Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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More than teachers

Most of our years in school sail by without much consequence outside of textbook lessons. But, sometimes, when we’re lucky, certain teachers go beyond their lesson plans and reveal to us markers that would help define the course of our lives.

In fourth grade, our homeroom teacher Miss Salas gave us the assignment of memorizing any short speech that we were to deliver after a few weeks. The whole class was stunned, not only because most of us had never delivered a speech before, but also because the assignment was unexpected—it wasn’t related to any of our lessons at all. Miss Salas explained that public speaking was a skill we might need later on, and that someone had to start preparing us for it.

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This was public school in 1999, where speeches and orations were the exclusive realm of bright, confident pupils during Linggo ng Wika. Many of us couldn’t even imagine being on a stage at any point of our lives. Yet there we were—all of us in Grade 4-Venus—tasked with learning by heart speeches we wouldn’t have otherwise bothered to read.

That was the first time I appreciated a piece of literature that wasn’t a fairy tale or a magical legend. It was also the first time I perceived the impact of a teacher who did more than teach.

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Other moments like this stand out in my memory, brilliant in the ways they were out-of-the-box. We had teachers who trained us in chorale singing even though it wasn’t part of the curriculum. Teachers who personally consulted our parents, teachers who talked to us after class when they sensed more than teenage angst.

And, fortunately for me, we had teachers who spent countless hours after school to coach students in campus journalism, which set me off on this writing path.

What awes me to this day was that these teachers went above and beyond what was expected of them, in spite of the many challenges in the public education system. They made the best of overcrowded classrooms, outdated materials and meager salaries.

Under conditions like these, you could almost forgive instructors who just get by doing the bare minimum: give the lesson, give the quiz, give the grade, rinse and repeat.

Mind you, even the most basic teaching tasks can be grueling. I’ve experienced grading papers once, and I couldn’t grasp how anyone would be willing to take home that migraine-inducing chore over and over.

Teaching is thankless labor, and the circumstances that our teachers find themselves in don’t make it any easier for them. It’s extraordinary for a real educator to rise past that.

Yet it’s what learners really need—not just teachers who routinely read aloud from books or assign entire chapters as reporting topics, but educators who try to positively influence the growth of their students.

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Consider, for instance, that while the Philippines has a basic literacy rate of 95.6 percent, this doesn’t seem to translate to an educated populace. Almost all of us can read and write, but so few can distinguish fact from fiction, information and misinformation, in the media they consume.

The quality of our teachers forecasts the quality of our education. Give us mediocre instructors and we produce mediocre students. But give us educators who motivate us to expand our intellect and develop our skills, and we eventually find our strengths as individuals and as members of our community.

It is ideal, then, to boost not just the number of teachers but their quality as well. Year after year, our teachers have to ask for wage hikes and more support staff to take the excessive workload off their shoulder. They grapple with the expenses of teaching certifications and retraining. They are caught in the crossfires of budget cuts and erroneous textbooks and bureaucracy.

As long as our teaching workforce remains uninspired, overworked and underpaid, we can expect the cycle of mediocrity to continue among our learners. It is only by some sort of miracle that a handful of exceptional educators still manage to lift our standards of learning here and there, despite the weight of an educational system that keeps slipping downwards.

To these educators, I give my salute. May your diligence and dedication rouse more competence—among students and teachers both.

hyacinthjt@gmail.com

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