4 Filipino teachers who prove that educating the youth is more than a job

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The four teacher-honorees of the Bato Balani Foundation, who have shown that teaching is more than just a job; it's public service. From left: Dr. Aletta Tiangco Yñiguez, Junmerth Cretecio Jorta, Yrene Aguilar Dineros, and Venus Metilla-Alboruto. Photos by KITKAT PAJARO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Being a teacher is one of the few noble vocations anyone can ever have, but it seems to remain most underappreciated. Although the Department of Education is currently pushing for a higher budget allocation in 2020, hundreds of public school teachers opened Teachers’ Month with a show of force as they assert that there is no strong push for salary increase for them.

Teachers do more than educate the youth; they contribute significantly to the process of a person’s becoming. More than facts and concepts, principles are also often instilled in their students. There is a great responsibility with such influence, and considering the current state of education in the Philippines, where teachers do not receive the compensation they deserve and the quality of education could be easily compromised by insufficient facilities and equipment, this is far from the biggest challenge that a teacher has to overcome.

READ: Filipino public school teachers speak up on underpayment

For over a decade, the non-profit organization Bato Balani Foundation Inc. has been at the forefront of paying tribute to our unsung heroes through The Many Faces Of The Teacher (TMFT). This year, in partnership with DIWA Learning Systems, TMFT sought exemplary teachers from across the country who are making a difference in their own communities and fields for the betterment of both marginalized sectors and the youth.

After naming 12 finalists, TMFT officially introduced the four chosen honorees at “A Tribute to Teachers” last Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. We spoke with the four teacher-honorees and discover what truly makes them paragons of quality education and selfless service.

Dr. Aletta Tiangco Yñiguez. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

Dr. Aletta Tiangco Yñiguez, 41, Assistant Professor 7 at the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines Diliman

Yñiguez never planned on becoming a teacher. Instead, she was set on establishing a career as a scientist, particularly as an expert in biological oceanography. After obtaining her PhD from the University of Miami in 2008, however, Yñiguez joined the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD-MIT). Today, she is one of the most notable women marine scientists in the country, while also making a name for herself as an associate professor.

She specializes in the study of Harmful Algal Blooms, or what is commonly known as red tide, working with fellow scientists and students to understand its origins and nature in hopes of developing methods to accurately predict the phenomenon.

An advocate of science education, Yñiguez believes that knowledge of the sciences must be imparted on everyone else. As an educator, she finds joy in introducing environmental issues and ocean conservation initiatives to students, especially non-science majors. “Natutuwa ako kasi kita ko sa mukha ng mga estudyante na may realizations. Na-i-internalize nila na may relevance pala ‘yung lessons [sa kanila] tapos sasabihin nila na ‘oo nga, I want to also do something’ [para] makatulong sa dagat.”

Yñiguez specializes in the study of Harmful Algal Blooms, or what is commonly known as red tide, working with fellow scientists and students to understand its origins and nature in hopes of developing methods to accurately predict the phenomenon. Photo courtesy of BATO BALANI FOUNDATION, INC.

The teaching scientist is well-involved in opportunities geared towards local communities and high school students. She teaches and works as a camp manager at the Department of Science and Technology’s summer camp for climate change and marine science, which she considers as one of the constant highlights throughout her teaching career. She, alongside other facilitators, introduces marine life at its barest to students and teachers from roughly 60 national and science high schools.

Yñiguez also works with the Community Alliance for the Sustainability of our Threatened Seas (COASTS), an initiative in partnership with the UPD-MIT that seeks to foster collaboration with local fisherfolk based in areas where red tide is experienced, such as Samar and Bolinao, Pangasinan. “It [works] both ways kasi we’re trying to set up a ‘citizen science’,” she explains. She and the researchers would conduct workshops to raise awareness about red tide and its causes, and the fisherfolk, particularly those involved in the shellfish industry, would assist in monitoring water quality with instruments that the group provides.

She shares that this initiative, while promising and necessary, inevitably entails the challenge of laymanizing the technical and scientific terminology to best educate the fisherfolk. For her, the solution is simple but complex at once: to put oneself in their position and learn to contextualize the topic to their personal experiences.

