• ESL teacher at Philippine International English Institute
• Previously an ESL Teacher at Enderun Colleges and Britesparks International School
• Online English teacher at LSP Edu Philippines
• Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education in English, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasig
• Licensed Teacher (2016), Certified TESOL (2018)
Whenever I think about my first year of teaching, it takes me back to the late nights I spent, the lesson plans I carefully designed, the materials I diligently crafted, and finally my anticipation of the final outcomes. I was very idealistic and thought that all things were possible with just hard work and passion in the profession I had chosen four years ago.
I was wrong. It was a mistake to think that everything would go as well as planned. And when this reality struck me, I was left with thoughts that stayed with me for a long time. I told myself, “I’ve done my best. I’ve thought hard about this. What went wrong?”
These questions lingered in my mind until I came across numerous sayings, inspiring stories, and teachers’ testimonies that opened my eyes to the fact that I could still draw inspiration from my afflictions.
Here are some of the few that have left a tremendous influence on my life as a teacher:
1. Are you truly a bad teacher? Here’s how to tell. I read this article from The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss a few years ago when I felt so pressed down from the things that were happening in my classes. I was teaching academic subjects across different levels that gave me lots of pressure at that time. I’d make lots of presentations, prepare quizzes, plan the whole class, and think of thousands of activities.
One day, I knew that I was ready, but later I realized I wasn’t. One student was playing a Rubix cube. Another was sleeping and just waiting for the time to end. Others were chatting with their seatmates while sending me the hint: “We’re not interested.”
On that day, I was completely shocked and repeatedly questioned myself. “Why is this happening to my class? Am I ineffective? Am I a bad teacher?” I couldn’t encourage myself as I’d usually done with others at that moment. Although I tried to think that it wasn’t all my fault, I couldn’t help it.
Dismayed, I opened Google hoping to find uplifting words. And yes! I found this article that told me I wasn’t a bad teacher. I love kids. I see my subject matter not only interesting, but also significant. I always make sure that I master the lessons I’m teaching. I try to reach all students regardless of their abilities. I still work on becoming more engaged and caring as a teacher.
These answers I provided when taking the short quiz in the article allowed me to conclude that I wasn’t a bad teacher but that I should strive to be a better teacher. My time just hadn’t come yet. I may not have been great [yet]. I just needed to learn more.
Still, whenever I think I’m a bad teacher, I remember my quiz answers and this observation from Azucena Gonzales: The overriding quality of truly bad teachers is that they have given up. At this point, I haven’t. I’ve begun to rethink the goals and expectations of my classes. I’ve given my students the chance to take part in the planning of the activities. I’ve shared the class with them.
Gradually, they started warming up to me, and I began seeing changes that I hadn’t expected. One student was playing a game in my class, but it was a speaking game called Talktastic. Another one was sitting still, but he was waiting for his turn to answer the Jenga block questions. Others were chatting with their seatmates but to answer questions about the reading.
These wonderful changes did not happen overnight. It took time for me to understand my students’ interests, strengths, and points for improvement. Gamification and peer discussions were just a few of the methods that I’d learned through time.
It wasn’t easy at all, but it was all worth it. I did not give up, and eventually I got over the idea of being a bad teacher by doing more and more for my students.
2. When students don’t like you. Knowing that your students like you touches your heart and encourages you to do more. But what if it’s the total opposite?
In the past, I felt blue because of one student that I had. She didn’t like me. Sonia was a 10-year old pre-intermediate ESL student. She had that maturity that many girls her age didn’t yet have. Sometimes, I felt that she was an adult living in the body of a young girl.
On our first day, I began building rapport with her in class. I prepared games and visuals to keep her engaged. She took part in the activities, and I thought everything was going fine. But, one day before the class ended, she burst out words that I hadn’t expected to hear: “I don’t like having class with you.” Upon hearing this, I did my best not to lose my composure. “Your class isn’t fun at all. It’s very boring. I want another teacher. I don’t like you.”
When she was done talking, I was dumbfounded. I tried to calm down. Then I said, “I understand. I can help you find another teacher.” Instead of answering, she just abruptly ended the video class without even saying goodbye.
For a few seconds, I couldn’t think about anything. I could only blame myself. I felt that I was the worst teacher of them all. I thought to myself, “What happened? I’ve always done my best as a teacher.” But like the popular song says,“Our best might not always be good enough. Bad days will come that can either make us or break us.”
During that time, my motivation was shattered into pieces. I was dwelling on the fact I wasn’t good enough–until a friend rescued me and said, “Don’t be too hard on yourself. The problem doesn’t lie solely in you. It’s in the student also. If the student doesn’t want to study although you’ve done your 100% best, that student will still not study at all.”
After hearing those words, I realized how hard I’d been to myself. I’d blamed myself so easily that I hadn’t noticed I had been dragging down my own self-esteem and self-confidence. I’d always thought that whenever a student didn’t like you, that would be the end of it.
Yes, students can’t learn from teachers they don’t like. However, it doesn’t mean that they’ll dislike you forever. Working on relationships in the classroom and building a classroom atmosphere where students aren’t afraid to speak out are a few things that I’ve learned to do when students don’t like me.
