Monday, December 18, 2017
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Teach the student, not the curriculum

Forty-five incoming Grade 3 teachers took their oath at the Teach for the Philippines (TFP) graduation ceremony of the 2014 Cohort two days before classes began for the public schools.  As if the rigorous selection process they underwent—the nine-week summer institute in Dagupan immersing them in pedagogy and the actual practicum in nearby public schools—were not thorough initiation enough.

The oath the teachers pledged to live by carried brave, substantial words. But it was direct, no-nonsense, and free of the usual rhetoric and motherhood statements. Among other things, they vowed not to assign busy work but, rather, meaningful tasks. It reminded them that multiple-choice tests are not the best assessment tools and that they should never be afraid to say, “I do not know.”  Bearing in mind that it is the child’s future they are helping carve out, they committed to the constant awareness that they were teaching a human being, not a lesson plan, or a reading deficiency.

Having an education degree is not a qualifying prerequisite for TFP fellows. It was not for the first set of fellows for the 2013-14 school year.  Neither was it for this year’s batch. What is deemed more essential is the degree of zeal and passion to make a difference—to truly “leave your mark,” as the TFP mantra goes.  What is valued more is the caliber of leadership that the new teachers demonstrate. It is not meant to undervalue an education degree; it is a reminder of the vision that gave birth to Teach for the Philippines.

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As part of the Teach for All network that grew from the Teach for America model initiated by Wendy Kopp based on her undergraduate thesis at Princeton, TFP is similarly determined to make quality education available to every child, no matter the socioeconomic background. In her book, “A Chance to Make History,” Kopp discusses this social inequity that needs to be addressed.  For how can a child’s background determine and dictate his/her educational outcomes and opportunities in life?

The basic sheer unfairness of this all-too-familiar situation is what drives TFP fellows to eschew comfortable and cushy jobs to devote two years of their professional lives to using their talents and energies toward making a difference in the lives of public school children. They are neither required nor expected to become teachers for life, but are certainly expected to have these two years also transform their lives, so that this emerging breed of leaders in different sectors of society will make public education a priority concern.

TFP knows that wide-eyed optimism and the best of intentions will see the fellows through their two years of teaching. Professional development is ongoing all year round, along with a network of support.

Thus, the intensive summer institute held on April 2-May 31 (yes, even until the very day of their graduation) hosted by the University of Pangasinan-Phinma gave the fellows the 18 education units in addition to their outstanding undergraduate backgrounds to better prepare them for the Grade 3 classes assigned them by the Department of Education. There were also Loyola Marymount classes and Coordinates for Life training sponsored by Coca-Cola Femsa.

A valuable part of the summer was the meeting between the 2013 and 2014 cohorts, where the former shared survival tips after one year of teaching and topics such as positive reinforcement, teaching strategies, and classroom management techniques, teamwork and integration into the community were discussed. Delfin Villafuerte, for instance, shared the lesson he learned after a year in the classroom: “[T]eaching is a different kind of leadership. Being a leader to the kids is not just about helping them get a perfect score in math, but also helping them realize their dreams.”

Former finance secretary and TFP trustee Roberto de Ocampo, who was the keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony, inspired the 2014 fellows with his story of how, at 19 and still a student, he taught at La Salle Green Hills. Initially lured by the thought of a first paycheck, he said, he never imagined the experience to be a life-changing one. It changed him forever, and imbued him with a strong sense of service that has shaped him into the person he is today. Thus, he said, despite his many titles and appellations, the title he cherishes is “teacher mentor.”

So when classes opened on June 2, the 49 fellows of Batch 2013 continued in their respective 10 public schools in Quezon City. The 2014 fellows have been assigned to eight schools in the cities of Marikina, Mandaluyong, Navotas and Biñan. May they, along with all other public school teachers, remember to teach children rather than the curriculum.

And on the many challenging days, may they gain strength from the words of education activist Marva Collins: “I’m a teacher. A teacher is someone who leads. There is no magic here. I do not walk on water. I do not part the sea. I just love children.”

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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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