Letter of a Math teacher to a graduating student

July 2, 2008 at 12:43 pm 1 comment

The student’s grade in Math was in danger and could cause her not to graduate that semester. If you were the teacher, what would you have done?


Letter to a Graduating Student
Contributed by aaliyah (Edited by arwen)
Tuesday, April 29, 2008 @ 10:53:06 PM

Dear Miss De Leon,

Although it is about you, you may not understand everything this letter is going to say. I admit this is more for my benefit than yours, but one thing I’m sure of, is that I need to write this, if I am to go on living freely, if I am to forgive, if I am to fall asleep again at night.

It was Tuesday morning when five instructors rooming at RM221 and myself (who room at RM223) went out to eat together at the Cafeteria. I believe I am an honorary roommate of theirs; I hang out at their room all the time. My real roommates and I never had an actual falling out, no literal confrontation or any of that sort: but that doesn’t erase the fact that there are times I can’t stand them, and there are times when they collectively can’t stand me. It has something to do with how we teach and how we look at teaching—they are what I call mediocre, and I am what they call unrealistic. I do not lie when I say most of them are in this for the money. No, there isn’t that much money but they teach for it anyway, and teach to study Masters for free, and to a much less extent, to someday have the influence of the powerful people who make up the powerful institution that is UP, at their command. I believe I have a vague understanding of all of this, but not much. These are not what I am at the Department for. I have no designs of world domination. I only want to be myself. I am what you may call a simpleton: I teach because it’s just what I want to do.

My favorite quip about my profession was uttered by one of my heroines, Mrs. Melania Abad of the College of Arts and Letters: “Ang pagtuturo ay hindi lang isang propesiyon. Ito’y isang obligasyong panlipunan. Kapag nagkalat ka ng lagim [bilang isang guro], pananagutan mo iyon sa kasysayan.” Living by those words lets you see all things more clearly and all in good order. Everyday I walk away after class I feel noble, and every time I’d go to class I knew I had to work to deserve that feeling. You see I can’t live for long without thinking of greatness. I can’t make myself get up every time I wake up if only to do something other people can do anyway in my place. Each day has the capacity to be the best day of the rest of my life.

My roommates (most of them at least) are the type who love it when students drop out of the course (less blue books to check), who enjoy it when students fail their exams (they think they’re creating a reputation of being serious instructors), and who grab every chance they get to terrorize and intimidate and embarrass students just for the hell of it. But the joke about the whole thing is, they succeed. They’re the ones who always finish the lessons on the dot. I’m the one who’s always holding last-minute review classes before the Departmental Midterms to make up for the lessons I failed to cover on time. My students finish our courses having a renewed (or newly born) love and respect for mathematics, but with tad lower final grades than my roommates’ students. And all that jazz. My roommates and I clash every other day about this, and we can get to abrasive to one another that I decided to seek other company whenever I could, just to lessen those clashes.

That is why Tuesday’s late morning found me having lunch with five of the guys from the other room. At the Cafeteria. We all noticed and made remarks about the familiar adage printed and mounted on the wall: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I told them that didn’t work with me. “Lord, grant me the vigilance to keep changing things,” I said. They beamed at me.

And whom else would I find when I got back to RM223 from lunch but you. Actually there were three women in the room besides myself: yourself, your Math teacher Christine, and another instructor Jenny.

You were familiar, but I didn’t know your name. You were always dropping by for consultation with Christine. I figured you were one of those people who were weak in math and wisely compensated for what you lacked in brains with perseverance. But on that Tuesday afternoon you were crying to your teacher. It wasn’t hard to guess why—the semester is ending, and your Math grade is in danger. You were negotiating with Christine about what you could do before it was too late. I knew from where I stood at a distance that Christine repeatedly turned you down: she looked grim, and you continued to cry.

I learned long ago not to meddle with my roommates’ affairs because they don’t meddle with mine, and I would not have paid attention had Christine not asked me over to her desk to ask me what I thought should be done with you. So I asked what the problem was. You were a CHK major. You had already taken the course and failed it twice, and in danger of failing a third time. You were supposed to be graduating this semester if not for it. You belonged to the last batch of CHK students who were required to take the course. It was abolished by the college for the succeeding batches that followed yours. You were the eldest child, and wanted to get your diploma ASAP so you could work and help your family. These things I learned from you, but there are things you didn’t say which I immediately knew. For example, that your family wasn’t all that well-off. And if you graduate and get a job it wouldn’t pay that much either. But you needed to graduate. And that if Christine gave you a 5, you would have to be held back one whole semester.

