School is rarely a nondescript day, not when you get involved with a few hundred students with very diverse backgrounds. But it would be a different kind of colorful on one particular, very hot Thursday afternoon.
A lot of my students tell me at times that it’s of little use when I get mad because either I look young or I’m too kind to them. When I use my classroom management strategies, they go quiet for ten seconds at most; I turn my back to them and it’s like some kind of reset button gets pushed.
I have one student – let’s call him Eric – who, whenever he wants to get my attention, does things that disrupts the class. He has been like this since the beginning. This particular Thursday though, I sent him out of the room and this was when he started throwing tantrums.
He threw the recyclable bottles in the corridor outside while cursing me. He shouted and ran along the hallway.
I tried to take him to my co-fellow’s class to bring him to his senses. Sensing that it wouldn’t matter, I just kept him outside. I pushed the door to close it, and he started hitting my fingers with a 1.5 liter plastic bottle. When that didn’t work, he pinched my arm, stepped on my fingers, cursed me some more, and threatened to use a knife.
In that 15-minute stretch, I was so shaken (but of course I couldn’t show that to my other students) that I had to ask myself, “Why did I choose to be here?”
Six months ago, I was in Dagupan, Pangasinan with 48 of my co-Fellows for Summer Institute, a nine-week training that all Teach for the Philippines (TFP) Fellow Candidates had to go through before getting deployed to our respective placement schools. There were many reasons why I decided to apply to TFP – first, that I could teach for two years without a degree in education, and second through TFP, I would acquire 18 units needed to sit for the LET and become a full-fledged public school teacher.
I was taking chances when I applied, got accepted, and eventually started teaching. Day One of the school year came and the script changed – now it was not about me taking chances, but giving chances to children who might or might not know that they deserve chances to succeed. On a larger scale, it also meant that we Fellows were giving the Philippines a chance, to build something through teaching.
Our Chief Operating Officer, Clarissa Delgado, told us somberly on the first day of Summer Institute that “it’s not about you.” (On some days, it has to be about you… but that’s a story for another day.) True enough, the grind of an ordinary school day would make you forget about yourself: looking out for students who might be missing a pencil or pad paper, children fighting over teasing gone too far, an inquisitive pupil asking questions beyond your knowledge, managing recess, and have I told you that we’re also teaching children?
After my co-teachers scolded the child for hurting me, I walked towards my next class. A cesspool of thoughts and feelings swarmed me. I was stunned, confused, lost – why could he do that, what was I lacking and what more could I give, how and why was he brought up like that. A smattering of questions, a blank space for an answer, and a thought that maybe I should just quit and move on to an easier, less socially demanding job.
The rewards of teaching just don’t manifest themselves immediately; the only ones that can come within minutes are the questions of a child that show her/his desire to learn more. They are of long-term nature, and as one of my co-Fellows told me, “You can’t save them all. Carry on for those who remain.” There are a lot of day-to-day joys and sobering truths that come with teaching (especially in a public school), but to take the chance to be able to give chances for children who deserve it – and for a country that can be great – is more than enough to make me stay.
The days keep on rolling, we all keep on toiling, and we play our roles as the red bricks in the great home that the Philippines will be.
Teacher Marc graduated from the University of the Philippines with a Bachelors in Community Development. He is in the bottom right of the photo together with other third grade teachers from West Fairview Elementary School.