(this post was originally published on September 05, 2012.)
I’m not gonna start my entry with a quote about teaching. It might be too obvious that, since it’s Teachers Month, I’m joining the bandwagon like those who lift themselves up on the pedestal, declaring that they are the best teachers their students could ever have. No. I’m not gonna write about teaching. I’m gonna write about the reasons why I did not want to become a teacher.
You really think I wanted to become a teacher? NO. I grew up having teachers around. For one, my grandma was an elementary teacher. As a kid, I would find my lola keeping herself wide awake writing her lesson plan until wee hours in the morning. A lesson plan is a boring set of redundant outlines of the activities and, of course, lessons a teacher has, of course, planned out for the rest of the periodic term. Everytime I took my vacation at home (vacation meant being absent from my class. I hated school when I was a kid you know) on weekdays, lola would bring me to the school where she was teaching. Bringing me to her school entailed an ala-Death March scene, a several kilometer walk from the school to our house. I was a kid then so I enjoyed the long walk and considered it as a sort of an excursion especially that we would pass by the seaside. Such picturesque view. Anyway, I hated that teachers had to wear uniforms. I could already memorize what my lola had to wear on that specific day. The moment she brought me inside her classroom, I felt like a fish out of the water. Her students would look at me lurking on the corner. Like I was some kind of an alien. But deep inside, I thought of myself as someone better than them. For a brief moment, I became my lola’s student. And I was at the top of the class. I reckoned that it was better for a student not to worry about getting high grades or being frightened that the teacher might punish him or her for not giving the right answer as to when the Philippines was discovered by Magellan.
I appreciated the classroom more because I knew my lola would not give me a failing grade or let me stand at the back for refusing to answer her question.
I frequently got absent during my elementary days. I wouldn’t want my mathematics teacher to strike my fingers with her long stick just because I could not memorize the multiplication table. I wouldn’t want to buy a sandwich from my english teacher and would soon discover that a cockroach is buried in that very thick peanut butter filling. Yucky, right? When I think of my elementary teachers, I would always feel lucky I was able to survive that stage in my life. I had the best and the worst teachers during that moment. I would remember my teacher in grade one who, despite ruling the class with her iron hand (bless her soul), taught me the value of reading. After our class, she would lend me one book from the shelf and let me take it home. My love for reading sprang because of her. I just wondered why a teacher could be so stringent when she had all the love to give to her students.
In our apartment, I would gather the kids from the neighborhood and we’d pretend ourselves inside a classroom. I was the teacher, of course. I didn’t know why the screech of the chalk seemed like music to my ear and the sound of the word “sir” jolted every nerve in my body. And I’d always look forward to the next meeting. That was like twenty years ago. Perhaps I forgot how it really felt, but I know until now, a part of that recollection holds a significant influence in my life as a person. As a teacher.
Teaching comes from the Old English word taecan which means “to show, point out, or to give instruction.” There is a bit of misconception when one considers teaching as an opportunity to impose authority or flounce condescension to the students. Hegemony in teaching starts when a teacher takes on the role of a pseudo-Brahmin, one with all the titles pinned on every part of his body, and assumes that he has the edge over his co-teachers, worst, his students. When I was still a college student, a presence of this particular teacher sent shiver down my spine. Everytime I submitted my work, I conditioned my mind that I’d get a very low rating from him. On the first day of school, he shouted at me for not following his instruction. Teachers can be monsters for no reason at all. They can unleash their fangs just because they want to. Just because they can. Yeah, for the record, this is not an original assertion. Sorry. I just remembered a line from The Freedom Writers. At least the “just because they can” phrase. Anyway, going back, I already forgave that teacher. So no reason to linger on that memory. There are other teachers worse than him. How worse can they ever get? The one who would let us draw the map of the Philippines during exam. The one who did stand up comedy or storytelling that, most of the time, lulled us to sleep. The one who’d caress the boys and blurt out vulgar curses (how redundant can I get?) during panic attacks. And the one who lectured on this and gave the exam on that. You know what I mean? Well, talking about showing, pointing, and giving instructions.
Honestly, it has never been my dream to become a teacher. I have a different way of defining a teacher. And one person has embodied my definition of a real teacher. And she is someone worth emulating. She lived, she breathed, she walked, she talked, she commanded, she loved as what all teachers should be. That instruction and compassion are necessary ingredients in order for one to become a good teacher. If only for her, I really really wanted to become a teacher.
And so I did. And mind you, teaching is not an easy path to tread upon. Most of the time, I wade through a very strong current of uncertainty, not to mention being confronted by these questions: “Do you have an M.A.?” , “How much is your monthly salary?”, “So when are you getting married?” Yes. Seriously. Even that.
In a premise where academic titles overpower meritocracy, I still question myself whether or not embracing this noble profession was the right thing to do.
Yes, it is necessary for a teacher to pursue further studies, to improve himself or herself and stuff like that. But sometimes I just find it rather hilarious that some whom we consider “Brahmins” prove themselves worthy…to occupy the bottom step of the ladder.
Finishing this entry, still, I could not think of any quote that would sum up my writing. Just as I promised, I did not start with a quotation about teaching or about teacher for that matter. In the first place, I never wanted to become a teacher. And yet, the screech of the chalk and the sound of the word “Sir” jolted every nerve of my body. Just like twenty years ago. Now, I still find myself looking forward to meeting my students.