Fight or Flight

In class, there are questions and there are Questions. We teachers are often bombarded with questions that would not exist if only students listened. At times we are fortunate enough to receive questions that hint that our students are thinking. And there are those rare times when we are asked because our students care too much to remain not knowing the answer.

I got such that rare question yesterday. We were discussing the results of their Three-by-Three discussions where students were to choose whether to defend statement A (Continuing to rely on OFW remittances will not be healthy for our country in the long run) or statement B (We cannot blame OFWs for leaving the country).

In processing their responses, I put more emphasis to arguments for statement B. I wanted to run against their instincts that argue against emigration and delve into the deeper human issues (I am preparing them for a discussion on nationalism). At one point, a student explained her position for statement B as based on her own experience. Her father got a better offer abroad, and considering he had to provide for his family, he took it.

Immediately after that, a student raised his voice to ask, “Eh ikaw, sir. Kung na-offeran kang magturo sa abroad, hindi mo ba kukunin?” (How about you, sir? If you were offered to teach abroad, won’t you take it?)

I could not help but answer.

I began by saying that there is always a danger in answering hypotheticals such as these. There is no guarantee that how I say I act now would be how I act in the actual situation. Thus, I will not confront the question directly by saying something potentially dishonest. Rather, I will answer it indirectly by being completely honest.

Over four years ago, I did not push through to law school. I knew I could do it and if I worked as hard as I do now, I am sure I would succeed. But my heart wasn’t in it. When I was 21, I was too much an idealist. I wanted to teach for all the promise it had, and I continue to teach for all the promises I am helping it keep.

I do not regret my decision but surely, it is a difficult one. It was tough to make and it is tougher to keep. I have been working for four years. Majority of my political science batch have graduated from law school. Now some have been working for four months and they’re earning four times what I do. Not a day passes when I don’t think how different things could have been. Times are tough and I am not getting younger. Yet not a day passes when I resolve that I am doing the right thing. There is no doubt about it.

If I were to be offered to teach abroad now, I would still reject but for different reasons. Teaching is not about the money. If it were, I wouldn’t be teaching. I teach for I know I have the ability to make a difference. And with our country in need of as much change as it does, we need all hands on deck. My work is here.

With that, I ended my in-class reply. Allow to me to add a thing or two.

I recognize that I cannot continue living on a teacher’s salary. If I do, tougher decisions will have to be made. But I cannot continue living on a teacher’s salary not because of my desire for a good, comfortable life (there is that, of course), but because I have dreams that need to be built. I have bigger, more ambitious goals in life and I realize that I cannot get there doing solely what I am doing now. This may require a shift in careers somewhere down the line. Or it may require that I lessen my commitments in school so I can focus on other things.

Yet whatever it is I may end up doing, it will always be with the end goal that everything I do is a public service. I am fortunate to have grown up well provided for. After all, to whom much is given, much more is expected. I may not pay my parents back directly, but the lessons they have taught me about generosity, respect and love echo into the hallways of the high school I teach in and ultimately, into the wider world I aspire to affect. It is because of them that I am able to do good work and will continue to do even more.

That may not necessarily lead me to a teaching job abroad, but that may not keep me within this school’s four walls either. My work is here.

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