DID YOU know I was a teacher once upon a long time? I taught college Spanish although English was my major. I was in the faculty of Far Eastern University (FEU).
I worked with the nicest bunch of people. They were also my closest friends.
I gave up teaching only because I was offered the society editor’s chair in Manila Chronicle.
No, it didn’t pay me more. I always loved writing or anything close to it, and so I figured, why not? And after one whiff of printer’s ink, I was hooked.
It was one of the happiest experiences of my life, and to date, I don’t remember another job I enjoyed more.
Shortly after my stint at FEU, I opened a little nursery school at home. It was not my intention to do so. It just happened.
I had three children of my own then and the two older ones needed to get ready for “big school.” When my friends found out that I would be playing teacher, they begged me to get their kids ready, too.
Word got out, and before I knew it there were 21 children, ages three to five, some of them not quite toilet-trained, coming in every day for “class.”
I bought little tables and chairs and set them up on the lanai of my parents’ house in San Juan. Voilà! I had a school.
School time was from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., with a mid-morning break for a snack of galletas and Tru Orange. I won’t even tell you what tuition was.
It was only when we were into the first week that the thought struck me that I had taken on an enormous responsibility, one I was not too sure I could handle.
I suddenly realized that anything I said or did during school hours in front of these children would seriously impact them. It dawned on me that I had embarked on something very difficult and important, and it kept me up at night.
We had no internet in those days and I couldn’t Google my questions. I wanted to know about the newest teaching techniques but learned instead to trust my common sense.
I actually made up my own curriculum based on what I believed was basic and important for the kids to know before entering the “big school.” You could say that I ran my little school “by the seat of my pants.”
And as I taught, I also learned immeasurably. And I was surprised and pleased to discover that even the most coddled child needed structure and welcomed boundaries.
We had an interesting mix of students. There were two transplants with a heavy Brooklyn accent from an exclusive New York nursery school. Another little girl had just moved from Madrid and spoke only Spanish.
But children are amazingly resilient, and soon they were acclimated to their new surroundings and eager to make new friends.
I was extremely proud of my little students. I remember Chuckie. He was a menopause baby, born prematurely, pampered and overprotected. He stuttered and was, therefore, painfully shy. It took him a while to warm up to me and was slow in making friends.
He loved singing. And so throughout the year, I wrote musical notes for his lessons. He sang out his numbers and letters. Chuckie didn’t stutter if he followed a melody. Soon he became more confident and even attempted a conversation.
When I prepared the class for a Christmas presentation, I gave Chuckie the first stanza of “The Christmas Carol.” I held my breath when he came up for his speech.
There was no music. But happily, he did not stutter!
Chuckie beamed proudly when he took his bows while we all cheered and his mother shed tears of joy.
After almost two years, I decided to close the school. Life happened and I needed to free my time and make some important decisions.
Today I think back on that dark chapter and I cringe. And then God shows me where I am today and I am awed by His goodness and mercy.
A few years ago, I saw a photograph we had taken of my 21 students. My daughter showed it off at the opening of The Bridge School. The picture brought many tender memories. Time had gone too fast.
I remembered the blonde tall-for-his-age Jaime who cried when his mom dropped him off because he wanted to stay home, and kicked and screamed at the end of the day, because he wanted to stay in school. I am told he became a successful businessman.
The picture was taken after one of our “shows” where each child played something we saw outdoors. Jaime was “sunshine.”
In the second row a boy with dimpled cheeks carried a sign that said: “I am a garden hose.” I don’t remember what he recited. I do recall he had a way with words. Today he is a pastor.
The past week has been full of tragedy. Here in the United States, the highly charged political climate does nothing to assuage the anguished cries and impassioned protests.
I glance at the headlines back home. The death count keeps rising and it fills my heart with dread.
And then I hear a sermon by pastor Judah Smith of The City Church in Seattle. And in one fell swoop he calms my heart. In “A Response to National Pain” he admonishes us not to put our hope in places it was never meant to be.