By Milwida M. Guevara
My story is similar to those of many teachers. I was “forced” to go into teaching because we were poor. My mother could not afford to send me to a medical or law school. How I hated going to our gardening class, music hour, and softball games. But I loved our classes on literature, science and statistics.
My supervising teacher said that I will never make a good teacher. I was rigid and stiff while dancing and reciting nursery rhymes. I thought she was right. On my first day of teaching, I wanted to retire. I was made to handle grade 3, section 18. Everyday, my mother had to listen to my retinue of woes. She probably stormed heaven with her petition to rescue her from a perennial whiner. Like the widow in the Gospel, heaven caved in, and I won a scholarship to study Economics. My life took a 360-degree turn.
I would have died happily as Finance Undersecretary but fate changed my course. Painful incidents made me leave government. Little did I know that I would be led back to my roots. But I did not expect that in decades, things did not get any better in public education. Filipino children ranked third from the bottom in an international examination in science and math. Only 7 out of 10 grade 1 children made it to grade 6. Grade six children were only able to answer 5 out of 10 questions in national achievement tests.
It took me some time to understand the problem. Like many others, I thought it was a problem of inputs, i.e. shortage of schools, teachers, and books. And then I remembered how vibrant our community was in the 60s. Those were the times when community schools were introduced! The school was the lynchpin of community activities. My mother who was the school principal was forever working with the mayor and the barangay kapitan to raise money to build schools, put up libraries in every corner, and hold festivals for children. We had reading classes under the trees and volunteers trained the school band and held art classes. By serendipity, I was introduced to outstanding local leaders like Jesse Robredo, Lito Coscolluela, Josie de la Cruz, Rey Aquino, and Rudy Agbayani. Could they turn their communities into schools where learning is everybody’s business? They did through collaborative governance, and in a small way, they changed history on how education should be delivered. They were our trailblazers and showed us how communities can turn into schools.
We continuously studied why students in public schools continue to be academically weak. The evidence are overwhelming. The young Juans cannot read. And this is why we have devoted resources to training teachers and parents so they can train children to say sounds well, blend them into words, understand their meaning, and weave them into stories. The all form part of our remedial reading program.
Valenzuela City just finished its summer remedial reading program with 20,000 children and thousands of teachers and volunteers. Many other local governments all over the country have done so. Listening to the children read takes my breath away. They tested as frustrated readers and now, we listen to them read stories and act them out. The children still lack the confidence to answer in correct English, and it takes them a bit of prodding. Their vocabulary is still limited. But like Prof. Higgins in “My Fair Lady”, we felt like dancing because hundreds of Elizas can say “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.”
And so from a teacher who did not want to become one, I say thank you to the thousands of teachers who find joy in teaching. I thank the thousands of volunteers who believe that children matter. I thank the hundred of Mayors, Vice Mayors and Councilors who consider service to children as one of the reasons why they were elected to serve.
And lastly, I thank my Mother who taught me how great it is to be a teacher.