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Teacher Appreciation: On Meeting My Reflection Halfway

Joined: 5/2/2015
Posts: 1

It’s a fact of life that at this age, none of us like ourselves. It’s our most common trait and our largest hindrance, and the journey to overcoming it isn’t easy, nor quick. Until now I’m not sure even I have reached this coveted destination, and yet, today I find myself well on my way.

When I first met my favorite teacher, she didn’t have the best credentials or skill when it came to mentoring creative writing majors, least of all terrified adolescents like myself who had just stepped foot on arts school as freshmen. (Any arts school alumnus will testify that this is a truly trying time.) It was her first year of teaching at the school, and she was just as green as we were. It was obvious in the low, standoffish way she spoke, and in the muted terror that peered at us through her round frames.

Though at the time I didn’t know it myself, I saw my own struggles in her, and in typical self-loathing-teenager fashion, I hated her for that. I didn’t want a teacher like me. I wanted a teacher who had all the answers! Nevertheless, I had no choice but to forge on with the school year, and submit my stilted poetry for her criticism and revision. As we analyzed each poem I wrote it seemed to me that she did nothing but ask: how do you feel about this stanza? Why did you choose this particular word? What was your goal with this poem? I didn’t know, and it irked me that she didn’t, either. I had no choice but to learn to ask all these questions in my head, to murmur them to myself at godforsaken hours of the night spent trying to please her, please her, please her.

My approach didn’t take. It seemed that no matter what I did my work could never impress her, and knowing that broke me more than anything: wasn’t writing supposed to be expressing what was inside of you? So if my own writing wasn’t enough, did that mean I would never be, either?

By the end of the year I hoped something climatic would have happened. Maybe she’d have a nervous breakdown in front of us, or confess things, anything, so I could wrap up how I felt about her into some explainable conclusion. But my life wasn’t a written work, and to my disappointment, neither was she. The year came to a quiet end on that front. Still, I had grown harder and stronger.

In the beginning of sophomore year, the news came that she had won a Palanca, an award given to the most prestigious names in modern Philippine literature. The moment our director announced it to the student body, she broke down crying: real, wracking sobs that her thin little hands could not have stopped even if she tried. I realized then that the past year had been hard on her, too. She had grown and learned and suffered in all the same ways we had, and now, knowing it had been worth something set off a waterfall in her heart.

Suddenly, knowing she was me wasn’t so bad anymore.
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