Why I keep on re-reading Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.”

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Sink or Swim.”

By Marietta Geraldino

Much has been written about Paulo Coelho’s highly acclaimed novel, The Alchemist. Rightly, so. The novel has remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for over 300 weeks. It has been reviewed by readers from all walks of life and critiqued from both ends of the spectrum.

I first got hold of The Alchemist during one of my visits to the New York City Public Library, my secret hideout when I wanted to ‘disappear.’ It was in 2004. I just moved to New York City and felt so alone, lost, and overwhelmed. Reading novels was one of the ways I coped with work stress and homesickness.

At first, I kept on asking myself, “What makes the story of Santiago, a Spanish shepherd boy, special?” It’s been reported that then-President Bill Clinton was photographed leaving the White House with a copy of the novel. Even Madonna and Will Smith, I learned, raved about the book.

“Where’s the disconnect? Why do I find The Alchemist ordinary?”

“It won fans in high places,” I reminded myself. So, I continued to flip the pages aimlessly, underwhelmed. Then, I began to take notice of the novel’s recurring themes. The message completely and deeply resonated with me:

“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only obligation.”
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dreamed of.”

The novel speaks of the importance of seeking ones’ own spiritual meaning –  passion, purpose – in life, and spending one’s life fulfilling it. A personal legend, as it’s referred to in The Alchemist, is a destiny unique to every person.

Coming to New York City through a temporary H-1B teaching visa was a risk and a commitment to several unknowns. After all, I was already an accomplished educator in the Philippines for 15 years. But really, who would pass up the chance to teach and to live in the city with infinite possibilities? Not me. In fact, working in the Big Apple is a dream come true – a blessing. With my educational portfolio, I was confident that I would make it on day one. How difficult could it be?

I got ‘schooled.’

The reality of teaching in a high-need school in America immediately doused my confidence and enthusiasm. I could not seem to manage my teaching space. I was totally and unquestionably out of my comfort zone.

It was during this crucial point that I crossed paths with The Alchemist. Suddenly, its message seemed relevant. The novel’s recurring theme seemed to speak to me directly – comforting, challenging, egging me on to persevere and to believe in what I do. I was reminded that I came to New York City to do what I do best and that if others could successfully teach under the same constraints, then there’s no reason why I could not.

In 2013, I was named as one of New York’s top teachers.


During the novel’s crucial points, many of the characters that Santiago meets during his journey would say this word. Maktub, according to the crystal merchant, means “It is written.

Fast forward to 2020.

A current situation reminded me to re-read the novel, which is no longer in my possessionThat’s how I came to buy the 25th-anniversary edition of The Alchemist. This time, I intended to read it with purpose – to seek a deeper understanding of Coelho’s divining symbolism and concept of personal legend.

This time, however, it’s the story of the book’s publication that inspired me the most. The foreword reads:

” When The Alchemist was first published twenty-five years ago in my native Brazil, no one noticed. A bookseller in the northeast corner of the country told me that only one person purchased a copy of the first week of its release ….  By the end of the year, it was clear to everyone that The Alchemist wasn’t working. My original publisher decided to cut me loose and canceled our contract.”

Coelho explained, “I was 41 and desperate. But I never lost faith in the book or ever wavered in my vision. Why? Because it was me in there, all of me, heart and soul. I was living my own metaphor.”

This brings me to the question, “Does the novel also speak of my own metaphor?”

Yes. Re-reading The Alchemistafter 16 years, makes me question my current comfort zone. It makes me wonder, “Am I living my personal legend? Is this it?” Or, “Am I like the crystal merchant who has become complacent and has given up the pursuit of his personal legend?”

 I say, “Maktub!” 

And, hence, begins my renewed self quest for a deeper understanding of my own personal legend, as viewed from a new lens. Isn’t such a toll order inspired by a novel that I first thought of as ordinary?




‘The Most Influential Teacher of the Year 2015 Awards’ conferred by the UNIFFIED and LC Legacy Foundation was held at the New York University Palladium, New York City on October 17, 2015.


L-R: LC Legacy Foundation Chair & UNIFFIED Founder Lumen Castaneda, US Pinoys for Good Governance Chair Atty. Loida Nicolas Lewis, OWWA Officer Pet Bergado, UNIFFIED Pres. Ronie Mataquel.

‘Most Influential Teacher Awards’ at the NYU Palladium


The Oath

~ Haim Ginott 

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.

As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal.

In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” 

The Inflection Point
Thank you Mr. Sealey for sharing this piece with  The Inflection Point. May this beautiful quote from Haim Ginott serve as an inspiration to teachers, as they’re preparing for the opening of the new school year.  


