November 30, 2016 was a holiday commemorating Andres Bonifacio’s heroism as usual, but for me, it seemed as if I went to my first day of class in a bigger classroom. That was the day I took off my hat as a teacher and put on the uniform of a student again for five humbling days.
The Davao Writers Workshop (DWW) 2016 served as my fast-paced, short course in Creative Writing. Everything happened in a snap from the time I submitted my manuscript with high hopes (as if I were submitting my school requirements) until the time I received the acceptance e-mail. Reading “Congratulations” really took me to Cloud Nine, as if I had won a prize. In fact, they said I had won a “fellowship.” At that point I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but I told myself, This is it! I am ready to learn again.
Bringing along my backpack, I went to our “classroom,” The Big House: A Heritage Home in Juna Subdivision. When I finally met my “classmates” for that workshop, I realized they were fourteen diverse people coming from different parts of Mindanao. Most of them were college students and two fellow teachers, Deejay Maravilla from Dapitan and Jet Paclar from Cagayan de Oro. Just like me, they also set aside their red pens and they were eager to learn from the pros. Despite our diversity of culture, age, and gender, it did not hinder me from relating to them and building rapport especially with my roommates, Krizza Udal and Emmylou Layog who were both senior college students. We were the only females in the group. It reminded me that learning and teaching is indeed a cycle–I may be a teacher by profession but during the workshop, we were all students.
The most interesting part of our workshop was the meet-and-greet with our mentors. It was exhilarating to rub elbows with Mindanawon writers who have gained their place as award-winning and published authors: Macario Tiu, Timothy Montes, Dom Cimafranca, Nino de Veyra, Errol Merquita, John Bengan, and Jhoanna Cruz. But it was also important to get to know the younger writers like Darylle Rubino, Nassefh Macla, and Gracielle Tubera. We began each day with craft lectures by each of the regular panelists to hone our skills in different literary genres, then it was followed by the discussion of the works of the fellows aimed at showing the novice writer how to improve. It seemed like every detail of the workshop discussions challenged what I knew about writing. What appealed to me the most were world building and the uses of time and space in fiction. Every day at the workshop revived my first love, literary writing, which I had twice denied before—when I chose to pursue news writing in 2007, then when I shifted to teaching in 2013.
Yet, through the workshop, I developed new perspectives not only in writing but also in teaching. I am currently teaching the first batch of Senior High School (SHS) and I am handling two core subjects: Reading and Writing and 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World. With what I gained from the workshop, I learned more teaching strategies apart from those stated in DepED’s Teacher Guide for SHS. Empowering my students to be critical thinkers starts by teaching them to become effective readers. As what my one of my co-fellows Dioprey Ebol commented, “Excellent siguro imong mga students, Ma’am kay teacher man ka nila.” As teachers, we can only teach and inspire, but not impose on them. However, the decision to excel still lies in our individual students.
On the second day of the workshop, my short story draft “Nagkukubling Paruparo” was discussed. I am not even fond of critiquing my students’ written works, but this time, the spotlight of criticism was on me. I liked the strategy of fellow-panelist commentaries before author-reveal because they were critiquing the work objectively without attaching it to the writer. Writing that first draft was challenging for me because I was more used to writing essays, but revising my draft takes that challenge further. It was my first time to write a story and it was humbling to listen to what I have yet to learn. But I do appreciate the efforts of the seasoned writers from the Davao Writers Guild who invested their time and resources in us. And that’s how I also envision my teaching career; it will be my continuous opportunity to pass the baton of mentoring young writers in my classes.
Fellowships like this give equal opportunities for students and professionals to unlearn what we have learned and take the challenge to keep writing our narratives as part of the Mindanawon community. As we bid farewell on the last day of our workshop, we said hello to a new challenge that our workshop director Jhoanna Lynn Cruz left us, “If you are not published in Dagmay, you are not a Mindanawon writer.”
Today, as I begin to write new drafts, I realize I am not only writing for myself nor for my students’ reading comprehension tests, but I am writing for the larger public. As a Davao Writers Workshop fellow, I accept the responsibilty of carrying on in my own writing goals, as well as acknowledge the camaraderie and community I share with my batch of fellow students.
Maritess A. Rulona has a degree in A.B. Mass Communications from the University of San Jose-Recoletos in Cebu. She is the Senior High Department Head of Proverbs Ville Christian School.