The Journey: A Personal Essay
“Means must be subsidiary to ends and to our desire for dignity and value.”
~ L. M. van der Rohe
I was asked several times why I wanted to get out of that institution where I worked after nine long years.
“Why leave and give up a prestigious position – head of the Education department – in an established school run by one of the country’s biggest religious congregations?” Why turn your back from a tenured position with a pretty decent salary?
Those were the questions they asked me. They just couldn’t tell me directly I was a fool to consider leaving.
My wife did.
“You’re out of your mind.” Those were her exact words.
“Why not wait for another year so you could get the school’s share in the retirement fund?”
I understand my wife… the practical person that she is.
She told me to put aside my pride even just for once but I said NO. It’s not pride. Then we had a lengthy discussion about the financial ramifications of my decision. I had a full understanding of the decision I was about to make and what would the consequences be. But there’s something I value more than money… my dignity as a person and as a professional.
There was something else, higher than dignity but I couldn’t figure out.
I had a lot of disagreement with A religious. I really thought that the abusive Spanish friars were gone. I was wrong.
“Good morning sister!” That was me one morning when our paths crossed as I was getting out of the Cashier’s office.
“What’s good in the morning!” She answered grouchily.
That response. I actually consider it a cliché. I heard it in the movies… read it in stories. I never thought somebody would actually blurt it out right in my face. Those words were delivered not jokingly. She was like a boxer swishing a mean uppercut under my unsuspecting jaw with an intention to knock me out. She succeeded. It was a powerful shot… a knockout punch. But I didn’t crumble to the ground but rather stood momentarily stunned and before I knew it she was already a meter past me.
Like it was boxing, before the referee could count me out. I stood up and regained my bearing. I followed THE religious to her office. The secretary tried to stop me from entering the President’s office for protocol calls that I should have a prior arrangement to see that woman wearing a habit.
I refused when she invited me to sit down.
“What’s the problem Sister? Why did you respond that way in the hallway?”
“Sir, I was just trying to discourage you from discussing any matter earlier. You’re holding a stack of paper so I thought you would talk to me.”
“Common sense dictates me Sister that I should not discuss any matter with persons in authority at the middle of nowhere unless otherwise they would ask me to do so.”
“You’re so sensitive sir.”
“I am Sister. Thank you for your time.”
I saw how her face turned red as I delivered those parting shots.
That I know made me a marked man. I know I just volunteered myself in her list of “dangerous and endangered species.” But I had to do what I must.
Our encounter that day became news in the campus. Somebody told somebody who told somebody. It wasn’t me. It’s either her or the secretary.
One of my colleagues said, “Remember that the sisters don’t stay here forever. Sooner or later they will be transferred. Just learn to co-exist with that nun until such time she leaves.”
That I know. She may be transferred to another school… or get an extension of another 3 years. Just like her predecessor who I wished was not replaced.
“I can’t bear another year with her. What if she gets a term extension of 3 years?” That was how I responded to my friend.
I felt like I stopped growing personally and professionally since she took over as head of the institution. Her leadership style and interpersonal skills are plain awful and downright unacceptable. I could not stay longer and expect to be productive and effective in the performance of my job. I kept questioning her policies and her moral ascendancy to lead. So, one of us ought to go.
Of course, that should be me.
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”
~ Winston Churchill
“Where do you go from here?”
That’s another question that my friends asked me.
My wife asked me essentially the same question but phrased in another way…
“What will happen to us when you leave that school?”
It seemed that my wife has forgotten that I don’t make hasty decisions when it comes to anything that would affect our family and my career. I also have parents depending on me so I could not afford to mess up. In short, I need to be continuously gainfully employed. I should have set goals and definite plans of action to achieve them.
I have a three-pronged career path to follow – a career path that has been there all along. That career path I set for myself is a product of my dreams, education, training and experience.
My career path cuts through three different directions. I always tell my students and friends that planning on anything involves a preparation of possible alternatives that when for example plan A doesn’t work then you still have a plan B or a plan C. The more alternatives the better.
Mine is a very simple career path going possibly in any of the three directions I set.
First – run a school of my own. That’s my dream. I want to have a school of my own. That, I guess, is the dream of every educator.
Second – climb to the highest level of the “academic-corporate” ladder… Dean of a department… College Dean… President? Why not! That’s the reason I took up a PhD in Educational Management. I want to supervise a school and teach at the same time, of course. I cannot be divorced from teaching.
Third – work abroad as an English teacher.
“Trust me. I know what I am doing.” That’s the way I assured my wife when she got too worried about me leaving that school.
Any of my decisions relative to work should always fall within the spheres of my career path. I did not veer away from that path with that decision I was about to make. But what about my other passion – WRITING. Did I factor it when I did my career pathing?
