Saturday, January 09, 2016

Thank you, 2015

Our new school calendar, which starts the first semester in August and concludes this in December, posed one of the toughest hurdles last year.

I realized this when Christmas approached. Unlike previous years when the academic pace also winded down to give way to rehearsals for silly, giddy Christmas party presentations, our college yanked up the pressure with final exams and all the refined torture of “hell week”.

The worst for me was deciding to fail a student.

Underneath all that wrapping, Christmas teaches compassion. My dictionary defines “compassion” as the “desire to help” someone in suffering.

I imagined myself as a young person checking online and finding out, a few days short of Christmas, that one has to repeat a course or know with certainty that one will not be graduating with the rest of the batch. How will a setback like this help?

In a room in Tagbilaran, where I finished the final checking and grading, I remembered my late father’s philosophy. A physician-surgeon who trained post-graduate interns, he believed that every student’s failure was also shared by his or her teachers.

He viewed failure, though, as going beyond a failing grade and repeating a course. Whenever he was asked by the registrar to respond to complaints from students that had to repeat a course, with all the attendant expense, my father said he owed it to future patients that his students didn’t become doctors because my father passed them out of pity.

When a doctor fails, his patients are never around to complain, he said.

This year, I also learned about teaching—work that threatens to become but never really lapses into being routine after all these years—from my students. One of them is K., who could infuse a variety of emotions in intoning “Sayang ang learning,” his stock response whenever I gave his class another assignment.

When a young person complains about the excess of opportunities for learning, teachers like me are prepared for the usual fusillade of sarcasm, followed by creative displays of mediocrity.

I think K. found sarcasm too predictable, preferring the literal and straightforward. Since I believe a sure way to learn writing is through rewriting, I gave students opportunities to rewrite articles and earn a better grade with every rewriting, provided the copy improved rather than deteriorated.

K. wrote a review about a café serving macaroni and cheese that made me write with red pen on his first draft: I think there’s too much cheese here. He rewrote and rewrote his copy until I felt a gooey mass was actually stuck irretrievably down my gullet.

So, thanks to K. and his peers, I’ve relearned to reread not just language and ideas but the young. Just when I think age and experience give a vantage point, the young show there are more insights to be drawn from changing vantage points.

From the year that was, here are other things I am grateful for:

Family. I know myself better when I am with people who don’t draw back in letting me know how much I irritate them and why they’ll still be around, despite the first reason.

Families. Bloodlines are not the only ties that bind. Work creates families that deserve the same commitment. For a writer, sharing history with a community focuses the work and recharges the passion.

Faith. Each year brings the gift of remembering and moving forward.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 3, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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