Being a teacher is tough. Being a teacher in a public school is tougher. But try being a teacher in a public school in the Philippines. “Toughest” seems insufficient to describe the emotional roller coaster one has to go through everyday.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a public school teacher in one of the provinces in the Philippines, and I love what I am doing. Some people came into this profession because they are obliged to. I came into this profession because I chose to. I had the chance of acting onstage and on TV. I could have pursued that path, but I didn’t, because somehow I felt like I was needed more in the field of teaching.
So here I am. Instead of acting in front of an audience or a camera, I am acting in front of my students. I act as if I am not gravely affected with issues they face daily. I act as if I don’t have a lump in my throat whenever I see how far behind they are with students from other countries. And this observation goes beyond mean percentage scores in standardized tests in English, Science, and Mathematics. Perhaps, even beyond learning competencies, 21st century skills, and school facilities that we undoubtedly are yet to fully develop.
Even in seemingly mundane issues, they are left behind. For instance, I read an article last week about a school in California receiving a lot of flak after sending a student home because he dressed up as Elsa from “Frozen” during the school’s spirit day. The principal had his costume and wig confiscated as these were considered “distracting” and “dangerous.” In her Facebook post, the boy’s mother shared what the principal told her to justify his actions.
The principal confirmed directly to me it was not okay for any child to dress as the opposite sex because it was too distracting. The statement made to me was, “It is not okay for boys to dress like girls or girls to dress like boys.”
This, of course, is not an acceptable reason especially in a country like the U.S., where the fight of the LGBT community to freely express themselves is strong. According to the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California, “Schools cannot discriminate against you based on your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Even if your school has a gendered dress code policy, you should still be able to wear the clothing and hairstyle allowed any student.”
That students in the U.S. struggle for right to express gender identity or gender nonconformity amazes me. It somehow makes me envious that while they are fighting for self-expression, my students here in the Philippines are facing a different kind of struggle: how to learn in an environment where there is a shortage of more than 150,000 water and sanitation facilities, 13.23 million school chairs, 95,600,000 textbooks, and 104,000 school teachers.
The difference is glaring. Whereas students in the U.S. struggle to wear clothes that represent their identity, students in Philippine public schools struggle to wear clean clothes. I come to school every day and see a majority of my students not in their uniforms because they only have one pair each, all worn since Monday. I come to school every day and see a majority of my students in slippers because their black shoes are already old and worn. I come to school every day and see my students struggle to learn amid broken chalkboards, dilapidated armchairs, and a few textbooks. How can they worry about gender non-conformity when they can’t even understand the meaning of that word?
We teachers are doing everything in our power to make the most out this situation. With dwindling state funds, we squeeze out every ounce of resourcefulness in our bodies to make learning an interesting activity for our students. Most of the time, we even have to shed out money from our own pockets just so we can provide appropriate learning aids to our students.
As a teacher, I have great hopes for my students. I wish that someday, they will be free from the economic struggles they face daily. I long for the day I would witness my students fight for a higher battle: that for self-expression.