NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
Young superstar Judy Ann Santos, with husband Ryan Agoncillo, graced the discussion of her film Ploning in the Philippine Pop Culture class at St. Vincent College of Cabuyao
STAR/ File

Teaching is a fulfilling vocation. The opportunity to share knowledge and wisdom with the students is always a gratifying, rewarding pursuit. 

My dear friend Jan Chavez-Arceo and her mom, Marina Chavez, had been inviting me to teach (part-time) in their family-owned school called St. Vincent College of Cabuyao. After five years, I finally took the offer this semester and chose Philippine Pop Culture (Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.) and Purposive Communication (Tuesday, 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.) as my subjects.

Jan and I are like siblings. She walked several kilometers to the cemetery under the scorching heat of the sun and held my hand during the interment of my father in 2010. Tita Marina and her husband, Tito Sim Chavez, even visited my father in the ICU a few days before he passed away. Jan’s brother, Joel, is a childhood friend. The Chavezes are from Mamatid, a barangay in Cabuyao close to Gulod.

After dreaming one night in December last year that I was teaching the Iliad in a classroom with Tita Marina as my lone audience, I called Jan. Jan was quick to the draw, scheduled a meeting, and looped me in right away with the no-nonsense school dean, Dr. Elvie LLanes, to whom I performed a soliloquy because I wanted a teaching demo. I was so animated they were in stitches.

When I met for the first time my students (Business Administration and Education majors) in Philippine Pop Culture, I bore the energy of Darna but still got perplexed by how disconcerting online teaching could be. Nevertheless, I came prepared. The students, too. First meeting, first quiz. Essay. Topic: Pop culture in the Filipino language. 

Online teaching is a new animal for me. (How on earth could the technological twerp in me learn NEO-LMS, an expensive computer-based learning system? Just to input the names of the students in the system, I had to spend a whole day with Albert Ray Maggay, the first faculty member in school who became my friend.) It’s harder than taming my ex. But teaching is fulfilling, more fulfilling than my ex. Oh, the comparison is irrelevant and irreverent. 

What remains relevant and reverent are the lessons lined up for my students. Lessons in Philippine Pop Culture as experienced, explained and explored in Filipino music, art, architecture, social media, film, fashion, food, literature, among others.

Lessons in Purposive Communication include writing features stories and speeches, delivering them and analyzing linguistic symbols and patterns. (I just finished checking 20-plus essays that revealed the creativity of my students in Purposive Communication. Their assignment: write a story about the plate numbers of vehicles that they see. It sounds mundane. But to a creative and analytical mind, a story is waiting to be told in a simple plate number. The Accounting students did not disappoint me.) 

I promised the school and my students that learning from me would be experiential. I come prepared with my 27-year experience as a journalist covering the lifestyle beat.

When I discussed the role of film in shaping pop culture, I asked the students to watch Ploning, a movie with young superstar Judy Ann Santos that is powerful in its silence. After almost an hour of discussion, someone “knocked” in our Google Meet classroom. Then came Juday, with husband Ryan Agoncillo helping her tinker with the computer. The students had a field day asking Juday questions.

The lakeside as my classroom at one time.

Last week, we tackled social media as mediator of pop culture. As some of my students are vloggers and many have a Tiktok account, I invited to the class YouTube celebrity and vlogger Mikey Bustos. The students laughed as they learned a lot from him.

When I discussed design as part of Purposive Communication, I had a lengthy discussion on how signs and symbols are part of a design. Then I segued the discussion to floral arrangements and cited how a simple floral design can affect communication. Halfway into the discussion, my dearest friend Rachy Cuna entered our virtual classroom. The students had him for more than an hour of fun discussion.

One morning, when there was a power interruption in school (I hold my classes at SVCC, with only an assistant to help me navigate the virtual classroom), I brought my laptop elsewhere and made the lakeside my classroom. Many students were in disbelief. I was enjoying myself. As for my students, well, they grew interested in our discussion. Teaching is partly theater arts. The teacher is also an actor. 

When it became too windy by the lakeside, one intrepid student said, “Sir, ang lakas ng hangin (it’s too windy), we can’t hear you anymore.” I packed up. And to a makeshift hut I surrendered. Until I had to seek another refuge in a neighbor’s house to plug my laptop. Teaching is therapeutic. It makes me high.

The author with St. Vincent College of Cabuyao VP for academic and external affairs Jan Chavez-Arceo (left) and college dean Dr. Elvie Llanes.

I also come to class with no-baloney encouragement that the students’ lives, as long as they hold on to their dreams, will amount to something, someday. Many of my students are not well-off. One or two already dropped from their classes because “my father lost his job and I need to find a job as a crew in Jollibee or McDonald’s.” That breaks my heart.

The most personal lesson I can share with them is to persevere. And I use my own life experiences as Exhibit A. 

When I see their faces on screen, I see their hunger to learn. I see through their dreams. I see excellence in their work. I feel their efforts to be the best they can be. I am left with no other alternative but to feed them with what I know. More than that, I devote a few minutes to life coaching, whether or not I am an authority on that.

“Love your family. Fulfill your dreams.” Those are my parting words for my students before I turn off my computer. The smiles on their faces are enough encouragement for me to also persevere, to bring to the fore my best, to effect change, to influence some 80 lives to be good today and better someday.

I was once like them — hungry. In more ways than one. *

Young superstar Judy Ann Santos, with husband Ryan Agoncillo, graced the discussion of her film Ploning in the Philippine Pop Culture class at St. Vincent College of Cabuyao.


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