Small Steps

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_hM9TIVoFG_E/SpyI3PstyiI/AAAAAAAAAi4/2rT0ArpZGYU/s320/IMG_4307.jpgI watched them entered the classroom with their parents, mothers mostly, holding them tightly on their wrists. I could still see the red marks brought by the elders’ fingers etched on the children’s skin. There were no hints of complaints and agitation from the faces little kids, only that same feeling of fear that dominates excitement. They knew their parents very well, they knew that once in their lives, they had to live on their own.

When I was a child, I used to imagine school not the same way as it is now. It wasn’t paradise to me before (who says it is now? just kidding) but a place where we had to be left by our mommies and daddies – alone. Alone with the teachers whom I mistaken to be men much similar to the childhood stereotypes of ‘monsters’. I am in college now realizing that they are heroes who fight the beasts.

I wondered if these same thoughts were with those three and four-year old children who were so quiet and reserved as they sat on the wooden arm chairs in a borrowed classroom from a public high school. There were fidgeting feets. There were those who impatiently stood up and walked around – I began to think if it was just excitement.

One parent, I am sure she was his mother though the wrinkles on her face, the glasses she wore, and that 70’s style ‘skirt’ fashion she was in might oppose me, ardently spoke to his son telling him to stay away from the corridor. Her words sounded so unreasonable to me just the way I thought if that was what a parent should do. The concrete posts on the corridor will fall on you, she told her son.

When we were asked who among our group would want to volunteer as para-teachers for children aged below five years old on the Summer Kindergarten Program our church annually launches, I did without hesitation. Aside from the fact that I became a student of it several years back, I joined because I wanted to help. To help not because I have the utmost capability but because there are a lot of things to fix.

It was held in Sauyo High School in Quezon City and the classes would run for six weeks. The ceiling fans inside the room did not work so we had to open the window wide to let the air in. There wasn’t much air door for a wall erected close to the classroom blocked it from the outside. Before the classes started, the parents were advised to leave their children behind for they would be working independently as a student. This order, if the children understood it, appeared to be so alien to them. Gradually, there parents went out and there were sounds of crying voices inside. It was the first time for me to wipe away tears from dozens of eyes. I am the eldest in the family but this scenario outwitted me.

Fortunately though, there are two things I have to be thankful of: that not everybody cried, there were some who stayed calm and watched their classmates indifferently as they wept; and the committee decided to let mommies and daddies be with their children as seatmates but only on this first day.

The classes started and being on the position of the teacher who is in front of the classroom. Those children whose parents earn much, parents who bear with them a high kind of confidence had the guts to let their children sit in front of the class. Those who belong to the lower level chose the corners and the edges of the groups of chairs.

I noticed the kids seated farther away from the teacher. They won’t listen, they either would stare blankly into space savoring everything new to them or, watch every single movement of their parents outside the door. I talked to one of them and told them to listen. The calmness and the sweetness of my voice wouldn’t work until you had them in your eyes.

When the teacher asked what the weather was on that day which was the very first academic question the children might have encountered, almost no one spoke. But when the teacher asked who knows what, a little boy from the front row named Jigo stood briskly and answered. A bald stout boy behind him nudged him with the pencil eraser at the moment he sat down.

The girls were highly friendly lots and you could see that as early as they are three years old – even without their words. It is common and usual to Filipino kids to follow each other’s activities involuntarily, that when one stands up, the seatmate does as well. I noticed two girls dressed beautifully who mingled away from the group. They were sitting far from the kids who were then singing the nursery rhymes flocked at the front. They didn’t speak to each other but their actions did. When one of the girls decides to join the singing, the other follows and when boredom strikes her as she goes back to her seat, the other follows.

Most those who became my early favorites, including Jigo and that fat boy, were undoubtedly belonging to the higher strata of our society. Their parents had cars when they were picked up after class and they were dressed in a more decent manner than the others were. But early favorites, I knew, usually falls from the top list, but we can never tell. Most of the students were shy and quiet on the first day. Some never tried to open their mouth to sing and to move their limbs to act though they stood firmly with the singing group. Some of the parents whose children barely participated pulled them out of the class and went home earlier than expected. Some returned the next day and the other disappeared like mist.

***

With such an incredible experience, I had second thoughts that may seem to revealing for some.

First, are education and intellectual capacity generally reproduced within the family?

Where is change then, if, as early as childhood (those days considered to be natural of persons – the times when we do not mind our words, when we don’t mind our actions, and times when we do not mind other’s reactions), I could see how they would grow up as human beings interacting with others based from their initial state of behaviors?

Some Filipino mothers, I sensed, are too judgmental of others’ actions. No wonder why gossips and ‘chismis’ prevail in community like a squatter’s area. Two mothers who were strangers of each other, I saw, were whispering words to each others’ ears. The committee knew that our implementation was not that successful on the first day of class but I hope that we weren’t the subject of the gossips.

‘Chismis’ (being a jargon we Filipinos ourselves devised) are ‘innate’ of us. Sometimes we don’t know that what we say are already considered gossip. It comes out naturally from us.

***

Dear readers, you might be so judgmental of this entry and might say that I am being too pessimistic of the topic and, in myself, capricious of others. I am merely observing but do not claim my statements as real.

On the other side of the coin, the situation made me decide that it is I, who should take action. I must not wait for their faces to search for mine, but hold theirs and gently guide them as I look at them in the eye. At the end of the day, I still have to be a teacher.

***

I graduated from the similar Program back in 1998 and was awarded First Honors.

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