Choosing 10 classroom heroes ‘inspires’ jurors

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It’s common enough for jurors in competitions to say they feel “inspired” or “energized” after poring through documents and meeting the finalists face to face, and then choosing from among them the eventual winners.

But that is no cliché in the case of the annual Search for Outstanding Teachers (SOT) sponsored by Metrobank Foundation. Surely no one still doubts the importance of teachers in our society. As more than one of the finalists remarked: “Without teachers, there would be no other professionals: no doctors, engineers, journalists or other teachers.”

And no personages sitting in judgment on a group of dedicated individuals, all of whom, by virtue of their careers, lives and accomplishments, can be called “heroes” without invoking irony or cynicism.

Here are the winners of this year’s SOT: Elementary level—Fely A. Batiloy of the Special Education Integrated School for Exceptional Children in Iloilo City; Dr. Mitchel V. Rodriguez, Odiongan Central School in Gingoog City; Cherry G. Vinluan, Guagua Elementary School in Pampanga; and Rodel C. Sampang, Pedro Guevarra Elementary School in Manila.

Secondary level—Dominique J. Maquiran of the University of the Philippines High School in Iloilo City; Dr. Maria Teresa M. Bautista, Bacnotan National High School in La Union; Marcelo T. Otinguey, Ampusongan National High School in Bakun, Benguet; and Maria Lorna L. Garnace, Philippine Science High School, Eastern Visayas Campus in Palo, Leyte.

Tertiary level—Dr. Alfredo C. Robles Jr. of De La Salle University, who teaches international relations here and abroad and works with graduate and undergraduate students as well as midlevel bureaucrats and diplomats; and Dr. Emilyn Q. Espiritu of Ateneo de Manila University, a professor of environmental science who consults with different government agencies on the practical use of environment studies in crafting laws and protecting communities.

Sense of humor

I joined a panel of judges whose individual accomplishments made it an honor to be counted among them, and whose sense of humor made the three consecutive nights of judging less tedious and indeed entertaining. Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III chaired the panel, with Rep. Rosenda Ann “Sandy” Ocampo (6th district, Manila) and Supreme Court Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe as cochairs; and Professional Regulation Commission Chair Teresita Manzala, Albay Gov. Jose Ma. Clemente “Joey” Salceda, University of Santo Tomas Rector Rev. Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, OP, and this columnist as members.

Interacting with the finalists proved to be “inspiring” and full of surprises. Batiloy, who teaches music to special students, broke into a traditional Ilonggo ditty when requested to give a “sample” of her work. We sat through a mini-seminar on regional and global issues when Justice Bernabe asked a series of questions of Robles, who was quick with his take on their impact on our own foreign policy and trade relations.

Otinguey, the third winner from Benguet and a full-blooded member of the Kankana-ey Bago tribe, impressed with his dedication to preserving his heritage by working with young people in various cultural endeavors.

To serve the community

Indeed, this is what we the jurors were searching for in our interviews with the finalists: a willingness to go beyond the confines of the classroom and even one’s narrow academic specialization to serve the larger community and society.

Otinguey, for instance, teaches values education and trains fellow teachers in his province and beyond. But “preserving our culture and ethnic traditions” is a close second in his heart, organizing the Bakun “Saguday” Cultural Dance Troupe, working with communities to revive their indigenous cultural heritage, and putting up community libraries and learning centers, soliciting support from local governments and, when this isn’t forthcoming, shouldering the expenses.

Sampang, a teacher of Hekasi (heograpiya, kasaysayan at sibika, or geography, history and civics), works extensively with the Department of Education (DepEd) in formulating the social studies curriculum for the new K to 12 basic education curriculum, serving as a teacher-trainer for makabayan or nationalism instructors. He is also active in the Boy Scouts movement, working on the “character formation of young boys.”

This last task Sampang proved in real life when he told us the story of “Erish,” who seemed promising but determined to set out on the road to self-destruction. Concerned, Sampang said he did a “background check” on Erish and, through conversations with family members, found that the boy had suffered for most of his life from comparisons with a favored older brother. In time, Erish was convinced to behave while in the classroom and even raised his academic performance, but Sampang said he was not sure if Erish made it on to high school.

Student interaction

An English teacher, Vinluan works in an elementary school that gets flooded after the slightest rain. But this hasn’t prevented her from coming up with inventive, creative ways of approaching her subject matter, designing classroom experiences she describes as “relevant, informative, timely while also entertaining and interesting.” Thus, she stages classroom skits and even games fostering “student interaction, creativity and critical thinking.” Eager to promote love of reading in her young wards, she also put up, with the help of the local government, nongovernment organizations and school alumni, an Extensive Reading Center (read: library) for students.

When asked what gave her the most fulfillment in her work with government agencies, Espiritu cited the Department of Environment and Natural Resources where she served as an expert on “ecotoxicology” which led to various policies governing water sanitation and solid waste management. Also, she has collaborated with the World Bank, the DepEd, and the Commission on Higher Education.

Teacherly approach

But what impressed us judges most about Espiritu was her silence after almost every question, indicating that she was giving each query careful thought, to provide the most appropriate answer. What a “teacherly” approach, I thought to myself. Her “mantra,” she told us, was “doing science in the service of society and the environment,” driving into her students the need to “walk the talk” and apply the theoretical solutions they had learned in the classroom. One other thing we found impressive: her fulfilling marriage, the source of a “very good support system,” with her husband who teaches in “rival” De La Salle University.

Another impression I took away from the three nights’ judging at the SOT was the commitment to the competition and the foundation work of the family of Metrobank founder George S.K. Ty, and of members of the bank’s top management.

Ty himself greeted us at the first of the judging sessions; subsequent sessions and dinners were attended by members of the Ty family. Also present were members of senior management, including Metrobank Foundation president Placido Mapa Jr., vice group chair Antonio Abacan and executive vice president Elvira Ong Chan. Overseeing the smooth operation of the search was Chito Sobrepeña, who tirelessly coordinated the initial search and the semifinals, and sat in on the final interviews not just for the SOT but for all other searches and awards of the foundation: for policemen and women, for soldiers and the arts competition.

This year’s outstanding teachers will each receive a gold medallion, plaque and cash prize of P350,000. They will receive their awards on Sept. 5 (together with the awards for police and soldiers) as the highlight of Metrobank’s 51st anniversary.

Memories

Taking part in the SOT triggered memories of the teachers in my life, starting with my parents. My mother trained as a teacher (she taught music) at the then Philippine Normal College; my father, although a lawyer and soldier, taught at the Philippine Military Academy after the war and founded the Great Plebeian College in my mother’s hometown of Alaminos, Pangasinan. In his final years, he even taught at Plebeian, and one of my sister Joni’s fondest memories was being coached in elocution by our Papa for a regional competition.

Sitting in the panel of jurors likewise brought back memories of the many teachers who had shaped and influenced the trajectory of my life. Truly, teachers “shape the future,” and influence the lives of their students in ways neither student nor teacher may have even predicted.

I am immensely grateful for this opportunity to meet the country’s outstanding teachers, and to honor them and focus attention on their lives of sacrifice, dedication and duty.

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