Commentary

Leaving their mark

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Heady from their respective commencement exercises, these fresh college graduates had no time to think holiday, for they knew as early as the last two months of school that a special job awaited them. It is not exactly conforming to the usual management trainee position in large corporations that offers working-world perks for the best and the brightest, but something that beckoned and told them that this is where their talents and leadership skills would matter most: a two-year full-time commitment to teach in the public school system. Clearly, this is neither a mere advocacy nor a volunteer position.

Thus, it is an extraordinary summer that the 54 young men and women making up the 2013 Teach for the Philippines (TFP) fellows are having at a summer institute at the Ateneo especially designed for them. They were selected from a pool of 2,000 applicants after a rigorous series of tests and interviews, and on the basis of written recommendations, excellent academic record, and high emotional intelligence. Five of them are from the United States, one is from Sultan Kudarat, and another one is from Bukidnon.

Outstanding and committed student leaders as they may have been, and coming from different disciplines, how are they gearing up to teach in public school classrooms in June? It was not a requirement that the applicants have an education degree. That is why starting April 1 until the end of May, these 54 trainees are being housed close to the Ateneo Loyola campus as a strict curriculum developed by TFP partner Dr. Celeste T. Gonzalez, associate dean for graduate programs, comprises an important part of their training.

They have been exposed to a wide spectrum of speakers and topics, as well as techniques and issues they ought to be familiar with. They have listened to Ambeth Ocampo and former education undersecretary Isagani Cruz, both excellent teacher models. Juan Miguel Luz’s “Brigada Eskwela: Essays on Philippine Education” is required reading.

The last two weeks of April were devoted to actual practice teaching in a summer program especially set up at the Commonwealth Elementary School. This segued to the formal education classes in May run by the Ateneo College of Education, which will give these fledgling teachers nine units of education toward a master’s degree in education. The continuation of this program will equip them with the required 18 units of education to be certified as licensed teachers.

The fellows will be teaching various subjects to Grade 3 students in Quezon City public schools. The Department of Education, another program partner, chose that grade level because the largest number of dropouts occur in it. By now, the TFP staff and fellows know this mantra so well: According to a 2008-09 United Nations Development Programme report, out of 100 students who enter Grade 1, only 68 will complete the sixth grade, only 57 will go to high school, and only 42 will graduate. Fifty-eight percent of Filipino students do not graduate from high school.

A team of three to four fellows will be assigned to one of 10 public schools in Quezon City. To provide continuing support, a TFP staff member is assigned to monitor a group of fellows. Local government units, through the Senate’s Priority Development Assistance Fund, have agreed to provide the monthly allowance of the teachers.

This immersion into the public school system can very well make these promising young leaders more concerned and committed to a vigorous advocacy of continuing education reforms even after they have completed the two years. After teaching in a public school and being immersed in an environment of poverty, how can one not be transformed forever?

Teach for the Philippines, which began as an initiative of Lizzie Zobel and Margarita Delgado and CEO Clarissa Delgado, is the 27th country partner of Teach for All, an American initiative for US public schools. There it continues to be a popular job option for Ivy League graduates.

Other Asian countries who have implemented the same model are Malaysia, Japan, India, China, and Pakistan.

Rebecca Warren, partner engagement director sent over from Teach for All, is helping TFP in its first year. She pointed out the networking possibilities open to the cohort as a group of 54 and going beyond the country, to tens of thousands of other fellows worldwide stepping into classrooms, too.

Ateneo graduate Delfin Villafuerte, one of the fellows, says it best in his valedictory speech:  I have decided to dedicate my next two years to teaching in a public school because my own dreams have fueled my years of studying… I want more Filipino children to dream bigger for themselves and for this country … bigger than just wanting to become a dancer in a noontime show. I want them to dream just like us, who dare to change the world…. I am teaching because I want these children to know that they are not alone.

They will not only leave their mark, as the TFP mantra goes. They also provide much hope.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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