Were my first three weeks teaching in the public school joyful? I would say, my heart was broken.
I experienced crying while on a tricycle ride home. But it’s not because I was overwhelmed with the adjustment of starting class at six in the morning, or having 50 to 60 students per class, or accomplishing paper works. No, I have accepted these things as part of a teacher’s life ever since I started to teach ten years ago.
What broke my heart are their stories – our students’ real stories…. which some may only hear from movies and documentaries. It broke my heart to come face to face with the sad realities of life through the students’ painful stories. A student had been abused. A student has to hitchhike just to get to school since her money is only enough for a “baon”. A student has to depend on a classmate for his baon. Siblings who get on with life without any support (and communication) from parents. And so on…
A sad story comes after another. But what makes me (and perhaps other fellow teachers) proud of these students is they still come to school in spite and despite these hurting situations. They get up, prepare themselves, and face the challenges of getting an education in hope of experiencing a better life ahead. Some of them may not have this reason for coming to school. They may find comfort seeing and meeting their friends or their “crushes”. They may have different motivations to face each school day. Still, they push themselves to be in school while carrying these burdens in their young lives.
They manifest some of their insecurities and struggles through their misbehavior, inattention, laziness, and hardheadedness. Most of the times, we, their teachers, don’t “get it” – how these students don’t listen and don’t follow. It’s important that we set a standard for them to measure up to. But in reality, most of them can’t reach it. I believe it’s not because they can’t do it. It’s maybe because, at this time, they have a lot of burdens in them that weigh them down.
And that’s the challenge. That’s where my heart as a teacher is broken. How can I teach “them” and not merely teach “the lesson”. How can I be of help to them? How can I be a source of joy amidst their sad lives?
I can’t. I can’t do it. I need a Hand greater than mine. A Voice more powerful than mine. A Knowledge more truthful than my science lessons. A Guide wiser than me. A real Source of joy more secure and lasting than a passing grade. These are my objectives for my self. And these are also what I always pray for them in my heart, every time I enter a classroom, and all the students stand and wait for me to start our class with prayer.
I will hear more stories in the weeks ahead. My heart will be broken again and again. But I hold on to this promise by the Greatest Teacher:
In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him. Job 41:22