Teachers not only play a significant role in the lives of students, but also nurture and mold the character of future leaders and heroes. They are forces that shape this nation. Teachers rise above themselves to become true catalysts of change, heroes who can be a source of inspiration and knowledge for their fellow teachers and students.
Over the years, Bato Balani Foundation Inc and Diwa Learning Systems Inc have recognized exemplary educators through The Many Faces of the Teacher, an annual program that honors and celebrates exemplary teachers who have gone beyond their call of duty in order to uplift the underprivileged, broaden different fields of knowledge, and reimagine the teaching and learning environment.
Teachers look after communities
They say it takes a village to raise a child. But sometimes it takes only one teacher to raise a village.
Mobile teacher Anabel Ungcad was the first ever Bagobo to have graduated from college. She strived to finish her education and become a teacher not just to uplift her family from poverty, but to help fellow Bagobos improve their lives.
“When I learned that I was being assigned to my own community, I felt it was heaven-sent because I had been telling myself that I wanted to go back to the tribe to be the one to teach them,” Ungcad said.
Ungcad is a teacher in the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System (ALS). When she started teaching in her community, she translated ALS modules into the tribe’s native Bagobo-Tagabawa language. She initiated livelihood training to teach residents sources of income. She assisted in community activities such as feeding programs. She also put up learning centers to create an environment fit for education.
Oftentimes, serving the marginalized can test a teacher’s mettle. When Randy Halasan started teaching back in 2007 at Pegalongan Elementary School in a remote community in Malamba, Marilog District, on the fringes of Davao City, he had to endure an hours-long trip every week to reach the school. This includes having to bodily cross two deep and raging rivers, which the members of the Matigsalug tribe, including the young pupils, undergo every day to get to and from the school.
Teachers Brimbhot Eyas and Bryan Carreon from Dumalogdog Primary School, also located in Marilog District, brave a similarly arduous and dangerous journey, crossing six rivers to reach the school.
Witnessing the everyday struggles of the Matigsalug tribe firsthand, Halasan, Eyas, and Carreon made it their mission to not only continue the propagation of education, but also to serve their respective communities as best as they can.
When Eyas was the only teacher in the Dumalogdog Primary School, he served as teacher, principal, and janitor all rolled into one. But when Carreon arrived, things became easier. They divided the 75 students among themselves, with Eyas teaching Grades 3, 4, 5 and 13 to 16-year-old students, while Carreon took care of preschool to Grade 2. They would also borrow books from the neighboring schools to use in their classes and return it at the end of the year.
In 2010, Eyas and Carreon started a feeding program for students using their own money. The teachers also buy medicine using school funds and give it for free to all.
Halasan, on the other hand, became the bridge for his adoptive tribe, helping them access services available from the city government and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to help lift the community from their subsistence-based farming and conquer their limitations.
“No matter how good a teacher you are, if the children, the people, are hungry, your efforts are useless,” Halasan said. “I saw that being a teacher is not effective if the people, the indigenous people, are in a poor situation. You become the agent of change since you’re already there.”
A project he has lobbied strongly over the years is the construction of hanging bridges for safe passage across the two rivers leading to Pegalongan Elementary School. One bridge was completed in 2019.
For his hard work, Halasan won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership in 2014 and was appointed as a commissioner of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) in 2018.
Another teacher who extended their dedication and hard work to serve an underprivileged community is Efren Bino, who for a time was the lone teacher of Mataas Elementary School in Bacaycay, an island municipality in Albay. He taught multi-grade levels while serving as the school’s principal, property custodian and security guard.
In 2006, Bacaycay and the rest of the Bicol region was ravaged by typhoon Reming, leaving the island without electricity and water for two years. Bino searched for sponsors and NGOs who would help rehabilitate the barangay. His efforts paid off. In 2008, an NGO donated a two-classroom building to Mataas Elementary School and extended various rehabilitation projects in the barangay. Electricity was restored in early 2009.
His dedication is a source of pride for the community he serves, and many of his students have gone to college because of the inspiring example he set for them.
I saw that being a teacher is not effective if the people, the indigenous people, are in a poor situation. You become the agent of change since you’re already there.
— RANDY HALASAN
Teachers open new doors to knowledge
Aside from sharing their knowledge to their students in the classroom, there are educators whose works have taken their respective fields to new heights.
One such teacher is Dr. Teodora Balangcod, a professor from University of the Philippines Baguio. Balangcod, lovingly known as "Dora the Explorer" to her students, uses her published work on plant ecology, ethnobotany and plant taxonomy to help her students and indigenous communities in Benguet.
Through her efforts, the university’s herbarium, internationally registered as Northern Luzon University Herbarium, has acquired more than 13,000 specimens. Her laboratory manual on plant taxonomy is widely used in the UP system. She has led studies on the antimicrobial properties of medicinal plants in Benguet province and on soil stability to minimize landslides in the area.
In 2013, she led a team that worked closely with the Atok community in establishing a nursery to produce plant species for revegetation in areas affected by landslides. The project was funded by the UN-World Food Program. Together with the Atok people, they cultivated plant species especially chosen to serve a dual purpose: to make money and to hold the soil to prevent erosion.
Dr. Teodora Balangcod uses her expertise in ethnobotany to help communities
For his part, chemistry teacher Ronaldo Reyes of Tabaco National High School in Albay said it has always been his vision to make more people understand the subject he teaches beyond abstract concepts such as atoms and chemical reactions.
Reyes and his co-teachers and students started in 2013 a project called the ChemConnect, an initiative that promotes science literacy to marginalized communities in Albay. The project also became a venue for them to test science investigatory projects of the students.
