaders to teach for two years in public schools throughout the Philippines. This is an account of how the two-year journey began for me.

I will be teaching Science to five sections with 50 plus students. The good thing about this is I would just need to prepare one lesson plan. But I may get bored of repeating the lesson five times a day. Well, I guess that’s the least of my worries. Heck, I’ll be dealing with a big group of kids cramped in an overcrowded and poorly ventilated room… Bring it on! Challenge accepted!

I enter the classroom well-prepared as I could be. I can see it. I will charm them with my creative and engaging approach to teaching. And they will listen, learn, and have fun! A few minutes into the day and all my plans got thrown out the window just like that.

We learned about lesson planning, classroom management, child psychology, and everything that could possibly equip us to be effective, transformational teachers. But it’s totally different once you’re in the real world – the real classroom.

After my first week as an elementary public school teacher, all I have is renewed respect for teachers especially those in public schools. I can’t imagine how they do it. And now I’m wondering what I got myself into.

I have pulled my hair in front of the class. Literally! Banged my head against a cabinet, even. Out of frustration, helplessness… hopelessness? How can these kids have so much energy?!

It could be that this is their only chance to be playful. Life at home may not be that ideal. They may live in the slums, raised by a single parent who could barely make ends meet. They may have to resort to scavenging for recyclable scraps which they could sell for a few coins. They may have to skip school to try to earn a living for their family.

Come to think of it, their noise is not that bad. But multiply that soft chatter to 50 and you have the whole room practically falling apart from all the ruckus. And so I transformed to the non-smiling, strict, disciplinarian teacher. And it worked. I mean, I could quiet them long enough to actually be able to teach something.

A friend visited my classroom one time and asked me, “What happened to you? You don’t smile at all.” Yes, I’m the serious type but I’m normally cheerful and I definitely smile. I was even told that I was too kind a teacher. Wait ‘til they see me now. The thing is, if I become the light, happy teacher, the kids think it’s a permission to be rowdy. I want them to be happy in the classroom but that would make it so much harder to handle them. It boils down to the excessive number of students in the classroom.

“Happy birthday to you!” my students sang as they greeted me during my birthday. And without cracking a smile I said, “Thank you, sit down!”

A Character-Building Experience

Writing 101 Day 6: A Character-Building Experience Today’s Prompt: Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year? Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.

They never failed to drive me off the wall. I pulled my hair, banged my head against a cabinet, screamed at the top of my lungs. And they would continue on with the ruckus.

That’s how my life was for the last two years when I decided to teach elementary students in the public school. It’s not always that bad. There were happy days – Dead Poet’s Society moments where I led the class in singing, dancing, and lively discussion sessions. Generally though, it was a challenge of trying to teach in a small, cramped classroom filled with 50 plus rowdy kids, each with their own personality.

There’s the bundle of energy who can’t sit still, high with who-knows-what. Probably sugar from all the unhealthy snack they eat.

The diligent, inquisitive ones are a joy to teach.  They seem to be fascinated with everything you say.  Feels good knowing that they’re actually learning something from you.

There’s the genius, the leader, the athlete. Full of potential. With proper support and guidance, they would go a long way.

Of course, there are those just staying under the radar, low profile, quiet. Almost invisible. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would actually prefer handling them because they would be easier to manage.

And then there’s the notorious – violent, disruptively playful, or just plain evil. They would test your patience. They could bring out the hulk in you. They’re unlovable but on the contrary, that’s what they need. Some attention, love, and care which they don’t really get from their parents. Sadly, a lot of them have a not so ideal family.  And that sort of explains the way they are.

These children have taught me many things. Patience, understanding, how to give tough love. I got frustrated, I got angry but I also learned to do what I have to do and just hope for the best. And I wish, for the sake of the nation, that we become more invested in these kids. They after all, are the future.

Hero

Poetry Writing 201 Assignment 6: Hero(ine), Ballad, Anaphora/Epistrophe

I teach
In a class
A class of 50
A class of potential
I teach
To contribute
To contribute to nation-building
To effect change
I teach
And I break down
Frustrated
Angry
Angry at the realities of poverty
Angry at the hopelessness of it all
Angry at myself because I can only do so much
I teach
And in spite of myself,
Hope
Hope that it gets better
Hope for these kids
Hope that I make a difference