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Pia Besmonte

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The Shylock of Public School Teachers

I can remember my childhood in seasons of relative deprivation. My parents were public school teachers who raised ten kids. Their income were so insignificant that we were always deep in debt.

This is why I can empathize with public school teachers who are being threatened to lose their PRC license if they cannot settle their debts to private lending institutions.

Private Lending Institutions are the Shylock of Public School Teachers

When my parents started as teachers, the income of a salary grade 11 (entry-level) public school teacher was approximately PhP 9,939 (USD 193). They stayed at SG 11 for many years until they both pursued their master’s degrees.

They were raising ten children with USD 193 per month.

When I was a kid my dad would bring me to Manila Teachers. They would give teachers some form of salary advance, and then they will get their money back via loan deductions.

I could write so much about the oppression of public school teachers in the Philippines. My parents took out loans and surrendered their own ATM cards and bank passbooks. I have seen my parents get scammed with compounding credit card interest.

I haven’t just seen it: I lived it. There were times we slept hungry because of it.

This is the part where I remind you that these teachers are not taking out a loan for a handbag or a new smartphone.

Terrible working conditions, expectations of unconditional service

Teaching is a full-time job. It consumes our lives. We are never not thinking about teaching. We spend so many unbilled hours preparing for teaching. We use our vacations and holidays to write lesson plans, check papers, and grade students.

Teachers are overworked, leaving no opportunity for part-time work. They are astoundingly underpaid, barely enough for the basic needs of a single teacher with no dependents.

For the teaching profession that asks so much of us, you would expect it to compensate our work and sustain our lives.

And when it doesn’t, predatory lending companies circle us, smelling our poverty and our desperation.

Where is the dignity of the teaching profession?

You know why I am angry? I am a PRC-licensed high school teacher, too. Despite a double degree in  Literature and Education, I cannot practice my profession. It simply is not enough for my needs, never mind  the family I am building.

How do you raise a family with dignity when your dignified profession is barely keeping you afloat?

How well can teachers do their job when their family is starving? How much faith in the education system do they have when they have to take out loans for their own children’s tuition?

Teachers deserve more than this.

There must be a better way to keep teachers afloat than debt.

If the government can’t give teachers better compensation, they should have more laws protecting teachers from these private lending institutions.

We should have financial management courses for teachers — not only for the day-to-day expenses but also preparing for retirement. There are too many retired and broke teachers in the Philippines.

The government should have policies and institutions providing financial bailouts for bankrupt teachers.

Getting so worked up over this.

A metaphor: teachers are microorganisms that fertilize the soil. If the soil is fertile, the crops are good.

Teachers do more than give homework to your snotty, Instagram-obsessed children. The standard of education teachers uphold decides the employability of the next generation. They uphold the values that make us Filipinos. They teach your children history, culture, civics, law — things that you may not teach them because you’re busy providing for them.

When teachers fail at life, they will fail at their job. Whatever will happen to your children?

Also

Jail the sharks.

The Thought Process of a Feminist Planning Her Wedding

In two months, I’m getting married.

It scares me. The fiancé told me that I have been grinding my teeth in my sleep. I have recurring anxiety dreams. Ghosts visit me. I was pushing a grocery cart along an aisle and I heard a voice whisper my name — I was alone.

I am a feminist. I have never envisioned getting married. Yet here I am, planning my own wedding.

I have spent the past two years in silence trying to reconcile the contradictions between by former identity and the person I am becoming.

A friend suggested therapy. We plan to go through marriage counseling. I am making peace that there are some things about marriage that mystify me.

So I decided to write about it, because writing is the way I make sense of the unknown.

Here are some of the things I have been grappling with:

Marriage is an institution. I don’t want to be institutionalized.

Claude Levi-Strauss says that marriage was the institution that started the subordination of women:

”The total relationship of exchange which constitutes marriage is not established between a man and a woman . . . but between two groups of men, and the woman figures only as one of the objects in the exchange, not as one of the partners . . . This remains true even when the girl’s feelings are taken into consideration, as, moreover, is usually the case. In acquiescing to the proposed union, she precipitates or allows the exchange to take place; she cannot alter its nature.”

– Levi Strauss in Lerner, “The Creation of Patriarchy”

In history, the institution of marriage enabled the “reification” of women”: they were de-humanized (as in, traded for material goods, military alliances, etc.) and objectified.