Why? The reason is simple. Writing is a hobby. It’s not a part of my career. It is an integral part of my life that goes beyond career. It is something that I cannot live without… like eating, breathing, loving and believing. And how do I relate writing to my career? I am using writing to serve (or shall I say advance) my career.
Admittedly, with me having an administrative position and needing to teach until Saturday, my writing took a backseat. Perhaps, only when I decide to try ESL teaching overseas that I may have the time I need to take writing more seriously.
“You fail only when you stop trying.”
I walked the career path I paved for myself. I became a part of the management team of the school where I worked during my mid-20’s. The first administrative position I had was director of academic and student affairs. But my dream school remained a dream. I needed a capitalist partner for that dream to become a reality. I have no rich parents or affluent siblings and relatives capable of financing my project.
I actively searched for capitalist partners. All they needed to do was invest their money and I would take care of everything else.
“I could help you put up a school if I want, but I am not sure if you’ll end up marrying my niece.”
That was my “first rejection sentence.”
After a few years, I broke up with her niece and I married my wife.
Then I received an invitation from A religious to join her team and lead their Education department. I accepted it and under her tutelage I learned so much… I swear that I learned from her much more than what I learned from several years in Graduate school. She was my mentor… one of the best, if not the best education supervisor I worked with. The seven years we were together were my Golden Age. She set the standards that unfortunately her successor could not measure up to. That institution entered its Dark Ages when my mentor left… and before I could revert back to my barbaric ways I seriously considered leaving the school.
While working with THE religious and THE not-so-religious, I still pursued actively my dream of having my own school. I never stopped looking for a capitalist partner in all those years. But I wasn’t able to find one. Of course, while doing so, the quality of my work in school never suffered.
My most heartbreaking experiences came in the past two years. Some of my friends and students knew these stories. In 2009, I presented to a Briton a business proposal (to open a technical-vocational school in a particular town in the province where I was based.) I was able to convince him and he asked me to start doing the legwork and the paperwork, which I did. We were supposed to start operating the school June-2010. He promised to give the initial investments on November-2009. But he lost his job in Oman in October-2009. Much to my consternation, he decided to back out.
I did not give up on my dream though. I never give up. I keep trying.
I have already laid out the plan and been working on the paperwork, I have even talked already to the owner of the building we were targeting as site for the school. So, I searched for another capitalist partner while the window of opportunity was still open. I found another one, an Australian who was working in a bank in his country and fiancée of one my friends in the gym. He agreed to finance the project . Unfortunately, I did not find the terms he set for the partnership acceptable. It appeared that I would be a minority owner of the school we were planning to put. Thus, even if I know I am letting go of a dream that is about to come true, I did not pursue the project with him.
In the area where we were supposed to put up the project, two (2) new schools opened, one of which rented the building we were targeting then as site for my proposed technical-vocational school. Just like what I was thinking then, many educators with a keen business sense will discover the viability of putting up a school in that area. And not just one, but two, did.
What made putting up a school in that area in 2009 very viable was the opening of a big supermarket. That business establishment would surely draw people from adjacent towns.
Believe it or not, that gentleman from Australia was the 6th person I have approached to become my partner for my dream school.
Those were heartbreakers, but life has to go on, I moved on and vowed I will just keep trying. My dream to have a school of my own is not dead. For as long as I am breathing, that dream will remain alive.
“Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”
~ H. J. Brown, Jr.
Not a few but many told me that leaving that school was like letting go of a very stable job to face the uncertainties of finding a new one.
“You may no longer have the kind of opportunity that the Congregation gave you.”
That was my mother. When she told me that, it became apparent that my wife asked her to convince me not to resign. That moment I recalled what I once read – “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” In short, I never doubted my chances of finding another job should I really decide to leave. I know that if an opportunity doesn’t come, I should create it. I have two things in abundance – faith in my abilities and faith in God.
I had to explain to my mother the situation and at the end made this request – “Just pray for me mother dear.”
I revisited my career path. I looked at the different directions I set.
It’s clear that the opportunity for the realization of my dream to have my own school has not come knocking yet. So I thought of building a door where the opportunity could knock.
It was time for me to consider working as an English teacher overseas so I could earn more and save money for my dream.
So, I set my mind on pursuing a teaching career abroad.
I was told that it will be easier for me to be employed as an English teacher overseas if I have a certification in “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).” So, I searched the Internet for institutions that offer TESOL training and started looking for job openings for ESL teachers abroad.
My search for ESL jobs abroad validated what my friends have been telling me all along – that most schools abroad, particularly in Japan and South Korea hires only native English speakers as teachers. But I know also that there are Filipinos teaching English in the countries aforementioned. If they got hired, I thought also have a chance to get hired.
