My Vocation As An ESL Teacher

How time has flown. I’m running on my seventh year in my current job yet it seems like only yesterday when I walked along the hallways of a newly-built academy for an interview, anticipating my acceptance in a field that I barely had substantial experience at and no essential qualifications for.

I had liked my brief stint when I taught bookkeeping to a class of young female adults studying in a finishing school – for administrative assistant hopefuls – in the past. So when I decided to quit the accounting profession (as it’s not my true destiny) at the age of 36, the teaching field had already become an appealing option.  On our side of the hemisphere, once you get past the age of 35, you automatically stand an awfully frail chance of undertaking a career makeover or even procuring a level-entry job.

Our Teacher's Party late last year. That's me in the middle, wearing a purple dress.
Our Teacher’s Party late last year. That’s me in the middle, wearing a purple dress.

The longest-running occupation I had before this one was my 3 ½ years Accounting and Auditing positions at a leading news publishing firm (before my era of improvident job-hopping). So dissatisfied and insignificant I felt about my work there that I once or twice punched my time card in the morning and went out the whole day to do something else – instead of proceeding into the office. I know, I know, what a horrific thing to do. I was 20 years-old then (It’s the best excuse I could come up with, sorry). At least, I am capable of remorse now. 🙂

academyfoto1My current job has been one of the darlings of my existence largely brought about by my passion for everything English. But things hadn’t been all quite rosy for me. Office politics, you say? Ah yes, I experienced that in the most contemptible fashion hundreds of moonlights ago. I almost got kicked out by my co-pioneers who wanted the non-conformists out of the academy (in which half a dozen of our colleagues fell). What they failed to realize was I am harmlessly and silently invincible. I hanged on. Just like in the many arenas of my life. Besides, my bosses made me stay. Most of the people who schemed for my ouster are gone now. The few that remained I was able to get along by way of civility up to this day. I’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that there’ll always be people who’ll commend my strength and people who’ll be put off by the placid gutsy interiors of mine.

academyfoto2Teaching the English language is easy and pleasurable. I even get a kick out of pronouncing the words and courageously manage a modicum of the British accent every now and then. The straining part is effectively allying with these students who come from one of the most affluent countries in Asia. These people have got fairer skin than most Filipinos, which could only aid in jacking up their superiority complex. They’ve been spoiled by their nation’s wealth and technology the teachers here, almost always, are obliged to dole out concern for their personal well-being. Well, there had been students I couldn’t care less – by reason of misbehavior or ill manners, and there had been students I developed compassion for. My students generally range from 20 years old and above – male and female. Some can be sweet and pleasant and likable you end up doing your very best for them. A perk of this vocation: Once in a while, you cross paths with a student who’d be willing to get molded in his or her English fluency and at the same time be led to a more linear direction to become a better individual. That’s when I feel my most productive while doing my work. You also end up sanguine for these young souls who might find genuine happiness in their tomorrows – despite a culture dictating to them that a plenitude of material possessions is the principal reason for existence.

How do you motivate a class of inhabitants who hardly appreciate the English language? Whose main purpose for learning it is to compete with the rest of their fellow citizens in clinching a high-paying job? That’s the never-ending challenge for ESL instructors like me here. Invariably, the students prefer “free-talking” than learn the rudiments of grammar or render some effort to expand their vocabulary. FYI: they’re better at Science and Mathematics, admittedly. The majority aren’t even into reading any genre of world literature. Funny thing is, they’d request we teach them Tagalog words instead – and as soon as we give in, our deed gets so well-received their faces would gleam in glee. Puzzling.

From middle of last year: That’s me on the left wearing green. I really don’t drink, you know.

A popular personal question that’s been asked of me by my close friends: Do I go out with any of my students? Yes, we teachers do that – e.g., going to the mall, go karaoke singing, club-hopping, drinking and conversation – nonchalantly for reasons of goodwill and diversion. But what about in more than friendly terms, you ask? Uh…it happens. Sometimes. Teacher and student (of the same age) engender romantic feelings for each other – even fall in love (“pol in lab” as we filipinos endearingly termed it here) – and start dating. It’s not tolerated in most academies. Yet it happened to me (and to many other other teachers, too) I confess. A learning experience I don’t intend to go through again. Never. Mark my word :-). Why? I’ve had misgivings if it had been worth it (Translation: the sex wasn’t phenomenal. joke-joke-joke)…although we could only normally think this way from a backward glance.