“One of my missions as a teacher is to promote research culture among the students. It gives me fulfillment seeing them come up with products that benefit the community,” he added.
With ChemConnect, Reyes said their students and the people in the community now have a better understanding of chemistry and its role in their lives.
Another educator that has become an institution in his chosen field is Ambeth Ocampo, a historian and educator bent on making history classes as engaging and as lively as possible.
“History should be exciting,” said Ocampo. “It is not just a bunch of dates. It is a record of the exhilarating events that shaped our nation.”
Ocampo has taught history at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University and has received numerous awards over the years. He has also received the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the Republic of France for his contributions to the arts and letters as writer, academic and cultural administrator, and for his support of cultural exchange between the Philippines and France.
Ocampo has made it his mission to safeguard the Philippine heritage and deepen the youth’s appreciation of it as well, a goal shared by guitar maestro Jose Valdez.
As a pioneer concert guitarist and guitar teacher, Valdez single-handedly developed a guitar curriculum when he started teaching, which eventually led the Commission on Higher Education to recognize guitar as a major instrument degree. His guitar curriculum involves a one-hour, one-on-one session with the student, noting that everyone has to be taught individually.
“My goal is to draw the guitar closer to the students by inspiring them. Students will not practice because you told them to. They practice because they want to,” he said.
Valdez currently teaches at four schools: University of the Philippines Diliman, St. Scholastica’s College Manila, St. Paul University Manila, and Philippine Women’s University Manila. He also works in cooperation with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to organize formal training to underprivileged students with promising musical talents.
Valdez aims to bring traditional forms such as kundiman, harana, and balitaw to the mainstream. Acknowledging the need for a classical guitar repertoire, he has written 29 books that cover a range of genres but mostly focused on Philippine classical music.
“I consider this as a legacy I am leaving behind for the classical music repertoire in the Philippines,” Valdez shared.
I am proud to be a teacher because I am in the profession of the professions.
— JESUS INSILADA
Alleli Domingo (leftmost) conducts class
Teachers advocate creativity and innovation
The best educators have a way of making learning come alive. One such educator is Alleli Domingo, a Mathematical Science, Physics, and Operation Research professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). She is constantly in search of unique ways to incorporate history and art to her otherwise technical subject areas. She ultimately aims to maximize the potential of converging the sciences and the arts as powerful tools for education.
One of her passion projects is creating awareness in using Baybayin among students regardless of their educational level, even teaching students how to answer mathematical problems using the indigenous letters.
Domingo chaired the UPLB committee on education paradigm shift, which looked into innovations for effective teaching and learning, and has been involved as Program Development Associate in a unique endeavor of the UPLB College of Arts and Sciences to promote the fusion of science and the arts.
Another “innovation crusader” is teacher Genevieve Kulong of Zamboanga City High School, who was a technology pioneer in her community.
In the midst of the Zamboanga siege in 2013, Kulong realized that her students needed help in coping with stress from war, so she turned to information and communications technology (ICT) to reach out to her students. She used social networking sites to communicate with her students and made it as the venue for her students to express their feelings. This project was feted with the Best Practices award in the 2014 National ICT Congress.
Kulong also made an ICT-based disaster plan for her school. It became a model disaster plan in her district. She actively promotes ICT in Zamboanga, reaching out to fellow teachers, her students, and the parents of her students. At her former school, Ayala National High School, 90% of the teachers are ICT-adept because of her efforts.
But it is not only in the use of technology that a teacher can be innovative in their own right. A testament to this is well-loved teacher Sabrina Ongkiko from Culiat Elementary School, a public school located in Quezon City with over-populated students.
In her class, Ongkiko established what she and her students call the “culture of excellence”. Before every quiz, her students take it upon themselves to tutor each other with the goal that everyone would pass.
“May chant pa kami, 'Walang babagsak! Lahat papasa!'” Ongkiko shared. “Ibig sabihin, walang maiiwan. Kung mahina ka sa subject na ito dati, aangat ka. Kung magaling ka na dati, gagaling ka pa.”
(“We have a chant: ‘Nobody fails! Everybody passes!’” Ongkiko shared. “This means that nobody gets left behind. If you’re doing poorly in this subject before, you will improve. If you’re already good at it, you’ll become even better.”)
Outside teaching, Ongkiko is an inspirational speaker, giving talks in local TedEx events, commencement exercises, leadership fora, and conferences. She is also a head teacher at “Teachables Inc.,” a group committed to support and empower teachers all around the country. She strives to create a community of teachers who mutually support each other and encourage each other with their love for teaching. She also aims to provide her fellow teachers an avenue to tell their own stories so that society may see them in a more inspiring and positive light.
Genevieve Kulong with her students
Teacher Sabrina Ongkiko in the middle of a class discussion
This raw passion for the profession is shared by Palanca Award-winning teacher Dr. Jesus Insilada, an English and Creative Writing teacher at Caninguan National High School in Lambuan, Iloilo who uses a culture-based approach in his instructions to make students become more engaged in their education and more appreciative of their Panay Bukidnon culture.
Insilada writes workbooks and modules to use in classes as supplementary materials. He also helps the writers' group Sumakwelan Iloilo in the implementation of projects such as the Hiligaynon grammar guide, an English-Hiligaynon dictionary, and the compilation of the best works in Hiligaynon.
His efforts have led to him being one of the ten finalists in the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2018, which recognizes exceptional teachers who have made outstanding contributions to the profession.
“Others face difficulty in becoming a teacher, and the thought that I was given these talents, I am inspired to share it,“ Insilada said. “I am proud to be a teacher because I am in the profession of the professions.”