by Margaret G.
You hear the bell chime for the nth time since the beginning of classes, signifying the nearing and much awaited lunch period. You drum your fingers anxiously as you wait for your teacher to wrap up the lesson, apparently taking a long time to do so. When he finally does, he says, “Goodbye everyone, let’s forego the prayer.” Directed by your uncontrollable pangs of hunger, you dash downstairs towards the junior-high filled cafeteria.
A sea of students wearing the usual black, white, and brown meet your vision as you tread continuously to the concessionaires, but there was something that caught your attention — something that stood out. Amongst the ocean of whites was a vibrant hue.
He wore this strong shade — a chequered one, at that. The rather tall figure, coming from the same place you were headed towards, walked cautiously in the direction of one of the tables seated with several 9th-graders. You observe them as he remained with the students for the whole period, casually conversing and laughing while exchanging stories.
And almost everyday would you see this event happen; different day, different groups of students socializing with, different vividly-toned plaid polos — same man.
Young and hardly 2 years out of college, Russell Caynap — or simply Russ to his colleagues and close friends — is a Christian Life Education teacher of Grades 9 and 10 in Xavier School Nuvali.
The widely regarded reality of lengthy and tedious CLE lectures still rings true for some, but Mr. Caynap adjusts this point of view for other students. He grounds his lectures (although denying them) on hugots to aid the high schoolers in more effectively understanding the lessons, ultimately providing a clearer path for them to connect, relate, and identify personal experiences with what is being taught.
“People always go beyond the boxes or categories we put them in.”
“It’s okay to be broken. You’ll then have more chances to fix yourself.”
These particular phrases are samples of the hugots that continue to linger in the minds and hearts of his students. It is precisely through this technique — of creating expressions that are close to the different realities of the youth — that shapes the way his pupils see him.
Mr. Caynap then, to his students, appears to be the type of person that will sincerely and genuinely listen to the stories of other people, and this is indeed true. They openly approach him to talk about almost anything, from the most hidden of personal matters to the more casual and spontaneous conversation subjects such as films, books, or ideas. He’s effortless to converse to — he thanks you for sharing your story, empathizes with you, then ends by giving you realistic advice. This exact characteristic has drawn his pupils into their candid conversations, but the hint of wanting to work for and with the youth and in an educational setting has dawned on him during his early years — even further nurtured by his college experiences.
Everything began throughout high school.
Mr. Caynap back then was just like your regular high schooler today—experimenting with various hobbies in hopes of determining that enthusiasm over something that might possibly be a guide to choosing a course for college. This for him was writing—at least he thought it was.
He started honing and focusing on this skill, even keeping a small journal in which he’d write personal work. His attachment to this particular strength encouraged him to consider taking Creative Writing as a course, up until one of his best friends introduced him to Philosophy.
“…one of my friends was part of that (Ateneo Junior Summer Seminar) and he told me about this thing called Philosophy, and I really didn’t know what it was about. It sounded cool in my head, among other things, and all I knew was that some of my favorite teachers in high school were Philosophy professors.”
His first encounter with Philosophy, the introduction made by one of his friends, in some way ignited a sense of curiosity within him. He recalls most of his high school teachers being Philo majors, and found them the most fascinating to listen to and converse with outside of class. With additional influences, such as remarks about how he seems “fit” for the course because he was fond of thinking, finally urged him to choose the path he will undertake for college.
The road he tackled certainly did not present a smooth journey. Instances of regret became apparent mostly through late nights of writing due papers with ridiculously difficult texts, and classes handled by the toughest professors in the department. Yet among and through these challenges and straining occasions emerged his earliest inkling of wanting to teach.
The awareness of his inclination to teach can be traced back to his prior experiences in California Summer Camps, wherein he, for almost 5 years, was able to tutor and give lessons to young kids. This initially gave rise to his interest in understanding and working for the youth, and his college education developed this interest to an even greater extent.
He remembers his first Philosophy class with a professor.
“I remember my first lesson with Sir Calasanz. I remember his first lesson in Medieval Philosophy. I just remember I was so dumbstruck, and I would go around talking to other people about it,” he says.
He was so mind-blown with the lessons he learned from his course that he developed the tendency to tell other people about it, eventually acquiring the knack to explain different concepts and ideas. Philosophy was able to equip him with the skill and capability to think, further cultivating his proficiency and desire in giving explanations of different notions, also fuelling his liking of carrying conversations with others. He even recalled the moments when people had the propensity to approach him just to ask help for Philosophy-related work.
