Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A Lesson from the Future

Dear Pre-Pandemic Carla,

Hello, I’m your future self. I know, it’s freaky. 

Now, calm down. That jam-packed armpits-to-face MRT ride and the long queue to the mall you endured a while ago, it’s nothing. Believe me, your concerns right now are nothing compared to what you’ll go through in the coming years.

It’s been more than a year since a viral pandemic hit the world—not just the Philippines—the whole world. You’re probably now frantically searching online regarding past pandemics. The Black Death. Small Pox. The current death toll is close to four million people. And although it pales in comparison to those pandemics which claimed 256 million lives, it feels bizarre and terrifying to actually live through an actual one. 

I envy your life right now. Your life is full of possibilities. Savor it. While it lasts. 
It's been more than a year now and here I am, not better when this pandemic started. I feel worse, especially when I think about the country’s education sector—or plainly, about the plight of my students during these trying times. Maybe I worry too much, grieving about what’s familiar and struggling with the unknown.
Do you still remember that time when you left a promising career in the banking industry? Like it wasn’t what you were supposed to do? You left without ceremony, so fortunate to have the option of dropping everything and starting anew—seeking happiness and fulfilment, and finally finding stillness in teaching. 

People nowadays don’t have that same privilege of leaving a job to find their destiny. The main thing on everyone’s mind is to simply survive. To have a job that can provide for your family as the pandemic closes down one business after another, leaving people jobless—without money, without food.
You’ll still be teaching in 2021, don’t worry about that. And this career, or as they say vocation, is fortunately one of the unaffected sectors when it comes to job layoffs. And for that, I’m thankful. But for the first time, in our thirteen years of service, I am now battled with thoughts of defeat.

To say that this school year is challenging is an understatement.

The opening of classes was moved a number of times due to the pandemic, some even thought that the academic year will be altogether cancelled. The government finally got their act together and started classes in October. Better late than never, I guess. 
Do you still remember how livid you were when school administrators decided to divide a single classroom into two? And to make matters worse, they also implemented a single-shift class instead of two? They said that it’s more cost-efficient. So now, you complain each day as fifty students try to squeeze themselves in their halved classrooms. 

You complain about your crowded classroom, but imagine how my students are struggling now.

Most of them live in cramped, crudely-built houses. They share what little space they have with their siblings and parents—totally not suitable for learning—struggling with the lack of gadgets to use and share for their online classes. The whole metro is still on lockdown and most people are not allowed to go out. You can just imagine how their frail bodies and tired minds shout for freedom from everything.

I’m telling you now, those classrooms are infinitely better. I now miss the sweltering heat of those packed classrooms with no electric fans.
Distance learning using printed and digital modules, video conferencing, and even Facebook messenger is the thing now. We’re not given laptops or gadgets to use in teaching, but it is expected that we provide this on our own. 

I’ve witnessed how seasoned teachers left our profession just because they couldn't handle these changes. With heavy hearts, they surrendered and resigned. And yes, that includes one of our mentors, Tita Liz.

I’m envious that you could just go out of the classroom and teach under the shade of trees without any tool—just you and your students, totally fine and actually having fun.
Remember those times when you wanted to leave the faculty room because you're sick and tired of hearing the same old stories from your co-teachers? Or last night’s recap of the latest telenovela that everyone’s babbling about, perhaps?

Please, do me a favor. Don’t leave. Hug your colleagues before you go home today. You don’t know how hard it is to connect and converse with them nowadays. With outdoor meetings and gatherings prohibited, virtual meetings are now the norm. Hello, frustratingly intermittent internet connections. Yes, it’s 2021 and the Internet’s still bad in the Philippines. 
Remember how one of our co-teachers told you that you’re such a bore? Always on your laptop during your spare time. Don’t listen to her. Keep on with that slide presentation that you’re working on.

I've finally adjusted from having regular classes at school to giving online distance learning from home. But after getting accustomed to the technical side of teaching, my next struggle was taming my extra clingy baby. At first, I was really bothered by it, but I’m a pro now. Akira now knows the boundaries when it’s work time. I do let him join some of my classes when he's in the mood for it, to the delight of my students.

It’s hard to separate mommy stuff and work stuff when you’re at home, but with the help of my husband, Christian—oh yeah, spoiler alert, he’s gonna be your husband, tee hee—everything’s smooth sailing. He’s my saving grace and the best co-worker during these times. 
By the way, let me remind you of your attitude in the classroom. Why were you so mad when one of your students sent a note to his crush in the middle of the class? I know it’s childish. They can be playful at times, but hey, they’re still kids.

You know how hard it is to teach now? In one of my classes last week, I didn’t get to see anyone 'coz all of their cameras were turned off to save on data usage. What's worst, nobody spoke a word during the whole discussion. Not one. Your weekly four-hour class per section is now down to just one hour. A single hour. Per week. And they’re silent as lambs, not a peep from them.

And about that thing that always gets you. Student absenteeism.

You know what, you’re lucky to physically see your students and assess what’s going on. Do you know how hard it is now to account them all? Students you never saw since day one? And even if you exhaust all efforts to reach them—through text or chat—there's no way to connect with them.

One of my students sent me his picture the other day. He was apologizing about his absences. It turned out that he’s been working in a canteen at night and selling meals in the morning to augment his family’s financial needs. It is truly heart-breaking.
And why are you always so ticked on how hard it is to go out of the school when the bell rings at the end of each day? Enjoy the rush, my dear, ‘coz you will miss that.

