Editor’s Note: A version of the interview lacking the necessary edits to the original transcript came out earlier this evening (Sept. 25) around 8:20 p.m. We apologize for the mistake. The current version reflects the points of the people in the conversation in a clearer fashion.
Himig Marcos and Lean Yao interviewed Ma’am Tala Wong outside De La Costa Hall for Teachers’ Appreciation Week.
Himig Marcos (HM): Why did you choose to be a teacher or professor?
Tala Wong (TW): I wasn’t supposed to be a teacher. I was supposed to continue my job as the graduate assistant at the History Department, but the head of the department at the time said, “I think you should be a teacher instead.” I saw it as a challenge to myself, to push myself to be a teacher because I’m a very shy person. I don’t like speaking in front of people. If you knew me in college, ako ‘yung type na ‘di nagsasalita, ‘di nagpaparticipate. So I thought, “Okay, this is a call. This is a challenge to yourself to stop being so scared about things, to do things you’re not comfortable with.”
Lean Yao (LY): But why histo? Why not math, or…
HM: Or lit?
TW: My undergrad is English, English-Lit, and I actually chose English-Lit because I knew very well na walang math diyan, because I am not very good at math. If you ask my sisters, they’re the ones who are actually math and science geniuses, and I got all the lit stuff. And I chose history as my M.A. because, when I went to—when I applied to Ateneo it was either Lit or History, but Lit was my first choice, so I got into that. After that, in my senior year, I applied for a double major at the History Department, and they said, “It’s better if you take a Masters Degree,” which I did. That’s why I am still at the department after… (counts) “two thousand and…” six years.
HM: Kasama na ba [r]oon ‘yung Cambridge?
TW: Ah, sa six years? Oo.
HM: What do you love most about teaching?
TW: I like changing people’s minds about History, because History isn’t… a very popular subject? And a lot of people think it’s boring, and it’s just memorization. And I find it, what I like best, ‘di ba?
TW: I like it when my students come up to me after the sem is over, and then they tell me that, they really enjoyed our class. At first, you know, they went into it not liking history, but afterwards, they became super interested, and wanted to learn more. That’s always very rewarding for me because history is really a very fun topic and if people find it boring, I feel like it’s just because it’s not being taught well.
LY: What is the best memory you’ve had in the classroom?
TW: There’s a feeling you get when you’re teaching—because you’re standing in front of your students, and you’re the one talking most of the time. There is a time when they’re really interested with what you have to say, when you can feel that all eyes are on you, that they’re not concerned with anything else. They just want to hear you tell the story about this historical figure or that historical event. And it’s a very electrifying feeling to know that you have their attention. That you are telling this story about this dead person, or this old historical event, and everyone is interested—that you’re making it interesting.
The first time I felt that was when I was discussing something which I sometimes feel is kind of boring. I was talking about the protestant reformation, and I was talking about the story of Martin Luther. This was during my first year of teaching. Everyone was paying attention and like, why are they paying attention? It’s about Martin Luther. Not really a very interesting historical figure for me. But they were interested, and that made me realize that there is truly a power in teaching. That, depending on what you say and how you say it, you can change the lives of your students.
To a lesser degree, one time a student used an example from Harry Potter to illustrate a point in class. I remember I was like, “wow!” I was really impressed by that (because I’m a nerd) and I appreciated that.
HM: What do you do when you aren’t teaching?
TW: Oh my gosh, my life is really boring. I am trying to write my thesis, and when I am not trying to write my thesis, I am playing video games, and I watch anime and obscure British TV shows.
HM: What valuable lesson did you learn from a teacher?
TW: Reaching out to people can be rewarding. If my former teacher didn’t reach out to me, I don’t think we would be doing this now. I’m talking about Mr. Tirol.
HM: Would you say that he inspired you to teach?
TW: Oh, definitely. Yeah. For sure.
HM: What is the one thing that you want all your students to learn?
TW: Never stop learning. We think we know everything, especially when we’re at a certain age, we feel that we’re the smartest people in the world, [that we know] everything that there is to know. But that is not the case at all. I’m already turning 27, and I feel that there is still so much to know, so much to learn, so much of the world to see, so much to be.
And everytime I’m teaching, I’m always learning something from my students as well.