More than praise

More than praise

It’s not at all difficult to find words of praise for teachers. As a vocation, teaching has been among the most highly regarded since ancient times. That most eminent of philosophers, Aristotle, wrote: “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than those who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”

Our national hero, Jose Rizal, wrote the following in La Solidaridad: “Without education and liberty, which are the soil and the sun of man, no reform is possible, no measure can give the result desired.” They are often called modern-day heroes, and during the pandemic are considered to be among our frontliners, keeping the flame of learning alive in spite of all the challenges brought about by COVID-19 and distance learning.

Teachers, unfortunately, are used to hardships. The esteem in which they are held has a darker side – extremely high expectations and pressure from a wide variety of interests. Every time there is a moral panic, or a new rising ideology, teachers are often caught in the crossfire.

In her 2014 book, “The Teacher Wars,” her account of the tumultuous history of public school teaching in the United States, journalist Dana Goldstein says: “Anxiety about bad teaching is understandable. Teachers do work that is both personal and political. They care for and educate our children, for whom we feel a fierce and loyal love. And they prepare our nation’s citizens and workers, whose wisdom and level of skill will shape our collective future.”

In most jobs, you are accountable to your boss (or those above you in the corporate hierarchy) and/or your clients. A teacher, on the other hand, must deal with demands from their superiors, their students, the parents of these students, government regulators and those who profess an interest in the subject matter taught by these teachers, particularly those that touch upon politics, history, religion and culture.

The pressure is even greater during the COVID-19 pandemic: everyone concerned is dealing with unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety or grief. Teachers must deal with their own issues while being positioned as an accessible and unfortunate outlet for the negative emotions and trauma of students, parents and others. All this while they are forced to adjust to a manner of teaching that would have been unimaginable (at least on this scale) less than two years ago. So many turn to teachers for answers, even while they themselves are struggling and searching for the way forward.

What the rest of us need to do is help them: Give them the tangible and intangible support they need, and remove obstacles that could prevent them from having the flexibility and the security they need to adjust to the changing times. As we commemorate both National and World Teacher’s Day today, we must try to commit ourselves to doing more than just praising teachers, to give them more than our words.

The vast majority of our teachers genuinely want to pave the way to a better future for their students. Given all the difficulties faced by teachers, particularly during this pandemic, those who remain in the profession do so because of their devotion to their students. But such devotion can only take them so far, in spite of the best of intentions.

These are several areas where we can commit to push for changes in order to help our teachers: Institutional support for remote learning: Based on a survey of teachers conducted in August by the National Research Council of the Philippines, 73.07 percent spent personal money for internet connectivity, 61.69 percent spent personal money for laptops or computers. Around 62 percent also used their own funds for mobile phones, and 51.04 percent also bought their own printers.

Our teachers are already devoting much of their personal time to the lessons of their students, adjusting for changes or to the limitations faced by their classes. They cannot be asked to shoulder the entirety of the financial burden as well – whether this support comes from schools, the government or telecommunications providers, it is essential that we give teachers tangible support in the continued implementation of remote classes.

More studies of safe physical learning: The same study revealed, however, that many teachers – more than 90 percent of elementary and high school classes – still had to depend on physical modules to reach their students, because many areas in the country still do not have internet connections that are fast enough or stable enough. We must face the reality that for many students, formal learning will not happen until they are once again able to have face-to-face classes. As I’ve emphasized before, what this means is not a rush to lift restrictions haphazardly, but to urgently conduct the necessary research and tests in order to create an actionable plan for a safe return to face-to-face classes. Otherwise, we risk a true education catastrophe.

Increased opportunities for training: Whether we’re speaking of remote classes or traditional ones, our teachers need regular training in order to improve their capabilities and to ensure that the knowledge they transmit to their students is up to date. More than that, their students are likely to be experiencing some sort of trauma from the effects of COVID or the quarantines on their families and communities, and teachers must be adequately equipped to deal with that for their students, and for themselves. Even when the nation as a whole, from young to old, had achieved the necessary immunizations, the mental scars of the last two years will remain, and teachers will be at the frontline of dealing with that.

Commensurate salary increase: While there is a current schedule of salary increases through 2023 for teachers, this was mandated before the pandemic increased the workload of every active teacher. While the large population of teachers makes universal adjustments difficult, the amount of this increase should be revisited, particularly to entice new teachers to join the ranks in order to alleviate the heavy workload felt by many. An increase in their allowance for election duty during a pandemic is also warranted.

We are the people we are today because of teachers. To ensure the youth of today do not want for their guidance, let us make it so their teachers do not want for our support.

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