During my time in Voc. Ed., I developed further into a mediocore student and a somnambulant problem solver, and that affected the subjects I did have the wherewithal to handle: I detested Shakespeare; I got bored with history. My attention flitted here and there. I fooled around in class and read my books indifferently – the intellectual equivalent of playing with your food. I did what I had to to get by, and I did with a half a mind.
–Mike Rose, “I Just Wanna Be Average”
I can recall a certain part of my life when I had to learn English as my second language. It was the year 1998 when I first moved from the Philippines. During that period, I was living in San Pablo with my parents, who were illiterate at the time. Technically speaking, I did learn some English in the Philippines but not the kind of English one would expect from America. What was on my mind when I stepped in a room full of kids in a 2nd grade environment? One word, nervousness. Based on my memories, I remember being the quiet/shy kid who didn’t make many friends because I
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couldn’t speak the language. It wasn’t until later on that I gained some confidence in speaking the language, and also being able to write in a basic manner. It’s self-evident that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to English (or any other subject for that matter), but I will tell my story of the struggles I had to face learning a new language (and for that matter something I still need to work on today).
In some ways, my parent’s illiteracy transformed my life. It wasn’t until my middle school years that I realize that I’m fortunate learning English as a second language and performing decently well in school unlike my parents, who were struggling to write and speak English. In the beginning, however, I struggled to speak even the most basic words in English. I did okay in all other subjects except English, which I received a below average. My memory can’t recall most of my Elementary years but from what my parents tell me is that I was basically a struggling student trying to make ends meet when it came to grades. Fortunately I do remember my 5th grade teacher Ms. Pamela telling me that I was doing extremely well in all of my subjects. I also recall the time she nominated me as the best-improved student in the class and that made me feel good about myself. This was also the year where I made a good amount of friend and interacted more towards my peers. The kinds of friends I had were reliable and trustworthy, and for the most part, were one of my main sources of help besides the teacher. For the most part I was a reserved student so being able to interact and communicate with my peers
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improved my overall well-being. It was that moment of time that I gained the confidence I needed to try harder and succeed.
But that confidence suddenly disappeared at the start of 6th grade. At that time, there was an English placement test to check for proficiency in English. My score was ELD 4 (English Language Development; Level 1, 2, 3, 4) so I was one level away from
moving up to regular English. Even though my parents both went to college in the Philippines, they couldn’t use what they learned and ended up in mediocre jobs. I was struggling, for the most part, in middle school and had that feeling of self-doubt. For a short period of time (8th grade in particular) I felt liberated in the sense of finding a new positive direction in terms of my self-doubts. It was during 8th grade that I was able to move up from a remedial class to an advanced English class. I was surprised when I found out that I was going to take an advanced class rather than a normal English class, and at that time counselors weren’t widely available so I just let it be. At first I was indifferent until I met Ms. Floe, who was in wheelchair, with one disabled arm. Her way of teaching was difficult at first, however, throughout the course, she taught with an open-mind and inspired her students. Even though I never got an A or B in the class, I learned a lot even though the level of difficulty was beyond me. It was from this moment on that I knew that advanced English classes weren’t for me but at least I never gave up. At least in the end I got a C.
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High school was the start of a new era in terms of reading and writing. For the most parts I had astounding English teachers starting my freshman year. Mrs. Monroe was my one of the few English teachers that thoroughly checked for every single mistake in terms of grammar, clarity, focus, and etc. Since her grading scale was more extraneous, I never got a high grade on my essays; however, there were a lot of comments and improvements she wrote making it easy to know what needs to be refined. Sophomore, junior, and senior years were the same teacher and her teaching style was something I wasn’t fond of. Somehow I was able to survive and do well in her class even when she never graded our essays thoroughly and gave explanations of what need to be fixed. In my opinion, I never learned as much as I should even though I got mostly A’s and B’s in my high school career. My definition of a teacher is someone you can look up to and or someone who inspires you to learn. One of the professors that inspired me to learn and to learn about life in a whole different manner is Professor Begonia. He taught Psyche and Behavior of Pilipinos and we didn’t just read a book and write about something, but we got into groups and had our teammates with our own group name and group motto. And this quote he said during one of his lectures was quite inspiring to say the least and defines what a teacher really is. “The poor teacher tells. The mediocre teacher tells. The superior teacher demonstrates. But the truly outstanding teacher inspires.” I never pushed my limits to try harder because something was preventing me
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from doing so. That reason is that I was diagnosed with bi-polar mania or manic depression in the summer of 2010. The doctor explained to me the possible causes and the one that caught my attention was that this disorder can make it hard to concentrate; i.e. reading, writing, being worried all the time, etc. It explains a lot of how and why I had such a hard time concentrating in school. I look back and I see the how this experience shaped my attitude, choices, and overall experience in my academic life.
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Today, more than a decade later, I still struggle with reading (not so much) and writing. Yet I am optimistic that everything will be okay and I can move on from my past. Sometimes I still have doubt that I won’t do well in English but I just have to focus and try harder no matter what. To me, we’re like a firework waiting to ignite and it just takes time to realize our true potential and sometimes that takes time.
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