It was not an ordinary morning in 2016 for a Filipino American teacher at St. Pius X Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia. Instead of teaching, she had to hide her fifth-grade pupils in a closet and try to quiet them down. Candies came in handy.
In her 46 years of teaching, 16 years in the Philippines and 30 years in the U.S., Fe Esperanza Timbol never thought that one day her dedication to her pupils would be put to a test — protecting them from bullets.
“We had a lock down when a bank robber tried to seek refuge in our school building. The guy was spotted hiding in a play house outside our window. I buzzed the office and he was surrounded by cops with their guns aimed at him,” Fe recalls.
A vocal critic of Trump, Fe is against the arming of teachers despite her experience because she believes that is not their duty to shoot anyone, even students who could endanger her life. She is also an active user of social media in voicing out her opinions against the “Republicans who favor the 1% over the majority.”
“We have zero tolerance of weapons in our school. A student gets suspended, bringing in even a toy gun. The government needs to step up to end this craziness,” Fe stresses.
The feisty retiree never slows down, not even her diabetes and hypertension can stop her from things she enjoys so much, like good food, family, and teaching.
Career versus Family
Fe’s parents sponsored her after they became American citizens. But it took her long to decide to immigrate because of her fear of the unknown. Although a teacher, she knew that she could land in odd jobs like as a dishwasher or sales clerk.
Fe was at the peak of her career in teaching in the Philippines. As a Master Teacher in San Jose Pilot Elementary School and at the Divine Word College both in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, Fe earned study grants, and was sent to trainings. Just as she was offered a full-year scholarship at the Development Academy of the Philippines, the U.S. Embassy called.
“The failing health of my mom was the deciding factor for me. I only get to enjoy my mom for a year and she passed away after her battle with pancreatic cancer followed by dad two years after,” Fe says.
A Filipino teacher in America
In April 1987, Fe flew to the United States. Once she got there, she applied at shoe stores and department stores, but was deemed not “attractive” enough to get hired.
“My two nieces were studying at St. Pius X. My sister inquired for an opening, but she had to convince me to give it a shot,” Fe says.
At her interview, the principal told Fe to talk about anything. She chose to explain the educational system in the Philippines, which was influenced by the Americans. After the interview, the principal toured her around the school.
“My administrators, colleagues, and staff were very supportive. I started to gain the kind of stature I had back home,” Fe shares.
Fe started as a second grade teacher for a couple of years. Then, she taught 5th grade and eventually the middle school. She was certified to teach 8th grade until she retired. She taught Language Arts and Religion.
Fe admitted feeling initially intimidated by the environment, the culture, and the surroundings. During her first few months, a stepmother of a student called her principal questioning why the school needed to hire a foreign teacher. She is the first Filipino to teach there.
To settle the matter, Fe sought a meeting with the principal asking for the termination of the contract.
“Unbeknownst to me, she had been observing me and had good feedback from other parents. She struck a deal with me to finish the school year and she would have my back,” Fe recalls.
The contract did not just last a year, but for thirty years.
Fe became the head of a self-study or accreditation and served twice as a member of the school board. She was well loved by the generations of students at St. Pius X.
Teaching gave Fe the opportunity to follow her other dream, which was to travel around the world. With her earnings she bought a condominium in Virginia Beach, a car, and property in Florida.
Teaching is more than work
Unlike other professions, teaching doesn’t pay much, but it has more rewards that money cannot buy, according to Fe.
“I have so many fond memories of them. I was Christmas shopping at a mall when I heard my name called out by a tall handsome guy I did not recognize. He said that he always thinks about me at Christmas singing ‘Joy to the World’ in Tagalog as I taught them in 2nd grade. He sang it right there to my delight,” Fe shares.
For three decades many former students came back to Fe’s classroom either to ask for her blessings as they were deployed to war zones, for comfort as their parents were in the midst of divorcing, or to appreciate how much she had influenced their lives.
“I have a collection of sweet and touching notes, letters, and personal student evaluations I received on Mother’s Day, Teacher’s Day, end of the year and other occasions. I want them all in my casket,” Fe laughs.
Despite her love of children, Fe never married. She treated her students as her own while under her care, protecting and disciplining them if needed. Although living a solitary life, she is never alone.
“Being single gave me the resilience to survive in a foreign land and pursue my other dreams. Living a solitary life, I traveled the world with my best friend, Jocelyn Lara and my sister, have a house of my own, and enjoy life with a bunch of good friends,” Fe explains.
Fe and Jocelyn, started traveling in 2000. They have been to more than 30 countries, visiting famous museums and spots they had been dreaming of as kids.
“I haven’t closed my door if Mr. Right comes around, though,” Fe laughs.
Retirement is just a phase
Since Fe had invested in mutual funds and a Roth IRA, a special retirement account, in addition to her Social Security benefits, she is never a burden to anyone.
After her retirement, Fe moved to St. Cloud, Florida, and is now training to be a franchisee of Kumon Center in partnership with her niece, Tess.
“It’s a 50 / 50 investment for us. I am close to finishing the academic training, which is rigid, and hopefully be awarded the franchise. It is an after-school program for Math and Reading, which specializes in individualized instruction meant to develop work skills, discipline, speed, and accuracy beyond grade level as self-learners,” Fe explains.
More than with politics, Fe is very excited at the prospect of working with children again.
“At 68, I still have the guts to face challenges. Hope it is worth it. If not, I still have the passion for cooking, dancing, traveling, and most importantly, hanging around with my grand nephews and nieces. They rock my world,” Fe enthuses.
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