If I can teach one child, I shall not live in vain
“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; if I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain, or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”
I always recite these lines by Emily Dickinson whenever I feel enervated.
I am a teacher because it was the only option I had when my Aunt Cirila convinced me to study in Manila and stay with her and her family at Villamor Air Base.
I was a psychology major but my aunt had said education was the best course for a woman and so, though reluctantly, I followed her advice and enrolled at Philippine Normal University.
I gradually learned to love my course as, over dinner, I listened to daily debates and discussions by my cousins who were completing their government service as scholars at the premier state university.
I kept hearing about how our country needed people who were willing to sacrifice for its good.
I started teaching at Our Lady of Peace School, Assumption College and St. Clare Montessori School in Antipolo City.
But after 12 years at private Catholic schools, I joined the public school system when my husband and I decided to settle in Balanga, Bataan, in 2006 for the sake of our asthmatic children who needed to breathe clean air.
I have found the private and the public school settings completely different.
In private schools, there is a greater motivation to make lessons exemplary everyday because efforts are acknowledged immediately by administrators who get feedback from parents and students. Seminars, training, workshops and exposures are better in the private setting because they are always aligned to your needs.
Lessons are also given in advance in the summer so I can find out what kinds of instructional material are needed. Parents are treated more professionally and ethically, and school leaders are more transformational and transactional.
My first year at a public school was a baptism of fire. I wanted to quit because the kids were rude and mean. But as the days passed, I began to realize that what public schools needed were more caring, committed and dedicated teachers, the kind of teacher I had always tried to be.
How can you leave pupils who come to class without having eaten breakfast because their parents had no money? How would you feel when you see them using pencils shorter than cigarette stubs? What would you do when they tell you they walk a mile to school? When you see them using plastic shopping bags for their things, wearing slippers that barely protect their small feet and getting by with shirts that used to be white but are now brown?
I could have accepted a lucrative job offer abroad but I want to be part of the change our country needs. I want to push more kids to study harder, to rise from extreme poverty and improve their lives.
While I see many things wrong with the system and people who should not be where they are, my pupils are more important than all these things.
Besides, there are good men and women in the system, too. The Reading Association of the Philippines and the Petron Gurong Kaakbay-Sa Aklat Sisikat conferences gave me the chance to hear from Department of Education officials and be inspired by them.
I am always on the lookout for good seminars and training to improve my skills because I believe my students always deserve the best.
I got involved in the Inquirer Learning section’s Serial Reading Program on my own initiative. This is now my fifth year as a partner-teacher of the program.
Although I have to spend my own money to attend seminars and debriefing sessions, and do not earn points to help me in the school system ranking, I persevere.
I believe the program can help develop my pupils’ literacy skills through varied activities. Whether or not my efforts are recognized, I will pursue the program’s advocacy to make all learners become active readers.
Teaching involves hard work and perseverance. Forget the imperfections of the public school system and focus on what you can share with your pupils.
Let us not seek promotion in everything we do for our pupils. Let us not stop improving ourselves. Let us fight poverty by giving our youth the quality education they deserve.
Marlyn B. Gerio, a Master Teacher I at Cataning Elementary School in Balanga City, has a master’s degree in reading. She is the teacher adviser of the school paper.