Teachers give kids with special needs ‘special attention’
When this kindergarten teacher thought about what her first day of work could be like, she did not imagine it would involve collecting her students from their homes.
“Every day, I would walk from my house to fetch my students …, ” said Jolina Lazarte, 21. “They lived in a very small house, and that was when I figured out why the children behaved in a certain way. It was because of the environment they grew up in.”
Lazarte is among the 87 learning facilitators in Sorsogon City who devote their time to children who need “special attention” because their parents are either incapable of guiding them in distance learning at home or cannot afford to miss a day in a job that sustains their families.
She recalled walking through muddy and narrow roads to reach her students and proceeding to the learning center in Buenavista village, where she often engaged them in lessons through dance numbers or games of tag, and showed them tangible objects to help them better understand their surroundings.
It was also important for her to properly educate them on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has triggered a drastic change in the Philippine education system and forced millions of children out of school.
According to William Gando, Sorsogon City’s schools division superintendent, the local government saw a need to provide employment to teacher-applicants who were not given a permanent or substitute job in public schools before classes reopened on Oct. 5.
“Even though we promised them just a small monthly honorarium, they still chose to volunteer as learning facilitators,” Gando told the Inquirer in a recent interview. “This will also serve as additional experience for when they apply again for teaching jobs next year, and they will have more points for their experience.”
Each learning facilitator is assigned to assist up to three children on a half-day schedule for the entire school year, while giving priority to students who have no one at home to guide them as they try to understand and accomplish tasks specified in printed self-learning modules.
The Department of Education (DepEd) has a similar project in the form of learner support aides, or LSAs, who are hired by regional and division offices depending on the needs of children in their areas.
According to DepEd Undersecretary Jesus Mateo, local offices have hired 2,489 aides, 2,100 of whom were former private school teachers who were laid off or were in need of assistance.
As of September, 860 private schools said they would not be operating for the school year 2020-2021, affecting 4,258 teachers and 56,448 students.
One learning facilitator, Eden Hita, is both parent and educator to kindergarten and Grade 2 students at Buenavista Elementary School, which launched E-Nay.com, a program that builds the capacity of parents to understand teaching through a series of workshops on instructional materials.
A mother of a 4-year-old girl, Hita said she felt empowered to be recognized as an educator despite having no background in teaching and limited resources at her home, which serves as an E-Nay learning center.
She rises daily at 4 a.m. to accomplish her tasks as a mother before switching gears and teaching two boys how to read, write and socialize in their small fishing community.
“I have two students whose parents separated early in their children’s lives. While the children live with their grandmother, I realized that growing up with a mother is still a very different experience for children,” Hita said, adding:
“It’s difficult. I am both a teacher and a mother to them now because they need a complete family to face the challenges brought about by the pandemic.”
Dangerous yet fulfilling
And despite having spent just two weeks on the field, perhaps it is this certain bond with students that is pushing learning facilitators in Sorsogon to continue pursuing a dangerous yet fulfilling job, Lazarte said.
She tearfully recounted an incident with a student who taught her how to love her profession more: “When I arrived one day at his home, my student told me that he had not yet eaten breakfast because he was busy with house chores. That was when I told him to never hesitate to approach me because he can treat me as his older sister or his mother, not just his teacher.”
Lourdes Solasco, who is also both a mother and a learning facilitator in the city, said it was important to her to give children an opportunity to learn despite the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the field.
“I don’t mind that my job is difficult. It warms my heart that my students are very eager to learn, that they are not discouraged from continuing their studies even if there is a pandemic hounding us,” she said. INQ
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