This young teacher spreads hope about public schools
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - April 8, 2013 - 12:00am

Ateneo grad Sabrina Ongkiko, 27, teaches at a public school in a lower-class district of Quezon City. From her students she learns of return on investments in them. Before leaving for a study grant in Melbourne, she gave a talk at her alma mater, organized by TEDx last Feb. Translated excerpts:

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While drafting this talk, I hoped it would find its way to my students, so I requested to give it in Filipino. I pondered what message I wish to send them. It came in the form of this letter:

“My Dear Students,

“Studying is fun; learning is joy. Even when you tell me you don’t want to go on, that it’s too hard, you can’t do it, I still see that spark in your eyes when we marveled at the beauty of the solar system, when you inquired why typhoons come to be, when you found out how plants ‘eat’.

“I don’t think you really wish to stop learning. That spark in your eyes tells me you enjoy it. I’m sure you see the same spark in my eyes, for at that moment I learned something new about you too.

“Do not own the words of those who say you can’t, that you’re worthless. Those words are not yours; don’t repeat them to yourself. You are young and will learn more about yourself. You’d be amazed at what you can be. Don’t stand in the way of your greatness.

“Look into my eyes. I believe in you. You are good. You can do it. You can be anything: a doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut  a hero. I will help you, as long as you help yourself.

“Take hold of your hopes. Don’t give up. Don’t break. Fulfilling your dreams do not begin when you’re grownup. It starts now. I have yet to hear of a person who one day woke up and suddenly he’s a doctor. Work hard; let’s work on it together. The future is uncertain, but let’s do our best now and we will get where we want to be.

“Thank you, my dear students. I’m grateful for that one year you were part of my life. You may not know it, but even though I am the teacher, I learned a lot from you. You give meaning to why I teach.”

I am in our Dep-Ed national uniform today, the one we wear every Monday. I wore it so you would recognize what a public school teacher looks like. Next time you bump into someone in this, greet him or her.

In my first year as a public school teacher, I always got reactions of surprise, amazement, disappointment. Like, “What? Why are you teaching there?” Or, “You graduated from a very good university, and you’re in a public school?” And, “What a waste!”

My dad, an economist, asked me about return on investment. What returns does he get from my being a public school teacher, after all the work he put in for my expensive Ateneo education? During my job interview at the Dep-Ed, even the interviewer remarked, “You have the credentials, why don’t you teach in a private school or become a doctor as you planned?” My co-teachers were saying I eventually would see how hard it is to teach at the Culiat Elementary School, and so move to a private one. Everyone was saying I made the wrong choice.

Then I realized, it’s not about my decision to be a public school teacher. It’s about what people think of our public schools. If our public schools were well run, people won’t be telling me those things.

Let’s play Top-of-Mind. I give a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Here goes: (1) “public school,” (2) “public school teacher,” (3) “public school students.”

Now, let’s reflect why you thought those things... My top-of-mind for “public school” is “hope”. “Public school teacher” is “companion”. “Public school student”, “excellent.”

The person who “ruined” my life is also a teacher, my mentor from Ateneo. She was the first to ask if I wanted to become a teacher. She then proceeded to describe the kind of teacher our country needs. I asked her why she was encouraging me to be so, when she knew I wanted to be a doctor. I was preparing then to apply for med school. She just looked into my eyes and said, “I believe you can be an excellent teacher.”

Many of what you hear about teachers in the public schools is true. There really are those who sell ice candy in class, who hurt students, who don’t truly teach. But they’re not the only ones you’ll see.

I hope you get to meet Sir Edmon  he’s here right now  who has 80 students per class in Payatas-B Elementary School. When it rains he goes on teaching, even if his socks and shoes are drenched from the leaky roof of his cramped classroom.

There’s Ma’am Linda, in Culion Island, Palawan. Here’s her photo. She is a senior teacher, with hair greyed. Still she asks colleagues how to Google-search so she can join her students in doing online research.

There’s Ma’am Rodriguez, who’d always kid me, “Haven’t you given up on your students yet, because I have!” Yet you’d see her teaching non-readers every single day until they learn how.

One day we gathered these silent workers to set up a support group. We all wanted to transform our classrooms for the sake of our students, and for that we needed each other’s backing. We formed the “Kape’t Guro (Coffee ‘n Teachers)”  story-sharing sessions during breaks. But it can also be called “Kapit Guro (Teachers’ Group Hug)”  as an expression of the need to prop up each other.

Many of what you hear about public school students is also true. Some still can’t read  in Grade 5. Others go to class with empty stomachs or exhausted from child labor. Many walk long kilometers to school. But those are not their only stories.

Darwin  he’s also here today  was in my first batch of students.

He’s so smart. Excellent in science, he’s even better than I am. I would always bring Darwin along when I gave talks in Ateneo because he was expert on public schools than I was. I was new in teaching then, while he was in Grade 5, so he already had five years’ experience in public school.

The first time I brought him to this university campus, he gazed at our huge playing field. There is no field at Culiat, so he ran and ran around the field until he was sweating and panting. Then he ambled up to me and whispered, “Ma’am, this is where I’ll study.”

You know what? He is now a high school sophomore here  an honor student at that  the first pupil from Culiat Elementary School to make it to Ateneo High School.

I told my father, “Dad, this is the return on your investment.”

Our dream is for our public schools to be as great as our private schools, that young people like Darwin won’t yearn to study in Ateneo because our public schools will be at par with Ateneo.

I handle five classes, from the middle to the lowest sections. I treat my students like they’re the top section. Everyone is excellent. When I ask my students what their goal is, they answer, “We will pass!” When I ask them what their score will be, they answer, “Perfect!” We repeated this every day of the school year. We just tried and tried, and although they didn’t always get a perfect score, I noticed their grades went up as their confidence in their Science and English proficiency grew.

There was one day my students and I consider the best ever, because we were able to achieve our goal. It was the second lowest section, with about 60 students. We had a quiz about conductors and insulators. As with every quiz, I tallied the scores to see how many of them got 10, 9, 8...so the class would know if we hit the goal. When I asked how many got 10, many hands were raised. I asked for 9, and again got lots of hands. I asked for 8; no hands shot up. I got several more 7s. Then no one else raised hands for 6 and below. The class went silent. I told them that the passing score was 7. The students suddenly jumped from their seats  cheering, clapping, laughing. Everyone was so happy! Little Fairodz even exclaimed, “Ma’am, my heart was beating so hard!” I told them never to forget how they felt  that they were happy not just because they passed, but that everyone did. We achieved our goal: “we will pass.”

When I saw that in my class how they gradually came to believe in their capabilities, I knew that change was indeed happening.

(For the full video in the original Filipino, click: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Our-Return-on-Investment-Sabsy)

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

E-mail: jariusbondoc@gmail.com

 

ATENEO ATENEO HIGH SCHOOL CULIAT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DON PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS TEACHER WHEN I
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