At different points in the past semester, I found myself digesting essays sent by my students via email. Reading them made me wonder if this was creative nonfiction I am teaching instead of engineering.
But I am not a writing teacher nor am I grading essays. Students have sent me essays on the living conditions they had to endure this pandemic and their personal hardships.
I grew up in the generation that made fun of the lousiest excuses students gave (or is this so common?) just to get out of class.
I always thought that I already knew every possible scenario. After all, I had many friends who needed to take a break from their studies to tend to more important aspects of their lives. As I read through the excuse essays of my students, I realized I was wrong. Every situation is unique. In these troubled times, who would dare lie about their suffering? I took their words as gospel truth. After all, that is the best that I can do aside from words of empathy.
To believe in their stories is to humanize their current conditions. To believe in their narratives is to give this pandemic and everything that went downhill in these last two years, a human face—that our personal concept of suffering may be different from others. Our lived experiences are valid and the emotions we feel towards them.
One student expressed the disappointment he felt going through his second year not experiencing laboratory work. And I believe he is not alone. Students have been deprived of the opportunity to thrive in an environment with their peers. They have been robbed of time.
I was not spared by COVD-19 when the cases surged earlier this year.
During the first days, I barely managed to get up to check submissions. Not that I urgently needed to, as I have always made sure I clear my backlogs whenever I can. But I guess that makes it clear that whatever this mix of crises we are in not only affects students but teachers and staff as well.
I sit on a privileged chair. What about those who cannot afford to have gadgets and a stable internet connection? What about those who needed to make ends meet while juggling their studies? What about those who had to take care of sick family members? And what about those who had no resources to begin with?
To say that the pandemic shed light on the gamut of problems that at times become buzzwords—inequality, lack of opportunity, expensive and inaccessible health care, among many others, is a dry understatement. They have been there for quite a long time. Christ even said we always have the poor with us.
Moving forward, will this election be the answer? I hope so, but I know it cannot fully solve our problems. I hope, too, that we see the light at the end of this deadly pandemic.
I did not think that in our current setup, it would become apparent that teachers, too, can act as emotional first responders. Probably it’s just me, someone in my mid-20s, incessantly ranting. Probably, too, it’s because I am new to this job that I have yet to discover and experience more. I fear that I’d become numb to these experiences as I grow older.
Despite the questions and uncertainties, I hope for the best and I still believe in our collective capacity for change and our individual will power to do good.
For now, I hope that my students are doing better that when they wrote their essays. —CONTRIBUTED
The author, 24, teaches at University of the Philippines Los Baños.