Inspirational Quotes

Photo Credit: SGoAguilar2013 

by Marietta Geraldino

As we edge towards the last days of this school year, let’s reflect on the question, “Just how hard is it to teach in America’s highest-need schools?”

Ryan Fuller, an aerospace engineer turned high school math teacher, offers interesting insights in the Slate article “Teaching Isn’t Rocket Science. It’s Harder.”

Fuller was hired to teach 11th grade math and robotics at Sierra High School in Colorado Springs, through Teach for America, after quitting his NASA engineering job, during a severe recession.

He was ‘schooled.’

He found out that designing a NASA spacecraft was easier than teaching algebra. “In teaching,” he wrote, “a person can be extremely competent, work relentlessly, and still fail miserably.” He claimed that he faced more failure every five minutes of teaching than he experienced in an entire week as an engineer.

But a teacher, he emphasized, must be ready to get the students back on track, because he believes that “no matter what the students say or do to detract from the lesson, they want structure, they want to learn, and they want to be prepared for life.”

A typical teacher task, he said, involves “explaining for the fourth time how to get the variable out of the exponent while two students put their heads down, three students start texting, two girls in the back start talking, and one student provokes another from across the classroom.”

Having worked both as an aerospace engineer and as a high school math teacher, Mr. Fuller learned first-hand that “no one can fully understand how difficult teaching is until he or she personally experiences it.”

“When I solved engineering problems, I had to use my brain. When I solve teaching problems, I use my entire being – everything I have,” Fuller wrote.

Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond offered another angle in the Huffington Post’s, “Maybe It’s Time to Ask the Teachers.” 

In the said article, Prof. Hammond  pointed out that:

“American teachers deal with a lot: low pay, growing class sizes and escalating teacher-bashing from politicians and pundits. Federal testing and accountability mandates under No Child Left Behind and, more recently, Race to the Top, have added layers of bureaucracy while eliminating much of the creativity and authentic learning that makes teaching enjoyable.”

Indeed, teaching in America’s highest-need communities is uniquely hard. Successful teaching requires a supportive and transformative brand of leadership. It requires a teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge and an inherent love for the job itself. 

Hard-to-staff schools deserve and require great teachers who are able to ‘spark’ student success and have the skill, the will, and the heart to do the job.

Yes, teaching is truly meant for those who really care and truly can. As Fuller aptly puts it, “in teaching, a person can be extremely competent, work relentlessly, and still fail miserably.” 

Photo by Johnny Andres Zamora

Photo by Johnny Andres Zamora

What does it take to teach successfully in America’s highest-need communities?

More than content and pedagogical competence …

Photo Credit: Shar Geraldino

My Educational Philosophy

I believe that education should focus on developing self-sufficient and globally competitive members of society.

Successful educators understand the fine balance between advocacy for academic rigor and responsiveness to student needs. While they foster high expectations for all students, great teachers are, at the same time, highly cognizant of and value individual differences.

I believe that the main responsibility of an educator is to harness and develop the learner’s social and academic competencies. Such requires educators that have strong content pedagogical knowledge. Hence, teachers must engage in a continual pursuit to enhance their teaching craft and professional edge.

For math learning to occur, for instance, teachers must foster a culture of positive mindsets. They need to articulate rigorous goals for their students, put premium on academic excellence, and strive to see them excel. They must inspire students to persevere in problem solving, to find meaning in mathematical  connections, and to love learning. They should not only ensure access to effective math instruction, but also build confidence in math.

I believe that successful teaching happens when both students and teacher value and are fully invested in the learning process. Students must engage with authentic mathematical tasks, discuss and interpret math in their own language. They must be able to communicate their thought processes and mathematical solutions, justify their solution choices, and endeavor to use technology to enhance understanding.

Inherent to successful teaching is consistent tracking of student growth and learning progress. Effective teachers diagnose underlying skill breakdowns and then address the gap with targeted remediation. This can be achieved through skillful instructional planning, which is necessary to ensure alignment of content, process, and product.

I believe that teaching excellence does not happen in isolation, either. While a single teacher can play a pivotal role in educating a child, no one can enact change without collegial support. A shared instructional focus among colleagues is necessary to sustain academic progress and establish reciprocal accountability. Studies also indicate that active parental involvement tends to positively impact student achievement.

While pedagogical content knowledge is teaching’s ‘core’, this alone does not guarantee effective instruction. Belief in each child’s ability to succeed is also key. Successful teaching entails educators who can make complex content accessible to learners, inspire students to think and ask questions and to seek for a better version of themselves.

Then and only then can effective teaching truly begin.