I never dreamt of being a teacher… My standard opening line for reflection papers, essays and other requirements for my MA classes. I really didn’t. For the longest time I wanted to be an astronaut. But somehow life has its own way of revealing what’s really destined for you.
I’ve been serving in the public school (teaching high school Music and Arts) for almost six years now. In those times, I’ve been given the chance to take charge with roughly 240 students per year. In total, I’ve almost had 1,440 high school students; 1,440 souls that went under my care and guidance. We’ve got 24 hours a day and each day these students spend more time in school than in their homes. Teachers are given 200 hours per year to take hold of these young souls. 200 hours to somehow affect change and unleash their potentialities.
I’m lucky to find true happiness in my chosen field of work and I’m also fortunate to have a different life outside my job. I’m passionate about traveling. I adore exploring and getting lost. I love the culture, people and soul of each place I go to. It’s that desire to be somewhere else outside your own world. It’s that feeling that you are just a tiny speckle in this wonderful creation. That’s what really inspires me to pursue what I’m doing right now. And in some way, it makes my “real life” worth returning to.
I feel excited every time I get home from a long break. I usually spend a day telling stories about my recent trip to my students. They get thrilled every time and would ask so many things. I love seeing their faces brighten when I tell them how a certain place looks like and how those places they usually see on books or paper bills actually look like. It just makes my teaching more authentic.
The privilege of having long Christmas and summer breaks is also what I love most about my job. I usually take this time to pursue my planned trips. One of those was my trip to Patikul in Sulu (yes, the war-stricken Sulu province) last summer for a voluntary effort in reconstructing school classrooms and lives of the school children and community itself.
I knew the group’s mission beforehand and the safety issues in the area. But I was never prepared on the severity of the security concerns there up until I stepped out from the Marine vessel. Almost five Marine soldiers surrounded me in full battle gear. I didn’t know who were they protecting me from, I just knew that right at that moment the word “freedom” vanished.
The next few days were spent reconstructing school classrooms and doing all sorts of stuff to alleviate the tension from these innocent souls; mural painting, film showing, storytelling and other worthwhile activities. My team’s mission was to take photos of these kids and print it out for them (photo printing facilities are scarce in the area). Even while we were doing our mission, the soldiers made sure that we were protected from whoever might disrupt our missions. The feeling of terror immediately disappeared when we saw the school kids waiting for us.
It took us a couple of days to finish our mission. The look on the kids’ faces as they receive their portraits was priceless. Just the simple act of handing out their photos, maybe their very first portrait, was worth all the risk. The future of Sulu, these innocent young kids who were all smiling as they hold on to their portraits, that was the moment there. And I am contented at that moment. Not thinking about the perils of our mission; I was happy and very satisfied.
Me and the kids speaking in different languages but clicked, the dedication of our Philippine Marines on their service and the assurance that nothing will happen to us as long as they were there, that fleeting moment when love and peace were attainable, and that simple life that everyone hoped for was achieved right at that moment. Even how short it was, they felt the freedom they were yearning for years.
Tears almost filled my eyes the first time I entered the classroom and see the faces of my students after that trip. I couldn’t help but think about those kids in Sulu; same happy faces as my students but differ in their struggles. But I went on with my regular storytelling-after-a-trip to them. It focused on freedom and its value.
Freedom. It looks like a plain-looking single word but you need to be stripped off of it before you could truly appreciate its worth. Really.
My trip to Sulu made me appreciate my life as a teacher and my students more. If only they could see what I saw and experience what I experienced only then would they understand the true meaning of freedom.
And so here I am, still where I wanted to be. Still teaching and learning. I’ve been offered many times to teach abroad and earn more than what I’m currently earning. I usually decline right away with my standard line, And how about my students? Who’s going to teach them if I go?
I don’t know if I’ll still have the same conviction a few years from now. But one thing’s for sure, I love where I am right now and I am not leaving yet. Not yet. My students need me and I need them.