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When I Left That School (5)

(Last of 5 parts)

“How many times shall I forgive my brother? Up to seven times?

That, in a nutshell, was what Peter asked the Lord Jesus Christ  in Matthew 18:21.

And how many times shall I be forgiven also by people I have offended?

As the school year (and my nine-year stay with the Catholic institution) drew to a close, I attended my last Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) activity. BECs in the congregation schools 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.

Chance  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 at 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 matriarch were at the same table and talking. They knew everything that had 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 the 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 or dagger to give them a chance to prepare for my assault. I openly talked to the teaching and non-teaching personnel she had 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 the head of the congregation’s Education Ministry came 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 was and how her grumpy ways led me to wonder if indeed she was a senior representative of a religious order. After hearing my litany, she asked me point blank.

“What do you want us to do with her?”

I wasn’t able to respond immediately.

I was not really surprised 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 had talked privately with about the Sister President. I wondered what they had said when asked the same question?

Before I responded I recalled how she took time to accompany me to the office of the congregation’s lawyer when I needed an attorney for my defense in a case filed against me by two students who felt offended when I just tried to carry out my concurrent function as prefect of discipline dutifully. The case was eventually dismissed for lack of merit. Nonetheless; at the moment when I was faced by that question I realized that it was difficult to just dismiss the fact that the Sister President could have decided to simply endorse me to the lawyer by calling him. But she had opted to accompany me personally. I recalled her reason.

“Sir, I wanted to make sure that everything would go well. I noticed how troubled you have become after learning about the case.”

That happened before we had that encounter in the hallway. I was 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 was very much a capable administrator. It was when she took over as Sister President that the department I was leading had more students.

“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 on your new job! You deserve it.”

That was the Sister President. Apparently, somebody had whispered to her that I had already been 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 replied.

I heard a lot of stuff 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. It’s obvious. 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 into the urn beside the candle then watch it burn.

“Sir, let’s do this together,” said the Sister.

I obliged.

“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 in 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.”

I said sorry for I know I offended her in many ways. I said sorry for I know 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 left the institution I served for nine 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 to the next chapter of my life.

Fast forward…

One morning, seven years after I left that congregation school, I was at the Incheon International Airport waiting for the bus going to the university where I’m currently working.

Yes, eventually I was hired as an ESL teacher by a university here in South Korea. What happened?  I worked only for one year as the College Dean in the tertiary institution where I transferred after leaving that congregation school. Thereafter, I became a Principal in a basic education school, also for a year only.

Those two schools were so unlike the Catholic institution where I worked. The systems and the values were totally different.

The people I supervised as College Dean (and concurrently as Dean of the Education Department) after I left that Catholic institution were great but my fellow college officials… two of them… OMG! Not all educators are educated. Not all educators practice professionalism.  The people I supervised as Principal of a basic education institution after I left the city college were great too except… again… for another two.

The pay may be higher and I had lesser work, especially when I became  a Principal, but I missed the professionalism, the strong sense of direction, the personal and professional development, and the academic ambiance that I got accustomed to for nine years. That resulted to job burnout and identity crisis. I must admit – I regretted  leaving the congregation school. I didn’t tell my wife about it because I know what she would tell me. I did not tell my mother that I failed to find a better school. 

I knew I wouldn’t be staying there long. So, I went back to the drawing board. I revisited my career paths.

Two months before completing my first year as a school principal, when from a website I read that there was an opening at a university in South Korea, I sent them my curriculum vitae.  I have had enough of supervising somebody else’s school. I wanted just to teach. I felt it was time to rekindle my dream of teaching abroad. One of the officials of that South Korean university visited the Philippines and interviewed the applicants there. I was invited. 

Then came the answer to a prayer – after just two weeks after the interview, I received an email from that South Korean university informing me  of their decision to hire me. That was just what the doctor ordered. The job burnout and the subsequent identity crisis took a lot from me. It led to some personal problems as well. To be given a chance to teach in another country was the fresh start that I needed.

Here in South Korea, I had the career reboot I wanted and a  wonderful bonus – I rediscovered my passion for writing. It also gave me the chance to pursue more seriously my interest in personal growth and development.  As to whether I would be able to save enough money to finally start a school of my own, remains to be seen.

Going back to Incheon airport…

While enjoying a cup of hot caramel macchiato at the airport, I tried to look back at my long career as an educator – both as a teacher and school administrator. That morning I just came back from the Philippine where I spent my winter break.  At that moment, my heart was drowned with gratitude at the thought that I am so blessed to be given the opportunity to become an ESL teacher here in South Korea. Then suddenly I recalled that incident that morning when the Sister President rudely responded to my greetings. Had she not done that, would I consider resigning? Would I be here in South Korea?

