Five Insights for TFP Alumni in Transition
The majority of my network knows me as a communications practitioner, a professional whose job is to bring advocacy and messaging together in innovative and sustainable ways. What many don’t know is that two years prior to this foray into public relations, I was following a very different calling. From 2013-2015, instead of my usual Uniqlo polos and slacks, I donned a DepEd uniform and reported to Krus Na Ligas Elementary School every morning to teach Grade III as a Teach for the Philippines Fellow.
I can’t help but reflect on both careers at a time where despite so much going on, I have milestones to celebrate. In a few months I will celebrate my five-year anniversary with my agency. PR years tend to function like dog years, and there is never a dull moment in an industry like this, so I can hardly believe I’ve gotten this far. I will also wrap up a contract job with TFP for module writing, and have already concluded interviews with current Fellows as part of an Alumni engagement initiative. Many who I spoke with asked what it’s like navigating both worlds, knowing the past tends to never leave us. I realized I could condense my answers into five key points, which I hope anyone transitioning from TFP to “the real world” finds useful.
These are based on my experience alone, but I hope they resonate with yours. Enjoy:
1: People won’t get it.
(Sorry to begin on such a downer.)
The worst-case scenario is they’ll disagree. They’ll have plenty of opinions on how to properly teach children despite never setting foot in a classroom. They’ll believe that the poor are hopeless and irrational, but do nothing but point fingers when people offer solutions to change that. You’ll learn to ignore them, but the fact they exist will eat at you, possibly forever.
If you’re lucky, they’ll be experts with decorated resumes, plenty of awards, and a few cool stories from when they stepped into the community for a quick visit. But they haven’t done what you have. You were there on the ground, never able to be completely clean, awake, or full, but confident that you were making a profound impact. And it will be frustrating that you can’t find a way to communicate this completely in your cover letter, or explain it when a hiring manager asks why you don’t have ten years of experience or a PhD.
You’ll question a LOT of projects. After two years I don’t feel like I did enough to help my school, so what does this group hope to achieve by showing up to the community just for one day? These people might not be rich but it doesn’t mean they can’t tell if a mural is poorly designed. Do these groups realize it’ll just be painted over once they leave? Of all the months to choose, why do they want to conduct outreach in the month with the most typhoons? Do these people understand that when they leave, life still goes on? Does ANYBODY actually know what they’re talking about?
And it’s not just limited to the office walls – your friends will do their best to be there for you, and their intentions will be good. But it’s highly likely that your new whys – why you can spend hours talking about everything, why things Benedict did in 2013 still make you laugh, why you miss meetings that require Whitney Houston songs to play at the end – are going to go over their heads.
You’ll want them to understand, but it might not ever happen. And the tough part is, that’s okay. Why? Because of my next point:
2: The world is big, and it keeps on spinning.
I spent the Fall 2008 semester of undergrad in Japan. While away from home, the org I helped to lead doubled in capacity, so when I came back home, a million things were happening and nobody knew who I was.
It’s sort of the same thing for TFP alumni. For every loss and victory you had during those two years (and there were plenty of both), everyone around you was also going through their ups and downs and growing in their own way. You will meet younger people in higher positions, who were building their craft in the office while you were building yours in the classroom. It’ll feel weird but make sense.
Another truth: the school community is also going to grow without you there. We are not Hermione Granger; we do not own a time turner and can’t be at school and in our current profession all at once. And things will continue on just fine. In the grander scheme of things, we are one teacher of many that these kids will have provided they stay on the path. It’s a funny paradox: if we achieve our end-goal of quality education, our Fellowships will become meaningless because all teachers will be resourced, invested, and engaging.
While we were training back in 2013, Professor Vicky Tantoco led an icebreaker activity where we shared a bit about ourselves, including one of our fears. A classmate shared that her fear is saying goodbye, especially to students. Ma’am nodded quietly, as if she had heard the answer a million times before, and replied: “You’ll have to get used to it. You have to learn how to say goodbye. Your life goes on. So does theirs. Letting go is a part of being a teacher.”
For better or worse, saying goodbye can actually be an easy thing. The next point focuses, sadly, on the worse:
3: It gets harder to love.
(Sorry again. I promise this gets happier near the end.)
Our kids only report to us for one year, and any guidance we offer beyond that time comes out of the goodness of our heart. The obligation to look after and grow these bright minds has been passed on. Sometimes this is an exciting thing. New teachers offer new lessons and new perspectives from which our kids can see the world and understand their relationship with it.