While we can argue that the marital dynamic has vastly changed over thousands of years, there is still a lot of inequality when it comes to marriage.

Questions:

  • Who shall be the primary breadwinner?
  • Who shall stay home and take care of the kid(s)?
  • How shall the couple save up for and invest in conjugal property?

Most of the inequality comes from the economic factor, but it can also touch on career and individual insecurities. For twenty-first century women, we are pressured not only to have great careers but also to be Pinterest-perfect wives, mothers, and home-makers.

Interesting Fact:

Gerda Lerner, the pioneer of women’s history and author of “The Creation of Patriarchy”, was also a stay-at-home mom until her youngest child was 16.

Here’s her take on the contradiction between feminism and family life:

“I stayed home until my youngest child was 16 years old. I was a full-time mother. I have always felt that feminists have to understand more about that experience. Whenever you want to make any change in the community, from getting a stoplight at a school crossing to putting in a park, the people who make the change are your stay-at-home housewives all over the country, all over the world.”

(To be continued…)

“If I wanted to find meaning again, I had to stop using the chronicles of my past to inform the future.”

– Leandra Medine, Monocycle ep. 58

 

“I’ve put up with too much, too long, and now I’m just too intelligent, too powerful, too beautiful, too sure of who I am finally to deserve anything less.”

– Sandra Cisneros

Writing through a Migraine Attack

I woke up with a raging headache. Dexter received an unexpected email first thing this morning and woke up pissed. The headache blazed into a full-fledged migraine attack. But I have promised to write for two days now, and I will persist to write through squinted, pulsing eyes. Writing through a migraine attack. Here we go.

Violent language to explain creativity bothers me.

I finished reading Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”. While I appreciate some gems in the book, such as

“We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us. What will become of us? We will lose our friends and family, who will no longer recognize us. We will wind up alone, in the cold void of starry space, with nothing and no one to hold on to.

Of course this is exactly what happens. But here’s the trick. We wind up in space, but not alone. Instead we are tapped into an unquenchable, undepletable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, companionship.”

When I read this part, I whispered yissssss. This is what I went through with “Manic Pixie Depressive Gremlin”. The isolation but at the same time access to that boundless source of creation.

However, this book is 15 years old. It shows its age when it talks about ADHD, depression, and addictive personality as made-up symptoms of the Resistance. Those are recognized as real and crippling disabilities now.

His message is clear: anything that gets in the way of one doing the work is “the enemy”. His method, though, takes metaphors from being a “warrior”. Be disciplined, be miserable. And that kind of pep talk about creativity makes me slowly close up.

You can’t force creativity.

It’s honorable to stick to a routine. It’s great to have rituals that pump you up for the act of creating. It’s questionable when you need to antagonize something so you feel powerful enough to act on it.

I can never approach writing when I feel bad. It shows in my work when I am angry. I become unclear, preachy, detached from reality. I lash out. Lashing out is guttural. The antithesis of using language.

A lot of people will be inspired by Pressfield’s book. If I were less protective of what I consume, I would jump in completely. But with my personal journey thus far, I have learned to be wary of writing that strongly insists on one true way instead of finding what sticks with you.

Not to mention I hate ROTC culture. Never enlist in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in a postcolonial country. It’s ugly.

Essentially, it’s the culture of “breaking people” to make them “better”. It’s the “pay your dues” culture. The “I suffered to get where I am, now I get to torture you” culture.

It’s cultish. It damages individuality and self-esteem. Most importantly, it perpetuates a cycle of violence for generations.

Aaaand my head is throbbing again.

Writing through a Migraine attack

I discovered Leandra Medine’s Monocycle on our recent trip to Jogjakarta. This is my favorite episode:

“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so adamant about wearing my heart on my sleeve. Sometimes I wish I can just keep some stuff in. But I really don’t know how to.”

The way she answered this question marks a person who examines her life:

“If we’re writing out of love, we’re building in the direction that our dreams are willing to take us, but if we’re writing in fear, we’re constantly focused on what we don’t want instead of what we do.”

Man Repeller was born the year that I was studying in New York City. I didn’t hear of them when I was there, but following them now makes me feel a continued connection to NYC. To the person that emerged from me.

That connection keeps me going, when the going gets painful.