(My Journey as a Teacher – 3)
“Means must be subsidiary to ends and to our desire for dignity and value.”
~ L. M. van der Rohe
“Why turn your back from a tenured position and a good salary?”
That was the common question my colleagues, friends, and loved ones asked me after hinting that I wanted to go out of that institution ran by one of the country’s biggest religious congregations. 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 knew where my wife was coming. She’s a very practical person. I was just about to complete my ninth year in that Catholic institution at that time. Leaving the school without completing at least 10 years would entitle me only to a refund of the total amount deducted from my salary over the number of years I stayed there and nothing from the congregation.
On top of that, the workplace was just a little-over-the-minimum-fare away from home.
She told me to put aside my pride even just for once. I said NO! It’s not pride. Then we had a lengthy discussion about the financial ramifications of my decision and the corresponding uncertainties it would bring. 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 convenience and money – my dignity as a person and as a professional.
I had a lot of disagreements with a religious, the sister president (that’s how the head of the institution is called.) I really thought that the abusive clergy of the Spanish era 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 was for me a cliché. I heard it said many times… 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 the living daylights out of me. She succeeded. It was a powerful shot… a knockout punch. But I didn’t crumble to the ground but rather stood momentarily stunned, surprised at how rude a woman wearing a habit could be. That confirmed what I thought were just hearsays about her shrewish tendencies.
Before I knew it, she was already a meter past me.
Like in boxing, before the referee could count me out, I stood up and regained my bearing. My pride was grievously wounded. 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 appointment before I could see the head of the institution. But nobody could prevent me from doing what I wanted to do at that time. I ignored her and went straight inside. The sister president was seemingly surprised to see me standing in front of her.
I refused when she asked me to sit down.
“What’s the problem sister? Why did you respond to me that way in the hallway earlier?”
“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. Please don’t do that again. Thank you for your time.”
I saw how her face turned red as I delivered those parting shots.
I knew that what I did made me a marked man. I know I just voluntarily wrote my name in her list of “dangerous and endangered species.” But I had to do what I ought to.
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 to other schools of the congregation. 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, for me, 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. And of course, it wasn’t her.
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”
~ Winston Churchill
“Where do you go from here?”
That’s another question people around me asked.
My better half 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 had forgotten that I don’t make hasty decisions when it comes to anything that would affect my family and my career. I also have parents depending on me so I could not afford to mess up. Even my siblings come to me once in a while to ask for help. In short, I need to be always gainfully employed. To ensure that, I need to have set goals and a definite plan of action to achieve them.
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.
I have a three-pronged career path to follow. Such is an offshoot of my dreams, education, training and experience.
My career path cuts through three different directions.
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 – occupy the highest academic position… Dean of a department… College Dean… or probably higher. I nurture such a dream. That’s the reason I took up a PhD in Educational Management. In whatever capacity, I want to supervise a school and teach at the same time.
I still want to teach while supervising. I cannot be divorced from teaching.
Third – work overseas 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 Catholic institution.
Any of my decisions relative to work should always fall within the sphere of my career path. I did not veer away from that path with that decision I was about to make.
“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 in the pipeline. I needed a capitalist partner for it to become a reality.
Most of my friends who have their own schools either inherited them from their parents or they opened schools backed financially by their moneyed parents or siblings.
I have no rich parents or affluent siblings and relatives capable of financing my project.
The most viable option for me was to find capitalist partners. I actively searched for people I could convince to finance my dream school. All they needed to do was invest their money and I would take care of everything else.
During the early 1990s, the town adjacent to my father’s birthplace was a good site for a computer school. There was none there then. With information technology starting to take over the world at that time, there was a strong demand for expertise and skills related to computer. That was the time when computer schools started to mushroom all over the country. It was the best chance for my dream to have a school of my own to become a reality. I created a feasibility study and presented it to several people I knew had money.
I wasn’t able to convince any of them.
Just a couple of years after that, a local businessman opened the first computer school in that locality. The big players in computer education also opened branches soon after.
The school I wanted to have was not within reach. I would have a couple more rejections after that. So, I focused on my teaching and supervisory job and put my dream of having a school of my own in the backburner for a while.