“. . .’cus uh I was one of those people you’d go to if you didn’t understand Philo. Suddenly during third year I had so many friends pala. You know, ‘Uy, Russ! You’re a Philo major right?’ ‘Yeah, yeah.’ ‘Uy pwede paturo naman?’”
Aside from the experiences and abilities that his course provided him, he was also able to face particular lessons that became tools for his greater understanding of his desire. One specific contribution of the philosopher Plato to his life is the concept of mortality for humans. Through him, he was able to formulate insights about the interconnectedness of people, about how people cannot be themselves without others; furthermore enriching his passion towards being of service for others.
In addition, it was through his classes — Theology, in particular — that he was able to deepen his spirituality and essentially use it as a framework for his somewhat then unclear sense of what he desired to do. There were a myriad of factors that played roles at this point of his life, but these lectures truly allowed him to enhance his perceptions on the career path he was most contemplating about.
“I remember particularly in my classes in Liberation Theology…how [my professor] would talk about how poverty is not just about helping the poor… but to understand that there are social structures that cause these social injustices in life,” he said.
It was a slow process, but eventually — with the help of the insights and values he had been gaining through these lectures — he coordinated with the Campus Ministry Office of the university he attended, and exercised the practice of praying with the Bible each day — a “retreat” in daily life, as what they would call it.
The daily retreats transitioned into actual retreats, one of which being his 8-day silent retreat in Baguio where he experienced the height and absolute cultivation of his spirituality. On the last night of the silent retreat, he held his own prayer session with God which lasted for almost 2 hours, solely talking about his desired career choice and its difficulty. He was well aware of his passion, of what God had been asking him to do, yet his uncertainty compelled him to question these quite insistently. At long last, he finally agreed and acknowledged what he was being called for.
He applied for the Jesuit Volunteer Program — a program in which volunteers are dismissed to poor communities to teach — upon realizing what he essentially wanted to do. It appears as if he’s finally journeying the path he had long been thinking about, but nature decided to take its own course. He was accepted in the program but was not able to proceed with it due to personal reasons. It left him lost; almost as if he was again disoriented on what he genuinely wanted to do, failing to notice that it was — in actuality — the ultimate turning point for his career.
Mr. Calasanz, right at the period when Mr. Caynap was feeling off-course and astray, approached him and said, “Xavier ka nalang.”
It was his own professor, and the event of not being able to go with the JVP, that ultimately directed him to his post today — a CLE teacher at Xavier School in the south. In his time of being lost and misplaced, he was found, and was able to find what he had been looking for all along.
The foreseen transition was not easy. Initially having planned to travel up north and teach the indigenous people, he still took into consideration the pros and cons of working in an environment unfamiliar to him. In the end, it was also the fresh and aspiring community presented by the school that drew him to pursue in submitting his application.
Academic year 2016-2017 marks his second year of teaching, and he still distinctly recalls his impressions on the community and how it provides him reasons to persist in being an educator within the Xaverian setting.
He observed the way everyone greeted and knew each other, as well as how everyone constantly appeared to be strangely happy. Seemingly odd at the beginning, he was eventually able to embrace this surrounding and identify a sense of “home” within it as time progressed. The community he welcomed also handed him the chance to start anew along with the developing and budding system it had. It was an opportunity not offered to many, so it was a gift that he proudly accepted.
“I guess I was looking for that community and I saw that here, . . . I guess that’s what attracted me to XSN also, given—to be given a chance to start something,” he said.
Xavier’s working environment aided him in adjusting towards the startling transformation from being a college student to being the one who handles students. The academic nature was admittedly stressing for him, describing it as a non-stop college hell week, but the sense of unity within the people helps him loosen up. In spite of the contrasting personalities and varying work practices, being aware that the same passion fuels everyone to pursue each day determinedly reduces the pressure placed upon being a faculty member.
Today, Mr. Caynap remains to fulfil his commitment with Xavier. His passion continues to burn intensely — educating, being able to converse with the youth, learning new perspectives, and steadily achieving the goals he has long been familiar with. It was a rough and exhausting journey, but he pushes forward; day by day, one group of different students at a time.
Immediately after having a conversation with the group of 9th graders and hearing another ring of bell that ends the lunch time, he unhurriedly heads upstairs towards the faculty workroom. He fetches his laptop from his own desk, and proceeds to the third floor for his next class. He walks quite optimistically towards his classroom, taking a deep breath as he prepares to converse once again, now with an even larger group of students — students not awaiting his lectures, but his hugots, that they may somehow identify themselves with it, and leave it in their knowledge and hearts in perpetuity.