Teaching Transcends Boundaries

By Ruben D. Escudero

This is not a laurel of academic-professional victories but just a sheer manifestation of a truly gratified and delighted soul, being one of the trustees of the academic and cultural heritage of the nation, and a way of paying homage to the profession that has given me the opportunity to touch hearts, hone minds, motivate people to embody the innate pulchritude of life that is sometimes embosomed with tribulations and miseries, and eventually make a difference in the sphere of influence. A salutation, that is, to the profession that made me appreciate life the most and pushed me to realize that life is not just all about impressing and achieving but more of finding and living a purpose. This is just to show the ideals I have lived by after I shifted professions and embraced teaching without an iota of hesitation or reservation. For, it was indeed a leap of fate when a realization finally dawned on me one rainy morning after sober thoughts and reflections that I should take this road as a vocation, and I give you a panoramic perspective of my reason why.

The classroom has always been my comfort zone, a second home away from home and although I am not yet a parent myself, I have always considered my soul as a second parent to my students not just whenever I’m inside the school but this goes even far beyond the four walls of the classroom.  Hence, it troubles me most when a student, for any unknown reasons, quits school, just like Kara, a timid young girl who, to my observation, had a depth of character and personality, and excelled academically.

While my heart is always at peace and contented whenever I feel like I have just held a comprehensive discussion on matters of paramount importance, pieces of it would always be about students who seemed have demonstrated lack of zest and vigour during my class. I would always see through their downcast eyes, read their souls sometimes and try to fathom their untold stories hiding in the innermost chamber of their hearts, but I could never ever understand the whole story just by looking in their eyes unless they would tell me so.  And this student had captured my spirit and soul in my years of teaching and unknowingly had stretched how far my compassion could reach. Kara happened to be one of the brightest stars in my class but her sparks were somewhat hidden and obscured behind dark clouds, and her persona was beclouded with prisms and mists of dilemmas and miseries, so her spark could not shine through. Until one day she was nowhere to be found in school for reasons we did not know. But as a shepherd of education, I held true to my promise and obligation to find one of the docile lambs who traversed a different route. 

Gasping for breath, my co-teachers and I climbed down a slippery cliff one Friday noon. The rain had poured relentlessly earlier, so we went for a home visitation in the high noon when it finally subsided, trekked arduously the rocky-mountainous and secluded road, struggled under the shrubs unmindful of the centipedes and any other biting insects that could harm us and totally oblivious through the sharp “cogon” leaves that kissed and wounded our skin, weaving around us – thirsty and starved, while up above the sun gradually shone its full grandeur.

Wrapped in my own reverie, scenes from my youth kept flashing as if playing a movie in my mind as the dreary shadows, whichever direction my eyes could set upon, gave me an eerie sense of déjà vu and melancholy. And my memory drifted me back to the times when struggles were almost impossible for me to bear – when I was also a student like Kara.

Yes, my heart is a repository of secrets and it still holds quite a fascinating story tell but I shall reserve that story to dangle a bit of inspiration for my students. But just like many of my students, many a time I would walk solitarily down the road when “habal-habals” showed no more under the blanket sky at night, guided and ushered only by the light cast by the stars in their multitude while the crickets somewhere behind the shadows perpetually chirped with different notes. I felt for Kara, deeply, but unlike her, I persevered. After all, a dream is inherently elusive, the road to success is winding and I have always kept the faith deep within me that no matter how tough life I would become a victor because I remained a true believer in the power of my dreams.

Those cinematically gray yet grand moments of my youth came creeping over me as we approached Kara’s abode after like a five-kilometre walk, starved and bruised.  Before us was a crude shanty that sat behind the lush vale in the shadows, and I could tell that life in there must be tangled with manifold complexities.

“Sir, ma’am, dayon mo sa among payag,” Kara’s mother so frail, pale and fragile welcomed us timidly with eyes downcast. I caught sight of her eyes and I saw a crestfallen expression on her face that reminded me so much of my mother’s  eyes when, many years ago, she had to carry the world by herself especially during those times when she needed to feed and send her six children to school, after my father’s death. I was flooded with strong emotions but I decided to leave the drama and encapsulate it inside my heart.

Momentarily, a picture of doom and gloom stretched, zoomed in and unfolded before my eyes. My heart bled for what I saw. When I saw their home, I knew the reason why Kara had given up school. Not because she was intrinsically unmotivated to learn, no, not the distance at all that she had to traverse to and fro, those are just few of the challenges of the drama, but because she would always go to school with an empty stomach, sans even a single centavo in her pocket. Oh, I contained my tears from shedding.