Then I received an invitation from a religious to join her team and lead their Education department. It was an offer so difficult to turn down. I resigned from my job then and decided to work in that school ran by sisters.
Under her tutelage of the first sister president I worked with, 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. I felt that that institution entered its Dark Age when my mentor left… and before I could completely revert back to my barbaric ways I seriously considered leaving the school.
When the next sister president came, I felt that things wouldn’t be good. I suddenly pursued actively my dream of having my own school again. I targeted as school site a town in the province where I settled down with my family. I created another feasibility study and started presenting it to prospective capitalist partners.
My most heartbreaking experiences came a couple of years before the resignation I was planning to make. Some of my friends and students knew these stories. In 2009, I presented to a Briton the business proposal I prepared. 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.
Finally, my dream school would become a reality… or so I thought.
Then the Briton lost his job in Oman in October-2009. Much to my consternation, he decided to back out from our project.
I did not give up on my dream. I never gave up. I kept 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. I found another one, an Australian who is working in a bank in his country and the 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. He wanted that the profit sharing be (initially) 80-20 him getting the lion’s share and that he should get back in full whatever amount he invests after 5 years. I did not agree even when he added that my share in the profit would increase annually until the profit-sharing becomes 60-40. My offer was nothing less than 50-50 and that he is not supposed to get back the amount he would invest. That’s his investment. None of us budged. 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, not just one (1) but 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 would discover the viability of putting up a school in that area.
Believe it or not, that gentleman from Australia was the 8th 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 “sisters” 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.” I never doubted my chances of finding another job should I really decide to leave.
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).” 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, hire 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 I also have a chance to get hired.
I got the information I needed for the TESOL training I was planning… and a bonus – I saw the advertisement posted by a city college searching for a College Dean and I have the necessary educational qualifications and experience for the position. That college is ran by a city government which means that should I get hired I would 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 salaries and benefits in public schools were beginning to get better. Public schools offer teachers better opportunities and a more secured future. My plan A was to find ESL positions abroad and the plan B was to find administrative positions in other colleges or universities.
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 was trying to drive at. She wanted us to save money for if I would really be quitting my job how sure was I that immediately I could find my next source of income.
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 the Middle East for an interview. All of those 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 overseas (plan A) or be the College Dean in that city college (plan B).
But what if I fail in all those three interviews? 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 a certain Dr. Bien. I recalled how prolific he was as a speaker.
I started reading the materials he discussed during that seminar.
I began to wonder why those materials did not affect me when I heard them delivered and expounded by Dr. Bien personally in the same way that they did when I read them. Perhaps I was not focusing on his talk that time.
Reading those old lecture notes made me finally 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 Catholic school. Those lecture notes made me feel uncertain as to whether or not I deserve to be a Catholic educator. The materials I read made me realize that only those who possess the fruits of the Holy Spirit can be efficient in carrying out the functions of a true Catholic educator.
Honestly, I didn’t think I bear the fruits of the Spirit. I did and said things that made me unworthy to be a teacher in that institution.
I was eaten up by the hatred that I had towards the sister president. My deeds and words and my ways of thinking and doing things make me unworthy to be a torchbearer in Christian education. I can’t be “the blind leading the blind.”
Pretense and hypocrisy tore my soul apart.
Suddenly, my decision to leave just became final.
I had to leave not because I don’t have faith in that religious as head of the institution but because I am weak. I am sinful.
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 more worried.
Then a few days before my resignation from that 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 turn on the speakerphone. I wanted her to hear something special.
“Please continue sir.” I said.
“The President would like you to know that we decided to hire you. Can you come here tomorrow?”
My wife smiled. Silent tears rolled from the edges of her eyes down her pushed-up cheeks.
The opportunity that knocked on the door I built was not a chance to work overseas as ESL teacher but to continue as school administrator.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” ~ C.S. Lewis
As the school year (and my 9-year stay with the Catholic institution) drew to a close, I attended my last Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) activity. BECs are intended to make the faithful live in communion with God and with one another. Such activities are like mini-retreats. They are designed to make the participants examine their conscience and reflect on their relationships with the Almighty and their fellowmen.
The central theme of that particular BEC activity was forgiveness. Fate would have it that I and the sister president shared the same table. She was already there when I came. I wanted to think that the organizers of that particular BEC set us up.