I know not what the future holds for me, as anything can happen, although I ponder that perhaps this is the last full-time job I’d be holding. It doesn’t pay much, mind you, but the Monday – Friday, 8:00 – 5:00 schedule has been ideal and the job isn’t too demanding. I also get to do other things during off-peak seasons when there aren’t many students. Like reading and writing blogs. He he…


Since I’ve been frequenting You Tube more often, I get to find the songs I liked when I was a child. The Philippine English song below not only hit our charts but Malaysia’s, as well. Yeah, it’s mawkish. But I’m sentimental – you already know that. And I was only 10 years old then. Surprisingly, the song is about a father who misses his young daughter after they got geographically separated. I didn’t know it then. Again, I was only 10 years old at the time :-). Two versions of the song down here: The first one is the piano version (by a Filipino talent), the second; the original one.


All I want is

Only to hear you say

That you love me, love me with all your heart, and to say

That you need me, like you’ve never needed anyone before

Except for God and your little dolls and your story books

Just me…

–      Missing You by Rafael Centenera

The End of a Friendship

flowerWe pledged of everlasting friendship and promised nothing could get between us. Contented was I in the shelter of our affinity for years that I’ve learned to trust the word “forever” once more. Don’t we crave for that word to provide a shade of permanence in our transient existence?

My best friend’s name was Ralph. The friendship began when he cautioned me against going out with one of his students – which obstinately took me some time to heed. Both of the same age; both private, hardworking people – Ralph and I found ourselves getting along better and better as colleagues. The camaraderie that transpired between us turned into a stronger bond. It’s been easy. Some of the best friends I’ve had in the past were male, gay or not. Oh, I forgot to mention: Ralph is secretly not straight. Although whispers have been passing around the academy for some time, I already knew about it the moment I first laid eyes on him. His voice and his movements had been telling. We never got to traipse on the delicate subject of his true gender in all the years we’ve been close pals. I have a feeling it had been a heavy ordeal for him. It could have been the reason he sought counselling in the past. It could be the reason, too, why he once tried to slit his wrist. These were events in his life he managed to share to me without unveiling definitive explanations. It didn’t matter anyway. The solidity and security I gained for having a friend like him were enough.

And so through the years, Ralph and I, together with the few buddies we’ve taken in to form as a group, revelled in each others’ company. Great times abounded.

Enter “Z”. My boss brought him to my room one morning and asked me to do what I can for him. This new student of mine happens to be handsome, well-built, sophisticated and smart. But so were the other students who came before him in our academy. Nothing extra special to my eyes really.

Now I’ve come face to face with the guy most of my younger co-teachers have a crush on. He had been staying in the academy for two months before he was handed to me as my new student. I’d also heard he has been juggling 3 casual girlfriends simultaneously. Repulsive – in my opinion. No doubt this is the kind of guy who holds a free license to siege ladies’ hearts. The kind of guy who’s confident about everything in himself. Well, except for his language skills.

“Teacher, I badly need to improve my English. Please help me.” Those were his exact words to me. A plea enough to spark the teacher in me. Words I need to hear so I could eagerly flex my best teaching muscles. An expression galvanizing my kind who thinks of no hindrance the minute a student expresses complete sincerity in learning the language.

In the succeeding six months, I focused on elevating Z’s skills. I took pains in constructing pedagogical blueprints on how to make things easier yet effective for him. His faulty memory caused by years of social drinking was our opponent. So we both worked harder against it. Relentless and determined, he’d follow everything I ask him to do. Homework, massive doses of reading, oral and written drills he would do diligently. I was pleased. We’d both glow with pride for every flawless sentence he could deliver.

What I didn’t expect was I’d eventually come to like him both as a student and a person. It’s not just about the good looks. He’s got depth than most of the pretty boys I’ve laid eyes on. He’s an artist – a metallic sculptor to be precise. Focused and insightful. A brave spirit with no limits. Watching the lone wolf in him from afar is mesmerizing. There’s also something about his deep, strong voice that stirs me. And his laugh…I love his laugh that can waft through the hallway when he is in a great mood. It made me delight in trying to be funny so as to elicit laughter from him in our every class – before we get down to the business of hard studying. Whenever we get tired from all the English books and drills, we’d resort to telling each other our stories and worries. This student Z has indeed inched his way into my heart like magic.

My boss once attempted a more important student replace him in our schedule – jettisoning him to a much younger and prettier teacher. I felt rotten. But Z did all he could to come back as my student. He might have surmised I was his best hope for his English ends. You could nonetheless imagine how happy I was to welcome him back.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve learned to observe my boundaries. I am not foolish. I might have crossed the line once in the past. Or twice. It was something I vowed never to do again. Not this time.

“Don’t forget to do the exercises on the book. I’ll check them tomorrow.” I reminded him one busy morning.

“Tomorrow is Saturday.”

