Stories that define our generation
Even before I started teaching for the first time, I had a spotless image of how my Philippine Literature class would be. I used to envision a classroom full of smiling, enthusiastic and interested students, reciting in unison, “Good morning! Let us read Literature today!”
However, the images that materialized during my first teaching experience spoke of a different story. I had students older and more experienced than I was, students who go to school in the morning and work as a security guard, a saleslady, or a fastfood crew at night.
I had students who faced hostility early in their childhood, while there were those who had children early in their teens. I had students who came to school late not because they were caught up in traffic but because they had to finish watering some guy’s garden for their day job.
Having students with such a wealth of experience, my teaching objective completely shifted gears: I had to make a conscious effort to make it easier for them to relate to Literature. That was my job as a teacher: to make the subject I teach change something in them. This might be a tall, idealistic order, but for a class full of risk takers and people with diverse, rich, life experiences, what is there to be hesitant about? With students who have so much to share, I felt that providing the venue for them to be listened to was my responsibility as a teacher.
So I introduced them to the world of journal-writing. Instead of just hearing and reading stories of others, I made them write about their stories.
I asked them to keep a journal where they can write, draw, scribble or even collage everything that inspired them during the week. No need to write in English. They can write in any language they are comfortable with – even without using letters.
I collected the journals weekly, but students had a choice if they wanted their journals to be read by me or not. Students were graded based on how religiously they submitted and not based on what is written or shared. We agreed that everything they wrote and shared, no matter how mundane they were, was valuable. It was a bold move. It was anchored on nothing else but their honesty, commitment and generosity in sharing their stories.
The first few weeks came, and the entries were astonishing. The journal write-ups made me laugh, tear up and for the lack of a better term, truly inspired. They started writing about their families, their trips to their hometown, their favorite pets. They started to write about the God they believe in, the principles that they stand by, and the people who mattered to them.
A few more months came and someone started to write about his dream of becoming a fashion designer, despite his parents’ desire to make him complete a course he didn't like. I’ll pursue it, he wrote, and on the other page of his journal he drew a beautiful sketch of a night gown.
'Many Strangers, One Spirit'
In the best way I can, I wrote back. I congratulated them on their successes – like learning to cook adobo for the first time. I applauded them for their acts of charity – like giving spare coins to a hungry street child. I empathized with their sorrows, supported their causes and dreamed with them.
Then for the culmination, we ventured into something completely exciting: we wanted to have the entries “published” in a book. So each student handpicked one particular journal entry and had it laid out and printed into our own, self-published book.
Just before we parted ways, we did a mini-book launching where some read excerpts of their stories in front of a crowd. That day, everyone addressed everyone in the class not as students but as authors. And as the class wrote on the introductory page of their book, and I quote, “of all the Filipino authors that we have celebrated in the many months that we have been together, we will now be celebrating the works of the author that is ourselves.”
They entitled the book, “Many Strangers, One Spirit,” – recognizing their differences and sown together by their desire to have a better life. As their teacher, I couldn’t be any prouder.
Voices of a generation
I realized soon that the things written in the book are reflective of the young people today. In my humble opinion, these are the stories that define our generation. My two Literature classes of about 50 students each is a microcosm of the youth.
We have issues, but we also have a stand. We have failures and mistakes, but we also have successes. We might be misunderstood and might ourselves misunderstand, but we are willing to share, to speak and to listen. We just need the right venue to be heard.
We value our families, our friends, and our country. We recognize poverty, but we have a way of making it work for us. We all have stories to share, and each story is valuable.
If it is true that our generation is defined by the stories we tell, then by all means, these should be beautiful stories of hope and love. - Rappler.com
Christopher Millora, 22, is a registered nurse by profession but currently works as a teacher in the languages department of a university in Iloilo City. He is the program head of the university's Center for Student Development and Leadership. Follow him on Twitter or send him an e-mail through email@example.com.