Clarissa Delgado, CEO;
Monette Santos, Chief Program Officer;
Cynes Magpantay, Chief-of-Staff;
TFP staff, former bosses;
Parents, guests, and of course, my fellow soon-to-be-fellows.
I could still remember my first day as a Fellow in my school. It was June 3, 2013, at General Roxas Elementary School. 5:45am. Flag ceremony at our covered courts. Almost 2,000 students gathered around. And there I was, standing full of excitement, full of angst, full of fear. And I told myself – “Oh crap. This is really it.”
I was very self-conscious – don’t make a scene, your co-teachers might judge you. Your students might not respect you. Then the National Anthem was sung and there was a group of Special Ed students that performed an interpretative dance to it. And I felt something different, something I couldn’t explain. Maybe it was an overflowing feeling of fulfillment, a glowing sense of nationalism, a resounding reminder and affirmation. But I went back to my advisory classroom on that first day feeling my best – telling myself “You can do this. You can change the world.”
2 weeks later, one of my favorite students Ariel, was suddenly absent regularly. I found out that his father passed away due to the inability to finance a heart operation. I was thrown into a situation I had no idea what I could do – what can a 20 year old do against a system he barely knows? Can he really do this? Can he change the world?
Fast forward to 4 years later – after spending 2 years in a very grassroots role, jumping to a national government post for a year, and now flying everywhere for a very intense private sector job I can’t help but notice how nuanced one’s world view becomes as one grows with experience. The biggest change, I think, is growing skepticism – can I really do this? Can I really change the world?
Hindsight is always 20/20. Things might not always make sense when we decide to do them – Hell, I still don’t know how crazy I was to join TFP then – But in retrospect, they make absolute sense. So this afternoon, I will give you guys a cheat, a life hack of some sort, with the help of my co-2013 fellows (whom I asked inputs from last night – yes, I am very much still a crammer). If you could go back in time and talk to your fellow self before the first day of class – what piece of advice would you tell them?
And since #millenial tayo, here are is a Buzzfeed list of 10 things – some pieces of advice, some reminders, and some even warnings – 10 things which I hope you take to heart: (and no, there is no 10-letter magical acronym at the end…)
1. This will probably be the most difficult and tiring 2 years of your life so far. (Yes, this is just #1) You will have to wake up at the wee hours of the morning everyday. You will have to check piles and piles of paper. You will have to create lesson plans and visual aids. You will have to complete DepEd papers. You have to fill out your pre-observation forms for your PTM. Then after all of that – you will have to teach. It will be difficult, don’t sugar coat it. Don’t run away from that fact. Embrace it, expect it, own it. Everything that lasts and leaves a mark is always difficult.
2. While things are difficult, never think you have to carry the burden alone. You are very lucky that you are entering with an entire organization behind you. I understand that you will all be spread across the country – but this is not an excuse. On the contrary, I feel that the support you will have for each other will be stronger because of this. Reach out, rant, it’s absolutely okay. The greatest of successes are always shared.
3. It is okay to feel like giving up at times. And probably you will think of quitting. And this is not just about quitting the fellowship, but sometimes quitting in the day-to-day. Pretending to be sick because you woke up late, or making up family duties to avoid weekend teacher obligations. But I hope that giving up only stays there – as a thought – but never a decision. It’s very easy to think of “not give up” as a lofty ideal, but what is difficult is continuously asking yourself if you are in this fellowship for the right reasons. Which leads me to number 4:
4. Understand that the cause is beyond yourself. It is not about how fantastic you are in the classroom nor how colorful your visual aids are. It is not about the likes you get on your Facebook posts. The fellowship is not about you. It is about your school, your students, their lives. It is about this country. </pause for impact>
5. Things aren’t perfect. It might take the first few hours on your first day to realize that. Or maybe you know that already now. Things aren’t perfect – they are far from it. Nothing new there. But what you have to let go of is the idea that you can make everything perfect. Truth is, you cannot. You cannot make everything perfect. In your desire to do things your way, you might forget the real reason why you are here.
6. The worst thing you can do is enter your school seeing yourself in the image of a messianic social justice warrior, wielding a majestic sword and shield for change. Please don’t because if you do, you will fall flat on your face. A co-fellow [Adam Crayne, 2013] said: Don’t be a hero. Be a teacher. Be firm, but be fair. The first step to really starting waves of “change” is simple: get to know your students, their parents, and your co-teachers. The biggest burden is to think you are here to solve their problems. Don’t. Get to know them – this should be your first priority. Visit them in their homes. Talk about their favorite TV shows. Have merienda with them. You are a fellow – you are a teacher. Be one.
