Khristian Ross P. Pimentel

When I wrote my bucket list before 2020, I wrote at least 20 items. But living in a pandemic is not one of them. 

The world has changed drastically the way no one has ever imagined. One day, we were celebrating new year and new decade. Only two months later, we started wearing masks, stopped our daily routines, stayed indoors, and abandoned some of our plans.  

I miss seeing my students face-to-face. I can no longer see their reactions and hear their excitement like I did before the pandemic. I miss the scent of the classroom, the taste of a novel idea, the sound of eureka moments, the warmth of team spirit, the colors of success, and the heartbeat of every dream.

The pandemic halted those incredible classroom experiences as it did in all other aspects of our normal lives. The present, which we labeled the New Normal, seems to be not so normal after all. 

When community quarantine started, my wife was pregnant, and my mother was a senior. I had to be the sacrificial lamb; meaning I shop our necessities in the market, pay the bills, and stay alive. Doing that takes courage at the beginning. I imagine how the others have to stand on their feet and get by with daily challenges. 

But life does not end because of COVID19 happened. I found hope instead. That hope helped me overcome a thousand fears. 

COVID 19 allowed me to see a secret garden. It forced me to notice the things that are right in front of me. It made me to be selective of what to look at. If I only focused on the negative things, I probably would not even get out of bed. Hence, I learned to choose my battles. 

We have the ability to grow and learn even during trying times. I started to read books again because I have time. Every book I read reminds me to never give up on my dreams. These dreams did not cease to exist. The stories I read inspired me to also tell my own. 

Some students do not read physical books; they would rather read only nuggets like posts on Facebook. So I wrote my reflections, and I made them available online. I talked about reading, goal setting, motivation, attention, persistence, and many other stuff that encouraged my Facebook friends—including my students, fellow teachers, and all who are facing the same struggles during a pandemic—to thrive and overcome their battles, too. Indeed, some of my friends admitted that they experience the same battles and affirmed that my realizations are valid. 

I pushed myself a little further. I published articles in three national newspapers and two alternative media. As a teacher who still believes in the power of our youth to catalyze change today and in the future, I wrote and argued in my four previous newspaper articles that learning must continue.

I cannot keep those thoughts tugging in my heart throughout the lockdown. As the African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I feel that the whole nation needs to hear these words. We may not be trained how to have education during a pandemic, but through our camaraderie, positivity, creativity, dedication, and persistence, we can make this happen. And we will. For the first time since the lockdown, when I spoke, I felt people heard me. That my words have my voice, and they have power. 

I wrote more. I shared in a contemporary media organization my experiences in UPCAT, my challenges in my first year of work as an English teacher, and what students need to know about reading. I want to tell people that they are not alone by sharing my own tales from failure to triumphs. 

I cannot visit my favorite bookstores or go to book fairs anymore, so I kept on buying books online. I wonder how many Filipino children have a book to read with them. As a teacher, I also want them to experience that kind of magic I have experienced. Sadly, thousands of children do not own any book at all. That has to change. Poverty or any life’s tragedies should not deny our children of having a book because reading can make a difference and spark hope. It made a difference in me. Not all vaccines are in bottles, needles, or capsules. They are in books. Those ideas were tugging in my heart every night, so I wrote in one of my column articles the importance of books in our society. I also continue to lend and give books. 

I also attended webinars and workshops that recharged my batteries. Before the pandemic, I couldn’t attend them due to cost, distance, and time constraints, but when reputable institutions have offered free webinars, professional development has become a matter of choice. I joined because I wanted to be a better teacher and a better person. I was interested to learn more about language teaching, action research, Philippine English, teaching and learning in the pandemic, and writing children’s stories. 

I authored children’s stories and a picture book. My wife and I joined a story writing contest for the environment. Her story won the major prize and my two stories won minor prizes. I also joined in other contests, and I did not win, but that gave me the experience and lesson to continue writing and joining. That still counts. These things are only a few of the opportunities that I grabbed amidst the pandemic. 

This is not a normal time, and we have to act differently. I believe my students need me now more than ever. What they need is an opportunity and teachers who will believe in them the same way my former teachers believe in me. I grabbed all possible ways to improve myself, so I can be a better teacher to them. Above all, they are the reasons why I chose to fight my battles anyway. 

I also took a little step further. Last year, I took the DATE in the College of Education and revived my dream to pursue my PhD. I passed, and I am now in the second semester reaping the learning I gain in every virtual meeting and research work. 

Finally, I need to lead my students and fellow teachers to their own secret garden, showing them that this pandemic has opened doors that have never existed. We just have to look at them in a different lens. Secret gardens exist, and they are everywhere.