Kara was a bright pure spirit whose eyes were not jaded by what the world has to offer and a heart big enough for her family, I could tell. I’d seen her interest to learn but she was a victim of life’s adversities and at young age had to assume responsibilities which she was not yet capable of assuming, in her desire to help. Who are we not to understand her and to deny that compassion? I tried to question myself.

We understood the myriad of complicated reasons why she could not report to class regularly. We went home with heavy hearts. Later we decided to put her in a modular arrangement. Fortunately she passed that year but we learned that she no longer went to school the following year, to our disappointment.

This predicament somehow reminded me of one of the reasons why I ended up venturing into the teaching profession. While I was happy and quite satisfied with my previous job as a legal researcher in one of the banks in the nearby city, I’ve realized that teaching makes me happy the most, as this has defined my purpose and opened my heart to be the home for genuine love and compassion, although sometimes I felt like maybe, just maybe, I’m never going to be good enough for this profession. It scares me the most when I think that there will come a time that I fall short or cannot perform my honored and solemnly sworn responsibilities as a teacher to the best of my abilities and worst, be blamed for not exemplifying and embodying the hallmarks of a truly great teacher. And this dilemma  leads me to a question that has haunted me up to now: what makes a teacher truly great? I honestly don’t know for now, I mean, I’m afraid I have not lived up to my promise to be a good teacher at least, since there was one, like Kara who wanted to quit school, ergo, I fell short of encouraging and motivating her to just pursue and bounce back  no matter what harsh realities life may throw at her. But in the midst of these dilemmas, I have long found solace when I reminded myself of these reasons when I joined the Department of Education: I have so much confidence in DepEd, it’s where I see myself growing old. I believe in what DepEd tries to accomplish, and I can also see its determination to change the educational landscape for the better and I love being a part of that cause.

Home visitation is no isolated event for us.  Let’s face it, there are students who, as early as the last week of June eventually quit school for some reasons we do not know, but mostly because of poverty, and we can neither blame them nor their parents for that. That reason is obviously beyond our commerce. While we always embody the concept of charity with us, we, ourselves even have our own personal struggles financially and from time to time we have to pull out even the last of the centavos from our pocket just to feed a hungry stomach in school. But we do not automatically give them failing grades or erase their names in our class records, instead, we visit them at home. It’s the only way we can understand what they’re going through.

So many times, I and my co-teachers found ourselves walking unfamiliar and risky lanes under the scorching heat of the sun. The memory is forever etched in my mind when, not so long ago, we needed to cross a river using a hanging bridge, just to visit students who stopped showing up for school. But we are not tired of doing this! We are not complaining either. We have experienced simple things that gave us immense happiness,  such as riding a “kanga” one rainy Monday morning just as the sun rose with innocent children aboard utterly amazed at our gesture so pure and sincerely true. This scenario somehow gives us light.

Life has never been this rewarding, and my influence was never this important when I wasn’t with DepEd yet. Back then, I was so determined to climb the corporate-legal ladder, but my world and my opportunities to influence others seemed bordered with limitations.

Joy is always unfathomable when I have inspired someone. I revel in moments when learning takes place just before my eyes. Such is the most profound beauty a human eye couldn’t see but only a genuine heart can feel and recognize. I’ve learned that more than explaining to my students the complexities of the grammatical categories in English language, I feel that the best lesson I could ever teach cannot be drawn from the vast reservoir of books for, I believe, it springs from my heart. That is something that cannot be bought at any price, yet can be easily found by someone who has an eye for beauty in simple things in their purest forms and I tell you, its impact on me is life-long.

In June this year, just as I was about to dismiss my class after I concluded my first lesson one Thursday afternoon, when I caught sight of a beaming familiar smile as I looked out from the window. It was Kara’s. She was in complete uniform and carried that bulky pack bag on her back. Se said she was always moved by the wisdom I would always inject in the middle of our discussions and was particularly touched by our most sincere gesture of visiting her at home. Life may have been difficult with her and family those days, but she said, she still held that burning passion in heart to pursue her education. No, she was not forfeiting but just deferring her dreams, she said.

Kara tacitly reminded me that I should pay homage to my profession by upholding the mandate I pledged through reaching hearts that are almost impossible to reach. Her determination to break the barrier of destitution that oppressed her family humbled and uplifted my soul. Joy filled my heart upon knowing I had succeeded in instilling in her the values I know are precious.  I salute Kara’s resiliency, for she has never retreated from the battle against the tests of time and showed immense courage in the face of adversity.

Reaching the highest rung of the corporate-legal ladder would not make me profoundly happy. In teaching, I found that distance could not impede a modest soul from touching hearts and honing minds, even going beyond the boundaries. And in this context I see my purpose in life.