this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on April 16, 2013.

If you had to pick a career right now, what would it be? One that’d take you places or one that’d find you a home? One that’d make you feel useful or one that’d make you a lot of money? One that’d surround you with people or one that’d allow you your own world?

Me, I’d pick teaching over anything else. Teachers are sometimes loved, a lot of the time disliked, but most of the time underappreciated. Many people think that teaching is an easy job, that all you need to do is talk to kids and then check and grade their exams. Not many people realize how much skill and effort it takes to be a teacher—not even a great one, just your average instructor. Being a good one requires so much more.

First of all, it requires the degree and the license to teach. It’s already a given that breezing through any college course is a rarity. Acquiring the official necessities is not a painless endeavor. Another thing one needs to have is A LOT of patience. It’s usually a 50-against-one scenario, so those who quickly lose their cool will not last long.

Aspiring teachers also need to be at least considerate and/or understanding. Students/pupils each have individual concerns, and these will all need to be addressed at some point before these affect their academic performance. Aspiring teachers also need to be fair and just so as not to compromise the integrity of the school and the profession.

I believe these things make the job more challenging as most of what is required can’t necessarily be acquired in the classroom. Great teachers can be seen as heroes by their students. They can bring life to a monotonous day. Their classes are the ones that kids look forward to the most. Their names remain inscribed in our minds. I want to be like them.

It’s sad to think that only a few kids are interested in the teaching profession. And it’s a shame that those who are actually interested are discouraged from pursuing the dream because of its reputed low pay. Nowadays, it’s like the pay one will receive is the only thing to consider in looking for a career to pursue. The trend these days is to enroll in a course that guarantees the most money.

When I graduated from high school, about 80 percent of my batch took up nursing. Some did it because of a real interest, but many did it because of the promise of a job abroad that seemed far more rewarding than what they really wanted to do. Within years the demand for nurses abroad dropped, and many nursing graduates were forced to look for openings in local hospitals. But even those openings ran out as well, and so we see many registered nurses having to start with volunteer work or to apply for jobs unrelated to the course.

Now we see an influx of medical technology enrollees because of a new demand in the world job market. I can’t help but think that in about five years, things will end up the same way as the nurses. I don’t mean any offense to these professions; I know that these are just about as noble as teaching. I am merely commenting on the trends that I have observed.

A high school graduate enrolling in nursing or medical technology is not a bad thing. But if he/she is just pressured to do so because of the promised financial benefit, that’s when the problem arises. It usually results in many students shifting courses after a semester or a year because they can’t pass the required subjects or they don’t enjoy what they’re studying. Or it can be that after they graduate, they can’t get a job because too many people are applying for the same thing. Or worse, if they don’t learn to love the course, society ends up with many people not enjoying their job mainly because they regret not pursuing the career that they would have loved.

I may not have taken any of these courses, but I have the same regret. I have been dissuaded from taking certain courses that I was really interested in because they weren’t the ideal career paths. If only I could speak up then like I’m speaking up now, I would have said that teaching IS an ideal profession, and the benefits you reap are far greater than the salary.

I am lucky that even if I was unable to take up education, I was still given a chance to be a mentor. There is just something about the feeling that someone learned something from you, that you were able to influence them even in the smallest way.

I started mentoring five years ago: I tutored a neighbor’s second-grader every weekend. The pay wasn’t much, but something clicked inside me; it made me realize that this was what I really wanted to do. After a couple of years, I moved somewhere else and joined a debate society. A friend (and mentor) from that group who was handling the elementary debate society took me to see the members one day and let me observe their training session. A few weeks after sitting in every session, she had me fill in for a while because of prior engagements. And after a semester I had to take over the entire thing. I also got to help out in training high school and college debaters over the years, plus I got a few odd jobs tutoring. That was probably the most fun I had in the many years I was in college.

I was asked recently what compensation I get from all this helping out in training. I was not ashamed to say nothing—or at least nothing that most people are concerned about. It just feels really good when the kid who was too shy to talk in front of the class in the beginning goes on to win a national extemporaneous speaking competition. And it’s not easy to help them develop, too. Not only do you have to teach them the rules and methods of debate, you also have to encourage them and boost their self-confidence. You need to be able to relate to the kids, be really interested in their progress, see their potential, and coax it out of them—until a couple of minutes of mumbling and stuttering turn into seven minutes of ideas and analysis. The best part of it is, even after training sessions, even after graduating, even after you have to leave to find a job elsewhere, the kids still look up to you and still consider you a part of their lives.

Now, after having left for a few months, I am drawn back to this place, back to where my kids are. One of them recommended me for a job so that I could stay in this city and be there for them again, even if it’s not as their trainer anymore. And no matter how high the salary is for the job that I found elsewhere, I know I have to take this chance because, guess what, it’s the thing I’ve always dreamed of doing. It may not be official yet, and I may have to go back to school to take up some units in education to be able to take the board examination, but I get to teach kids again. Well, not exactly kids. They’ve been referred to as toddlers and wobblers (kids aged 1-4).

I’m excited about this new challenge. And contrary to what anyone else may say, I have found what I want to do in life. I’ve known it since I was four years old, and now I’m actually pursuing my dream.

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