To achieve this, they recognized that more attention and resources needed to be put toward teachers in the Philippine public school system.
“The [teachers] were not receiving professional development, and the methodologies they were using inside the classrooms were outdated. There were not enough teachers [because] the Philippine Department of Education implemented the K-12 program that meant we added three more years to our education cycle and we needed that many more teachers to be able to complete the program,” Zobel said.
The women stumbled upon Teach for America (TFA), an organization established by Wendy Kopp in 1989 that recruits recent college graduates for a two-year program to teach in under-resourced, low-income, urban and rural communities throughout the United States with the intentions of diminishing educational inequity and retaining promising educators.
Back in 1999, Zobel and Margarita Delgado founded the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation (loosely translated to “Books Make You Cool,” Zobel shared), which advocated for functional literacy and professional development of teachers and high school administrators. By training teachers to teach students how to read better at the level of policymakers, they hoped it would encourage the students to become lifelong learners.
“We did this successfully for about 10 years, and after 10 years, we sat down to think about what we’ve learned…What we had learned in the process was that [while] reading was important and the public school system would definitely benefit from it, the ones that needed the most investment were the teachers in the public school system,” Zobel said.
By 2012, Sa Aklat Sisikat helped with the development of over 25,000 teachers and administrators. But more gaps needed to be filled.
The demand for teachers was evident, as was the need to “change the social perception on the profession of teaching because we weren’t able to gather the best talent into the profession of education,” Zobel added.
Thus, replicating the TFA model, Teach for the Philippines was born.
Enlisting the Best and Brightest
Like its American counterpart, Teach for the Philippines employs a multi-step, rigorous selection process that looks at the academic achievements, leadership abilities and commitment to civic responsibility of the recent graduates and young professionals who apply.
Teach for the Philippines reaches out to universities at the grassroots level to look for “very driven, committed, young student leaders.” For young professionals, who are just beginning their careers, they may decide that they want to do something different and try the educational field.
The recruitment process takes six months; then those selected receive an eight-week training program at the Summer Institute that focuses on leadership, teaching strategies and curriculum content.
“[The] qualities we look for are definitely leadership skills because we believe that the same qualities that make a good leader are the same qualities that make a good teacher. We look for bias for action — it’s not enough to recognize that certain changes need to be made. You have to act on it and make it happen,” Margarita Delgado, who is the co-founder and board vice-chairman of Teach for the Philippines, told the Asian Journal.
Zobel, who serves as the organization’s co-founder and board chairman, added that “teacher fellows” (the name given to those selected) should be persistent because they will be assigned to challenging classrooms and environments and will be tasked to find ways to see the positivity in those conditions and maximize the resources allocated to the schools.
“We say [the teacher fellows need] grit, as part of this persistence, because the challenging circumstances can sometimes seem like obstacles, but they shouldn’t be,” she said.
Partnering with the Department of Education and local government units (LGUs), the teacher fellows are then assigned to various schools; some are even required to move to a different area of the country. They are expected to engage with the local communities outside the classroom, through “home visits,” in which they make sure parents and other significant individuals in a student’s life are involved in the development process.
Selected from over 500 applicants, the first cohort of 50 teacher fellows entered the 2013-2014 school year; by the end of the term, they reached about 3,000 Grade 3 public school students in 15 communities, where class sizes were on average somewhere between 50 to 60 students.
In 2014, 43 fellows joined, and this year, another 46. As of the 2014-2015 term, they were in 23 placement schools across eight LGUs: Quezon City, Marikina City, Mandaluyong City, Navotas City, Biñan and Sta. Rosa in Laguna, Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental and Del Carmen in Siargao, Surigao del Norte.
“The numbers may seem small, but the impact is large,” Zobel said. “We feel that they are affecting the attitudes of other teachers in the public school system.”
The teacher fellows receive Teacher 1 compensation -- entry-level salaries for public school teachers, which vary across the LGUs.
“The salary is not the main attraction, but in terms of fulfillment and esteem of contributing to the movement to education, [they are] life-long rewards. I’ve spoken with people who have been part of the program and they continue to rave about it,” Philippine Consul General in Los Angeles Leo Herrera-Lim said.
Since most of the fellows are recent college graduates, Teach for the Philippines provides real-world experience and a chance to see if the educational field is for them.
Some alumni, Zobel revealed, have gone on to work for the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, or stayed teaching in the public school system. Others have moved to the private sector, yet have developed leadership and critical thinking skills that can be applied to any industry.
Creating “Global Citizens”
As Teach for the Philippines continues to expand its reach, it has begun forging partnerships with educational institutions, the private and public sectors, agencies and government agencies to implement more practices in education.
One of the partnerships Teach for the Philippines has introduced is with Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) School of Education in Los Angeles.
At an event on Wednesday, June 24 at the residence of the Philippine Consul General in Los Angeles, Edmundo Litton, a professor focusing on language learning at LMU’s School of Education, shared how the two programs ended up communicating.
During a road trip to teach in the Bay Area, Litton made a mental note to contact Clarissa Delgado, Teach for the Philippines’ CEO and co-founder, but did not know exactly what he would discuss with her.
Then in a “slightly groggy state,” Litton said, he came up with a program to advise Teach for the Philippines and help present workshops at the Summer Institute.
