Why teach for the Philippines?
Tonight while having dinner with one of the managers and our Recruitment associate, they asked us to share our stories about the fellowship, teaching in the field and gave us guide questions on what to share tomorrow with 300 students from the Mindanao University of Science and Technology (MUST). I half jestingly told them, “can I be a girl Friday instead? A runner or a P.A. perhaps…you all know that my experience is not a very positive one compared to Tin’s and Jovan’s.” Sir Hayden, my beloved (and favorite) manager during the Summer Institute, told me: “That’s it. Tell them why – in spite of the hardships you’ve encountered – are you still here. What is making you stay?” Pris, our Recruitment associate asked me to send some of my class pics so she could include it in the presentation for my talk this Tuesday. As I went over our class pics, I remembered both the joys and the frustrations in the snapshots. Each snapshot brought with it its own story to tell.
Why am I still here in the field in spite of my numerous attempts to let go, to give up and, instead, go home to Cebu where a more comfortable life is waiting for me?
Tonight I have the answer. The reason why I want to go home is because of the kids. The sole reason I want to stay is also because of the KIDS.
They are the reason why – I get up in the mornings even if every part in my body is aching and I am sick – I show up for class with my lesson plan and activities. They are also the reason for my deepest frustrations. Frustrated with the reality and the question why my 2nd graders have a reading level and skills of a preschooler or Kindergarten student. But that is also the reason why I give it my all – to do research, ask my co-teachers, enroll in an online class: so I could give them my best in the classroom so I could bridge the learning gap and prepare them for Grade 3.
I told them that I want them to learn how to read so they could understand the words with the pictures in the books that they enjoy “reading”, so they’d know about other lands, people and adventures in the books that will add to what they already know. I want them to understand that I’m pushing them hard this second quarter because the school – next year – might not have a special section for kids like them.
They can’t remain where they are right now. They have to do better, become better and aim higher.
So back to the Why question. Why am I still here in spite of the countless times I have said “ayoko na. Last month ko na ‘to or last quarter ko na ‘to.” I’m still here because there’s still that small seed of faith inside me that believes that my kids will learn to read and comprehend by the end of grade 2 if we work hard enough and push harder and give it all we’ve got. I show up because I know R and R have to cross a river to get to school or that R P and the other kids walk to school.
And most of all I’m still holding on because there’s still that bit of faith and love for this nation. There’s a part of me that still believes that what we do in the classroom will make an impact in the future and the bits and pieces of my teaching will contribute to building and developing this nation.
Yes, there are bad days and sometimes or rather, most of the times, they outweigh the good but when you share a smile with a kid, see a struggling kid finally read a simple cvc, or receive a note from a child that’s not sweet and one you’ve occasionally asked to stay after class, these moments are enough to glue your feet to the ground, to the field.
“Celebrate small wins” my manager, Miss Val, tells me. In this fellowship, it is very important to highlight the positives instead of the negatives or you’ll go down the drain. I don’t always do it every day but I’m learning.
Brene Brown so astutely puts it in her book “Rising Strong”: Fall. Get up. Try again.
The fellowship will not only teach you new strategies to make kids learn and read but most importantly it will leave its mark on you as you hear the kids’ stories, getting to know them, their resilience in spite of the harsh realities they are in. I can leave the field, leave the fellowship but they can’t leave their circumstances. You learn from these kids about life as they too learn from you.
This journey of learning to be resilient, to take risks and to get up every time you fall was not meant for solo backpacking. As teacher Kar, a 2014 puts it, this is why it is called a fellowship because it is a journey together. A journey with your students, your school team, manager and the TFP team and the cohorts. It wasn’t meant to be traveled alone.