7. Your moral compass will be tested. You will be asked to do things that might not sit well with you. You will be tempted to fit in – it is tempting and it is easy. You will make uncomfortable decisions throughout your 2 years here and I daresay even beyond. But your north star should always be your kids. Never compromise competence for convenience, never compromise integrity for acceptance, never compromise morals for conformity. Always, always, at the end of the day, let your students be your guiding light. If you do this, the rest will easily follow.
8. Take care of yourself, don’t be a martyr. You are not measured by the sleepless nights you have nor the piles of papers you have checked. Take time to pause and unwind a bit. I, personally, had a rule for myself – sleep before 11pm everyday, even if you have no lesson plan. (I see startled looks from staff). For the record, make your lesson plans if you can! But this was a personal rule because I noticed that I am a much better teacher when I have enough sleep – that was paramount and something I did not want to compromise – papers and lesson plans can wait, but teaching effectively cannot. On a similar note, find what works for you, don’t be afraid to mix things up. A co-fellow [Nikki Vergara, 2013] also said don’t stress with covering the entire curriculum! Don’t hesitate to choose what is important and take the time to teach it well.
9. Make a lot of memories. Very self-explanatory. Trust me, you will go back to a lot of stories, the funny ones, the inspiring ones, the iyak-worthy ones, the hugot ones. Try new things outside your comfort zone. I was in the middle of a class once and my name was announced in the covered courts to dance Whoops Kirri with fellow teachers. Up until now, that memory haunts me, yet I have absolutely no regrets. You will come back to TFP, for reunions, for homecomings. You will visit the graduation of your students. These memories will always be the foundation of what I am sure will be a lifetime relationship with your schools, co-fellows and this organization.
10. My last point may be the most #realtalk. It is: be relevant. A saying we jokingly throw around in my batch is “huwag magpakain sa sistema” – a joke fully half meant. I daresay that in these very turbulent times your role as a teacher is as critical as it has ever been. You will have students whose families are affected by the war on drugs. You will have students who will ask questions they shouldn’t be asking at their age. You will be pushed across many directions by different forces. It is imperative that you do not just sit by and teach, business as usual. Do not disregard the times we live in. Engage, do not evade. Inform, do not impose. This organization, your professions, will always be relevant as long as there is something that needs to be done for this country.
I know everyone has been sharing Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard address since yesterday, and as much as I dislike quoting in speeches there is one quote that particularly resonated with me and was very articulate. It goes:
“It’s good to be idealistic. But be prepared to be misunderstood. Anyone working on a big vision will get called crazy, even if you end up right. Anyone working on a complex problem will get blamed for not fully understanding the challenge, even though it’s impossible to know everything upfront. Anyone taking initiative will get criticized for moving too fast, because there’s always someone who wants to slow you down.”
I told you that four years ago, I told myself “You can do this. You can change the world.” Doubts have kept on creeping in since then. But allow me to let you in on a secret – I still feel exactly the same right now. Even as I walk down the streets of a very different world called Makati, the idealism and drive in me has never changed from where it was a few years ago. As you go throughout your two years, I urge you not to temper your ambitions, but relentlessly drive towards it.
Your job as teachers might essentially be to change the world, but most importantly, it is to change how your students see the world.
Before I end, I just want to tell you three things:
First, congratulations. You are very privileged to be given this chance to really create palpable change. The results you may sometimes see now, but much of which will bear fruit late. Please do not waste this chance.
Second, good luck. It will be difficult, but carry on my young padawans. If three batches isn’t proof enough of success, then I don’t know what else is.
Lastly, thank you. Thank you on behalf of your future students, their parents, the schools. Thank you for the service you will do for this country. It is a thankless job – a difficult and thankless job – so thank you.
Whenever you are lost, uncertain, or scared – never forget that the answer is simple: #ParaSaBata, #ParaSaBayan. Thank you and have a good afternoon.
Delfin Villafuerte was part of the inaugural 2013 Cohort, and completed his 2-year Fellowship commitment in 2015. He taught for two years at Quezon City, later becoming the Executive Assistant of former Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima. Now, he is a Consulting Analyst at McKinsey & Co. Philippines, a global management consulting firm that partners with businesses and government to drive national and global growth, develop leaders, and build a better Philippines. He delivered this speech as a keynote speaker at the 2017 Cohort Induction in May 2017.
Photo taken from Delfin’s Facebook page.