Soulful Teaching

In the hinterlands somewhere in the North, there is a young teacher who teaches about 150 pupils from three different grade levels, in just one classroom. Let us call her Maria.

She lives in a rented room that costs her about P 500 a month. She is originally from Baguio and her job takes her away from her husband and toddler one month at a time. She sleeps on a cot with barely a soft cushion to soothe her tired body from her long days in the classroom.

She nurtures them and believes in their future.

Still, she teaches with pride, commitment, and joy. Her eyes speak of passion and eagerness. Of faith. She believes in the future of “her children.” She speaks of them as if they were her own. For the whole day, she manages the daily learning of Grades 4, 5, and 6 students, in one classroom. She does this by staying with each grade one at a time;  leaving “seatworks” to that class after which she goes on to the next. Her co-teacher is assigned to Grades 1, 2, and 3. They follow a similar system.

Most of the students are from indigenous communities. There was this tiny girl who smiles shyly at strangers, big eyes full of curiosity and innocence. Some are barefooted. Several have torn shirts. But the sounds of their voices carry a lively tune, like they are looking forward to the promises of the future despite their circumstances. There is so much beauty in that.

This kind of learning is called a “multi-grade” system, a practice already allowed by the Department of Education (DepEd), to address the age-old problems on lack of teachers and school buildings. Although this has the supervision of the DepEd, teachers like Maria are not in the government payroll. They receive regular allowances from the Local School Board.One may think that the financial reward must be so significant that merits Maria’s ultimate sacrifice: being away from her little family, her beautiful and precious child most especially, who is in that age when a mother’s touch is very important or even necessary. One would never guess that she is only receiving a meager P3,000 a month for this tiring work and ultimate sacrifice. Three thousand pesos. Deducting the P 500 rent, she is just left with P 2,500. Divide this by 30 days, and she is left with only P83.00 a day. Eighty three pesos! It is not even enough to cover a typical city dweller’s lunch expense!

How is it that she can still smile? How is it that she can still work with so much passion and energy? I am even tempted to help her find a teaching job here in Manila! But I know I cannot deprive those children of the opportunity to learn, the privilege of hearing their teacher’s voice that continue to shape their souls.

When asked if Maria ever considers leaving her volunteer work and opt for higher-income jobs in the city, she replied, “Paano na ang mga bata? Paano na ang kasama kong teacher?” That, to me, is an answer anchored on a deep commitment to serve.

Every night, as Maria prepares her lesson plans for the next day, she remembers the simple joys of the day, the voices of her children, and affirms to herself one again that indeed, she is doing the right decision. That she has found her place under the sun.

It is my friend Thea who shared this beautiful story with me several years ago over dinner of pansit and siomai. Once she started telling me about Maria, I remembered my Mom, too. She is a retired public school teacher and spent almost 30 years of her life teaching in far-flung barangays in Aurora. Because we siblings were all in Manila while she taught, we practically grew up without her by our side. When I was younger, I questioned Mom’s decision. But now that I am older (and hopefully, wiser), I could say  that I understand her decision. I am proud of the fact that she dedicated her life to public service and did a life-changing sacrifice by depriving herself of the joys of seeing us grow up because she wanted to fulfill a personal mission.

From Maria, my Mom, and the countless others who continue to teach in the barrios—without comfortable material rewards—we gather strength and inspiration. They are the reasons why I still believe in the Filipino soul.

[This is a repost of a previous blog and had been submitted to a blog competition with the code PBA094n66314.]

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This is not a paid blog.

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