As I was thinking about all those things, something hard to believe happened. A familiar face entered the coffee shop. It was the Sister President. Indeed, ours is just a small  world. I could have easily decided to just pretend I didn’t see her but  I just found myself standing from my seat and allowed that our paths cross again.

“Good morning, sister!” I warmly greeted her the way I did on that fateful morning many years ago when we had that unfortunate encounter. She did not respond grouchily the way she did then instead she called out my name so loudly and excitedly that she drew the attention of the other people in that coffee shop.

I gently put her hand on my forehead. After that she embraced me.

She was both surprised  and delighted to see me there.

While her companion went to the counter to order, we stood there excitedly chatting, just like two old friends who have not seen each other for a very long time.

Before they left for they had a bus to catch, we both took pictures of that special moment we had together. We both made sure that that special moment would be  preserved for posterity.

When I Left That School (4)

“Is your decision final?”

That again was my wife making a last-ditch effort to sway me from making that decision. She asked me that question when she  saw me sifting through a box of documents I brought home that night. She noticed that I was already slowly bringing home my personal belongings from my office.

Then again I gave my wife what became my classic response – “Trust me. I know what I am doing.”

While going through the files in that box,  I came across the printed materials of a  lecture 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 was kept from my view in the many years I had been 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 had done 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 bore the fruits of the Spirit. I did and said things that made me unworthy to be a teacher and administrator in that institution.

I was eaten up by the hatred that I had fermented towards the Sister President. My deeds and words, and my ways of thinking about and doing things make me unworthy to be a torchbearer in Christian education. I couldn’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 resignation. There was no more turning back.

A week after filing that resignation letter, I received e-mails informing me that the universities in the Middle East decided not to hire me because I was not yet TESOL-certified. Those rejections 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 even more 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 as College Dean. 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 have decided to hire you. Can you come here tomorrow?”

My wife smiled. She tried unsuccessfully to prevent tears to roll from the edges of her eyes. The opportunity that knocked on the door I built was not a chance to work overseas as ESL teacher (yet) but to continue as a school administrator.

NEXT: How many times shall I forgive my brother? Up to seven times?

When I Left That School (3)

(3rd of 5 parts)

“Do you think you can find a better school?”

That was my mother. She added, “Leaving that school was like letting go of a very stable job to face the uncertainties of finding a new one.”

When she told me those things, it became apparent that my wife asked her to convince me not to resign. In that moment I recalled what I had 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 the situation to my mother 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 seemingly so long before.

It’s clear that the opportunity for the realization of my dream to have my own school had not come knocking yet. So I thought of building a door where opportunity could knock. I thought it was time for me to consider working as an English teacher overseas so I could earn more and save money for my dream.

Thus, I set my mind on pursuing a teaching career abroad. I was told that it would be easier for me to be employed as an English teacher overseas if I was certified in “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).” I searched the Internet for institutions that offered TESOL training and started looking for job openings for ESL teachers abroad.

My search for ESL jobs abroad validated what my friends had been telling me all along – that most schools abroad, particularly in Japan and South Korea, hired only native English speakers as teachers. But I knew that there were also Filipinos teaching English in the aforementioned countries. If they got hired, I thought I would 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 that had been posted by a city college searching for a College Dean. I had the necessary educational qualifications and experience for the position, so I took the plunge. The college was run by a city government which meant that should I get hired I would become a 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 now to find ESL positions abroad with plan B being to find administrative positions in other colleges or universities. It seemed plan B was shaping up.

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 to that city college, I enrolled for a 120-hour TESOL training program.

“You are resigning from your present job then you will be spending money for that training?”

My wife again! I just nodded in response. I knew what she was trying to drive at. She wanted us to save money. After all, if I was really quitting my job just how sure was I that I could immediately find my next source of income? My wife knew however, that even if she disagreed with my plans I would still push through with them.

I enrolled for the TESOL-certification program. I also applied on-line for 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 presented themselves while I was still finalizing my decision to cut ties with the school headed by the religious order.

Bright lights lit up the directions I had paved for my prospective career paths. It was very clear. If I decided to leave, I could either work as a teacher overseas (plan A) or be the College Dean in the city college (plan B). But what if I failed in all three interviews? Should I opt to forego of my plans to resign?

NEXT: “Is your decision final?”

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