What I learned on my summer vacation:

  • Avoid fixed travel dates.  Of course, arrival and departure dates from home may need to be set in advance, but allow yourself as much flexibility as possibility within those dates.
  • Travel can be affordable. If you’re more about the experience and less about the amenities, then it’s very doable.
  • Your comfort zone is home. If you need to be in it, you need to stay there.
  • Backpacking does not mean lugging a 70 pound pack up a mountain.
  • Don’t be afraid to start a conversation. Don’t be a creeper, but at least test the waters.  You can tell pretty quickly if someone is open to talking or not.  “Where are you from?” is the best conversation starter ever.
  • If you look different people are going to look at you. You do it, too.
  • If people laugh at you it may be because they’re nervous or self-conscious. It could also be because you’re funny to them.  Get over yourself.
  • Speak clearly. If you’re in a place that caters to American or European tourists, then it’s fair to expect English.  Otherwise, remember that it’s NOT everybody’s first language.  And not everybody had the opportunity to go to school.
  • Your social boundaries are based on your culture. Different culture = different boundaries.
  • Trip Advisor is your friend. The locals know best, but the locals may want to help out a cousin who is trying to operate a subpar business.
  • If you’re not sure what to do, wait and see what other people are doing. Or just ask.  (refer to #7 above)
  • If your intuition tells you “no”, listen. Don’t be afraid to walk away.
  • Things are not always going to go as planned. Adopt “it’s all part of the adventure” as your mantra.
  • Stay in touch. You know you’re ok, but people at home still worry.
  • If you go to Asia and don’t like rice, you are a weirdo.
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We came as visitors, we left as friends

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!

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The goals

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.

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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.


Take Aways

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.

DSC00688Perhaps 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.

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What a weekend!

Our new friends in Leganes are so wonderful.  They are really going out of their way to make sure we make the most of our experience here and they are succeeding.   We finally had the opportunity to take a very common form of travel here, the jeepney.  We took one from the hotel, changed about half way to reach Leganes, then took a tricicycle, a motorcycle with sort of a side car to our destination.  Zoilo was along to show us the ropes.

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First we went to Katungan Park, where our students in the science club and their teachers were bagging mangroves.  Unfortunately, the kids were finishing all the hard work as we arrived, but they did show us what they do.  You use a piece of bamboo as a shovel, dig up a little seedling, put it in a little bag with some dirt, and transplant it to an area where the growth is more sparse. Members of the community, in league with the Mangrove Rehabilitation Project of the Zoological Society of London mangroves (moved seedlings from one area to another where they are more sparse) as part of an environmental project.  What was essentially bare, muddy ground 5 years ago is not a thriving ecosystem that serves to protect the coastline.  Our students are helping to make a positive impact on the environment of their community.

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Next we attended the Biray Paraw Festival . The MC introduced us to the whole community when we arrived.  It’s way more attention than I’m used to but what the heck. We got front row seats with the mayor for the entertainment, which included some traditional and modern dancing performed by our students.  We the watched a regatta (biray paraw means enjoy regatta) then got to go out on a sailboat ourselves.


When we got back, a narrow sandbar was emerging on the beach.  When it got wide enough to put up some bamboo goals, up they went.  I was tall enough to fix the cross bar when it fell off, so the boys let me play.  I scored a nice little goal off the far post. The boys’ coach is a young man named Jomar, who is a former student of Leganes National High School.  He is active with Junior Achievement and volunteers as a coach.  He told me there is a drug problem among the youth, and that he enjoys coaching to give the kids something positive to do.  Right before I had a heat stroke, Zoilo reminded me that it was time for another commitment.


We played Bingo at his school to raise money for an alumni hall.  Then we had dinner with a lovely former teacher of the school.  Quite the full Saturday.

On a side note: While we were at the mangrove bagging,hundreds university students were also in Leganes participating in a coastal clean up.  Zoilo asked me to teach a lesson on recycling, but I’ve actually learned a lot about protecting the environment and recycling.  When members of the tourism board gave Krista and I t-shirts, they were wrapped in some copy paper that had something printed on it.  I thought it was interesting, then today when I bought something, the bag was made out of used office paper.  What a good idea.  While at the water, I saw that someone had made good use of 2 liter bottles and shopping bags. The entire  swimming area was roped off with these:


Today we went to Guimaras with Zoilo, Barbara, Pamela and her two beautiful children, and Nena.  Guimaras is famous for it’s mangoes and beautiful beaches. We took a very short boat ride to the island, where we were met with a guide and a private jeepney driver.



Someone had told us earlier that Guimaras was powered by wind turbines.  The first part of our tour was up to the top of a mountain where we could see many of the giant turbines. I’ve always loved windmills, and the modern ones look sleek.  You don’t realize from afar just how massive they are.   It was quite interesting to see farmers plowing fields with oxen, while these modern clean-energy producing giants loomed in the background.

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Next we headed to Raymen Beach resort for lunch and a little swimming.  The view from the beach was gorgeous. The food was delicious and the water felt amazing after riding around in the jeepney.  I would love to have stayed there longer!