Gradually, I realized that a student not liking you isn’t a reason to give up but an opportunity to rediscover yourself. It’s the best time to rethink and refashion the things we’re used to knowing about ourselves.
Not so long ago, I’ve begun to think about how I can handle a class in a more fun way, how I can prepare the lessons more creatively, how I can understand my students better, and, most importantly, how I can accept the fact that not everyone will like me.
3. We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. I was teaching a one-on-one class when I decided to use that quotation by Maya Angelou with my student Kurt. He was a college sophomore who was spending four months studying English in the Philippines.
Initially, he was excited, hopeful, and motivated to improve himself. He had lots of expectations for the class, and I did my best to reach them. During our first days together, we had normal classes with productive discussions. We had a good time getting to know and learning from each other.
But becoming so familiar with certain people, even your own students, can come with challenges. Because the more you get to know your students and care about them, the more you become vulnerable to the chance that they will hurt your feelings.
I wasn’t aware of this because I cared so much. I then saw with my own eyes that he began to detach himself in class, merely doing the activities without putting his heart into it. I was hurt and didn’t know what to do. “I’ve been trying to inspire him. Why did he suddenly become like this?”
To answer this question, I went straight to the point and asked him about it. I discovered that all this time he’d thought he hadn’t been progressing at all. He couldn’t see his improvements and found everything a waste of time and money.
I encouraged him with words I thought would cheer him up. But after a few days, he was still the same, and I began to feel crushed by the frustration of my student. I asked for advice from my co-teachers and planned special motivational activities for him.
After a while, I saw how compelling inspirational quotations were and how they affected him. Each day, we discussed one quotation, and he would share his thoughts about it. Among the tons of quotations we talked about, the quotation of Maya Angelou encouraged him the most. He said, “I understand now. I can experience defeats, but I will never get myself defeated. I’ll do my best to study English.”
At that moment, I concluded that he was not the only one who had felt defeated; I had too. As he rejoiced over his new inspiration, my heart leaped with happiness.
I then remembered the time I’d almost wanted to transfer him to other teachers because I just couldn’t keep myself optimistic. I’m so glad that I didn’t do it because I ended up getting another inspiration through him. When your student feels down, take time to feel the same way too. Understand the situation and find a way out with new hope together.
4. I’m not a teacher, but an awakener. Recently, I came across this quotation of the famous American poet Robert Frost. At first, I didn’t get it. How can a teacher be an awakener? Is this another part of the job description of a teacher? If yes, I think I should look for a new job that gives me only one thing to do. I’m getting tired of being responsible for lots of things. I don’t feel like teaching anymore.
You call this “burnout”. Like all the teachers who have reached this point in their teaching careers, I’d gotten there too. It was too hard to go on because I knew within myself that I was losing my heart in teaching. I’d grown tired and lost the fire I’d used to have. It seemed everything was a routine that I wanted to stop–until one day I had this activity with my Sunday School students in church.
The task was to discuss the following question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Everyone gave their best answers and explained their reasons. I was giving fake smiles and applauding them although I didn’t feel like doing anything.
Then, we got to this student who nervously stood in front of the class. I was not paying attention at all, but suddenly I realized that everyone was staring at me. In my confusion, I just said, “Okay. Continue.” She repeated and said, “I want to become a teacher like Teacher Camille.”
I was stunned. She then happily recalled the day I’d talked about how I’d become a teacher and why I’d chosen it. At that moment, I almost felt like crying because what I’d shared with her had truly awakened her dream.
I was ready to give up at that moment, but her words saved me. Those simple thoughts revived me. On that day, I discovered that I meant not only to teach content, but also to rekindle passion in my students. I shouldn’t think that teaching is just a routine–because every day is a chance to help even just one student recognize their future. When everything seems to feel wrong, I seek to become an awakener for my students and myself.
5. The great teacher inspires. Touching the hearts and transforming the lives of your students are better than having a 100% performance evaluation grade. We believe that great teachers teach not by the book but by the experience they’ve accumulated through time. And who doesn’t want to be one of them? Nobody.
We all endeavor to teach students for life. William Arthur Woodward says, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
When I reached my second year of teaching, I kept on assessing myself to know what kind of teacher I was. Today, I believe that self-assessment is the highest form of learning. I can know whether I’m doing well when I evaluate myself.
As of now, I’m fully aware that I still have things to learn. I might not achieve it in just a few years, but I believe that I’m on my way to inspiring more students. The most important thing is that I’m persevering and that I look forward to being a great teacher in the future.
The sayings, stories, and testimonies I’ve shared here may not represent the best of me. You may think now that I’m not the kind of teacher everyone demands to have. However, these experiences have all molded me into the person I am today.
They’ve help me endure the afflictions I’ve been through. They’ve inspire me to find the silver lining in everything. They push me to continue the journey I’ve started. They give me clarity in times of confusion and pain. I hope they also give you clarity too–because in teaching you can always find inspiration in your afflictions.