Courtesy dictated that I should acknowledge her presence.
“Good morning sister.”
Then I added the standard greetings of the congregation.
“Praised be Jesus and Mary.”
“Hello sir. Praised be Jesus and Mary.”
I could see how my friends and colleagues on that table were smiling on the pleasant exchange between me and the sister president. I wasn’t sure if those smiles were expressions of amusement or happiness seeing that I and the religious were on the same table and talking.
They knew everything that transpired between me and the sister president. They knew that I supported the formal complaint lodged against her, a complaint that reached the office of education ministry of the congregation.
I didn’t use any camouflage in expressing my dissent against her during those times. I don’t operate that way. I don’t like stabbing my opponents on the back. I want them to see when I draw my sword to give them a chance to prepare for my assault. I openly talked to the teaching and non-teaching personnel she offended, in one way or another. I encouraged them to complain. She had loyalists in our ranks and I was almost certain that through them she came to know about what I was doing. She summoned me one time to her office and asked me to explain. We had an unpleasant exchange then.
Then came the head of the congregation’s education ministry to listen to the first-hand accounts of the people complaining against the sister president. That was a week after I read Dr. Bien’s handouts.
I told her everything I needed to say – how ill-tempered she is and how grumpy are her ways that you would wonder if indeed she is a religious.
After hearing my litany, she asked me point blank.
“What do you want us to do with her?”
I was surprised, not really by the straightforwardness of the question but by the response I wanted to give. I thought I hated her and her ways so much that I wanted her removed from her office.
There seemed to be an eternity between the question and the answer I gave. I knew I was not the only one the head of the congregation’s education ministry talked privately to about the sister president. I wondered what did they say when asked the same question.
Before I responded I recalled how she took time to accompany me to the office of congregation’s lawyer for I needed an attorney for my defense in the case filed against me by two students who felt offended when I just tried to carry out dutifully my function as prefect of discipline. The case was dismissed eventually for lack of merit but at that moment when I was asked that question I just realized that it was difficult to dismiss the fact that the sister president could have decided to just endorse me to the lawyer by calling him but she opted to accompany me personally. I recalled her reason.
“Sir, I wanted to make sure that everything would go well. I saw how troubled you have been after learning about the case.”
That happened before we had that encounter on the hallway. I was so hurt by that so much so that all I could see from then on was everything bad about her. I chose not to consider the good things she was doing for the institution. She may not be as good as her predecessor, she may be ill-tempered, but she is very much a capable administrator.
“Is that question difficult to answer?”
I apologized to the sister talking to me for taking too long to respond. Then I said what I had to say.
“She has been trying her best to lead the school sister. Just please tell her to improve a bit on her interpersonal skills and avoid hurting people with her words.”
Then came that BEC that day.
“Congratulations sir to your new job! You deserve it.”
That was the sister president. Apparently, somebody whispered to her that I was already hired by another school. I told only a few of my friends about it. They may have told their friends too until the information reached the president’s office.
“Thank you sister.”
I heard a lot of stuffs about forgiveness that day. More importantly, I experienced it.
As a culminating activity, the BEC coordinator that day gave each of us ¼ sheets of short bond papers then instructed us to write there the name of the persons who hurt us and what they did.
I guess I need not say whose name I wrote on that paper and what she did.
The final instruction given was to fold the paper and approach the table where there was a candle burning. We would set the paper on fire, throw it at the urn beside the candle then watch it burn.
“Sir, let’s do this together,” said the religious.
“It’s my pleasure sister.”
The sister president and I approached the table where the candle was. The aromatic scent wafting from the candle wrapped us as together we made the pieces of paper we’re holding kiss the candle’s lighted wick. We watched silently as the flame consumed the paper on the urn. It turned from white to black… then gray. It turned to dust the way I would long after I breath my last.
“Sister, sorry for all my shortcomings.” What I meant with that was that I was sorry that I did not do well as a Catholic educator.
The sister president smiled and laid a hand on my shoulder and let it stay there as we walked back to our seats.
I wanted to leave the institution I served for 9 years without any emotional baggage. That was the more important decision I made… more important than my moving to another job. That way I found it easier to turn the pages of the next chapter of my life.