I also knew that your tears were real. That your eyes were scared. And you were fighting it very hard, but the crying came anyway.

Christine told you to stop crying. It made her feel uncomfortable, as if you were “blackmailing” her. I told you not to listen to her. You are human, and crying is a beautiful thing. (That’s another quip I heard from another heroine of mine, also a teacher.)

I had a student just like you once, in Math 11. His name is Sam, a Tourism Major. He was five years older than me, and owned and had been managing a popular bar and restaurant in the metro. Only he didn’t have a diploma, and the only thing standing between him and a college degree was a grade of 3 in Math 11. He had taken it four times and failed every time, and I was his fifth shot at it. Dealing with him made me realize (or decide) that the rules were created out of the need for order and nothing else. They didn’t create the rules first, UP later. There was UP in the beginning, and when there was need for order, they made the rules. That was the order of things. When Samuel failed the course under me, we started a whole summer-long tutorial session whence he would come to take an exam I made, and let me check it in front of him and explain to him all his mistakes and how to do the items right, so he could come back two days later to take another exam all over again. We did that over and over until he passed. And I packed Samuel out of college life and back to his successfully running business with a 3 in Math 11 at the end of the summer. It was the first time I broke a rule and knew I did the right thing.

So I offered Christine to give you to me, so to speak. Let me give you a tutorial sessions series in the summer and a whole bunch of exams you can take that I would make and check and record all by myself, all free of charge. Just so Christine could get you off her hands and you could get something better to hope for than her mercy.

She refused.

I asked again.

She refused again.

I persisted, and you backed me up.

And then, from the other side of the room, “Bakit mo ba pinapakialaman ang problema niya e estudyante siya ni Christine? Pabayaan mo si Christine kung ano’ng desisyon niya.” Courtesy of Jenny.

I was silenced, your world crashed, Christine walked out and Jenny went back to her silence. You, too, prepared to leave and I told you that you could stay and compose yourself for a while, I didn’t mind. You apologized for crying. It was ugly to cry, you said. You asked if I understood you, if I knew that feeling when you already did your best and it still wasn’t good enough. I said that I believed you, I said I wanted to help you, but you heard it, it wasn’t my business to.

You finally left, and I let go. It was my turn to cry. What I didn’t tell you because I couldn’t was that I did know how that felt because I felt that way every single day and not only is my best always not good enough around here—the injustice is that those people who don’t try even half as much as I do are the ones who prevail. Eventually, because they followed the rules and adhered to order, Christine and Jenny would leave me on the race to the top. They would rise in the hierarchy of the Department, maybe even of the University. Because I love teaching so much I would have to make do, perhaps for the rest of my life, of my lowly position and the meager salary that goes with it. But that’s not even among my regrets. But not being able to help you, when I could, is one of them.

Brace yourself. Christine would probably give you a 5. The furthest her mercy could go would be to give you one exam. Fail it, and you don’t graduate this year.

I have only one more thing to tell you. That I hope you don’t do to other people what they did to you that Tuesday afternoon. I warn you that you would go through the same thing again and again at different parts of your life in the future. But every time I hope you forgive the world for not recognizing the best effort you exerted. Every time I hope you understand them for not understanding you.

Did I say one last thing? I meant two, and here’s the second: that I hope you don’t forget me, that I wanted to help you, and I tried to. Only wanting to help and having the time and willingness and energy to do it is not always enough.

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

This is my name, by the way:

And here’s an entry at the end of the blog:

Re: Pinublish ng Peyups by aaliyah
Friday, May 16, 2008 @ 12:45:34 PM

Disclaimer lang, maraming taon na ang lumipas nang nangyari ito. Matagal nang grumaduate ang batang ito. Hindi ko na rin roommates yung mga roommates dito.

Minsan napag-usapan namin ng isang mas matandang prof ang pangyayaring ito at pinagalitan niya ako kasi hindi daw dapat kami nagdiscuss kung anong dapat gawin sa kaniya right in front of her. siguro nga hindi magandang tignan. pero papipiliin mo ako kung gagawin ko pa rin ang ginawa ko kung maibabalik ko ang nakaraan…OO pa rin ang isasagot ko. Masyado nang maraming under-the-table things na nangyayari sa mundo. I think it’s refreshing kung paminsan maging harapan naman ang labanan, hindi patalikod o pailalim, di ba?

Matagal ko na itong sinubmit, ngayon lang napublish, but this is the best time, I think…

Entry filed under: 1. Tags: , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. jeremy lehr  |  February 11, 2009 at 8:51 pm



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