I met Charlie on the first day of school. I asked him why his left eye was bulging and swollen. He told me, “‘Cher, nakagat ng ipis. (Teacher, it was bitten by a cockroach.)” His sando underneath his polo shirt was tattered and yellowish. His pants were held by a makeshift belt that was tied together by wires and a fork. He would constantly move from his seat and quite literally, swim on the floor. I asked him questions and he would give me a blank stare. I asked him to read a few words and he only shook his head in response. I let him go and with a quiet sigh, I knew he would definitely be a challenge this school year. By the end of the day, all his classmates knew who he was because I kept on calling his attention.
Since the first week of July, my co-teachers and I have been giving remedial classes to our students who are struggling readers. Charlie, of course, is part of my group. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed when I talked to his mother about his skills and behavior. All she could say was that she has other children to take care of and that she completely trusts me to take care of her child. “Bahala ka no pa sa kanya, Ma’am. (It’s up to you to take care of him.)”
After a month of classes, Charlie has shown a lot of progress and is actually the best reader in my remedial group. I write this today, not because of some big miracle that Charlie can now read. Truth is, he’s still struggling to read through phrases and I still constantly call his attention during class. His academic performance is far from stellar, at least according to third grade standards.
I decided to share this because of something I read today in a book:
“… love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words.”
According to the book, this was central to the principles of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. I guess after reading that line, Charlie was the first person that came into mind. It’s easy to miss things when the days go by so quickly. As I sit here consumed by paperwork and deadlines, I realized I almost missed out on this boy. Ever since school started, he hasn’t missed a day. He would religiously come to school earlier to attend remedial classes. When I look back, I don’t think a single school day has passed that I didn’t scold (yes, scold!) him for misbehaving. Yet at the end of each day, because he insisted on being a cleaner, he would diligently fix the chairs in the classroom, sweep the floor with his bare hands when our broom is missing and still say goodbye to me with a smile.
We celebrate so much heroism in this month of August. Today I feel quite blessed that I’m reminded of this – it’s hardly about moving mountains but more on the small steps we take. It’s getting up every morning, struggling to read through phrases, listening to your teacher scold you, seeing her frustration, hiding your own frustration and giving her a smile. And then you wake up the next day and you try to muster the courage to repeat all of it again.
Well, Charlie… Thank you for reminding me who and what I wake up for each morning.