“Oops, sorry. I’ll check them on Monday.”

Silence. He looked at me and slowly said with a slight smile.

“So…where are we going to meet tomorrow?”

Very tempting, I have to admit. “If you’ve got extra time this weekend, flip through the extra exercises at the end of the book. Do them as well.” I calmly remarked, calcifying my gaze on the papers on my desk.

I saw from the corner of my eyes how the smile faded from his lips. I was amused and felt victorious deep inside.

Six months into our progress, changes were made in his class schedule. Suddenly he found himself sitting face to face with another instructor – aside from me. It was Ralph. At first I said in alacrity, “Great, my friend, let’s join forces to help the guy.”

“I don’t like your favourite baby. Too sure of himself.” Ralph would sort of assure and tease me. I’ve confided to him how Z has become my “baby” student, even though I harbour no romantic interest in the guy whatsoever. I swear.

Well, here’s the piecemeal twist of event: Z must have found my best friend funny, too – as I would hear both of them constantly laughing in their classroom in the days that followed. Gone are the days when I was the only one who could cheer him up at school. Z’s laughter would echo and waft through the hall, transforming the echoes into tiny arrows that struck through my heart. Worse, as time went by, he would tell Ralph “stuff” he couldn’t reveal to me because, you know, I am a woman. Man to man they are. Z has no idea his new best teacher is gay.

It was lunchtime. I was checking some test papers when I glanced up and saw Ralph leaning on the door, his arms folded on his chest. “You haven’t talked to me the whole morning.” True. I have been evading his presence. I haven’t felt like being chummy with him these days. “I’ve been busy.” was all I managed to say. We went out for lunch and engaged in some small talk. A cold resentment building within me. Secretly.

It got harder and harder for me as the days went by. Me jealous, perhaps? I have no idea how to spell out my answer to that.

One day during break time, Ralph came to my room to share a story he already narrated to Z, gleefully relating how the latter found it highly engrossing. Not sure if he’s trying to prove something, I could feel the green-eyed monster crawling its way to me again. The bell rang. He wrapped up his story. As he started to walk away, I couldn’t contain myself anymore and blurted out, “Good, I hope the two of you live happily ever after.”

No way could I take back my words. An unsettling chill boded for some five seconds. Then he turned to me and said, “What did you say?” Discerning the danger through the sound of his voice, I averted my gaze so as not to meet the glare in his eyes. Then he started screaming at me. I dared not answer back. The other teachers got petrified – seeing and hearing our most mild-mannered male teacher lost his cool. He kept shouting at me while I kept silent. Real life accounts of ladies getting battered as a consequence of an altercation with someone like Ralph crept into my mind. The head teacher arrived and ushered him away from my room.

Knowing I was in the wrong, I apologized after a few hours. He accepted. In the two days that ensued, we got on as if nothing happened. The problem was, I still couldn’t take Ralph and Z getting closer. I still could hear their laughs, and sense their pending closeness. So I resumed ignoring and avoiding my friend again. Ralph must have gotten it; finally resigning to let the growing distance between us plant its ground. He must have liked Z that much too, as he circumvented and remained passive throughout this thorny matter bedeveling us. The death knell for our friendship kept flashing for weeks.

Finally, I asked Z to leave my class and look for another teacher. The conversation that followed wasn’t a pleasant one, yet we ended up peacefully saying goodbye to each other. Me – in tears. Then I marched into the office and implored my two bosses to allow me a two-month vacation. No reason given. They refused, but I was adamant. I didn’t attend school in the succeeding days, citing sleeping troubles which had long been afflicting me anyway. My bosses gave in and assented to my leave. Without pay, of course.

Emotions in tatters, I took a break from it all. I figured I’d come back when Z has gone back to his homeland – which I did exactly after two months. It was the only way for me, in spite of the staggering fact I put my job on the line.

It’s a decision I never came to regret.

This is a story that took place some two years ago. Ralph and I currently have a mere working relationship – and that’s all. We couldn’t go back to what we once were. We both understood the crack in our bond was beyond repair.

There goes another narrative I have put behind me. It’s now a closed leaf from the pages of my yesterdays. You always think you’ve learned your lesson well and everything has already fallen into places. Then all of a sudden, an episode will grip your heart and erode your peace and sense of order. It’s an episode I refuse to analyze, justify, and dwell on.

Up until this time when I’ve decided to write it down here.

Nature always pays for a brave fight. So does a human soul that grows most in the darkest hours preceding dawn. Sometimes she pays in strengthened moral muscle, sometimes in deepened spiritual insight, sometimes in a broadening mellowing, sweetening of the fibres of character – but she always pays. – W. G. Jordan