The week begins
Our week of cultural exchange began on Monday, flag ceremony day at Leganes National High School. Krista and I managed to get to school via jeepney and trisikal by ourselves, and on time! When we arrived, the sound system was set up and blaring lively music. Students were beginning to gather in front of the outdoor stage. I would have lined up with the kids, but no such luck. We had seats of honor right up on stage. I did manage to sneak down with the excuse of wanting to take pictures. It was neat watching the Boy Scouts raise the flag, since my sons and I had been active in scouting for several years. The moment of horror came when the dancers we enjoyed so much on Saturday came to the stage. They wanted us to dance with the. I’ll be honest, I was very far removed from my comfort zone during this part. I told them that if any footage winds up on YouTube I shall return, and it will not be pretty!
My week in Iloilo represents the culmination of a year-long professional development program. While I strive to bring awareness of global issues and appreciation of culture to my students, by broadening my own experience and perspectives I can better help them become global citizens. By working with students here in the Philippines I can also help them develop deeper cultural awareness, particularly those who lack resources and have limited exposure to people outside of their communities. My work this week consisted of instruction, observing teaching in several schools, and conducting presentations and round table discussions with students and teachers in order to build bridges between our two cultures. While the more formal talks and meetings were enlightening, the best changes came from the spontaneous conversations that sprang up with teachers and students when the spotlight wasn’t on. In spite of differences in culture and school systems in general, teachers share a common concern of providing the best education they can for their students. Recurring themes that came up in conversations were providing holistic education, providing support for students who may lack support at home, and encouraging students to serve in their communities.
At Leganes National High School, as in many public schools, there aren’t enough resources for students. Only the 9th grade has textbooks, and some students have to share photocopies of the modules (units). Some of the teachers even have to share the teacher edition of the materials. They don’t have Promethean boards, computers, or even overhead projectors in the classrooms, although there are a couple of projectors they can share. So what do they do? Their best.
In the Province of Iloilo, the dialect is Hiligaynon, also called Ilongo. Students speak Ilongo at home and learn Filipino in School. English is their 3rd language. I had the pleasure of working with two English Teachers, Jean and Jew. The idea was that I would watch them teach a class, then teach the same lesson to the next period. When I met them they were very pleasant, but clearly apprehensive. I found out later that they felt we were coming to evaluate or judge, and that I might look down on them for their lack of resources. On the contrary, I admired them for what they were able to accomplish without all the technology, books, and realia that I have readily available. These teachers have to get to the core of teaching by knowing the content and knowing how to reach their students. I believe it will make me more aware of how I teach in the future. In teaching Jew’s and Jean’s classes made me aware of how I interact with the students and what I need to go to engage them. It’s so easy to rely on technology to grab the kids for you when it’s available.
On Thursday I was asked to teach a class on recycling, because Zoilo had noted that I am the recycling coordinator at Sullivan Middle School. It’s easy at Sullivan. I just collect recyclable materials from classrooms, put it in the dumpster, and it is picked up and sold to a recycling center in Charlotte. The custodial and cafeteria staff also contribute to the recycling effort. Before I left I tried to find out if Iloilo even has a recycling facility or means of collection from schools. They do not. What I learned is that my definition of recycling (having cans, bottles and paper magically go away) is different from theirs. I noticed many example of materials being recycled in useful ways. Old tires used are used as planters and speed bumps. Used office paper is used as giftwrap or small bags in shops. At the inlet, the sand bar is marked off with rope tied to large soda bottles wrapped in pink plastic shopping bags. I actually learned more than I had to teach about recycling. Fortunately, the science teacher saved the day by having the kids make recycling containers from soda bottles. I marveled at how she explained the instructions once, showed the kids a model, and they worked in groups to make their own containers, without asking azillion questions or getting noticeably off task.
The week in and around Iloilo was a series of school visits and classroom presentations. We found that our style of using a PowerPoint to talk about various aspects of US schools in general and ours in particular didn’t generate as much dialog as giving brief introductions about our schools and then opening the floor up to questioning. I think the best dialogue came from 1oth grade students at San Jose college. Students there asked the most thought provoking questions of any that we encountered the whole week. They were particularly interested in American culture and were quite well-informed. They asked a lot of questions about the recent Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage, teen pregnancy, school violence, and drugs. Hopefully we dispelled the image that American schools are dangerous and all students are derelicts. It was very refreshing to share ideas with such curious, well-informed students.
We talked to many different schools, from elementary up to education students at Central Philippine University (CPU) . We learned that teachers of all levels have essentially the same concerns. The movement to K-12 affects everybody. Our 10th grade tour leader at a private high school would have graduated this year, but now has 2 more years. Her school was the only one of 10 or so we visited that has the facilities to house additional grades of students, but none of the schools are fully staffed yet. Our own Leganese High School already has classes conducted outside because there is no room. There currently aren’t enough teachers to staff K12, but there is an intensive recruiting campaign going on to train and hire high caliber teachers. Because of the additional 2 years of secondary school, students won’t be attending university as early, so this movement will also negatively impact university enrollment during the initial stages. Professors will be given top priority in filling open secondary positions, but this in not a career move that will apply to everyone. And of course there is the financial impact to families who will have to pay tuition at private secondary schools 2 additional years. Poor families will have to wait longer for their children to enter the workforce. While this is a serious issue, most did chuckle when I used the analogy that is often uttered in my district: building an airplane while it is in the air.
Other questions teachers consistently asked involved classroom management, inclusion of special needs students, and class size. Some teachers wanted to know how much we were paid. I was surprised there were so many questions about discipline, because I didn’t actually see any discipline issues – possibly because we observed only high level classes. I still doubt that they have the same issues I have in my school simply because the teaching profession is far more highly esteemed in the Philippines than it is in the U.S.
Perhaps the most profound memory I will cherish is how warmly we were welcomed by one and all. We were treated so well that it was overwhelming, but I believe it came from the heart. We have important visitors at our school all the time and we’ve never had a parade! Hopefully this will make me more cognizant of being hospitable to visitors and in I hope that I can make them feel as loved and appreciated as I have felt here in the Philippines.