On the way back we stopped at the Trappist Monastery where we visited the gift shop and the church and spoke briefly with one of the monks.  Then we were back home where I spent the rest of the day downloading the pictures for this post and getting ready for my co-teaching tomorrow.

It was wonderful weekend.  I can never thank Zoilo enough for putting together such a wonderful experience for us.

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Just Wow – Day one at Leganes National High School

Our new friends Zoilo, Pamela, and Barbara picked us up at the hotel to take us to their high school.  I expected it to be lovely, but I never expected a band and all the students to be lined up along the walkway waving Philippine and American flags!

Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjRbsB6tybM&feature=share


After our very moving reception, we went to the office to meet with members of the faculty and administration. A team of photographers for the school paper followed us everywhere we went.  The mayor and other city officials also came to meet us and the mayor invited us to second lunch just as we were having second breakfast.  One of the teacher in the program told me in Manila that rather than Teachers for Global Classrooms, TGC should stand for Teachers Getting Chubby.


The campus is surrounded by and embraces nature.  Everything was open and green.  Of course, it is very hot and humid, and the arrangement maximizes shade and breezes.  The outdoor gym has a cover for shade, but no walls.

Leganes National High School is filled with delightful students and surrounded by nature.

Leganes National High School is filled with delightful students and surrounded by nature.


After the tour, Krista and I gave presentation to some of the students and staff about our own schools, and some general information about education in America.  The students were fascinated that my school provides breakfast and lunch, and that some students qualify to receive meals free or at a reduced rate.  They all go home for lunch, and teachers will share their own food with students who are not able to eat at home for whatever reason. They also enjoyed hearing about Ana, a former student at our school who was from the Philippines and blind. She was one of the top athletes on our wrestling team.

Our audience at our presentation about our schools.

Our audience at our presentation about our schools.

After our presentation we enjoyed extremely delicious fish and vegetables that the school had prepared, then went to join the mayo at the Sea Island Resort to accept his gracious lunch invitation. When we arrived they were meeting with tourism department members for the whole province.  We said hello to their members, then toured the resort, which just opened this past December and is still undergoing some construction.

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Afterward we returned to the school for team building activities.  80 students gathered in the outdoor gym.  I introduced a game where students stand in circle and hold hands with two different people, neither of whom can be beside them.  Then they have to untangle the knot.  The purpose is to learn about problem solving and cooperation.  Krista did a fun activity where students stand in a circle and follow commands such as jump in, jump out, jump left, jump right.  The trick is that as the game progresses, you may say or do the opposite of the command.  It was tricky.  Finally we had all 80 of them line up from oldest to youngest without talking as a way to utilize different communication skills. As we went along we had students reflect on the activities and share what they learned.

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At the end of the school day we met with English teachers who we will be observing on Monday morning and with whom we will be co-teaching in the afternoon.  We had a little while to work on our own before going to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Saluba to enjoy a wonderful meal of fish, shrimp, adobo chicken, vegetables, fruit and rice.   Even though it was my 5th meal of the day I enjoyed every morsel!

I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to be here and work with these wonderful, kind, hospitable people who always seem to be smiling.  What a gift!  I’ve learned so much already and truly hope that my being here can in some way be a benefit to them.

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3 days in Manila

My IREX-TGC group had the opportunity to visit 3 schools in Manila and the U.S. Embassy during our first few days in the Philippines.  Our wonderful guides, Alex and Norberto prepared us with an introduction to the education system and the history of the Philippines on our first day.


Krista and me at St. Paul Pasig


Computer Lab at St. Paul Pasig


Antique Googling


Museum of Artifacts @ St. Paul Pasig


Diana, Iulia, Gail, and me with students at St. Paul Pasig

On June 21 we traveled to St. Paul College, Pasig, a Catholic school for girls.  On June 23 we visited Beningo “Nimoy” Aquino High School, which is a public school and Makati Science High School magnet school and the home school of our host, Alex.  At each school we had the opportunity to talk with teachers and students.  They all provided us with a reception and shared delicious traditional Filipino foods with us. The choral students at St. Paul entertained us with traditional songs during the reception.  At Makati Science High School we were greeted by the chorus, who presented each of us with a rose, and by the student Council.

One common challenge that is being faced by all of the secondary schools and colleges is the implementation of K-12, where up until now they have had K-10.  The most obvious challenge is finding the space to house the additional grades and finding new teachers.  To deal with the space issues, some of the schools are opting to teach in shifts, some students will come for morning classes, from 6:00 to 11:00, and others will attend school from 11:00 to 4:00, or something similar.  The government is seeking recruit additional teachers with the 1000 teacher program, in which they provide training to new teachers beginning their careers, or those who wish to enter teaching as a second career.  Adding 2 additional years of high school will also impact the universities, as during the first two years of implementation, students will be staying in high school when they may have been entering college.  The professors who will be displaced will have hiring priority as the high schools are being staffed to take on the additional load.  They will also have assistance with additional training should they opt to seek employment outside of education.

