That’s just how long I lasted as a college professor.
It’s not as easy as it looks. Sure, I stood there in front of four classes of forty teenagers each, and held most of them rapt as I spoke, explained, and cajoled them into learning new concepts and understanding old, but I could not sustain it for the long-term. Being flung into a classroom without prior teaching experience will not teach you how to teach.
Lesson plans, checking papers, and the demands of an academic bureaucracy wore me out. After having my four English classes shuffled around in such a way as to disarrange my carefully-plotted schedule that juggled full-time and part-time work at two other agencies, I gave up. The balancing act that I thought would stand crumbled at the onslaught of teacher conferences, seminars, and mandatory psychological tests that were a pre-requisite to receiving one’s salary at the end of the month.
The last straw was being told that I had to take an English exam. This, after being given an initial load of five English classes, seeing four of them for one lesson each, and administering speech assessments to at least ten students.
One of my students in an English 10 class was a former classmate of my daughter Alex at Colegio de Sta. Rosa. This student commented to Alex, “Ang bait ng mom mo kaya. I was already doing my assignment for her class. Sana bumalik siya…” That compliment is my consuelo and I am blessed to have touched the lives of these people in a positive way.
The sad part is leaving the kids who need a lot of help, like the sixteen-year old who approached me after one class. “Ma’m,” he said, “Paano po bang matuto ng English ng mabilis? Puede po ba within one month?” I could only shake my head, helpless and feeling so very sorry for this boy, who is supposed to have had English classes since pre-school, but was admitted to the nation’s top technical university with a very limited command of the language that his textbooks are written in. Who failed him along the way?
I enjoyed interacting with the mostly freshman and sophomore students, who are more or less Alex’s age. Having a teenager of my own, I find it easy to build rapport with young people. Having been bored to sleep by quite a few professors of my own, I have developed my own ways of keeping a class awake and interested.
But this experience was a big, huge lesson for me. First, I learned that I am not cut out for an academic life (for now). After almost a decade in the laid-back world of racing, I can’t go back to the rigidity of punching a clock or having to wake up at five in the morning from Monday to Saturday without fail.
Second, I learned that being able to write and speak fluently in English does not mean you can teach it, unless you can remember what conjunctions, articles, and prepositions are and can cite the grammatical rules that govern the use of had or has – things that rise instinctively to the tongue or flow from the pen. It’s like trying to explain how to breathe.
Third, I learned that teachers do noble and essential work for which they are grossly underpaid. I appreciate my own teachers more now.
Fourth and most important, I learned that even if there are many things that I can do, I can’t do them all at the same time.