“The third thing that we’re doing, which I’m excited about, is that I’m bringing 11 students to the Philippines. It will be 18 nights,” Litton said. “It’s an exciting program that includes guest speakers and actually spending six days working in the classrooms of the Teach for the Philippines fellows.”
The 11 graduate students, who are finishing up their degrees in urban education, will be in Manila in early July for 18 days, where they will be working in classrooms in Marikina, alongside Teach for the Philippines fellows, meeting with academics to get their perspectives on teaching, and getting a cultural tour of Manila.
The last component of the partnership that Litton hopes to implement is an exchange program to bring the Philippine fellows to the US to work in the classrooms of LMU students, where they will study some different teaching methods found in the US.
“It’s heartwarming to give back to the homeland that has given me so much in terms of education,” Litton said.
He also shared that he has connected with students he taught at an underprivileged high school in Bacolod years ago, who have become professionals like doctors and nurses because of the education they received.
“I sincerely hope that LMU will be able to do the same for the children and fellows of Teach for the Philippines,” he said.
Consul General Herrera-Lim noted that Filipinos highly regard education and Filipinos have migrated here to the United States to showcase that value.
“Many of them went to the US to maximize the full potential of the education they had. Some of them would be doctors, engineers, caregivers, [and] teachers and they’ve seen the welcoming atmosphere here in Southern California to showcase their talent and Filipino values. For me, they’re the source of strength of our country and it’s natural for us to partner with LMU,” he said.
LMU has been the exclusive university partner for TFA for the past 15 years in the greater Los Angeles area and in Northern California. Teach with the Philippines marks the university’s first global partnership.
“When we had the opportunity of partnering with different countries, we met many different folks around the world, but felt that the partnership with the Philippines was exactly what we wanted at LMU. It was so important — there was so much synergy with our cultures,” LMU’s School of Education Dean Shane Martin said.
For Martin, the partnership extends the university’s mission to prepare students to be “global citizens” and to connect outside the borders of the US.
“This partnership provides us an opportunity for our students and professors to work in the Philippines, alongside Filipino teachers and learn about the Philippine education system, the culture, the challenges and opportunities that are there. It really helps us open up our university to the world,” he said, adding that with the years of experience with the TFA model, the university will be able to help Teach for the Philippines fortify its program.
One of the challenges that teacher fellows face is the class sizes with 50 students or more.
“LMU is one of the key training partners for our professional development of our fellows. Without them, we would have a very difficult time developing the skills they need to bring that kind of progressive education we want in our Philippine public school [system],” Delgado said, explaining that the teachers are taught teaching strategies and classroom management to effectively reach the larger classes.
Additionally, the children may have certain behaviors or needs that require extra attention, so the training with LMU helps the cohorts be better prepared to address them.
Martin, who has visited the Philippines four times now since the partnership was introduced, remarked how he has observed firsthand the effects of the Teach for the Philippines program.
At a public school in Quezon City with overcrowding problems — so severe that students have to go to school in shifts as early as 5 am — Martin saw some promise and why he champions the relationship.
“This particular community was not very privileged and the children clearly had a lot of struggles and challenges, but everything about that school said opportunity and hope. Even though it was such a poor school, the principal organized it in a way that there were gardens planted, they were recycling the water and every corner of the school had a positive, hopeful message,” Martin said. “I looked at those children and said, this is the future, this is the next generation of young people who will go up and make a difference in Manila. At LMU, we want to help that become a reality for our friends and partners at Teach for the Philippines.”
To date, Teach for America’s global network, Teach for All, is in 36 countries around the world, with the Philippines joining as its 25th official partner.
Zobel and Delgado visited San Francisco and Los Angeles last week to increase awareness of the Teach for Philippines program in the Filipino-American community.
“We started out in San Francisco, together with Dean Shane Martin and Professor Litton, in an effort to create awareness in the Filipino community of this partnership that is very important to us,” Zobel said. “The technical part is very important to us because when we set out to train our teacher-fellows, to support them throughout this two-year program, it is important to have the experience of Teach for America here through the lens of a university that’s able to transfer those learnings to us. They have been important in teaching us how to think, not only on the teacher level but on the staff level — to think about what excellent education means.”
Herrera-Lim added that sharing the success stories from the students and teacher fellows is another way Filipino Americans can become aware of the program and be compelled to get involved, either by applying as a teacher fellow or by supporting scholarships.
Martin said that the two-year commitment coincides with the Filipino theme of wanting to give back to the mother country.
“We are also looking for support via technology. People can help us by supporting scholarships, the work that our professors do, and the exchanges because we have 11 of our students going to the Philippines. We want to [eventually] organize a group of fellows from Teach for the Philippines to come to Los Angeles,” he said.
But though, Teach for the Philippines is driven by the grand vision to provide education to every Filipino child, Zobel and Delgado shared how the teacher fellows themselves undergo a metamorphosis by the end of the 24 months.
“The story of Teach for the Philippines is evolving every day. It’s about transformation for the children and the teachers involved,” Zobel said.
For more information, please visit http://www.teachforthephilippines.org.
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Asian Journal's MDWK Magazine on July 1, 2015, and was reprinted with permission. The Asian Journal, a leading Filipino-American community newspaper, publishes 6 print editions weekly in 5 key markets in the United States.