Lessons from Defeat

It was ten in the morning and a few of my students were shouting in rage and crying uncontrollably, while a few were quietly protesting. All of the 200 students were so consumed in expressing their disbelief at what just happened. I stood there as I shared their grief with them, but also admiring how these kids weren’t afraid to show their true feelings anywhere, anytime—a stark contrast to my childhood memories of equating “strength” and “resilience” to not crying in public.

February is National Arts Month and every year, our department hosts several activities in our school to celebrate it. This year, we decided to have a Field Demonstration on different festival dances in the Philippines. It was a competition amongst different grade levels and we were assigned with Sinulog Festival from Cebu. The task of choosing 200 out of 1,000+ Grade 9 students was stressful to start with 'coz almost all of them wanted to participate. Of course, we chose those overly competitive ones.

Honestly, at first, I wasn’t confident in us winning ‘coz the odds weren’t on our side. We spent weeks planning, rehearsing, and crafting their costumes—which were made from recycled stuff. A few teachers were prohibiting the students to practice during their time even if we asked them. And when we got all 200 of them together, some important school stuff would suddenly conflict with the practice. Suffice it to say, we had a very challenging time preparing for the competition.

As time went by, I realized how deeply connected and invested our students were in the performance. They were doing everything they could to practice and refine their routines. They also helped each other, regardless of their sections, in completing the costumes. Their parents were also involved and some even allowed their homes to be the base for the costume-making process. Needless to say, I was amazed at how this activity brought all of them together. From that moment on, I started hoping for a win.

The day of the competition came and our tribe performed very well. I was so impressed by the outcome and it made me proud of how dedicated my students were. And after I watched the other performances, I was truly positive that we would bring home the trophy.

But then, we lost. We lost by just one point.

There were three judges and we were the winners for the two, except for one.

I’ve been into similar situations before and, of course, as a 40-year-old supposedly mature woman, I accepted it gracefully. Although deep inside me I was quite incensed and couldn’t accept the fact that we lost.

The first thing I did was to go where they were, but it was hard to comfort them when I, myself, was devastated by the results.

They were mad, furious, and crying—the kind that even if you tell them the nicest things, they wouldn’t listen; a toddler-kinda bout. I stayed with them, just listening. But no words could pacify them, I reassured them that it’s okay to cry and be angry.

I chatted with them in class the day after.

The air was still heavy inside the room. The first thing I told them was to give themselves a big hand and give each other the biggest hugs ever. I then told them that they did great and I couldn’t ask for a better performance from what they delivered.

I then told them the lessons they must learn from the experience—which are actually relatable in a real-life adult-world situation—that even if you give it your best, sometimes the result will not be what you'd expect it to be. That they should look at failures in terms of successes and that it wouldn’t be as beautiful to win if you didn’t experience losing.

And just like what I always tell my son, Akira, in any competition or race, it's not about winning or losing; the important things is that you did your best, you had fun, and didn’t cheat. The rest of that one-hour class was spent in laughter about our booboos and other blunders we had during the event. One even mentioned that she hadn't seen anyone so beautiful, even when crying. She was, of course, referring to our festival queen.

I always believe that there’s so much to learn in school aside from what’s written in the curriculum. So, I would grab every chance I have to make my students realize this. And this is the kind of thing that keeps me grounded. This is one of the reasons why I’m still here. I stay here because I always feel privileged and honored to seize this moment with them, the future and hope of our country.

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