I remember that when Juan de la Cruz came out with their song “Titser’s Public Enemy Number 1,” not a few teachers – and parents – came out as well lambasting it. This was way back in the 1970s, and while the youth, notably the students who chafed at the leash in classrooms while the world raged around them, could very well “dig” the song’s sentiments, it did not sit well with the older generation who thought it little more than a paean to juvenile delinquency. Thankfully, that older generation was not aware of a more provocative song on the other side of the world that said, “We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control.”
You look back at those times now with a smile and a bit of nostalgia. At least teachers were taken seriously then. Those were times that produced such movies as “To Sir, With Love,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” and locally “Crush Ko Si Sir.” In fact, “Titser’s” mocking of teachers was just a lot of cariño brutal, its seeming perversity hiding a fondness for them.
I remembered this because yesterday was World Teachers’ Day, which found the teachers of this country having little to celebrate. You looked back at the times then with a smile and a bit of nostalgia because you can only look at the times now with a frown and no small amount of alarm. It’s just a tossup as to who who has become more hard-luck in this country, the farmers or the teachers.
A couple of days before World Teachers’ Day, the teachers themselves pointed to their plight today. In Central Visayas, only 19,000 out of 43,000 are regulars, the rest are contractual or volunteer teachers. The 43,000 itself is a meager number as the region needs no less than 104,000 permanent teachers to handle basic education. Most classrooms have to scrimp and save on chalk. And teachers have to make do with P4,000 a year for their uniforms.
The United Nations calls for 6 percent of the national budget of countries to be used for education. The P207 billion set aside for the Department of Education, according to Phoebe Sanchez, isn’t even enough to cover the summer kindergarten program of public schools. “The country is only ahead of Laos in budget for education,” adds Antonia Lim.
But more than the physical plight of the teachers, it’s their social standing that has taken a dive over the years. Twenty years ago, during the public school teachers’ strike, the teachers were already calling themselves “the new national animal,” having replaced the carabao for that dubious honor. They were overworked and underpaid, overburdened and under-appreciated. Before, teaching was a noble calling that drew the country’s best and brightest. Now it was a temporary shelter for those waiting to become maids in Hong Kong.”
That was a couple of decades ago. You can imagine how it is today.
We can concoct all sorts of strategies and programs to make our education catch up with the 21st century, but at the end of the day it all boils down to teachers. Teaching is about teachers. In the same way that we can concoct all sorts of strategies and programs to make our agriculture adapt to modern times, but at the end of the day it all boils down to farmers. Farming is about farmers. We want to do something about our education, we have to start by wanting to do something about our teachers.
Improving their physical lot, of course, is a prerequisite. There’s very little you can do to raise them in the eyes of society if you reduce them to supplementing their meager wages by selling bra and tocino to fellow teachers or, worse, to students, payable in “five gives.” The demand of the teachers to become regular instead of contractual, quite apart from hikes in their pay and clothing allowance, is perfectly reasonable and should have been met long ago.
But far more than that is the need to give teachers back the stature they once had. Even in my youth, teachers were never paid much: Teaching was never a ticket to fortune, even if it sometimes opened doors to fame. But what teachers lacked in financial income, they made up for in the psychic one. When I was a kid, the old woman who lived in our street who taught pre-school kids to read was looked up to by the whole neighborhood.
On the whole, teachers then might have been modestly, if not poorly, paid, but they were revered in the community. They were given pride of place in social gatherings. They were invited to the plaza to judge all sorts of things during fiestas and other events.
I could relate to what P-Noy said in his State of the Nation Address that we might start to build a better life for ourselves by doing such seemingly small things as saying “Thank you” to the teachers who have touched our lives. These are not really small things, these are big things. I myself remember some of my teachers with fondness and gratitude. I would not be what I am without them, though as they often say in forewords of books, I cannot always blame them for my faults.
I know it’s not the easiest thing in the world to make teaching a worthy profession and teachers worthy of emulation all over again, but hope springs eternal. Maybe we can start by replacing the streets and buildings named after politicians with the names of teachers. Right now, even Teachers Village doesn’t have the names of teachers in it. Heaven knows teachers have given this country better guidance, and direction, than politicians. You might even say they have offset the harm done by the latter. Or maybe we can start by burying teachers instead of presidents and sundry scoundrels in Libingan ng mga Bayani. Heaven knows they are the real and truly unsung heroes of this country, far more than the OFWs.
Public enemy No. 1? Nah, Pepe Smith was only joking. More than the dog, the titser is man’s best friend.