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Teaching for the Philippines, and leaving your mark

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I was back in the classroom again a few days ago, coteaching a class of third-graders in Apolonio Samson Elementary School in Quezon City with Teach for the Philippines (TFP) fellow Leslie Espinosa for close to an hour. It brought to mind an invitation from the United States’ Public Education Network newsletter for lawmakers to teach in public school classrooms for even an hour to better appreciate the system—and the extraordinary demands on a teacher. But today’s teaching was for a celebratory reason.

To celebrate National Teacher’s Month and TFP Week from Sept. 5 to Oct. 5, TFP invited a roster of individuals to any of its Grade 3 classrooms in the 10 public schools in Quezon City where it has fielded its inaugural cohort of 54 fellows. The invited teachers were meant to impress on the students that success comes with hard work and learning.

Kamuning Elementary School had Boy Abunda, whose success story and love for reading have inspired many. Earlier in the week, General Roxas Elementary School hosted Matt Bohn of the US Embassy’s Millennium Challenge Corporation who taught the value of sportsmanship and led the class in doing jumping jacks.

Of course, I’d like to think that our English class on synonyms was more special than most. It was interesting to interact with the 39 students learning a foreign language. They grasped the meaning of synonyms and could readily supply the “partner” words Teacher Leslie was asking for—but with more ease in Filipino rather than in the foreign tongue. Only one student could supply the word “joyful” as a synonym for “happy.” The children’s lack of exposure to the foreign language was apparent.

Teacher Leslie is a Fil-Am with a background in theatrical design and technology from San Diego State University. She joined the program from New York because “Teach for the Philippines brings two of my passions in my life into one program,” she said. “I have a way to make a difference and I am back to my roots in more ways than one.” Her theater background was manifested in her classroom management and how she was livening up the lesson, such as having the children shout out the standard welcome and farewell greetings for all visitors and her call to attention through the “Eyes on me” chant. She is more amused than frustrated that while the foreign language to her is Filipino, she is learning more from her students and her tutor.

Her planned game to reinforce the synonyms lesson engaged her class and contrasted with the paper-and-pencil activity done earlier. But the best attention-getter (a wonderful calming “babysitter”) was the final activity, my reading of a current personal favorite from LG&M Corp., a Vibal imprint, “Salamat Po!” written by Russell Molina and illustrated by Tokwa Peñaflorida.

It was the perfect final note for the time spent with the children. Their response to the brief story reading was evidence again of their thirst for stories that move and engage. What but good stories can make them sit still and in rapt attention? I rest my case again about books and reading and the sense of empowerment every Filipino child has a right to.

Samson Elementary School principal Eloisa Tamon takes pride in the improvised library and two Reading Corners that the 1,246 students use heavily, maximizing the limited space of their facility. There are never enough books in a library—in any library—and theirs can use more  titles for children rather than the donation staples of discarded US textbooks. She is not discouraged that a fire has gutted a building housing their library and several classrooms. The Department of Education has promised that the structure will be rebuilt—along with more restrooms, it is hoped, as there are presently only four servicing the student population, which goes on two shifts.

It is with even greater pride that she speaks of having four TFP fellows on her faculty roster for her Grade 3 classes. These fellows, Leslie among them, have chosen to share housing in the school neighborhood, often walking home with their students and having the opportunity to make home visits in the community.

TFP is the reincarnation of Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation, one that advocated functional literacy and professional development of teachers and school administrators. TFP was founded in September 2012 by Elizabeth Zobel de Ayala, Margarita Liboro Delgado, and Clarissa Isabelle Delgado. In partnership with DepEd, it is determined to provide all Filipino children the opportunity for an excellent education.

This school year, TFP fielded 54 of the country’s most promising young graduates to teach for at least two years in public schools—in Quezon City for this initial year and in Grade 3, the level that DepEd thought best for them. Through this unique experience, these leaders will hopefully become transformed into education advocates for the rest of their professional lives, no matter the divergent paths these take.

TFP aspires to leave a mark on the country.

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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