“Mag teacher ka na lang.” This is usually the advice given to generally low-performing university-bound students. The fact is, the dumping ground on campus for students who are woefully failing in their first-choice courses is the college for teacher education. This could explain why, year after year, a stream of weak and lackluster new teachers joins our largest workforce and helps worsen the gap in the education of public school kids.
Thankfully, Teach for the Philippines (TFP) is changing the demographics of our educators. There are 92 TFP fellows teaching today at 18 public elementary schools in Quezon City, Marikina, Mandaluyong, Navotas and Binan, Laguna.
At the core of TFP is the belief that just as education is everyone’s right, it is everyone’s responsibility. This is why the organization is not particularly enthralled with a bachelor of science in education or elementary education degree. Rather, it has been enlisting bright college graduates and young professionals from diverse disciplines to give at least two years of their lives to teaching at high-needs public schools.
But academic achievement alone will not get you into TFP. The program also screens for competencies such as leadership, professionalism, self-awareness and civic responsibility. After all, it aims to field not just teachers but teachers who are leaders, game changers and nation-builders. As such, its fellows must be strong communicators, motivators, collaborators and problem-solvers. The mission is to take the content of their undergrad degrees and combine it with preservice training, continuous mentoring, an understanding of the challenges and possibilities existing in underserved classrooms, plus passion.
Recruitment for the 2015 corps of fellows is ongoing until end of January. Besides networking with young professionals, TFP does campus tours across the country. Their best recruitment strategy, according to Margarita Delgado, cofounder with Lizzie Zobel and Clarissa Delgado, is still the endorsement by their fellows.
After passing the initial screening process, applicants are invited to do teaching demonstrations and other activities that can help TFP gauge their potentials for teaching. Applicants who successfully make it through are then invited to attend a two-month intensive course, called Summer Institute (SI), at Ateneo de Manila University. This is where they get trained in progressive pedagogy, strategies in engaging communities, positive psychology and the Department of Education’s curriculum requirements.
The SI allows the fellows to earn units in education and be placed at a public elementary school for two school years as fully-paid teachers. Throughout the school year, they continue to receive mentoring and support from TFP’s leadership development officers.
In an interview, Education Secretary Armin Luistro has taken note of the talent, right attitude and bright disposition of the fellows. That’s good because as rookies, and especially because they are perceived to have cut corners, TFP fellows are under enormous pressure to prove their competence in the classroom and earn the trust of regular teachers. Their students are held to the same benchmarks as the kids in the classrooms of experienced teachers, if not those in private schools, so fellows need all the support they can get from their onsite colleagues, who should stop ranting about education diplomas and licensure exams. It is not as if there are veteran teachers for these hard-to-fill positions if the TFP has not stepped up with their fellows.
Just like its mother organization Teach for All, TFP’s goal is to serve high-needs urban schools as well as increase the rates for on-time graduation, college enrollment and proficiency in public schools. In June 2013, TFP deployed its first corps of 53 teaching fellows at 10 Quezon City public schools. At the end of their second year, the majority, if not all, of this pioneer batch were asked to stay on.
That only five of the fellows left the program proves what TFP has believed all along: Given the chance at the beginning of their career, young Filipinos can try to “leave their mark” and make a difference. They don’t have to be seasoned teachers to inspire children to learn well and aspire to go to college.
The first cohort of fellows will become TFP alumni in March of 2015. Their career path may have been changed forever and they may choose to continue teaching in public schools. They may stay on in the system in any capacity to help improve educational quality and equity. Or this may all be just wishful thinking on our part. Why not?
It’s a new year.
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