Teaching used to be an absolute no-no when I was charting out possible career paths after graduation. Eighteen years incarcerated in a stifling education system left me feeling suffocated. The overemphasis on letter grades and the one-way-to-the-top style left me with an unpleasant aftertaste. Just as I thought that I was done with the education system and anything peripheral to it, one of my friends approached me to help out with teaching English at her newly-minted tuition center. Well, it wouldn’t hurt, considering that at that time I was not yet gainfully employed and that it was my means of livelihood. I have always loved reading, writing and English for that matter, and teaching that at primary school level should not require too much racking of brains. Easy peasy.
So I did as I was paid for. The first lesson seemed fun. Though I was a little concerned at how the kids would take to me and how to manage a group of chatty, hyperactive kids, and how to get their attention to get the class going. It seemed mechanical at first, delivering the lesson and sticking to my agenda within the class duration. Days turned into weeks, and then months. The kids seemed to have taken a liking for me, and communicating with them genuinely warmed my heart and restored my faith in humanity. My personal journey in the education system here has had its ups and downs, and through university I have come across the ugliness of the human nature like politics, for instance, news of the poisoning of a labmate’s experiments to get ahead, ruthless competition and plain ugliness. I do not deny that the way to the top could be fraught with drama of that sort, and when I am encountered with the innocent demeanor of my kids, it feels regrettable that probably, someday, in their journey of growing up, the reality of life would cause that bubbly childhood innocence to fade away in place of a hardened heart immune to the arrows of real life. I try my best, while teaching the syllabus, to drop in little life lessons that may leave them pondering, such as not to compete with your neighbor on who finishes the assignment the fastest, but rather, to focus on your own learning and competing against your own previous performance, to do better. Occasionally, I would ask them what they want to do in the future. Responses vary from, doctors, teachers, coaches, scientists. I believe it’s never too late to think about what you want to do. Of course along the way there could be detours or a change of heart, but self-discovery is a daily thing. I mean, I had just realized that I enjoy teaching. Oddly, I feel more energetic after teaching, and the rapport between me and the kids is tangible.
Michelle Obama once said that it was normal to not know what one wants to do after graduation; even she is asking herself that question at the very moment, what’s next. So her advice was to just take on whatever opportunity life presents to us at the very moment, and to make the best use of it. Thank you, First lady. You may be miles away from where I live but your wisdom has impacted me more than my high school teacher or local politician.
Even as I am embarking on a new role, I am always open to going back to teaching at any capacity. The responsibility of being in a position to inspire and educate people is a noble one, not just in terms of academics, but life values. While we cannot guarantee that the inculcation of values will eliminate the development of ugly and unethical behavior that arises from competition, I’m sure every effort to educate our young ones well will go a long way. I remember that in my schooling years, I had encountered dispassionate and slipshod teachers who very clearly just wanted to get their work over and done with. Their very presence emanated a foreboding and dislike for that particular subject. Education has to come from the heart, and should value-add to the person. I am baffled at how such teachers had gotten their foot through the school gates in the first place.