I got the information I needed for the TESOL training I was planning to undertake… and a bonus – I saw the advertisement posted by a city college… they were searching for a College Dean and I have the necessary educational qualifications and experience. That college is ran by the city government which means that should I get hired I will become part of the public school system. Not a bad idea considering the fact that private school teachers were starting to flock to government schools because of better salaries and benefits.
I happened to be on the dance floor when an opportunity was looking for a dance partner. I offered my hand.
While pursuing my application in that city college, I enrolled for a 120-hour TESOL training.
“You are resigning from your present job then you will be spending money for that training?”
That again was my wife. I just nodded in response. I know what she meant to say. She wanted us to save money for if I would really be resigning how sure was I that immediately I could find a new job.
But my wife knew that even if she disagrees with my plans I will still push through with them.
I enrolled for a TESOL-certification program. I also applied on-line to ESL jobs in South Korea, Indonesia and the Middle East.
Then I was invited by the city college and two prospective employers from Saudi Arabia for an interview… all in the same week.
All these opportunities presenting themselves while I was still finalizing my decision to cut ties with that school headed by THE religious.
So, I saw bright lights ahead of the directions I paved for my career path. It was very clear, if I decide to leave, I may either work as a teacher abroad or be the College Dean in that government-owned tertiary institution.
But what if I failed in all those three interviews I had?
Should I opt to forego of my plans to resign?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
~ Galatians 5:22-23
While going through the files I collected from the seminars the Congregation organized, I came across the lectures delivered by Dr. Bien (the only name that I intend to mention in this essay). I recalled how prolific he was as a speaker.
I started reading.
Those old lecture notes made me see something that I did not see in the many years I was teaching in that institution – the enormity of the role of a Catholic educator. It was not as simple as I thought. It is a difficult responsibility, something transcendental. It is not the subject areas that are being taught, it is the Gospel. It is not fusing the Gospel into a subject but the other way around.
I began to question what I did in all those years I spent in that school. Those lecture notes suddenly made me feel uncertain as to whether or not I deserve to be one.
I realized that only those who possess the fruits of the Holy Spirit can be efficient in carrying out the functions of a true Catholic Educator.
I finally figured out.
I thought it was a matter of THE sister trampling on my dignity as a person and as professional. It was me trampling on the dignity of my soul – if there is such a thing.
I don’t bear the fruits of the Spirit. My deeds and words… my ways of thinking … they make me unworthy to be a torchbearer in Christian education. I can’t be the blind leading the blind. Pretense and hypocrisy were tearing my soul apart. It was time to go.
I was eaten up by the hatred that I had towards THE sister.
My decision to leave became final. I had to leave not because I don’t have faith in her as head of the institution but because I am weak. I don’t deserve to be a Catholic Educator
Two months before the end of the school year I filed my irrevocable resignation.
A week after filing that resignation letter, I received e-mails informing me that the universities in Saudi Arabia decided not to hire me because I was not TESOL-certified yet. That rejection came two weeks before I completed my TESOL training.
It was not meant to be. I did not inform my wife about it because she was already so disheartened when I resigned from my job. Telling her that my first two applications abroad ended up in failure would make her definitely worried.
Then a few days before my resignation from the Catholic institution officially became effective I received a call from the city college where I applied for a job. I was home at that time watching TV with my wife. After hearing the first sentence from the one who called I was already sure of what he would say next. I asked him to give me a second.
I told my wife to turn the TV off while I intentionally turned on the speaker of my phone.
“Please continue sir.” I said.
“The President would like you to know that we decided to hire you. Can you come here tomorrow?”
That forced a smile on my wife’s face as silent tears rolled down her cheeks.
She gave a reward after that… a tight embrace.
“Today a new leaf can fall, a new page can turn… everything has it’s cycles and it’s time to fulfill that yearn.”
~ Stuart Young
I went to the city college and had another interview after which I signed the contract.
“Congratulations! Right here is your office.”
That was the President of the city college. A lady – minus the habit.
I was designated as Dean of the Education Department and should they find my performance satisfactory I would be the College Dean in a few months. I was comfortable with the arrangement.
I just officially turned a new leaf in my career. I was ready to write a new chapter in my life.
My dream of having a school of my own remains alive. My plan to work as ESL teacher abroad would for the meantime take a backseat. At least I already finished my TESOL training. The training I had made me more prepared to teach English to foreign students.
What became clear now is the fact that in my journey as an educator, the previous institution where I taught was not my final destination… it was just a stopover.
But yeah, it may have turned out like that – just a stopover but my former institution made me stronger and better as a person and as a professional. It prepared and nourished me as I continue my journey. And is the city college the final leg of my journey as an educator?
That remains to be seen.