By John Aaron Mark Macaraeg
Whenever I’d see Facebook memes portraying how most people’s childhood went, it would be about their favorite video games, traditional Filipino street fun and their toys. But when you ask how mine went, I would remember my five-year-old-self sitting on an armchair, together with students several years older than me. On our front was my mom teaching us how to multiply numbers.
My mother then was a public elementary-school teacher. At the time, she was an adviser of two levels of grades. She had to simultaneously teach two sets of students with different degrees of learning. I remember that whenever she would teach one class, the other one had to do a seatwork so she could focus on discussing a topic, then she would do so alternately. She had to do this because of the limited teaching personnel in their school.
My mother’s perseverance to invest in the future of her students by educating them made me realize something at an early age—that education was not just something she had been doing to make a living. It had also become a responsibility for her to ensure that her students would not astray from the path she had been setting for them.
Growing up, her students were like my siblings whom she also had to make sure were okay. It never bothered me that I shared half of her attention with her students. It was kind of better, actually, because then I wasn’t the only one at the receiving end of her scolding. Kidding aside, her classroom truly became my second home. I was always with my mom during weekdays because no one would look after me at home. I’d sit in her class the whole day and during lunchtime, we would eat together with her coteachers. And it became a normal setup for me to also call my mom “Ma’am Thelma” whenever I was on her class, just like how her students would address her. Her classroom became my second home—a home that was built on the foundation of each of her students’ dreams.
Maybe for most people, sitting in at a Grade 4 elementary class would be the most boring thing ever, especially for a five-year-old kid like me at the time. But now, as a college student who would get sleepy on a mere two-hour lecture class, I can look back on that phase of my life, and I can say that maybe, I never really found that boring. That stage of my childhood wherein I would wait for a day to pass inside a classroom, having no idea at all what people around me were reading and writing, actually became my fuel to really study hard later on in my life. Every time I would reach my threshold while studying and thinking of giving up, I’d just have to think that many educators were investing all their efforts and resources just to hone the knowledge and skills of their students. Because I saw how my mother really did invest in her students’ education, from her time, efforts, skills, patience, and even her personal financial resources.
My mom’s hardships and rough experiences while practicing her passion and career became my inspiration to continue striving. Like her, I also want to give back to our community. Even though I was exposed to the lack of support from our government to our local education system, I never really learned to hate the government. Yes, there had been shortcomings, maybe, from the educators due to budget shortage, but I also saw how my mom took painkillers every day due to her back pains and headaches as she went on teaching her students. The entire thing taught me that the teachers in our country, especially in public schools, may had been lacking in resources and materials, but it was not entirely their fault, and those never stopped them from imparting their knowledge to the kids. My mom’s journey as a teacher planted little seeds of aspirations in my heart. That one day, if I would have the opportunity to support the educators and ease their adversities, I would certainly do all the efforts to do so.
Sometimes, it pains me that I never actually pursued that same profession my mother had. But then I remember this conversation we had one time. I asked her, “Ma, if you were to choose a college degree program for me, what would you want me to take up?”
She stopped whatever she was doing at the time and took her time to think. She finally answered me, “Anything. Except a degree in education.”
I never had the guts to ask her why. I just thought that it might be because of the hardships she went through. And how she did not want the same thing to happen to me. But I know, for sure, that if she would be on the same crossroad again, she’d always choose to be a teacher and invest her life in educating her students.
Someday, when I have children of my own, too, I want to tell the story of a hero. Unlike other usual heroes holding a sword or gun with the milieu of the sky, she is holding a chalk on one hand, with the blackboard as her background. Ma’am Thelma surely saved lives, not in the physical and heroic clichés we see in the movies, but by way of inculcating values in children’s minds, planting dreams in their hearts and saving their lives, by giving them a headstart into their bright future. Whether my mom admits it or not, I know for sure that her sacrifices as a teacher have been the most fulfilling part of her life.