“Nagustuhan mo talagang magturo?” (Did you really want to teach?) That’s the question I frequently get from my colleagues in Pasong Tamo Elementary School. Always, I answer them with “Opo” (Yes). Teaching has been my dream job since I was five, but I never thought I’d end up teaching in a public school — I am just as surprised as other people when I tell them what my first job out of college is. After all, teaching in a public school isn’t a common profession for a Filipino-Chinese who studied in an International school, and eventually graduated with a BS Management of Applied Chemistry degree from Ateneo de Manila University.
Every day I remember “my why” and reassure myself that I am where I’m supposed to be. Teaching in a public school is exactly what I should be doing right after graduation. I have what I need to live a comfortable lifestyle, and I have it because my family made sure I did. My grandparents worked hard to earn their keep. As orphaned second generation immigrants from China, they grew up in poverty; but they worked hard to provide their family with a comfortable lifestyle. And luckily, they were able to sustain it, so I was born to a family of privilege.
I was raised by maids who stayed with us at home, and without them, I don’t think my mom would have been able to give my 3 sisters and I (who are all around 1 year apart) the care that we need. For someone who has everything she needs (and nothing more), it only makes total sense for me to give to those who need it. I know that my yayas who raised me come from a similar background as the low-income community I teach in, and it’s just right to give back to them. Aside from that, I see my grandparents in every student I teach, and I am sure that my grandparents would have appreciated a teacher who really signed up for the job to help them.
Day in and day out, I am bothered by the informal settlers along the streets of Metro Manila, and by the children begging outside car windows. It is easy to dismiss the scene as something insignificant, but I give it some thought, and realize that these people don’t spend their whole day begging, they also have a life, and just like any other kid, they go to school. It is in school that these children should receive the real help they need. In school, they acquire critical thinking skills that should guide them to make the correct decisions in life, so that they may rise above their current situation. As their teacher, I fulfill my moral obligation, I teach those in need how to fish, so that they may use that skill to fish for a lifetime.
Truth be told, teaching in a public school is the biggest challenge I have ever faced. The system can be inefficient and slow moving . with unfair burdens placed on teachers, who are already burdened. Public school teachers are constantly in search of additional funds to supplement their incomes, whether it be selling raffle tickets to support various programs or selling merchandise to earn more. Teachers have so many additional responsibilities that we can get “grumpy.”
But, of course, it is our students who are truly underprivileged and deprived. So often they go to school either hungry, with a toothache, fever, stomach ache, or don’t go to school at all. Despite all these challenges, I see some of my co-teachers doing everything within their means to get a child to come to class. They give the child fare to come to class; they give them soup to satiate their hunger. That’s why I see my co-teachers as the real heroes.
There is a flip-side of the nightmare, which is the rewards of teaching. There was a time when Ryssa Mae came to her remedial class 30 minutes early, to surprise me how much she mastered reading the material I assigned to her…. There’s Carlos Miguel who told me during the start of the school year that he couldn’t read, but now loves to read out loud…. There’s Nuhriken who was never aware of what was going on in the classroom, but now loves participating in class discussions…. And there are my emerging readers, Luzviminda and Gabriel, who get really excited when I call on them for special reading sessions. Teaching comes with priceless moments, and many small victories to celebrate.
Currently, there exists a large disparity between the rich and the poor, the privileged and underprivileged. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and with every decision we make, we can shape our society, so that all people get the life that they deserve. Just as my grandparents did what they should for themselves as orphans, and for the country after the Philippines was left in ruins after the war, I am now doing what I should for myself, my students, their community, and for my country. I am where I should be.
Anne Brigitte U. Lim, 20, graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management of Applied Chemistry. She is one of five Fellows teaching in Pasong Tamo Elementary School.
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