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Teachers as frontliners

The reset opening of public schools on Oct. 5, a mere three weeks away, sounds like a reprieve—hopefully affording enough time for bureaucratic snags to be ironed out and all modules to be produced and distributed nationwide. This is never easy because of our geography. And while private schools are now in full swing, one cannot but realize that such a situation once again gives private school students an advantage, further widening the gap between private and public school education. Teach for the Philippines (TFP) is a nonstock, nonprofit organization founded in 2012 with the dream of providing quality public school education for all students, regardless of their social and economic backgrounds. It was inspired by Teach for America and Teach for All, which recruit college graduates who are not necessarily education majors but who are passionate about contributing to the quality of public school teaching, and are committed to leadership roles in the field after their two years of teaching. TFP’s teacher fellows, whose salaries are underwritten by TFP although with commitments from the local government units, work side by side with their public school colleagues and are subject to the same rules of employment. To prepare them for their assignments and, in most cases, for a teacher’s certification and license, they undergo rigorous summer training and monthly professional development workshops.

How are TFP and its teacher fellows gearing up for Oct. 5? This school year, the 65 fellows will be in 12 communities: Quezon City, Sta. Rosa, Siargao, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, Catanduanes, Oriental Mindoro, Makati, Isabela, Bacolod, Tacloban, and Victorias.

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Clarissa Delgado, TFP cofounder and CEO, emphasizes that its operations follow three thrusts: ensuring learning continuity, delivering programs aligned with the Department of Education, and deploying to and supporting teachers in their placement communities.

TFP feels that proximity is necessary for functional literacy and the socio-emotional and psychosocial skills of students and their families in underserved communities. It is the only way to “neutralize the growing inequality” in the country, and “these students cannot be further derailed in their education,“ says Delgado.

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The student programs for literacy and responsible citizenship that TFP has been designing since March will have to take off in October, whether classes begin or not. These programs are in consonance with the DepEd’s preparations to migrate the K-to-12 curriculum to the public school student population. In line with this, TFP is working on its authorization as a Learning Service Provider from the National Educators Academy of the Philippines to allow it to provide training to all public school teachers in the Philippines.

In many discussions on raising the standards of public school education, the fact arises that our teacher training schools do not provide the caliber of teachers we need. Why does the field of education not attract our outstanding and most promising students? Why can’t these institutions seem to promote the love of learning in their graduates? How can students be imbued with the love and curiosity for learning that these education graduates themselves do not have? This is not a careless generalization, but a lamentable fact of life, and a cycle only broken by admirable teachers — few and far between — who influence their students to be lifelong learners and readers. Or what’s a teacher for?

Given that proximity is essential to the community relationships TFP envisions to build, it is reassuring to know that it has recognized the health risks involved and have implemented safety measures. Aside from what the government has mandated, TFP has provided the fellows with an HMO package with a P100,000 limit, COVID-19 tests, and swab tests in the presence of symptoms. Contacts in the local government and school communities are established to ensure that immediate responders are available during emergencies.

TFP has an ongoing crowdfunding campaign, a COVID-19 Response Fund for needs outside the classroom (e.g., PPE, disinfection, printed materials) in addition to what the DepEd is providing. The fund is now close to $10,000 — and growing.

Health coverage is of utmost importance as teachers are in many ways frontliners, too — a concern brought up in ongoing webinars — and they certainly need more than adequate protection.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is founding director of the creative writing center Write Things, and former chair of the National Book Development Board.

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TAGS: Commentary, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, frontliners, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Teachers
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