Monday, May 28, 2012

on the other side of the teacher's desk

Well, it's official: I'll be teaching at the University of the Philippines this coming semester.

It's a very odd feeling. On the one hand, I'm incredibly pleased and more than just a little bit flabbergasted. I mean, there's a part of me that's wondering if I was accepted because of what I've done (and wasn't I planning towards this moment ever since I was younger? Even before I graduated from college?) or because of who my parents are. I mean, I'm always a proponent of meritocracy, but I know that many institutions in the world still practice a form of nepotism. I am hoping for the former - I'd like to think I *am* good enough to teach at the university level.

On the other hand, I know that the whole journey's just about to begin. And we're already given a late start as it is: it's only about two weeks until classes start, and we've yet to receive our appointment papers or our class schedules. I have no idea how to prepare for any class, and while I am aware that I do not need to rely on the university for little things like lesson plan formats and class requirements (ah, the freedom of being in a state university!) I'd still appreciate a head start. And I am aware that it's going to be an uphill battle - I've never taught a class before and, to a certain extent, I'm pretty much starting on a clean slate.

But then, I end up thinking about why I want to teach: because I want to share the stories I love, because I want to help students use English as a tool for communication, because I want to bring up the academic level of the university I love. It's naivete, I know, wanting to serve - but it's true. At the end of the day, I don't want to waste the rest of my life sitting behind a desk, tapping away on a computer keyboard, and wondering where the heck my life is going. And I did that - don't get me wrong, I loved working for Habbo as a site producer, but once I got demoted and had to answer a shitload of emails that complained about every. single. freaking. thing in the world, it rapidly went downhill from there. I mean, I understand having to earn a living, but as far as I am concerned, it's not really about the amount of money you earn, but what you really want to do for the rest of your life. Because money goes around, and if you're resourceful enough and clever enough, you'll be able to live a comfortable life. But figuring out your purpose is a much more difficult thing - and that's the thing you have to build up on, that's the thing you need to ponder about as you go about your day-to-day life. And you're not going to achieve that sitting behind a desk, answering a quota of emails.

(Although I do accept that sometimes, we need to accept soul-sucking jobs just to pay for things like room and board and the occasional movie. This is acceptable - as long as you are doing other things with your life. Like composing the next great opera or writing the next great Filipino novel, or crafting the perfect sculpture of your lover's penis. Whatever floats your boat, man. Whatever floats your boat.)

And yes, it all boils down to this: I want to give back. I've been incredibly privileged to have been educated the way I've been educated, and I want to pass it forward. I know I might not be as good as my own teachers, most of whom were exceptional in their chosen fields of study and who were passionate and compassionate and kind and enthusiastic about the subject and were quick to call out on our bullshit - but I want to try.

After all, I live in a world where, 300 years after Rousseau stated that "The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young child by making him reason!" (On Education, 1762) education is still a privilege instead of a right for all. I live in a world where women are still judged by the men we are associated with and where a bunch of unmarried men are still dictating the rights and wrongs of our bodies and our choices, where there is a sign along a national road in one of the most densely-populated areas in the city that says "No to the RH Bill" as if it is a God-given right that men should have control over what I do with my body. Where my greatest triumph is not my personal achievements but who I am dating and whether I've managed to lose five pounds over a newfangled diet or attempted to starve myself in order to fit into some socially-constructed paradigm of what beauty is. Where the "purity" of my vagina holds more value than my thoughts and opinions and ethics and morals. And these are thoughts and paradigms that need to be questioned, and one of the most effective ways they can be questioned is through learning how to communicate effectively, how to read critically, and how to express ourselves using words.

Over the weekend, someone asked me why one should read literature. It was in the context of reading recommendations, and she asked me what was the difference between reading Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and the latest Steve Jobs biography. I said: Contemporary publishing, to a certain extent, is all about what will sell. It's not just about literary value anymore - whatever literary value might mean - but what is marketable, what is sellable. It's like the difference between eating junk food and sashimi. Junk food is easy to eat and palatable and you can consume a lot of it, but ultimately it's empty calories. You might be scared of raw fish, and you might find that you need a certain amount of courage to eat it, but at the end of the day, it's a sublime experience. Just substitute "junk food" for "Steve Jobs biography" (or "Twilight" ha ha) and "sashimi" for "Jane Austen", and I suppose you'll see what I mean.

And I guess that's what comforts me at night: this is going to be difficult, and it will be an uphill battle all the way, but if I get more students to put away their junk food and try a bite of sashimi, then I've already done my job.

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