by Gyuri C.

They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, but what happens when life gives a young, aspiring artist college options that does not include anything related to art? By chance, the young aspiring artist ends up as a science teacher, and still is for 11 years now.

Mr. Michael Jerome Encina never wanted to become a teacher in the first place. At a young age, he already knew that his passion was for art, but taking fine arts for college was not the most practical choice at the time. Following his father’s suggestion, he decided to apply for scholarships, one of which was the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) program. He did not expect to pass it, but he did, and he had to decide what to do next as life’s complexities unfolded for him. Option after option was presented until there came a point where he was about to choose a two-year technical course, but his father had another idea–that he take a four-year degree instead. “The funny thing is I could’ve chosen something like electronics and communication engineering,” Mr. Encina recalled, “…actually took the test, but we learned that there’s […] a higher allowance for physics related courses […] so okay, let’s try physics, then!” One of the few colleges that offered the course was Philippine Normal University, the first teacher-training institution in the country, and there the serendipitous journey to teacherhood began.

A teacher saying that one does not really learn from teachers is like the word oxymoron: seemingly absurd and paradoxical but actually makes sense. The statement describes Mr. Encina’s way of teaching. He believes that a teacher is only a facilitator in the learning process, there to assist students on how to learn things, and that thinking is what makes students truly learn. He then challenges himself to make students think in all ways possible. One is by not answering a question directly, preferring instead to put the question back to the student or giving him different perspectives to help him answer the question himself. This was how he was trained to teach: not with content mastery, but with a more innovative approach to education because life does not always give one what one wants, and neither what a teacher would like to teach. To prepare for that reality, he was taught how to teach not only something he is an expert of, but, more importantly, something he does not know. His art of teaching is truly an art, requiring of him not only skill but creativity as well.

This is far from easy–a teacher’s job is never so. During the start of the second academic quarter, when asked how he is, he smiled but the exhaustion was evident. He answered, “a bit stressed right now. More on like, I have to be very careful on–I need to make good decisions on what should I (sic) prioritize. I need to choose my battle well, because anything I do, it’s either, it will affect my work or it will affect the students. Or both. So, I need to find that balance in making the decision.” Teaching is his work, and it is a demanding and taxing one. Add to that the frustration of “what if I took fine arts…”, and the question of “why am I still teaching?” arises.

When the thought of a career shift crossed his mind, he decided to take up masters for education. He attended for two days and then stopped. He was not happy, and so he looked for hobbies to do instead. That was how he first met with photography. He only had a cellphone camera at the time, but his models–friends who always ask him to take pictures of them–told him that he was good at taking shots. He thought they were merely flattering him and didn’t believe until he was lent a camera to cover an event in the school he previously worked in, and the happening affirmed his friends’ compliments. “They were very happy with the pictures I took,” he recalled. After that, he had always been tapped to be part of the documentation team. Now, he has his own camera. It’s an entry-level DSLR which he saved up a lot for. He has not upgraded it yet or bought additional lenses, just to challenge himself. For him, his camera symbolizes his artistry: he does not need to follow the convention and is even up to the challenge of setting his own trend and working with any medium and every medium.

Other artistic opportunities opened up too: he became technical director for a stage play, started doing set and costume designs, and eventually turned his art into a business. At first, it was to see whether people are only asking artistic help from him to cut expenses because he did not charge them, but even people who he did not know started to show interest in his works. Now, his online business, Brown Box Creatives, has become a seasonal job, although it does not feel like work to him at all since it’s his passion and, perhaps, biggest “what if.” “Probably it’s not my main job right now […] if ever I get that decision that maybe I should focus on one [career] then probably I’ll choose something related to arts,” he reflected. That is not to say that his teaching is totally distinct from his artistry; his method is not called an art of teaching for no reason.

In 2013, the book Physics Works was published. It was a harmony of Mr. Encina the teacher and Mr. Encina the artist, a balance even from the way he wrote it as he wanted it to be “not too serious, not too technical. Just the right balance to understand.” He describes it as himself and the way he teaches immortalized into a book, or his own version of Conceptual Physics, a book by physics professor Paul Hewitt. He did not liked physics initially in college and was even scared of taking it as his major, but the book influenced him nonetheless. “What I like about this book is it shares the same style of teaching that I have…and I got inspired by his life. He started as…an artist but this time turned into a physics teacher,” he shared, describing why the book and the professor is significant to him. From the book and the professor Paul Hewitt, he got the idea that maybe he does not have to focus on just one thing; maybe he can both teach and do art at the same time, and that there is no need to give up one thing for the other. His own book Physics Works was a manifestation of this idea.

Of course, life would not be without challenges. His book took a long time–about six years–before completion and not without difficulties. At present, he continues to teach. But amidst the difficulties and stress, it’s not easy for him to leave teaching because “I think teaching is also a form of art, though it’s not the kind of art you usually see in museums,” he explains. He still has his art business and continues to create works on the side, whether professionally or personally. Ask him what he thinks he will be doing five years from now and you will get a chuckle. “I’m still thinking; I’m still undecided,” he answers. He continues to balance two seemingly different–but in reality, related–careers and life, which in itself is an art form.

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