A morning in the second week of June 2007, I went in my first class chin up, shoulders straight, breast out as I walked up to the platform and greeted each of my students with a set of bad-tempered eyebrows, a smoldering look and disappointed lips. I moved my spectacles a bit to manage my nervousness and saw clearly how each stared back and looked at me from hairpin to sandals all of them swearing to hate me from that second on to the last day of the school year. It’s a success! No one in class knew I had a 20/20 vision, I was hired a week ago and I was a century younger than they thought.
The moment I thought I managed, I started to juggle for words stammering, stopping in the middle of my discussion and hanging like Pentium 1 for the innumerable things I wanted to express with no words to contain them. I fastened my grammar on my script and made sure all the words I needed were prepared for my disposal, still, words betrayed me. I sweated on adjusting my eyeglasses and dressing up like my great, great grandmother just to let them all know that I am mature enough for this profession. Along the corridor, I swallowed every eyes of disapproval from my colleagues who always knew they were better than me. What’s even worse is I am a probationary teacher who just graduated Magna Cum Laude from a prestigious school and I gave them all the right to expect this much from me as they did to the principal.
With all these emotional baggage, I grew more tired each day dragging myself to class fighting every chance of failure and failing every time I try. My self esteem was almost always totally wrecked at the end of the day that even my four years of college didn’t seem enough to lift me, it let me down. It all became unbearable one day when I was substituting a sick teacher that suddenly my senses blacked out and I wish I hadn’t been conscious enough to hear my students shouting, “Miss collapsed! Stretcher! Stretcher!” A couple of hands clutched me and rushed me to the clinic. The nurse checked my blood pressure. “70/40,” I heard. I can’t believe that even in the readings in the sphygmomanometer, I failed.
While I was supposed to be resting, I brainstormed on so many things that happened when I re-entered the academe. It’s very difficult to swing in between being young and being a teacher. The time when I am supposed to be allowed to commit mistakes and have fun, people expect me to be perfect and boring. I cannot even be in clubs, parties and hang-outs without being watchful for there are too many eyes checking on me if I am still morally upright for my profession. How can they expect me to be more when I admittedly have less of which can only be learned through experience? And so I chose to close my eyes and rest my case.
Over the next few days, I stopped trying to be a teacher. I removed my eyeglasses; I dressed up along with the latest fashion still not forgetting the sleeves, the collar, the long skirt and the required earrings. I stopped observing my co-teachers along the corridor; I got rid of my script; I studied harder than when I was a student and I forgot about my coordinator. The change was liberating.
Although some of my colleagues are still having qualms if I could still make it a month more, a lot of my students were happy that I broke my eyeglasses and I used my “contacts”. They were grateful that I know how to smile and laugh on their linguistic somersaults despite the pact we had on subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent. They forgave me when I stammer as they helped me out and during my “happiniss, igg, pish days”, they dwelled not on my words but understood why I sometimes commit mistakes. And as they stopped dwelling on what’s wrong with me, they started learning what’s right.
My teaching moments come in times when they forget I am their teacher. These are the times when I never miss on letting them realize, how stubborn I can be. Whenever they talk I simply call their attention and ask them an ultra-difficult question. After a minute, everyone is quiet as they listen to my winning question, “How can you talk to him/her, and not talk to me now? You know I am a very jealous teacher and I’ve always wanted your attention but if you want me to share it with you, here’s the best time. You talk and we listen simply because we respect you.” The class would giggle but they knew I was dead serious.
My students had their share of teaching moments too and often do these come to me when I am least prepared. “Check the verb in the sentence, I love you,” a boy cut me with an, “I love you too, Miss. So, are we official?” Everyone was silent waiting for my response. Smiling, I said, “Yes, we’re official…officially divorced!” We all laughed and continued the lesson using the two useful verbs—love and divorced. Although these instances always appeared to be distractions, they served well as icebreakers in class. After all, I don’t have to be too hard, too mature and too all-knowing to gain their respect. I just have to be myself.
After three months, my students led on spreading the rumors about me and they as well exerted effort to stand true to what they had exposed in campus. I felt reassured but afraid of the result because I’m not sure if my efforts were enough though I know I am into it for the right reasons. As the principal handed me my summative evaluation, my efforts said: You’re still an English teacher and no longer on probation.