Magic #21: Why they teach

One of the world’s greatest mysteries is why state university teachers stick it out with their employers.

Is it really the prestige of the university? Is it the company of friends? Is it a perhaps-not-so-naive belief that they are teaching the nation’s future leaders?

Because for sure they’re not there for the salary. I learned it can come late by a few months.

Not are they in for the school’s infrastructure: department offices cramped in the building’s attics, rusty railings, unkempt hedges.

So — why?

Let me hazard some guesses.

Maybe they simply love teaching bright kids whom they think will definitely make a dent in Philippine society.

Maybe they don’t look so much at the bad things these kids might end up doing (hah! there seems to be an equal number of famous and infamous alumni in prestigious, nationalistic state universities), but on the good things that they can surely seek to do. That is, these teachers are realistically optimistic.

Maybe they don’t mind the crappy place, the less-than-professional look of the halls and gardens, but they do mind the seriousness of their responsibility as molders of minds that may be greater than theirs.

Or maybe it’s the prestige after all. Who cares if it’s a low-paying fugly place, but you’re getting the attention of your counterparts from other institutions simply because you teach in this school? Your research is also going to get at least a second look when you submit it for publication, right?

Maybe it’s also circumstances too personal that our imaginative brains cannot be imaginative enough, only because it takes heart and not brain to find out that there simply is a thing as loving…in all its grand, maddening, and multifarious forms.

Seeing the faculty evaluators amused during my teaching demo only bolstered my admiration for them.

I applied for a teaching post in the university. Here’s to madness and to love!

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Magic #18 – Hope and cheer after a tragedy

Adept in drawing interiors and bold enough to try making portraits using sign pens, Gidelle is suffering from a debilitating disease. Weak and emaciated, now she can’t walk, is in pain, and getting worse. The 12-year-old may not even reach 20.

Thus it was with awe at her cheerfulness and strong spirit that I let Gidelle use my sign pen to do a sketch of my colleague.  Smiling shyly, she was focused on what she was doing, as if the illustration meant her meaning in the world, as if  it was the only way she could make people other than her family happy. When the portrait was done, she couldn’t suppress a giggle of satisfaction — and I a sigh of shame for myself and my petty concerns.

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Here was a girl, whose house was lost to typhoon Pablo (Bopha) last December, whose simple wish of going to school is shattered by her illness, and whose world is limited only to how far her father could bring her — and yet she still managed to be happy. Perhaps she was pressured by circumstance to look happy when we were there to interview her (my organization gave her the wheelchair). But if that were so, then she’s a very good actress as well. I seriously doubt it was just a front.

While by her cheerfulness she gave me hope, I also tried to leave her some advice that (I hope) may make her happier. Because she likes drawing, and has all the time in the world to make artworks, she can try to draw as many illustrations as she can. I suggested that she illustrate stories she enjoys. She could become a published illustrator, I told her. (And in that way, I thought, she’d be remembered long after she passes on: she’d be in people’s heart as the girl who drew and fought discouragement with a smile on her face and crayons in her hands.)

So, if you have art stuff to spare, or coloring books (she likes those), just ask me how to reach her. I plan to send her some as well. Because, really, making some people happy is very easy.

Magic #17 – Overcoming disabilities

I’m convinced all of us are persons with disabilities.

Ten-year-old Karen*, who has double cleft lips and some missing fingers, demonstrated how my able hands were no match to her overflowing enthusiasm in playing volleyball.

Tara, laro tayo! [Let’s play!]” She was coaxing me to the court.

It was the paralympics part of my organization’s National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week celebration. Earlier, Karen and a few other members of the group of PWDs in her small Rizal town were playing with her.

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It happened so fast. Persons with disabilities play volleyball.

Ashamed, I declined. I really didn’t know how to play the sport decently. And I saw Karen’s amused disappointment. –Wait, was that furtive glance pity? Am I the one being pitied now?

Karen let the ball bounce on her hands a few times and then it hit me — no, not the ball, but the thought that, really, we all have some “disability”. Karen has hers, I have mine, and I’m certain you, dear reader, have yours as well. So it becomes really unfair to say disability is limited to physical or mental impairments. It can be attitudinal and behavioral as well. Take, for example, the bigot who could not see the dignity of one who is paraplegic or one who is in a vegetative state. Or one who could see the value of one living bacterium in Mars (if there’s any) and yet not see the person that is yet a zygote.

But then, probably the most “disabling” thing out there is fear. I feared playing volleyball at that moment for reasons mundane to personal; now I feel stupid. But yes, fear debilitates — and it must, because it can, be overcome. I’m pretty sure Karen used to fear playing volleyball at first. But she defeated herself and whoever didn’t believe in her.

Now this leads me to a further thought on Karen and other persons with disabilities. Man, they have mettle and skills some of us could never get! Frankly, it’s a shame we used to call them “the disabled” or “the handicapped” — as if that’s all they can ever be and do: to not be able.

Thankfully, now we see all that discriminatory outlook on PWDs dwindling. Because, really, everyone is capable: just give them the chance and opportunities that all human beings deserve (thus all these “accessibility” and “inclusive” efforts happening in public institutions). That way, disabilities in the technical sense can truly be overcome.

* not her real name