Essays on Teaching (1)

On Teaching Anywhere

Teaching anywhere is the same. At day-end, some of the low times give you the feeling that this is one heck of a profession that is endless.

You are not thanked for the good things you do.

You are not appreciated for leading students to a life of the mind.

Instead, what you receive is aggression of the worst kind, like students accusing you of abandonment.

In the Philippines, you had a share of this.

You remember the hundreds of theses that you had to read as a matter of ritual and rite. You had a share of those as adviser, critic, or panelist.

Knowledge is churned out like commodities in a manufacturing place, and you can only take in so much, this claim to knowledge, this claim to a new claim to what one knows.

You brought this knowledge to your point of entry as you eke out a new life in Los Angeles, out of a dream to run away from the aggression and nihilism of a Gloria Macapagal Arroyo rule.

You run away—so you have a reason to return to the homeland.

In Los Angeles, you taught Filipino teachers who have gone on to become mere menial job holders, like manning a cash register at Albertson’s.

You taught them to fight it out, and helped them ace that test they need to get to the first step to credentialing so the life of their mind will have a new life of the mind.

You have seen it, this sense of nothingness that one goes through as a rite de passage to a new, different life in a continent, seven thousand miles away from the islands you have come from.

In Los Angeles public schools, you had to teach those Latin American immigrants and some more with their English and Math.

And now in Honolulu, this story of teaching coming full circle, with people of Philippine descent and a host of others, colored and Caucasian, coming into your room, trying to figure out what you can offer them about your country and your culture, your history and your hysteria of desire to continue teaching until you can.

Of course, in a tongue-in-cheek way, you announce even to those who do not ask that you are seventy-seven years old and going stronger.

This is to make your students remember that that they are not to tinker with what you have stored in your head, when all you could dream of was to own an Olympia typewriter, the kind you can put in your bag and carry with you where the writing bug hit you hard.

After five years to testing the waters, we have come to a point where a dreamed-of critical mass of young scholars of Philippine descent are coming unto their own.

Which reminds you of students you have trained, and now have come unto their own, and in their coming unto their own, are veritably now greater, their thoughts grander, their gaze of the future more far-reaching.

Which makes you happy. Or happiest.

They come to assault you, some of them.

And in the rubric of teacher-student relationship, you listen to the pulse of their thoughts, the pulsing sometimes wrong, and you tell them in a language you think is devoid of equivocation.

They do not like you for not flattering them.

One even said he is not learning because you tell him straight to his face that he is bluffing, that his bluff does not have any place in your scheme of things in a classroom marked by honesty, fairness, and work.

You win him. Or so you think. He writes better essays now, with that kind of logic less equivocating.

You burn whatever oil you can lay your hands on, bringing home every work, and each day you return their work, you feel their panic, its vibe and energy getting to you, striking you in the heart, hitting you in the mind.

You tell yourself, pronounce that mantra: I am a teacher.

You give back those marked papers, x-ed, with tough love notes on the margins.

You remember you have a long way to your seventy-seventh year: so long yet.

The students that come to you will settle with you for a long time yet.

You remember their aggression, their bluff.

You remember you were young once, as young as they are, as young as your own children with their own version of a dream.

You smile.

March 5, 2012

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