Monday, January 11, 2010

A Journey and an Awakening

I met John during my first class, one rainy day.

“Miss Mendoza,”

“Present, Ma’am.”

“Miss Lozano,”

“Here, Ma’am.”

I went on with the roll call.

“Miss Cruz.”

“Present, Ma’am.”

Just then, a loud bang echoed in the room. We all turned to see a bedraggled young man, with unkempt hair hurrying to an empty seat. I was irked. He didn’t even bother to apologize; he just sat down and proceeded to delve into his backpack.The nerve!

“The new arrival, may I have your class card, please. “

“Ma’am just a moment,” he rummaged in his bag and we all watched silently as he went through his things.

“I don’t have it,” he finally declared. “Can we just go on; I could submit that next meeting. It’s no big deal,” he added nonchalantly.

I wanted to contradict him but I didn’t want to lose my temper, so I managed to bit the words at the tip of my tongue.

“Alright, don’t forget to bring it next meeting. For now may I have your name on a one fourth sheet of yellow paper.”

He nodded.

After the roll call, I started with the introduction of the topic.

“Physiology is an interesting topic because you would learn about the biochemical processes occurring in your body, like how does the body maintain your normal sugar levels…”

“Personally, I’m not interested in that, I’d rather learn about how orgasm occurs and what makes the penis erect,” the pronouncement reverberated in the room.

I stared agape at the brazen young man. A smart aleck, huh!

It was him, again!

The whole class erupted with laughter.

I was used to questions like that and I knew that these were students who just wanted attention for reasons only they knew of.

“Well, Mr. …” I started to leaf through the cards for the yellow paper.

“Castillo, Ma’am,” he provided promptly, snickering in his seat.

“Mr. Castillo, if you’re not too in a hurry, that would definitely be part of our discussion, but for now, you’ll have to listen to me for the introduction of the subject, or you’ll have to leave the room.”

The next meeting, he came in early. He sat slouched in his chair and started doodling. I began with the lesson expecting him to stop but he went on scribbling in his sheet of paper. I continued with my discussion, and as I did, I started to walk around the classroom. He did not change his stance even with my approach. His outright insolence was getting to my nerves.

“Mr. Castillo, may I see what you’re busy with?”

He didn’t even bother to conceal it. There in his notebook was a beautifully drawn caricature of a known politician with two large horns on her head and the trident of Poseidon in her right hand. I silently stared at it, as people beside us started to giggle. This young man definitely spelled trouble, I realized. I bit a scathing reprimand and counted 1 to 10.

“Mr. Castillo, please see me in the faculty room after class.” I said sotto voce. I tried hard to conceal my irritation.

When he came to see me, I asked him, if he had any problem. He denied having one. “I just hate routine,” he replied. He was not antagonistic just simply indifferent so I decided to give him a chance. I provided him some responsibility to channel his energy. I appointed him class monitor; that is, he had to help me monitor the attendance and behavior of his classmates, every class period.

At first, there was a slight resistance, “I forgot the list Ma’am, why don’t you let someone more responsible do it,” he would prod me, bait me.

“No, I want you; because I know you can do it.”

And slowly, I was making progress. Every time he came to give the list, I made small talk. “What’s up?”

“How’re you doing now,” etc.

And every time I got curt replies. As days progressed though, he slowly began to open up. One time when he helped me carry my bags to the school gate, I happened to asked how his parents were.

“They’re in the states, Ma’am. I live here alone.” I was genuinely surprised.

He eventually confided that he was sent ‘home” to the Philippines because he had been involved in a gang war in the States, and they were bent on taking him out. I learned that he had lost all hopes for a better future. “I’m just waiting for the ax to fall, Ma’am.”

I thought about him all night. How hard it must be for him to be literally “abandoned” and “exiled” back "home," where he didn’t even speak the language well…

He got low scores in memorization but I could discern that he was intelligent because he got high scores in analytical questions.

“I don’t even think I’ll be passing third year Ma’am,” he sadly stated.

“Don’t put limits to what you can do,” I firmly said. “If you think you can, then you can. You’re intelligent and all you need is focus.” I kept repeating this to him day in and day out, trying to psyche him.

Slowly his grades improved. He behaved well in class as days went by, not because he had to, but because he wanted to.

He did pass third year as I had predicted. I felt like I was the one who succeeded when he was included in the roster of interns.

“Dear Mom, thanks for everything. Thanks for being my mom in school. You were right; I could pass, if I want to. I will do my best in internship training. I won’t let you down. I love you. John.”

I was speechless as I gazed at the short note. He called me “mom” and said, “I love you.” It was a new high for me, someone not my biological son, saying I love you. I wiped the tears from my eyes and folded the sheet of paper.

After a year, his mother came for the graduation ceremonies, and when he introduced me to his mom, he said, “My mother here in school, Mom,” as he put an arm around me.

I was lost for words. That was one of the most precious appreciations I had received for a long time, for someone not really my own, to call me his mother.

His mom was elated beyond words to watch his son march on stage to receive his diploma.

And you would be delighted too if I tell you that he went on to pursue medicine, graduated with flying colors and is now in his third certification test for medical doctors back in the US.

After John, there was Chelsea, who had a very low self-esteem, even though she was intelligent and a stunning beauty. It took months before she finally believed in herself. She graduated Magna cum laude. She was a sweet girl, who texted me several times during the day, sent me notes and flowers even on ordinary days. Always with the words: “Love you, mom.”

There was Ray, who had parents who belittled his efforts. He practically lived in my doorstep, like a cub seeking attention. He wrote poems for me, sent me flowers, emails, and sweet notes. When I told him to stop because people were trying to give some ugly color to it, he cried and sobbed like a lost child. It broke my heart.

