“But why will you leave for Manila and sacrifice everything you’ve worked for here?”
My friend had a point. After all, I have contemplated upon this question many times before deciding to leave my hometown in Mindanao.
“Am I willing to devote two years in a place I am not used to? A place where the culture is far from what I grew up with? Is teaching worth it?”
Today, I write to tell you the answer to those questions. I write to tell you, my story.
My name is Abdul Haiy A. Sali. I am part of the 2015 Cohort of Teach for the Philippines. I have come 1,741 KM away from the Island Province of Basilan, the place I have always called home. Before coming to Manila, I was a registered nurse, and afterwards became a licensed teacher.
Since June 1, 2015, the first day of School Year 2015-2016, however, I have been a Teacher Fellow. That day, I was a bundle of nerves – I was anxious, but also excited. “This is it,” I told myself. After the long and winding road, I will now be teaching at one of the most populated public schools in the country, and Southeast Asia – Commonwealth Elementary School.
At the beginning of the school year, I made sure that my classroom management was consistent, my lectures concise, and that I established good rapport with my co-teachers. I thought that if I were successful making these things happen, everything would be smooth-sailing.
I was wrong.
I handle six Grade 3 classes, all of which make up for the lower sections in the grade level. Some of my classes are heterogenous – a handful can read both English and Filipino, others are frustrated readers, a majority are non-readers. I knew teaching them was going to be hard, and in reality, it has become the hardest part of my teaching career.
Being a novice teacher in grade school, I had a difficult time establishing the classroom management techniques that I had prepared, as well as teaching concepts to readers and non-readers at the same time. Day in and day out, my pupils would misbehave, fight over pencils, crayons, papers, complain over the smallest things, throw objects everywhere, rant, rave, and seek my attention constantly. I spent a lot more time trying to manage the class, than actually teach anything.
Several months in, I came to a point where I got so sick that I began to question my ability as a teacher. Nothing seemed to work, no amount or kind of classroom management seemed to take effect on my pupils. I wanted them to succeed, so I pushed hard for them to learn the needed competencies. Still, I felt as if my pupils did not see nor appreciate the amount of effort I put into teaching them.
Like every other teacher, I felt exhausted after class.
This went on day after day; until one day, as I returned to the teacher’s table, my students came to me one by one at first, and then in groups… Each of them had a piece of paper in their hand – a letter. They were all very excited to hand it to me. As I received each one of their dedications and thanked them, I saw smiles light up their faces.
One of my students hugged me, saying, “’Cher Bob, gusto po kitang Teacher. Ang dami ko pong natutunan sa’yo.”
Reading each one of their letters, I felt unshakable motivation seeping back into of my system.
Maybe I am doing the right thing. Maybe I am being too hard on myself. Maybe I am being too hard on my pupils. Maybe I am making them run when all they need is to walk first. Maybe I am making them read, when all they need to do is decode first. Maybe…
For a moment, everything fell into place.
I started to understand what other teachers have been telling me.
When you teach, you will come to understand where your students are coming from. You will begin to see that a classroom is like a glimpse of the Philippines. You will see the successes, the inequalities, the values that make our nation great.
For the remainder of the school year, I would like to teach my pupils how to recognize their potential, and learn to work hard on it. I want my pupils to know their worth, and how they can contribute to this beautiful country. I want them to hold on to their big dream, and not to let poverty take it away from them.
Teaching is about giving everything you have for your students to learn without expecting something in return.
At times, it will feel like a thankless job. Nothing seems to work, and every bone in your body will feel tired.
But there will also be times when your students will come to you with letters, smiles, and their hearts in their hands, and you will feel refreshed. You have to remember that it is also a selfless job, and so you do what you can for your learners.
For every letter that my non-reader identifies, every difficult question that my students answers correctly, every query my students ask, every time they are curious, every time they answer in chorus, every time they express their vivid imagination, every time I see them smile and enjoy the class,
I will have answered the question my friend and myself had asked many months back: I made the right decision to teach for the Philippines.
Teacher Bob Sali hails from Basilan and is currently Teaching in Commonwealth ES in Quezon City.