The Thing with Feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
– from  “Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson

Here’s the big truth of life: It’s not like the movies. We rarely get happy endings, and things will hurt us a lot more than they will make us happy. Whatever does make us happy will end up hurting us even more in the end. Ironic, isn’t it? Sometimes or a lot of times, that guy you obsessed about and who sent your heart a-fluttering and soaring to the heights of outer space is the very same guy who would make you crash and burn to the very depths of the Marianas Trench. Or your dream of being a doctor or the next Steve Jobs sends you into a downward spiral of regret and frustration.

There are days when you feel sad and you can’t pinpoint why exactly. There are days when you cry your eyes out. There are days when you catch yourself  staring blankly off into space because you don’t know what it is exactly you’re doing with your life. There are days when nothing  goes right and shit hits the fan and you’re left ducking for cover. There are days when you find yourself wishing that you could just stay within the comforts of your bed and never wake up.

Why do we even wake up every morning  when out of the 365 days that a year gives us, more than 300 of them are spent wishing we could just sleep longer to get more rest, to heal a broken heart or to retreat from the pressures of  life.

Life is a lot like learning. In our lifetime, we accumulate an endless amount of stories and experiences that change the course of our lives. And teachers become the most influential role models by virtue of proximity. I’ve had teachers whom I have fond memories of, and there are others still whom I would rather forget. Sadly, I’ve had teachers who made me feel like not getting out of bed to face school. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that though I’ve been a straight arrow for most of my life, there was a time when I found myself on the wayside because I got into the wrong program. For the first time in my life, I found myself begging for alms; but instead of getting the support and motivation from my teachers, I even found myself at the receiving end of their deathly stares. They might as well have put me on death row because a failing mark, for them, was tantamount to a student’s death sentence.

I am not saying that teachers should condone mediocrity, and in no way should teachers enable students who are lazy, irresponsible and just basically a bad apple. While it certainly is important to come to class on time, turn in your homework and be prepared, instilling a sense of hope in the students is more important than demanding excellence. Isn’t the grading system a whole complicated system of operant conditioning?  Listen – Take copious notes – Study – Regurgitate. And if luck is on your side – and by luck, I mean you either have good memory retention or you have the angels and all the saints smiling down at you such that you are well-prepared for whatever kind of test is thrown your way – you’ll get every student’s much coveted marks, along with the respect and admiration of your friends, your parents’ approval and your teacher’s unmerited favor and grace.

Does a failing mark really spell the end of the world? When I was a student, it did basically feel that way. As an adult and as someone who has found her niche, I can afford to look back. There are days when I wish that my present self could talk to my 19-year-old self and tell her that there is hope, that that failing grade in Anatomy, albeit her nth one in the same class, is not the end of the world.

Hope must precede excellence because a student who doesn’t have hope has no incentive to even try. There’s no reason to be motivated unless the student feels that his opinion and effort, however miniscule, matters. Most students lack the motivation because they have been fed this lie all their lives and have grown accustomed to this socially-imposed internal reality that they can’t be successful. After all, reality is a relative concept based on one’s situation, prejudices, presuppositions and preconceptions. The teaching-learning process is not about the demand for excellence but is anchored in the premise of giving opportunities for students to be awakened to the fact that they can be successful in life. Real learning is not measured by tests and cannot be quantified. A teacher must inspire students to want to learn even if the end result isn’t perfect. Education should be for the sake of learning. Good grades are the icing on the cake. Stellar grades are nice and fluffy but they don’t tell you the whole story. Those failing grades are unpleasant like bruises and scars that one sustains after a tedious fight, but they make for interesting conversation more than a flawless and blemish-free canvas ever could. Nice to look at but infinitely bland and uninspiring.

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