“Always put Climbers first, even that means saying no to your CEO.”

When I first arrived at E2 as a fresh intern, the phrase emphasized by my supervisor that stuck in my mind. This saying left a strong impression on me because it did not fully make sense to me at the moment. It contradicts with my perspectives. How can a mere intern deny the CEO? Isn’t an internship is where you develop yourself? What values there are for me thinking of the students first? I held on to this shortsighted mindset and go about my tasks. I came here for myself, and I had no intention of putting anyone else first.

Piecing the puzzle together:

As I interact with the teachers here and observe how they work, my perspective about the nature of my work begins to shift. First off the bat, I was surprised to observe how kind, thoughtful and genuine the teachers at E2 are to their students. Whether that is giving away her cup of Starbucks to wake a student up, spending his own money to buy students bubble teas to celebrate an end of a semester, having conversations late into the night about students’ learning and still have questions lingering about how to improve her class on her way back to home, even in their smallest acts, and quietest moments, they’ve shown me the meaning of putting their students first.

A common thread that runs through their relationship with the students is how they always choose to see the goodness in climbers first and foremost. The locus of their decision-making process always lies the best intention for Climbers far beyond the academic needs of students, but emotional needs of whole human beings to nurture the potentials that they see. They go the extra miles to create an inclusive space, uplift students when they feel discouraged, celebrate achievements to make them feel special. They are able to see the students in a way I cannot because of their choice.

I am always amazed to observe how this decision, in turn, energizes the teachers and keep them going amid incredibly demanding workloads. Seeing this has surprised and inspired me to be more open-minded and consider the possibility I could’ve not imagined on my own, to let the students be a part of my own learning journey here at E2. Through the teachers, I was inspired to look beyond myself.

Sketching my choices:

I have my own struggles to materialize the inspiration. In my day-to- day tasks that involved working with students, I am supposed to conduct tests, playing vocabulary games and help teachers manage the class. I’ve thought at the beginning that they are insignificant, carry no values and frankly, boring. However, as I go about them routinely, I’ve discovered that that can be quite joyful if I am attentive to the students by letting go of my notions of them being mere to complete the tasks for the sake of completing.

One particular example is when I played a 15-minutes vocabulary game, in which a boy and a girl, both elementary students in Foundation A have to compete against one another to tap for the right vocabulary whenever I read the definition out loud. I could sense that the boy was not confident at first because he told me the girl always wins before. I was taken back at he shared their feelings so frankly to a stranger like me. However, I sympathized because I’ve been there. I saw myself in him, and I felt an urge to do something because I wanted to believe he has it in him.

The 1st game, the girl won unequivocally. 2nd game, she still won, but with a smaller margin. 3rd game, to all of our surprise, they are tied. Throughout the 3 rounds, I found myself awkwardly but consistently rephrased “you can do it,” “you never know until you try” although I think these sayings are quite cheesy when I heard them from teachers. Now I cannot say that I fully understood and trusted in what I said, but I know that lies at its core is unquestionably, my earnest wish for him to succeed, to beat his doubts.

He did not win at the end. However, he energetically jumped up and down, which signaled to me that he has indeed, won against his doubts, and I felt like I was part of the process. In just a small game, we were teammates, working together, trusting one another and cheering each other on to push the boundaries. This is just one example, there are many others. Generally speaking, by just merely sharing their feelings, exchanging a smile, or tell me about their accomplishment in our interactions, I feel as if Climbers are inviting me to be a part of their learning journey.

Because of this invitation, day-by- day, I am given a choice to do something about their sharing, to uplift and nurture them. In a sense, I felt that Climbers choose and trust in me first before I made the decision to do the same for them.

Only then, I saw the joy and meaning of putting climbers first.

E2 students sparked a fire in me, for teaching, for learning, for people, for a kind of education that is equalized, empowering and fun. A kind of education that does not exist a hierarchy of teacher and student, only people to people, learning and enjoying with one another.

Through the teachers and students here at E2, I’ve come to understand how and what we can choose to serve in our job. At the end of the day, putting Climber over E2 over Self is a choice and not a hard one to make when we are able to let go of our egos and enjoy ourselves with the students and the moments we share. To me personally, this choice has helped to embrace the possibilities of putting others first and choose to be something larger than myself as the anchor of my career in the future.

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