In addition to the practical aspects of implementing K-12, there has been some resistance from parents and students because students have to wait longer to enter the work force.  There are many vocational programs in place now that prepare students to enter the workforce at 16.  However, many jobs that do not require a college education do require that employees must be at least 18, which has meant that some high school graduates are in limbo for 2 years.  A strong advantage of the K-12 program is that a lot of the education students will receive in the additional 2 years is the equivalent of what they would have learned in the first two years of college, so ultimately families whose children who attend public schools will save money.

The Filipino education has largely been influenced by the American Education System, as the country was occupied by Americans before and after WWII.  Their goals and philosophies are the same, aiming for holistic, learner-centered education.  The 3 schools we visited had very different atmospheres.  We were greeted warmly in all 3 and found the students very respectful and engaged.  Just as in the United States, resources available to different schools vary, and students come from widely different backgrounds.  A high value is placed on education and the students we met were

Another challenge we learned about is the early childhood program in which children in K – 4 are taught reading in their native language.  All schools teach English and every student is bilingual, but there are over 100 native languages in the Philippines.  Research shows that students learn reading best in their native language.  For the Native Language reading program, they narrowed the program down to 19 languages, but there is no early reading curriculum available for so many languages and dialects.  Teachers are on their own to provide the reading curriculum and reading assessment for these students in all but 4 of the 19 major dialects.

A highlight of our first visit to Manila was meeting Philip Goldberg, the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. He was very engaging.  We met in a conference room at the embassy dedicated to Claire Phillips, described as a Philippine Mata Hari during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.  Next door was the ballroom where they held the trials for Japanese war crimes following WWII.  He spoke to us about history and bonds between the U.S. and the Philippines and about the current challenges politically and internationally. Later we took photos (actually they took photos as we weren’t allowed to bring cameras into the building – I don’t have my copy yet) an enjoyed Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  We returned to the conference where various representatives spoke to us more about the structure, progress, and challenges of education in the country.  They are passionate about helping students become globally competitive citizens and promoting cultural exchange.  Finally, we had a limited tour of the building and of the grounds.  The flagpole in front of the building was heavily damaged by bullets and shrapnel, yet it stands today to commemorate the Battle of Manila.

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Off to a great start!

The flight to Manila was long, but except for one really sketchy airline interpretation of beef and rice, it was a good trip. Half of our group flew into Detroit then on to Narita, Japan, where we met the rest of our group.


In Detroit

We’re staying at the Peninsula Manila.  They had a special check-in area just for our group so that process went quickly – a godsend after 28 hours of travel.  While we were getting our keys we sipped on a tangy citrus drink and listened to the live jazz combo.

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Today started off with at visit to the fitness center, then a breakfast buffet.  They have bacon here – hooray!  They also have pineapple danishes, which are amazing.  We went to our first training session with two of the host teachers, Noberto and Alex.  Noberto presented a 2 hour introduction on Filipino history and culture which was very interesting.


Lunch was another buffet and I sampled a little bit of everything.  I really needed to hit the gym again, but I took a walk around the hotel and found a nice little park right across the street.

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After the break we had another session with Norberto and Alex where we learned about the history of the educational system in the Philippines and talked about how the US system compares.   An interesting thing about the Philippines is that the public schools have been K-10.  They are just now transitioning into a K-12 system, which requires some challenging adjustments.

After training we piled into a couple of vans and headed to Intramuros (within the walls), a historical area of Manila.  We had an hour or so to walk around and explore the area. We started our mini-tour at San Augustin Church, the oldest church in Manila, which was built by the Spanish over 400 years ago.   .

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We had dinner at Barbara’s restaurant.  I still full from lunch, but enjoyed the roasted chicken and the vegetables.  After eating we enjoyed a wonderful show of traditional Philippine music and dancing.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/131431547″>Water glass dance</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user40630509″>Roma stutts</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/131432161″>Ancient dance</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user40630509″>Roma stutts</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/131432222″>Hat dance part 2</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user40630509″>Roma stutts</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/131433213″>Spanish dance</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user40630509″>Roma stutts</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I actually got to do this, but I’m not sure if anybody got video of it.  Which is probably a good thing.  I’ll just tell you that I was amazing.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/131434921″>Tinikling</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user40630509″>Roma stutts</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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On my way!

I’m here in Detroit at the airport with 5 of my traveling companions.  We’re waiting for 2 or 3 more people.  In an hour we start boarding for our flight to Japan where we’ll meet the rest of our cohort who are flying in from the west coast.  At the moment everybody is on their laptops or iPads working on lessons, their blogs, or our research question. We all have to develop a research question that will serve as a focal point of our professional development

Amanda, Alex, Me, & Kev after breakfast at Coney Island in the Detroit Airport

Amanda, Alex, Me, & Kev after breakfast at Coney Island in the Detroit Airport

experience.  I’m interested in environmental issues, and have been asked to teach a lesson on recycling but haven’t yet articulated my research question.  Everybody seems to be in the same boat, which is comforting.  We’re already working together and sharing ideas.  This is going to be a great travel group!

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