To further her advocacy in educating the public about marine science, she spends her little spare time maintaining the Facebook page Baybay-Dagat. She explains that this online platform is her way to “popularize” published work on Philippine marine science, and was conceived upon the realization that several studies on the field exist but remain unknown even among fellow scientists.

Venus Metilla-Alboruto. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

Venus Metilla-Alboruto, PhD, 38, Master Teacher I at Surigao City National High School

Born into poverty, Alboruto was forced to learn resilience at an early age. Bullying and discrimination were constants for her at school and even in the homes of her own relatives who thought of her as a freeloading “yagit.” In fourth grade, her father abandoned her, leaving her no choice but to stay with other relatives in Surigao. In these trying times, she sought inspiration from her former teachers, slowly building a dream to follow their footsteps and make a name for herself.

As a young girl driven by hope to turn her life’s course, she managed to get a scholarship in college and eventually earned a degree in education, majoring in science. Seventeen years later, she is now a PhD holder and a Master Teacher I at Surigao City National High School.

Alboruto is best known for creating the Strategic Intervention Materials (SIMs), an innovative “learning package” which she and her fellow teachers now use for their classes. The idea for SIMs was first conceived as a solution to the high school’s problem of effectively handling an average of 55 to 60 students per class. The materials focused on teaching least-learned competencies through an interactive approach in order to ensure that even the low-performing students master competency-based skills.

After joining a SIM competition organized by the Department of Education, the Science Education Institute of the Department of Science and Technology took notice of Dr. Alboruto’s work. To date, DOST-SEI and Alboruto is currently collaborating to integrate augmented reality into the SIMs and republishing them for dissemination.

Alboruto is best known for creating the Strategic Intervention Materials (SIMs), an innovative “learning package” which she and her fellow teachers now use for their classes. Photo courtesy of BATO BALANI FOUNDATION, INC.

She also serves as her school’s science coordinator, for which she partners with agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. She spearheads environmental initiatives, including, but not limited to, tree planting activities, seminars in solid waste management, seaside cleaning, and homeroom projects on electricity conservation. She considers these initiatives as well as her work in deploying SIMs as the reason for her getting a spot at the Top 40 finalists of the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize last March in Dubai.

This job is not without hardship, especially with today’s state of education, Alboruto believes. But what keeps her going is “being able to touch the lives of the students.” She reminisces meeting students who are presently experiencing similar situations that she had to go through as a child. Because of this, she made it her goal to inspire these students and encourage them to finish their studies and realize their own dreams.

Last year, Alboruto had to face a new tragedy as she lost her youngest child. She remembers how the hospital staff already gave up on finding her child’s vein as the child suffered from dehydration. But a nurse approached Alboruto and introduced herself as one of Alboruto’s former students. The nurse promised to find her child’s vein as a token for the teacher’s support and inspiration through her elementary years. While the child was no longer resuscitated, Alboruto found deep appreciation for her former student’s effort to save her daughter’s life. “I deserve to be in this position,” she remembers thinking, in spite of the grief. “Talagang dito [sa pagtuturo] ang linya ko.”

Yrene Aguilar Dineros. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

Yrene Aguilar Dineros, 60, Master Teacher II and ALS Instructional Manager at Quezon City High School

Rarely do we find someone who would be willing to devote their lives in the service of the marginalized people, with hard work compensated only through thanks. Dineros, on the other hand, bravely volunteered to take on the challenge of imparting her knowledge to out-of-school youths as an Alternative Learning System (ALS) teacher.

She confesses that she started off not wanting to become an educator. She dreamt of pursuing fine arts, but was discouraged by her father. This brought her to test the waters with teaching in 1980. A year later, she was officially teaching music to all levels of high school students. Come 1989, she was accepted into the Monbusho scholarship in Japan and left for a year and a half. When she returned, she continued her pursuit as an educator and took on part-time opportunities as a tour guide and translator, making good use of her knowledge of Nihonggo.

