A journey of purpose: A Bacoleña teacher’s tale in the US

By Annie delos Santos-Jones
A journey of purpose: A Bacoleña teacher’s tale in the US
Jottings GPX

Teaching in the United States was a dream I never thought possible until my J1 visa was approved in July 2017, offering me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Leaving my family in the Philippines, including my teenage son and my retired mother caring for my father with dementia, was heart-wrenching. 

Deep down, though, I knew I had to seize this opportunity.

Upon arriving in Chinle, Arizona, part of the Navajo Nation, I embarked on an unexpected adventure. Chinle, or Ch’in’li in Navajo, meaning "where the water flows out," is rich in history, serving as a cradle of civilization for the Navajo people for over 5,000 years.  The Navajo Nation covers portions of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.

The Navajo, also known as the Diné, is among the largest federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States with a population of around 300,000.

They are renowned for their vibrant culture and deep-rooted history. Despite facing hardships, including the "Long Walk" which forced thousands from their lands in Arizona and New Mexico to Fort Sumner, the Navajo have preserved their traditions and language. Today, many Navajo remain committed to their traditional way of life, embodying resilience, and cultural pride.

Teaching in Chinle posed unique challenges, including student apathy stemming from broader reservation issues like economic hardships, alcohol, and substance abuse.

Despite the daunting circumstances, I was determined to make a difference. I sought guidance from experienced colleagues who emphasized celebrating even the smallest victories. I learned to build rapport with my students, finding common ground and creating a supportive environment where they felt valued and understood.

As I immersed myself in their lives, I realized the stark contrast between their challenges and the privileges often taken for granted elsewhere.

I shared stories of Filipino students crossing rivers to reach school, contrasting them with the buses that transported them safely to school. I highlighted the free meals, decent clothing, and educational resources provided in Chinle, which many Filipino children especially in most public schools could only dream of.

Through encouragement and dedication, I witnessed a transformation in my students. They began to open up, strive for excellence, and take pride in their achievements. I established a "Wall of Fame" in the classroom to celebrate their successes, no matter how small, and soon, everyone wanted their name on that wall.

As my five-year journey in Chinle came to an end, I received heartfelt notes from students, affirming the impact I had made. Reflecting on this experience, I realized that my time in Chinle was more than just a teaching assignment—it was a calling. It was an opportunity to touch lives, inspire excellence, and fulfill a purpose greater than myself.

My journey in Chinle taught me that our talents truly shine when they align with the tasks set before us, reaffirming my belief in the transformative power of education and the resilience of the human spirit.*

***

Dr. Annie Christy delos Santos-Jones is a licensed professional teacher who graduated with a degree in AB Mass Communications from the University of St. La Salle in 1997. She furthered her education by obtaining a master’s degree in education with a major in English Literature from La Consolacion College-Bacolod; and recently, a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from the University of St. La Salle. At present, she is the program chair of the AB English Language Studies at STI West Negros University and trainer/moderator of the University Glee Club.

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