One day, a former student of mine texted me to say hello. He said he's already into writing his thesis, and will be graduating very soon from the UIniversity of the Philippines in the Visayas-Tacloban College (UPVTC), the university I used to teach in. He added that he's disappointed with my departure from the university, considering that I was one of his "best" teachers.
Whew, that really made my day. I've been out of the academe for quite some time now, and yet my essence still hasn't left the university. I still get calls from former students like the thesis-writer who thank me for a job well-done. I must have done something right.
I have truly come to understand and appreciate the nobility of the teaching profession, especially after one particular incident. I was in media prior to my stint in the academe, and one time my former media colleagues and I had a reunion of sorts during one of my visits to Manila. All of them came to the venue in cars, while I had to hitch a ride with one of them. Just when the party was in full swing, one of them commented, "You know, you're one big fool. Imagine: if you stayed with us in media, your own car would be parked alongside ours. You'd always have money in your pocket. But you just had to go to the academe -- and how much are you being paid there?" Enraged, I retorted, "I may not have as much money in my pocket as you guys, but remember this: you people wouldn't be the professionals you are today if it wasn't for people like me!"
The rewards of being an educator, after all, cannot be measured by how much money one has in his/her pocket. In fact, a teacher who is true to his/her calling only has a take-home salary just enough for a decent subsistence. Also, compared to others, the teaching profession is a 24-hour job. Classroom work is but a mere fraction of what a teacher does. Spare time is spent studying and preparing for the next lectures, checking papers, researching to hone one's skills and to add to one's knowledge, and maintaining an interpersonal relationship with students that borders on becoming a surrogate parent.
Notwithstanding all the pitfalls that come with being an academician, seeing that "eureka" expression in my students' faces after explaining lessons of the day is worth all the riches in the world. Teaching even becomes more fulfilling when a student names me as his/her mentor after garnering an accolade. Now, this is something my former media colleague will never be able to equate -- not even with 10 cars and money in a Swiss bank.
In my four-year term in UPVTC, I would tell my classes at the start of every semester that lessons in my class are not limited to the four walls of a classroom. This is where I introduce the concept of critical thinking that allows my students to have a better understanding of the world through intensified use of their five senses (and even their sixth -- if they have one) and a thorough analysis of things they have observed in their environment. I also taught them about the higher value of a question as opposed to an answer. Questions have to be well-formulated to elicit significant answers. On the other hand, stupid questions also merit stupid answers. With constant injections of these two paradigms all throughout classes, I would finish every semester with my students armed with tools not just to guide them through the rest of their respective courses but also through the rest of their lives.
My former students -- including the thesis-writer -- may soon forget my name, but they will forever bring with them lessons I taught them in and out of the classroom. I am also happy that as my former students turn into the greatest minds this country has ever produced, I know that at one point in their lives, I was a contributor to their success.
Intangible as it may seem, this is the beauty of teaching.
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