A few weeks ago, I went to school because I needed to get some important documents. For the first time after the pandemic hit, I went back to school. The sight of empty school grounds and classrooms felt eerie. The deafening silence felt strange, it’s as if I’m in a cemetery.

I miss the feeling of being surrounded by four thousand students, pumped up and rushing to go out of school at the same time. No face masks or shields to hide their smiles and excitement.

Every single day is a struggle, Carla. 
As I write to you, I start to reminisce about the good old days. But instead of being happy about it, I feel deeply sad.

I am sad for the future of my students, for the teachers and the school system. I know how important it is to physically see each other. A simple gesture means so much, not only for building their capacity to learn and explore, but letting them know that you care as well too. Something that’s impossible to do in my classes now. 
I miss hearing stories of my students' struggles and triumphs from their childlike version of real life. I miss those times, when I get to momentarily hold on to their dreams and aspirations—that privilege is worth more than my meager salary.

But mourning for loss time is so not our mantra, Carla.
I still believe, just like you, that basic education is the microcosm of life. Students learn how to adapt and survive in their environment with the help of the school community. And in spite of the challenges that we now face every day, I’m still thankful to be given an hour per week to unleash my students’ potentials—equipping them with the right tool in life. They may not respond to everything I say during discussions but I know that when I deliver it, I do it with passion, with the hopes of giving them a better future. 

Teaching is one thing, but igniting their passion to dream and hope is another.
It was two weeks ago when I finally had the chance to get vaccinated. Being a breastfeeding mom, I was enlightened by doctors that it is absolutely safe for me and my baby.

It was ten in the morning when I went to the vaccination site, which was just a couple of blocks away from our house. I left Akira with his tatay, waving goodbye as I set forth. The short distance I walked seemed farther as thoughts run through my head. I felt nostalgic when I saw the community school—its playgrounds and classrooms, empty. I can imagine how busy this school would be at this hour before the pandemic.
And finally, the vaccine. The moment I received the shot, I felt a different kind of energy. More than the vaccine itself, it felt like a dose of hope ran through my veins. It was strange, but tears started to fill my eyes.
 
That vaccine is our hope. That moment right there was special. More than the vaccine itself, it's the hope that flickered and sparked from it that matters. Whatever it is that people who lined up were hoping for, I felt that they all realized it.
Carla, I know that you have so much on your mind right now, but don’t dwell too much on these things.

You’ll have so much time to reflect during the endless lockdowns. Instead, go out with your friends often. Have that long overdue Japan trip with your mom. Enjoy the freedom of having choices. Know that everything will be fine in the end.

You will survive this pandemic.
Let me end this with one of the most memorable comments from one of our students some years back.

"Ma'am. Dapat po sa private school ka nagturo kasi ang galing mo."  (“Ma’am. You should be teaching in a private school because you’re good.”)

That moment right there crushed you. You let out a deep breath and answered;

“Kaya nga andito ako eh, kasi nararapat lang sa inyo ang the best.” (“That’s why I’m here, because you all deserve the best.”)


Sincerely,
You, Carla in 2021, still in Pandemic





This story is an entry to ComCo Southeast Asia’s “Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor”. The initiative continues to respond to the need of our times, as every story comes a long way during this period of crisis.  The initiative aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities to inspire the nation to rise and move forward amidst the difficult situation. The “Write to Ignite Blogging Project” Season 2 is made possible by ComCo Southeast Asia, with Eastern Communications and Jobstreet as co-presenters, with AirAsia and Xiaomi as major sponsors, and with Teleperformance as sponsor.




18 comments:

  1. Wow... an inspiring "future self" ignites to be a real one. We wish for a better future, we wish to have a better life, we wish to be back in our normal ways of living but despite of this pandemic...we learned something that life, smiles are luxury.

    We can defeat this battle of pandemic...after this, life will be treasured so much with family, friends and love ones.

    For me.... Hello Self and my future will be stronger and better.

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  2. i was moved to tears. 😭

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  3. ....you are not alone in this battle of uncertainty mam Carla. Together we will fight this battle, we will overcome and survive this pandemic as well as the education system....OZI

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  4. Bigla ako napaluha nung nabangit ang isang mentor na nagretire. I feel you maam ... lets just take it everythings come n go, even this pandemic.. .. gisto ko nang mag face to face.. kya lng . Wala eh.. to u maam . This inspires us to do things and face what thos brings.. thank u mam carla.. you are an inspiration.

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  5. everything happens for a reason!our God is too wise to be mistaken and He is too good to be unkind... yes, this pandemic brought us into anxiety but we will definitely get through this❤️ mabuhay kaguro! aja!!!! ��☝️thank you for sharing your wonderful story survivor carla��

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  6. Loved the last sentence! Tagos sa puso.

    I hope to see you guys real soon!

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  7. These days are challenging. I hope we can go back to the time when we can able to connect and socialise face to face. Hoping things will be better soon.

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    1. Yes. Hopefully soon. Thanks, Park Sae-ro-yi :)

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  8. Fighto! Ano't ano pa at matatapos din to. Kudos to still doing your best as a teacher during these trying times.

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  9. I feel you, Ma'am Carla. Laban lang!

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