Year of Firsts; or, A Much-Needed Reminder for A Weary Teacher from Her Past Self


There is something relaxing — therapeutic, even — about teaching.

To the rational, no-nonsense reader, this may sound contradictory: my first-ever semester as an instructor in college history means I have to make every quiz and lecture from scratch, sometimes relying on old notes from my own college days and even calling up former teachers in the most desperate times.

My students are mostly rowdy, restless freshmen, who are in their first year in the university as much as I am. I get bumped in the hallways, get stopped at the school gate by the guards, and all too often get called ‘ate’ or ‘sis’ by unknowing students who visit the department.

On the other side of things, making lectures challenges me to be creative, if only to compensate for the ‘face palm’ moments students sometimes cannot fail to provide. (Quiz item: True or False – Rizal used a quill pen or feather pen. Student’s answer: Quill pen.) My fresh-grad status allows me to pass for a student but still also have keys to the faculty restroom.

My rowdy, restless freshmen are blessedly patient. They stay put when I grumble and fumble for my notes, and they listen even when the discussion on the Rizal law or on the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade segues into an anecdote on pop culture references or a rant on local politics.

On good days, the abundance of opinions and insights is perhaps the best perk of all. In this age of social media enslavement, revisionist history, and alleged apathy, the generation that a lot of older people put down as disinterested actually still have a lot to say. Sadly, sometimes it is just that the students believe their answers are less brilliant when given in Filipino or Bisaya lang.

Twenty-one units worth of classes — the most I have ever studied or taught — are a surprisingly effective cure for the loneliness of being, well, an adult. While graduation from college meant freedom from academic requirements, it also meant inevitable entry into adult responsibilities, like job-hunting and eventually taxes. Post-grad realities of med school, law school, and first jobs meant separation from college friends indefinitely. No matter how jittery I was on my first day in front of the kids, then, there was some familiarity to be felt from standing in a classroom once again, albeit in a different location from before.

If only life always allowed do-overs, the first few post-grad years in a non-teaching career would have been more in order. (Or if life allowed loops, I could have stayed in college forever to avoid adulthood completely.)

People often ask why I chose to work in Cagayan de Oro instead of in Manila. My most honest answer is that while I am sure my beloved Ateneo de Manila will never run out of excellent teachers, other schools do not have as good or as many teachers. If I am to be an adult now, let that be my first adult judgment.

In any case, this year of firsts has begun, and begun well. I am honored; I consider it a privilege to learn from the students as much as they will learn from me, to teach them to give their opinion in the language with which they are most comfortable.

The original version of this write-up first appeared in Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro on 4 July 2015.