WHEN I first started teaching nearly a decade ago, I also tutored elementary students to augment my salary. Some of my first tutees were Aubrey, Craig and Nicole. They were so young, they barely reached my armpits. Five days a week, we reviewed their lessons written using Mongol No. 2 pencil on the pages of small plastic-covered notebooks which they carried in big colorful bags decorated with cartoon characters.
Now, Aubrey, Craig and Nicole are senior high school students about to graduate in a few weeks. They are as tall as or taller than I. They now write their more complicated lessons in portfolios using ballpoint pens which are the only things they bring in out of school in their tiny or near-empty bags. They are no longer tutored. They do their homework, review their lessons, and prepare for projects on their own. And soon, in college, they will become more personally responsible, not just for their studies, but for their future plans, choice of friends, and who they want to be.
And that's scary. For many adults, college is a crazy, tumultuous, temptation-filled den of sin. How will my students cope? How will they turn out? Can they really be trusted to make the right choices?
When noted speaker Anthony Pangilinan conducted a seminar for parents and teachers at Davao Christian High School a few weeks ago, he said one of the most important lessons about raising children is that the younger the child is, the more the adult has to exert control. However, as children grow older, the less control and the more freedom should be given, since in the end, kids do become adults who have to make independent choices for their lives. Therefore, the best we can hope to have done as parents and educators is to have shown them skills, ideas, and character traits that will help make them better people than we are.
In short, parents and teachers need to understand a basic concept about our relationship with our students and children-- we do not own them. We cannot presume that we have complete control over their lives, because we don’t, and even if we succeed in doing so, that will be dangerous and unfair. We cannot shield them from the darker side of life or apologize for them when they make the wrong decisions. When they are at a certain age, we have to let them go and allow them to live their own lives even if it means seeing them experience pain, go through defeat or make mistakes.
When Hayden Kho and Jason Ivler's stories broke out in the media, the disturbing common thread that tied both men was not just how their supposed crimes dealt with callous treatment of other people's rights, but also how their mothers passionately defended the sons even to the point of absolving them of any wrongdoing.
A mother's love is one thing, but blaming the victim or breaking the law is another. We all, no matter what age, must learn to take responsibility for what we do. Somehow, it seems that Irene Kho and Marlene Aguilar have forgotten that making their sons face the consequences of their decisions and actions is an integral part of growing up.
Author Barbara Kingsolver, once wrote about this is her book, The Bean Trees. At the end of the novel, the main characters realized something important about being parents. One said, "Nothing on this earth's guaranteed, when you get right down to it, you know? I've been thinking about that. About how your kids aren't really yours, they're just these people that you try to keep an eye on, and hope you'll all grow up someday to like each other and still be in one piece... [E]verything you ever get is really just on loan... So what's the point worrying yourself sick about it. You'd just as well enjoy it while you've got it."
God lent us our students, our children. They are not ours to keep, they are supposed to be their own persons. Our role is to love them, to support and encourage them, and to let them be who they decide to be.
As a teacher, I get sentimental whenever a batch of seniors is about to graduate. With this batch, I have seen them grow up from young pupils in shorts and pigtails to young men and women with memories to cherish and dreams to pursue. As scary as it is to see them go off to college and navigate through its challenges, I have to let them go and let God. I have to trust that they will be smart enough to do the right things and make the right decisions, and that even if they will make mistakes, God is big enough to take care of them. But rest assured, whenever Aubrey, Craig, Nicole and the rest of their classmates need help, I’m here; no longer a tutor and teacher, just a person here for them.