I am still in disbelief that my two years in Teach for the Philippines has ended just like that. I still think that I will still be going to the same school and will be talking to the same group of people next year. Those years were the worst and the best years of my life that for a time, it almost felt like it would not end.
The years that I let go of hope and ran after it…
The years that I lost, learned to search and found myself…
The years that reality hit me hard that it almost killed me… and the years that purpose made me feel more alive than ever.
The first months for both years were tough…really tough. I could clearly remember students crawling under their desks while trying to escape the room, unexpected human waste that I had to clean myself, foul words bouncing across the four walls of the classrooms, and complaints and questions (that were half-funny and half-irritating) here and there.
“‘Cher si ano po nangangasar!”
“‘Cher ina-ano niya po ako!”
“‘Cher pinahid niya kulangot niya sa ‘kin!”
“‘Cher pwede umihi so bote?”
“‘Cher nagsusulat siya sa blackboard!”
“‘Cher hindi po siya nagsusulat!”
“‘Cher si ano po malandi!”
“‘Cher minura niya po ako!”
“Isulat sa notebook at sagutan.”
“Teacher sa notebook?”
“Sige, itago na ang mga gamit at magquiquiz tayo.”
“Teacher, may test?”
“Isulat na ang pangalan, ang seksyon at ang petsa.”
“Teacher anong isusulat?”
Not to mention the forms and lesson plans that I had to do everyday, earthquake and tsunami drills that existed almost everyday, ticket sales in which I was obliged to pay because most of my students could not afford it, checking, recording and analyzing the test papers of a hundred (and more) students and being a human canteen and clinic.
Of course I had my own share of hardships in my two years as a fellow, but these made me stronger. I would not deny the fact that there were times when I asked myself what was I doing there when teaching college students was a hundred times easier. But whenever I go inside the classroom and see the eyes of these students who are waiting to learn, I would always tell myself: “Stay… Stay for them… Stay for your why’s.”
Stay for the student who sleeps in your class because he had to work last night.
Stay for the student who goes to school twice a week because he has to sell Sampaguita so he’ll have money for food.
Stay for the student who runs inside the room very often because the classroom is so much bigger than where he lives.
Stay for the student who hurts his classmates because he grew up believing that hurting was normal.
Stay for the student who is absent for the a week because she had to be with his brother who died of leukemia.
Stay for the student who grabs another classmate’s food because he has not eaten since yesterday.
Stay for the student who mocks his family. Be patient even when he mocks you. He needs more help than anyone else.
Because I, too, was surprised to find out that students are already thankful if you stay.
That learning something new is already fun even without the activities, games and rewards.
That they appreciate a teacher who teaches them well.
“‘Cher ang dali lang ng multiplication dahil sa Lattice method!”
“‘Cher ang galing ng kanta kasi nakabisado ko kaagad yung multiplication!”
“‘Cher tinuruan ko yung kapatid ko ng point, ray at line!”
“Sabi ko nga sa kanya ang swerte niya kasi naabutan ka niya dito teacher bago siya umalis.”
“Pwede po bang paturo ulit ng division? Gusto ko lang ulit malaman.”
“Thank you teacher kasi tahimik kami tuwing nagquiquiz at nakakapagconcentrate ako.”
“‘Cher thank you kasi pumapasok ka sa amin.”
“‘Cher bakit hindi tayo nag-math? Gusto ko mag math!”
I would always remember the images of students giving letters of thanks and apologies, students stealing hugs and kisses from me, students shedding tears when they knew I was leaving, parents telling me that they would want their child to be under my advisory, co-fellows posing for awkward shots just to make things lighter, co-teachers and co-fellows conversing about life, co-teachers calling for a meat-ing, students asking me to go back and students asking me not to leave.
“‘Cher babalik ka ba?”
“‘Cher kailan ka bibisita?”
“Magtuturo ka rin po?”
“‘Cher may ibibigay kami sa’yo!” (gives gifts, leaves, and giggles)
“‘Cher bakit ka aalis?”
“Gusto ko nga maging teacher kita habambuhay.”
“Bakit kasi hindi kita pwedeng teacher hanggang grade 6?”
Mamimiss ko din kayo.
Mind you that not all of my students got the best scores, and I accepted that, but what I eagerly tattooed in their minds every single day was the importance of improvement, excellence and self-worth.
“What does Teacher Jessa like?”
“Listen. Study. Be a B.U.H.O.S. student.”
“What is our goal?”
“We will pass!”
They might not use math or science in their career, but I would want them to remember how they persevered for improvement every time they failed a quiz, how they submitted projects with excellence, and how they passed the subject believing in their heart that they could.
I could only hope that I have done my best in teaching these students that they would strive for excellence in everything they will do.
I could only hope that I have proven my earlier statement through my words and actions: that teaching is a profession worth going for; that the students of the Philippines are worth teaching for; that the Philippines is worth staying for.
I could only hope that I have left my mark in the hearts of the students I taught and in the people who had been supporting me ever since I took the road less traveled. The two years might have ended, but not my hope for the next generation, not my hope for a better system, and not my hope for my country.
My experience as a fellow had been very fulfilling and fruitful. I have learned so much about the path I have taken, but I am still constantly learning… And that’s the best thing I learned in this experience: You will be tripped, and you will struggle. You have to crawl sometimes, but crawl as if you are designed for crawling. Never stop learning, and never stop hoping. But do not just learn and hope… Be involved; do your role, and leave your mark.