I had never intended to teach.
When I was about twelve years old, I remember dreading to hear Mama calling me inside the house. Fretfully, I would cut short whatever games I would be playing with my sisters or friends. Mama was then an elementary school teacher.
She often called me to help check her students’ papers or to assist in writing her lesson plans. Having a legible handwriting certainly had its disadvantages, I supposed. I absolutely hated the idea of being a teacher!
As my graduation from high school neared, I considered majoring in Linguistics, Law, or Medicine. It had never crossed my mind to take up Education.
A few years later, I worked in the field of Marketing and Promotions. Traveling and meeting people were the perks I enjoyed. I got into teaching English to Korean and Japanese students by accident. I was in between jobs when my cousin, who was an English tutor in a language school, requested me to take over her classes for two weeks. I consented, not knowing what I was getting myself into.
In high school and college, I was never interested in Grammar classes. I would either be secretly chatting with my seatmates or looking out of the windows daydreaming, images of far-away places and exciting people dancing in my mind. However, I was interested in literature and I liked books a lot. Reading was my favorite pastime. I would save my allowance and go to second-hand bookstores where I would spend hours scouring for books that promised hours of vicarious experiences.
I started from scratch in teaching. The first time I saw my students, I did not know what to do for our classes. However, I guessed they sensed my desire to teach them; I didn’t have any difficulties. I had studied the lessons for the day and just repeated what I had read to my students. This was rather boring for me so I tried finding ways to make my lessons more interesting. Reading other books and injecting what I had learned from these references helped a lot. I kept my students guessing. My idea was to make them feel that English was as alive, colorful, and fun as I found it. I showed them that by using a different adjective, one could change the intensity of emotions and modify the pictures in their minds. By changing the position of certain words or punctuation marks, one could modify the idea or tone of a sentence.
After the two-week period, I said good-bye to my boss and students and went to Manila to find better opportunities.
Surprisingly, I received messages from my boss asking me to return to Iloilo to continue teaching. Due to the urgency of the messages, I flew back home.
I continued to teach for some months then decided to go on a trip to China to visit my high school friend who lived there. I thought of trying my luck in China but I got so homesick that I found myself on the plane home earlier than expected.
As soon as my boss heard I was back, he requested that I come back and teach again.
It occurred to me that I must have been good at what I was doing.
I had since transferred to my present language school and I still find it amazing that students seem to find it a privilege to attend my classes. I learned that students could feel when their teacher is interested in them and has the passion for what she does.
So, why do I teach?
The salary is not to be envied and people often ask me why I have stayed. In response, I tell them that I love what I am doing. For me, teaching English is not a job but something that I really like doing. I love the feeling of having the ability to empower my students, too.
English is becoming a global language, if it is not already. Korea and Japan are two of the fastest growing economies in the world and to be competitive, Koreans and Japanese have to be able to communicate in English.
Many people from other Asian countries flock to the Philippines to study English as the Philippines is one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world. Add the fact that studying here is far cheaper than studying in Australia, the United States, or Canada. The Philippines is also blessed with pristine beaches and fun-loving people. My students have also said that Filipino teachers are patient, caring and compassionate.
On a student’s first day in class, one can see how nervous he is. Who wouldn’t be? He is in a strange land where he doesn’t know anybody, he eats food that is foreign to his taste buds, the weather is hot, and he can hardly understand what people around him are saying. Often, he just bunches up together with other Korean or Japanese students, for fear of not understanding his teachers or of not being understood by them.
Later, as he learns more, it’s like watching a flower bud slowly opening up to the world. It is so gratifying to see him exchanging stories or bantering with his teachers after classes.
We had one Korean student, Brian Kim, who was then in his mid-twenties. I first saw him at the backyard of our school. He was wearing a white shirt and blue running shorts, looking lost and uncomfortable. At first, he kept to himself a lot. While other students talked with their teachers, Brian would just quietly look on. I can still picture him sticking his face in front of the air conditioner between his classes. The temperature then was about thirty-three degrees when it was probably seventeen degrees back in Korea. He couldn’t make complete sentences and talked only in monosyllables, “Yes,” “No,” “Hot.” However, Brian was persistent. He would study most of the time and was never absent from his classes no matter how sick he felt on some occasions. There was one Saturday when I had to go back to school and I saw him studying by himself in one of the classrooms. He was single-minded in his desire to learn English.
After a few months, Brian became more talkative and animated. He was more confident in expressing his thoughts and feelings in English. Eventually, his teachers seldom spoke and simply listened to him. There was no stopping Brian from sharing his opinion on the reunification of North and South Korea or about his dream to work with Hyundai. When new students came, he would show them around the city and act as their translator. I remember that some months later Brian was even kind enough to teach a neophyte teacher how to teach him.
When he went back to Korea, Brian continued to study English by forming a study group. He shared what he had learned in the Philippines. Some months later, we received an email from Brian. He was able to land a job in one of the top companies in South Korea. His innate skills and intelligence, and importantly, his ability to speak in English helped him secure the job. Now, Brian says he is the envy of his friends. His future is bright and he has the capacity to accomplish more in life.
This is my reward. This is why I teach.