When Dineros began her journey as an ALS teacher in January 2010, she made it a point to integrate Nihonggo into the syllabi, as she considers foreign language training to be a helpful skill especially for individuals seeking employment opportunities overseas. Dineros also veered away from the standard basic literacy course and instead partnered with TESDA in bringing training programs on practical skills such as dressmaking, housekeeping, electronics, and customer service.

Dineros volunteered to take on the challenge of imparting her knowledge to out-of-school youths as an Alternative Learning System (ALS) teacher. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

From a slim four graduates out of eight students, Dineros’ class now has the highest passing rate of 85 percent out of roughly 150 to 525 students per year, ages usually ranging from 16 to 47 with few exceptions. Because of her additional programs, she received the award as the Most Outstanding ALS Implementer throughout Quezon City in 2017. She also ranked third across Metro Manila for the same category.

Staying true to the adage that teachers are the second parents of students, hers made “mommy” her nickname of sorts. With a laugh, she recalls having a 58-year-old student also refer to her as such even though she was younger. Young or old, every student is her “anak-anakan,” she says.

Dineros understands the difficulties that her charitable efforts entail. “You are trying to mold the person into a better one,” she notes. This is why she is always glad to hear from her former students and watch them live purposeful lives from the window of social media. “Masarap sa pakiramdam na nakakatulong ka.”

Junmerth Cretecio Jorta. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

Junmerth Cretecio Jorta, 31, Teacher I at Kèupiyanan Tè Balugo

It takes great commitment and passion to give up life’s simplest luxuries to immerse in a community short of necessities like electricity, a soft bed, and comfort rooms, but Jorta believes that his vocation is God’s will. “I have to respond,” he recalls thinking when he was first invited to teach indigenous children.

He shares that he has always wanted to be a missionary, to travel to distant lands and “reach the unreached.” As he heard testimonials from other missionaries on how their journey strengthened their faiths, Jorta grew more interested in having “such wonderful experience” and prayed for God to “use [him] in His ways” as a missionary teacher.

His prayers were answered in 2015 when he received an invitation to supervise the extension school of Kalanganan Elementary School, where he worked as a regular teacher. At the time, the extension school was run by the 1000 Missionary Movement and the Socio-economic Uplift, Literacy, Anthropological, and Developmental Services (SULADS). As a supervisor, he was tasked to visit the school once a week.

Satin Balugom Kalagangan in Bukidnon is no easy place to go to. You need to cross 13 rivers and walk for almost seven kilometers in order to reach the barangay proper. This was what Jorta faced head-on each Thursday for over a year. In 2016, after the school was absorbed by the Department of Education, he was offered an opportunity to be the first full-time teacher to work at Kèupiyanan Tè Balugo. He hesitated, knowing the weight of what he would have to give up if he stayed in the community, but he still pursued what he believes as God’s plan for him.

Jorta teaches IP students at Kèupiyanan Tè Balugo in Bukidnon, where he also established a feeding program after realizing that hunger played a role in the students' absenteeism. Photo courtesy of BATO BALANI FOUNDATION, INC.

Jorta notes that the first two months were the hardest as he had to do everything by himself. He taught a total of 105 students across kindergarten to sixth grade, juggling paperwork and teaching while he also struggled with communication barriers and cultural differences. Not long after, two SULADS members were assigned to Kèupiyanan Tè Balugo who now help him.

Despite the challenges of his work, Jorta did not stop at educating the students within the four walls of the classroom. Alarmed by the growing problem of absenteeism among students, he probed into this and learned that hunger played a crucial role. To resolve this, he encouraged the people to establish a regular feeding program which they call “Balugo Pagkaon Sakto.” Gaining the support of both non-governmental organizations and the local government unit, the program ultimately brought the community together, with people taking turns in cooking the dishes for the students and selling vegetables for extra income. Jorta is proud to witness the power of bayanihan that has manifested through the program.

He believes that the indigenous peoples of the country need better understanding the importance of education. While he calls being as a missionary teacher as “self-fulfilling” and a source of “true happiness,” he wants to one day see teachers hailing from their very community to take over, as they should.