He excelled the following semester, even went into poetry, and graduated at the top 10 % of his class. He treated me to dinner a few days after graduation. He held my hand and put an arm around me, I felt like I was with my son. I felt comfortable and safe.

Somebody saw us and the following day, rumors started to spread. Ray reacted very sensibly. He had matured tremendously in just a matter of months. “Don’t mind them, Mom. We know the truth. Their perception doesn’t matter. We can’t help narrow-minded people think nobly. ” and I had to agree with him.

People who interpreted things in a lewd and “dirty” manner reflected the content of their soul. There was nothing there but filth and malice. People, who really knew us, just laughed the rumors off. Right now, he’s in the states, successfully working too in his field of expertise.

There was Glen - a hopeless case. His mother has given up on him. “He doesn’t listen to me,” she cried. “I can’t control him any longer.” I empathized with her anguish.

I did not promise anything. There was no harm in trying. All it took was constant appreciation. I overlooked the quirks and focused on the positive even if it was only one item.

I am far from perfect. I have my own inadequacies. Overcoming my own and his was a daily challenge, but I persisted, until he started to accept that people appreciated and accepted him for what he was. I had expected him to be a responsible and diligent student and that was what he had turned out to be. He’s also a professional now. Not as successful as John and Ray, but a professional anyhow.

They do keep in touch in spite of work and family.

Others had needed special attention. Some a little less, some more, and every time I remember them, it brings a smile to my lips and a song in my heart.

I wrote this not to boast, but to reiterate that a little word of encouragement can go a long way. I had my trough moments when I wanted to give up, but I made it a point to bounce back and get back on my feet again, after every fall. Persistence is the key. We only pass this way once; we should make the most out of our journey. It is enough reward for me to know that in one way or another, I have been instrumental to their success.


  1. Jena, how beautiful! I've long said that teachers need more respect and more MONEY as quite often good people who want to be teachers simply can't afford to. I'm so glad you decided on the profession. It is people like you who both take an interest in their students, and are willing to mentor and make a difference in their lives, who shape the future of the world. Bravo!

  2. And this is why you are a teacher. :D

  3. Hi Heather,

    You're here. Thanks for the moral support...he he he...I try to be, try and try, is the

    I thought you would assume this was

  4. Hello Rey,

    Thanks, we missed you in the party. Hope you'll be there next time. All the best.

  5. "Quirky,irreverent" Moo is dropping by to say, you have a way of meeting lost souls where they most needed it. Like meeting Moo here in the blogosphere via comment section, hehehe...

    Seriously, this is a very heartwarming story of yours.

  6. Hi Moo,

    I'm so glad you dropped by. Lol...yup, that's right, in Jan's comment section. What a

  7. This is so heart warming! I wished I had a teacher like you.

    How are you? Been lost in blog hopping world in awhile. Busy with three kids and a handful of a husband. LOL!

  8. Hello PMO,

    Yes, it has been a while. How are you? I hope you;re fine as I am. Regards to the family and all the best.

  9. Wow, truly moving, I instantly remember my English teacher during hign school. She was my "mom" too!

  10. Hi Yodz,

    Thanks, how have you been doin? even in live we have "teachers" all around us. All the best.

  11. Hi Jena,
    That's truly a heart-warming and inspirational post. I'm glad you have the patience. I probably would not have been as patient and forgiving to such belligerent behaviors. Thereby, the end results would not have been the same. You're a godsend to those lost souls. Bravo to you, Jena! I mean this from the bottom of my heart.


  12. Hello Tasha,

    Thanks, I hope mean I try to, I don't always succeed, but I don't give up, I still keep trying. All the best to you and your family.

  13. Very inspiring story, Jen. Great teachers like you are what makes the school a student's second family. The patient nurturing that's indeed a hallmark of an ideal mother. I'm happy to have met you. And very lucky, too.

    Wow, look who's here. It's Moo. :)

  14. Hello Jan,

    Yes, Moo has been

    I am trying very hard these days, lol, perhaps , it's time to retire...he he he..

    I'm lucky too , to have met you Jan. Thanks for the friendship.

  15. Jen, you are the kind of teacher the world needs. I have been lucky to have some really good teachers - and unlucky enough to have encountered some terrible ones. You have to wonder what drives the latter; it certainly isn't the lucrative pay. ;) I know what drives the good ones, though, and here you have put it into words quite beautifully.

  16. Hello Holly,

    I'm not perfect, but I don't give up, I keep trying, sometimes it takes real effort especially on days that I have problems of my own, but that's what keeps the challenge...thanks for your encouraging words.

  17. I can relate to your story Jen, having a teacher for a wife, and I can't help tears forming in my eyes as I read your story.

    It can't really be helped, teachers get involved in their student's life, whether they like it or not. It's their vow, to help students be a better person.

    Kudos to you Jen for embracing that vow and making more teachers proud of the profession.

  18. Hello Ajchtar,

    He he he, are you? lol...speechless indicates??? Just teasing you. Keep going.

  19. Hello Roy,

    I'm glad you can relate. Your wife must have been a very dedicated teacher. It would have been a pleasure if I had the chance to meet her. I'm sure she's happily watching from the heavens how you have succeeded so well in rearing up your children. Bravo to you, Roy.

  20. Lovely story and what made it more inspiring is that it happened.

    I think I might teach too. If I'd be given a chance, but not at the moment, there are so many more things to do. Still... I might do it.


  21. Hello Z,

    you can ,eventually, if you want to, dreams are always there for us to reach. Good luck in your new world.

  22. how touching! thanks, my friend for posting this. it did not sound like you were boasting of your own goodness but of yourstudents' success in overcoming their weaknesses and limitations.

    you are indeed an inspiring soul. I am honoured to have you as my friend.