But there will be issues. And often you will wish you could drop everything and waltz right back into the barangay to fix them. After all, nobody’s perfect. Teachers will disagree over any and every issue. The kids will read into this drama and spread it. As leaders shift, you’ll begin to see your co-teachers in new dimensions, and you will not be comfortable with a lot of this. You may very well balance being grateful for the friendships you made when you were there with feeling relieved that somewhere along the way, Facebook invented the Unfollow button.
But it’s not just the administration. No, there are plenty of other influences out there, and you’ll cross your fingers hoping your students only gravitate toward the positive ones. True, you may have taught non-readers how to get through paragraphs. But gangs will still disagree. It will still be difficult for parents to put food on the table. The walls of their homes won’t grow any wider, and the odds of getting sick won’t go any lower, just because your kids now can conjugate verbs in past tense.
You knew all along you weren’t a superhero, but there will be nights where you wish you were. If only to give them the protection they deserve, if only to ensure they could reach the dreams they shared with you during the first weeks of school. But for the most part, we can only hope things turn out for the best.
Luckily, fate has a way of siding with us:
4: Everything happens for a reason.
A friend once asked me why I’m able to talk in front of large crowds without fear or nervousness. I replied, “The worst that could happen is I fail. I’ve already done that, and the world didn’t end.”
There were so many lessons I learned the hard way as a teacher. I broke every rule and suffered for it, and to this day I’m grateful that my first batch has forgiven me, allowing me to forgive myself. But everything I went through has come back to me in fun, if not embarrassing, ways. I would have never thought a classroom could prepare me for the demands of a PR firm, but here we are.
Some examples: I find myself unfazed by executives in corporate meetings, not because I’m an expert but because I’ve weathered years of having to communicate across so many different stakeholders. Talking about to a small group of adults seems so simple in comparison to a classroom overflowing with hyper young children. Having to re-strategize at a moment’s notice isn’t a nerve-racking thing for someone who had to go from Plan A to Plan B (or Plan J) 80% of the time at school. Learning how to anticipate and supplement communication styles and a diversity of personalities is as important as it is difficult to learn (and teach). And yet, it was my job at one point to do just that for everyone who entered my room.
Everything that went wrong as a teacher somehow creeps back into my consciousness to help me do my current job more effectively. And each time it happens, I think back to the kids who made it all possible, and smile at how once again they worked their magic. For two years I was their teacher, and for every year onward they’ve managed to teach me something new and valuable.
I’m convinced that as long as I’m alive and kicking, the kids will continue to teach me lessons. I’ll never be able to be completely rid of them, and I’ll be forever grateful. And this leads me to my final, perhaps most important lesson that TFP has taught me:
5: Nothing is as big as this.
In 2019 I emceed CineSpectra, a festival that premiered nine locally produced films encouraging audiences to become advocates. The event went well – we packed Cinema 4 of Trinoma to the point that people were standing on the sidelines. Two TV stations picked up the festival and broadcast interviews. I could barely push through the VIPs at our cocktail reception to climb the stage and announce our winners. In three months we went from wondering if anybody would care to strategizing how to best sustain this visibility.
When I arrived home, I wasted no time showering and getting into bed. Before I knocked out, I logged into my social media accounts and saw a message from CJay, one of my first kids, who was as intelligent as he was makulit . The message read in translation, “How are you doing Sir? I miss you so much. Thank you so much for teaching me things like verbs.” And my heart melted.
It had been roughly four years since my time at Krus na Ligas Elementary School, and I was convinced that the memories of me as Sir Adam had faded away. But moments like this make it clear – the experience will never leave any of us or anyone we impacted. Nothing is as big as the fellowship and nothing ever will be. Every time I think I’ve gotten further away from being a teacher and transitioned more completely into being a corporate professional, a student will message to remind me how much my blood, sweat, and tears actually meant, and renew a sense of purpose within me.
And so even as it seems like the world is getting harsher and more unforgiving, I know that I have reasons to keep on keeping on. There will still be plenty of days that are bereft of victories and filled with anxiety, days where I feel like I am sapped of all that’s left of my patience, days where I’ll ask myself why I am even doing what I do. But all it takes is a message from Carl calling me his second Papa, or Joseph asking for help with Makabayan homework, or Dheniel asking when I am coming back, to remember that I have over two hundred whys that inspire me to leave the world better than when I entered it.
Truly, the moments we shared as TFP fellows are gifts that keep giving. I can’t think of any experience that has continuously informed who I am and who I intend to be. As the years progress and the world continues to spin I hope we can all tap into these gifts and continue to leave our mark with utmost conviction, para sa bata, para sa bayan.
Adam Rabuy Crayne is part of the 2013 Cohort, and completed his 2-year Fellowship commitment in 2015. He taught for two years at Krus na Ligas, Elementary School, Quezon City.