Let’s start with an ordinary classroom, a little bigger than the classrooms in Berchman, with more or less fifty chairs and tables all cramped together. Unlike the public schools that are usually featured in the news, Manuel L. Quezon Elementary School has a rather small population. At the back, different cut outs of cardboard people are stuck on the wall, depicting a picture of them washing their hands and throwing their wastes in the proper trash bins. A small herbal garden could be seen outside. There were no plants though, only garbage bags piled on one side and foil packaging scattered all around the plot of soil, but the sign on the wall says that it is supposed to be an herbal garden. Although this may have been the case, its condition is actually much better than what we have expected before arriving in our jeeps. Media has a way of exaggerating its details too much. However, since it is our prime source of information these days, we could only absorb its messages and set our expectations according to the material it presents to us.
The children have been in the classroom before we even arrive. Once again, the familiar classroom air pays right in front of out sight. The only difference now is that we are not anymore seen as the students. Rather, we are already viewed as the instructors to an unknown group of people, in a territory quite not like ours, teaching a subject that most people consider unimportant on a Saturday afternoon. There are seven of us assigned to teach advanced art techniques to a class of supposedly twenty children, most of them Grade 5 and Grade 6 students with some younger exceptions.
We make a mental note to focus more on the younger ones, because we think that they are more in need of guidance and attention. It turns out thought that they are actually as independent as the older pupils in our class. In fact, in the middle of class, there are some of them who would suddenly leave the classroom without permission. Of course, we would call their attention and ask them why they did such an act. Their only answer is that they are picking up their younger sibling in the lower grade levels. True enough, they come back to the classroom with younger children clutching onto their hands.
Honestly, it is a difficult task to perk the children’s interest in art, because they also have their own priorities that they consider more important than improving their knowledge of art. There would be some instances wherein only half the expected number of students would arrive. It is not their fault, because they have other tasks to attend to like helping out with their family at work. There would also be times though when we would see them watching the basketball game at the covered court outside the campus instead of coming to class. Of course, they are not the only ones who would have this tendency of not going to class. We also have those times wherein some of us would cut from this activity to finish our school projects. Plus, it is a Saturday, the start of the weekend, a supposed day meant for relaxation.
Speaking alone, in front of them, to give instructions on what needs to be done can be awkward at times. This is because we would usually try our hardest to talk in a singsong voice, straight Filipino that is very much different from the usual language we use for everyday conversation. By this, I am referring to either Taglish or English. I suppose this is because as people coming from private schools, we already have set our own expectations of public school students, which are mostly based on information we indirectly absorb. The pupils most likely felt this awkwardness too, since whenever they would answer our questions in the same singsong voice. Most of the conversation would go like,
Speaker: O, mga bata, naintindihan ninyo ba ang panuto?
It actually sounds like those children’s educational programs most of us used to watch when we were little.
When the pupils are already drawing, small groups are unconsciously formed. Usually those in the same grade and gender would huddle together. It seems like they find it easier to talk with their peers this way since more or less they have an idea of their interests and aversions. During this time, each one of us is expected be roaming around the room to see how the children are progressing. Sometimes we would even join in the conversation of the group. The boys usually talked about the Japanese anime Bleach or Naruto. Some of them are even wearing shirts with their favorite character printed on it. On the other hand, the girls would be singing songs by Kpop groups. Once again, the familiar classroom atmosphere is greatly apparent. Since we are already familiar with the topics they are conversing, we find ourselves quickly adjusting to it, seeing that we actually have more things in common with these children than what we have thought. Our students too would find themselves quickly adapting to our tastes.
Most of the time, the barrier between students coming from public and private schools may look thick because of our different lifestyles. There are times when it would feel like it is impossible to break. Then again, if we expect ourselves to live in a world of no boundaries perhaps it would be best if those on the supposed higher pedestal in society would take an initiative in shattering the boundaries between the two classes. When that happens, we would find out that there is really not much of a difference between the two. Such is my main realization that I have during my experience in teaching art in a public school.
SA21 – Q