The following Experiences entry revolves around the reflections of one of our Fellows, Teacher Bea, from her first week in graduate school as part of the Summer Institute of the Fellowship program.
During the days leading to the beginning of grad school, I wasn’t so sure of what I was supposed to feel. At the back of my mind, I had always had this idea that having experience is almost always necessary to survive graduate school. I know a couple of people who had to leave grad school and law school simply because they understood theories as just theories, and not theories in application. There were a handful of them and those who managed to stay would tell me that they never really understood what was going on. I was afraid to be put in the same situation. I felt incapable because I have no formal teaching experience. Of course, the support system of Teach for the Philippines is very strong and I didn’t think that I would have to worry about feeling inadequate. But for some reason, I just couldn’t quite shake the feeling of not being ready.
Fast forward to our first week in grad school, it was quite surprising that everything went so smoothly. I was thankful that we spent two weeks teaching at Commonwealth Elementary School because it was the one experience most of us could really share as a cohort. Not to undermine our other experiences in the past, but going through Summer School was the easiest to talk about because we all went through it together. Over two weeks, I can say that a lot of good stories have been shared between us over the course of our immersion.
Even though we went through a good lineup of classroom lectures, what really glued me in was the experience of sharing our stories with the rest of the Fellows. I literally found myself listing down all the interesting stories of people, their suggested classroom management and lesson planning schemes, the potential issues that may arise based on their experiences, the “awwww” moments they had with their students and even the funny and witty things that their students innocently ask about.
Our professor for the first week of class was constantly smiling from Day 1 until Day 5. She told us that the transfer of emotions between teacher and students happens very fast and thus, we have to be excited about what we teach if we want our students to receive it that way, too. She was so generous about sharing her knowledge that as a student, you would find yourself looking forward to the next sessions with her. And then it hit me. We don’t know what we’ve got until we lose it; but it is also true that we don’t know what we’ve been missing until it arrives. The stories I had been hearing from everyone were so novel, even my own, and I realized that I had found my place in grad school. Even if I do not have a lot of experiences to talk about or that many stories to tell, I’m here to learn from everyone else.
They say that we should never give up on something we can’t go a day without thinking about. They also say that things are doubtful and confusing at first so that we can appreciate them when they turn out all right; and that sometimes, good things have to fall apart so that better things can fall into place together. My first week of grad school was a good test of these beliefs and having been through the longest two weeks of my life in Commonwealth Elementary School meant the world to me. It is my first and only teaching experience as I write this, but it was already enough for me, and many others, to get by.
It is true that “experience is the best teacher” but now, I think that quote can go both ways. It can also be: Teaching is the best experience and the little and brief moments we have with our kids will always be enough reason for us to wake up in the morning. There are a lot of things I have learned but here’s the biggest thing I took from the experience was that I should not be afraid to get inside the classroom again. The classroom is for every one of us. In the recent past, we’ve seen kids as young as 14 years old get into college due to their outstanding scholastic performances and we’ve likewise seen 70-year-old people excitedly go back to the classroom in pursuit of their high school diplomas. For me, these stories are proof enough to tell us that indeed, the classroom knows no boundaries. No matter how old or how young we are, it will always be the right time and the right place to learn and for as long as we have the right reasons, we should not be afraid to enter the classroom once again. We all have our stories to tell and no one should stop us from telling them.
At the end of the day, I think getting into graduate school without formal teaching experience was more than just a leap of faith for all of us. It is all about realizing that if we don’t go after what we want, we’ll never have it. If we don’t ask, the answer will always be “no”. And if we don’t step forward, we’ll stay stuck in the same place. Therefore, the chance and choice to be here should not be seen as a lack on our part, but as an opportunity to make the little experiences we have to appear richer and fuller. Our two-week stint at Commonwealth Elementary School might have been brief, but in class, the pieces of ourselves that we throughout Summer School fueled most of the discussions, and I can say that the Fellows beam with pride every time they get to share something about what they did in the classroom. And when we begin to run out of words to describe the feelings we felt over the course of Summer School, that’s when I realized that we live for the moments we can never put into words. And maybe, that makes us ready to be where we all are today.
Beatrice Sheena Tan, or Bea, 22, graduated from De La Salle University in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology. Her greatest ambition is to put up a centralized public transportation system in the Philippines. This June, she, along with three other Fellows, will be assigned to teach at Apolonio Samson Elementary School.