One of my first jobs after college was as a high school and college instructor in Baybay, Leyte at a school run by Franciscan missionaries from Cincinnati, Ohio. Being just 22 years old, and full of youthful energy I managed to set up a school paper and a dramatics group, aside from handling several classes in English literature, English grammar and composition, physical education and even religion! At night, I taught college classes and after 8:30 p.m., I coached newly arrived missionaries on Cebuano and Waray languages. After dinner, I did my lesson plans and caught up with correcting English language compositions. Whew. Good thing I biked around the Baybay town plaza before my evening college classes; and ran around the tennis court at the crack of dawn trying to learn the game.
My last regular job was also as a teacher in a graduate school. Truly, in my checkered career, to this day, I consider teaching my most difficult, demanding and challenging job. It was also among my lowest paid jobs. I was happy to discover later that AIM professors earn their living from consulting work, and that the teaching job is more for psychic rewards.
I am so glad that public school teachers now earn about the same as well-paid start-up call center workers. Because if we are not able to offer decent salaries to the people to whom we entrust the future of our children, how can we ensure that we are getting among the best and the brightest? It is extremely hard work, and calls for much natural talent, uncommon skills, and dedicated commitment beyond the 8-hour week-day.
Why teach? It doesn’t pay all that much.
Working with my students, even from my high school and college teaching days, are some of my most memorable and rewarding experiences. I am still in touch with one of my high school students in Baybay (from almost 60 years ago!) who is now Professor emeritus of Visayas State University, of which she was once president. Dr. Paciencia P. Milan is one of the Philippines’ experts on indigenous trees. Another one, formerly Ida Tan, regional spelling champion and selected later as Most Outstanding Student in the University of San Carlos in Cebu, who married a Peace Corps volunteer, has worked with her husband in various countries as teachers in international schools. Others have become doctors and CPAs.
As a former “tough” executive in ad agencies, I also find satisfaction in the success attained by some of the people who worked with me, some of whom have become marketing directors overseas, and company presidents and CEOs in our country. In fact, as I had hoped and predicted, they have surpassed me in their careers. Many of my secretaries have evolved into effective executives. This is the psychic reward that a teacher reaps as an enabler.
What does it take to become an effective teacher?
Mainly, it is less about being knowledgeable about facts and figures and dictating them to students; and more about knowing how to unlock the hidden potential of students or understudies. It calls for the courage to be demanding, and to set high standards and facilitating the learner’s ability to meet them. It calls for consistency and integrity in order to earn the trust and confidence of the learner.
It also calls for the courage to allow the learner freedom to independently explore, to raise questions, to work hard to discover solutions to issues and problems that they are allowed to encounter, to discover personal abilities they did not know they possessed, until challenged.
One of my fondest memories is helping enable a very shy boy of about 13 years old to perform the soliloquy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet onstage during a school program. His father was well-known as a stage actor and teacher; but he never included his son in stage performances because he was considered too introverted and shy. It took a lot of effort to convince the boy that he could do it. We practiced secretly in a closed room. When the day came for his performance, I told his dad to watch unobtrusively in the back row because I had a surprise for him. His dad was close to tears as he watched his son’s outstanding performance. That year, father and son worked together as actors in a stage play at the Baybay town fiesta. The boy had overcome his shyness and become more outgoing. Last I heard he had become a doctor of medicine.
As we go further into the knowledge- and technology-led global economy, the Philippines, which is lagging behind the rest of the world and even some of its ASEAN neighbors needs radical transformation in its education paradigms. Education is not about teaching methodologies. It is about learning methodologies. Education must more and more become learner-centered. This demands more and more of our teachers who must rapidly acquire new skills as facilitators of experiential learning rather than as mere dispensers of knowledge. This includes simulated experience through the case method in legal education, which is being increasingly adopted in medical and business schools. The Internet has opened up opportunities and vast options for self-education; and teachers must become skilled as guides to the students in accessing and making use of information and know-how to make life better for themselves, their families, their communities, and their country.
In addition to learning skills, this also calls for the right values and sense of responsibility that can best be imparted best through example. The job of a teacher calls for extraordinary skills, sensitivity to learners’ needs, and faith in their undiscovered human potential.
Teachers have to set high standards; and not be content with mediocrity. We have to overcome our culture of “pwede na” and “okay lang.” We must put in place enabling programs, policies and incentives to encourage and enable our best and brightest to become effective teachers, wherever they might be.
A culture of excellence is the key.
Metrobank Foundation’s awards program for outstanding teachers is a good example that encourages this. We must have more public recognition programs. And even more teacher upgrade programs. The business community can certainly help. The Philippine Business for Education can provide opportunities.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.