You, my dear teachers, are capable of so much love and that is your power. When you feel like you’ve ran out of love to give, look to your students because to teach is to love.
Sometimes, loving is easy especially when things are good. When I think about my time as a teacher in the public school, I remember my students. I joined Teach for the Philippines’ Fellowship Program in 2013 and was assigned to teach grade three students. I think about Gabriel who would almost always fall off his seat, as he made sure that he was the first student to answer my question. I think about Armstrong who came alive during Science class, as he made sure he learned what it takes to be a scientist. I also think about Nicole, Genesis, and Madel who would approach me during recess to braid my hair.
More often, teaching is difficult because to love is to accept both the good and the not so good. I had Richard in my class in 2013 and had him again in 2014. Richard was 12 when I first met him. In the mornings, he went with his mother to sell fish in the market and in some afternoons, he came to class to sleep and play. Most afternoons, I didn’t see him. I was lucky if he showed up thrice in a week. In his second year in grade three, he shared how he wasn’t sure if he can move to the next grade level because it would be his brother’s turn to study for the year. Sometimes, loving means you teach them as much as you can and you hope that it would be enough to push them to persevere no matter what. Can we love both the good and the not so good?
You are capable of so much love and that’s your power. When you feel like you’ve ran out of love to give, look at how far your students have come since you started the school year because to love is to make a difference, no matter how big or small.
John Lloyd didn’t read when I first met him in 2014. He sat in class doodling in his notebook because nothing made sense to him. If I were to be honest with myself and to you, I would admit that teaching him how to read was frustrating. We would take a step forward one day but would take three steps back the next. It would be easier to just consider his situation hopeless and to tell myself I’ve done all I could for him. But when I looked to my co-teachers who had not one but five, even 10, John Lloyds in their classes, I saw how they gave more especially when things seemed hopeless. I saw how they celebrated the smallest of wins, no matter how far they are from the finish line. I saw how they believed in their students from the beginning and believed even more when they failed. When I think about John Lloyd now and our journey together, I think about how he eventually started reading but more importantly I think about how he taught me to always hold on to the slightest glimmer of hope. Can we see hope when we struggle?
You are capable of so much love and that’s your power. When you feel like you’ve ran out of love to give, remind yourself that sometimes showing up for your students is what they need from you because to love is to always be there, in good times and especially in bad times.
Three months into my first year as a teacher, I was ready to throw in the towel thinking it wasn’t for me and my students didn’t appreciate what I had to give them. I took a couple of days off but realized I was being selfish. I knew what I needed my students to do but I didn’t understand what they truly needed from me. I came into teaching thinking that I had so much to offer as an alumna of this university. I came in ready to share my love for reading because it opened up different possibilities for me as a child. When I wrote my lesson plans, I thought about how I can best demonstrate my Math skills. I thought about using drills because that’s how I learned best as a student.
I forgot that Reandino was a child who loved to play and that’s how he learned best. I forgot that Prince loved singing and that’s how he remembered things. I forgot that Ranillo got nervous every time he’s asked a question but that he worked best when he wrote things down. I forgot that Madel understood best when she helped others. I made teaching about what I like and what I’m good at that I forgot that teaching is all about listening to what my students needed from me. Can we talk less and listen more?
When you feel like you’ve ran out of love to give, look around you and know that you are loved as well.
When you feel like you’ve ran out of love to give, remember that you are important because to teach is to develop students who know what kindness and caring for people other than themselves mean. When the world throws in hate and shame, you respond with love and hope. This is why you’re here. This is why the country needs you. This is why you Teach for the Philippines.
Salamat at padayon mga gurong Pilipino!
Adelaide Elpidama is TFP’s Admissions Director as well as an Alumna Fellow from the inaugural 2013 Cohort. She delivered this speech at University of the Philippines-Diliman on October 4, 2019 to an audience of teachers, as part of the university’s National Teachers’ Month celebration.