Two months and 16 days after my first day of class, Teach for the Philippines’ slogan LEAVE YOUR MARK has become clearer and more concrete to me. I also now understand why they chose that rather than ‘change the system’ because one simply cannot change the system. To think so would be hubris and would only lead to frustration – an emotion quite familiar to me during the first quarter.
Instead, one leaves a mark (an imprint) on the system, one’s kids and community while, at the same time, they too leave their mark on your life.
And that’s when the load gets lighter. The burden of ‘saving’ every single kid, teaching them to read in just a month gets lifted. You don’t teach in a public school system to change it. That’s hubris.
You go out there to leave your mark. How?
You go out there to leave a mark by showing up even when you have to drag yourself day by day because you’re sick and there are no substitutes. Showing up whether it’s a good day or a bad one.
You leave your mark when you meet that one kid that you secretly wish would transfer to another class but instead come up with an instructional plan for his behavior and how you can help him succeed behaviorally and academically. Because that’s how a teacher should be: we bridge that gap between where they are right now to where they should be.
You leave your mark when you get to know your kids’ & parents’ stories and just listen to them and offer to pray for them knowing that you can’t do anything to help them but you can bring them to God.
You leave your mark when you start accepting your frailty and humanity first and foremost. That one gets irritated (to say the least) at the slightest misbehavior or when the class is slightly inattentive or when you realize that you need a new strategy in class to make your lessons have that ‘stickitiveness’ effect.
You leave your mark when you begin to accept the kids you have instead of blaming the Grade 1 teachers, the system, poverty and even, genes. You start accepting them the same way they accept your being a control freak even in the smallest of classroom procedures as lining up and using the CR pass, their accepting your own weakness and quirks.
And that’s when you start to see everything through your own frailty and the precious gift of God’s grace and favor.
That I’ve kids who appreciate the smallest of gifts that I give, the candy prizes, the simple praise and appreciation that I give even just the smile, pat on the head, a high five or a tap on the shoulder that means “You did a good job!”.
I’ve kids who run towards me at the sight of me arriving in school and tell me about anything and everything under the sun. What’s new with them or who has a crush on who. Kids who hover around the Reading Corner where I wait for the class to start.
I’ve kids who automatically ‘surrender’ their toys at the teacher’s table upon their entry to the classroom EVEN WITHOUT ME TELLING THEM and claiming them only during Recess time and dismissal. Yes, they put it back on my table after Recess.
Kids who like to learn how to read during Recess and dismissal and whatever free time we have, some pretending to be me teaching sounds and blends.
Yes, it’s leave your mark because leaders adjust their sails to follow the wind and the circumstances and ADAPT and make the most out of a situation. TFP is not just looking for teachers. They are looking for transformational leaders first and foremost.
So I write this in celebration of TFP Week come September and I’m grateful we’ve been chosen for a guest teacher to visit the class. At first, I honestly thought it was the biggest joke God had for me (the class branded as ‘best of the best’ by others with the most disruptive & active kids) but now I’m beginning to see WHY and I look back to my WHY when I applied for TFP last January.
As my manager puts it, “everything happens for a reason and don’t be too hard on yourself. There is a reason why you were chosen to handle this class.”