“URGENT HIRING: English teachers from US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand ONLY.”
This, along with other job advertisements plastered all over the Internet, had me thinking if pushing for a teaching job outside my beloved Philippines is worth the try. As a non-native English speaker and ‘just a Filipino teacher,’ it is virtually impossible for me to be accepted as an English teacher in countries that put premium on natives of those countries mentioned above as the only ones qualified to teach English abroad. That single word “ONLY” momentarily crushed my hopes of teaching abroad. I closed the lid of my box of dreams and clicked locked.
For a while I thought that box will just gather dust and be eternally sealed. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. I slowly came into my senses and told myself to always try. This might sound cliché but I remember telling myself that there is no harm in trying. And so I did. That unopen box of dreams was opened, eventually.
Of diplomas and wages
Graduating with a degree in Journalism and eventually proceeding to study Professional Education from a Philippine university seemed like a surefire way to land a decent job in my country. My mother told me as she beams with pride that I can be accepted to any job in the world with my degree. Generally, Filipino parents have instilled in the mentality of their children that the only way to pull a family out of poverty is through education. A diploma is not just a piece of paper especially for our parents. It is their source of pride and joy. It is like an emblem of hope for us and for them. It is almost like a religious item, like a crucifix, hanged on walls of every Filipino home.
True enough, my education enabled me to land a pretty good job, but with a meager salary. I worked as a copy writer for a local pharmaceuticals company. I had a great time writing scripts for local and national ads that we put on radio and television. I was able to write PRs whenever our company-sponsored triathlon team joins competitions. It was exhilaratingly fun but the exuberance did not last for long, especially when receiving my 15-day paycheck. I try to sound as grateful as I can, because honestly, that job trained me professionally and helped me harness my skills, but it was just heartbreaking to see how underpaid I was.
Speaking of underpaid, a minimum wage earner in the Philippines as of 2019 gets 537 pesos (320 NTD) a day and 13,000 pesos (8,300 NTD) a month. You throw in tax and other deductions and one cannot surmise how Filipinos survive with that kind of take-home pay. And to subtly promote, let me add that Filipinos are one of the most hardworking people in the world. That is why, if one sees a Filipino in first world countries, you find them working a minimum of two jobs in order to send money to their families back home. Despite a long day of labor, Filipinos would break out into a smile if they see that their hard work is being rewarded.
Why teaching? Why not?
After years of figuring out my place in this world, I realized that I should follow what I have always envisioned myself to do—teaching. As someone working in advertising and promotions and later on venturing into retail in the Middle East, I finally came to my senses and went back to the Philippines to teach. It was a painstaking journey—from going back to school to study Professional Education, to preparing for the state licensure examinations for teachers, to applying for a teaching post in one of the prestigious institutions in Cebu, and to be seeing myself from a lens of growth and actualization.
It did not come easy, especially coming from someone like me who did not have an ounce of teaching experience. My first and only school in the Philippines was a school for a few privileged students. Our summer in-service programs were grueling. That is an understatement. Every aspect of our curriculum was inspected by our cluster head like an FBI agent making sense of evidences. Every performance task, every mastery and periodical test, and every lesson design were placed under heavy scrutiny. Before going into our homeroom classes, we have daily “toolkit” sessions to arm us with announcements and reminders to our students, like soldiers preparing for any unforeseen battle.
Furthermore, I fondly remember how I used to spend my weekends at school to mark essays. I handled five classes for Reading and Writing, and for every student’s essay, it takes me 30 minutes to mark it. Every class has around 35 students and five classes were under me in one semester. You do the math.
Despite its seemingly overwhelming nature, I found myself enjoying what I do. For every paper that I read, I begin to know each student beyond the four corners of the classroom. I realized that despite their affluence, many of my students seek the love and attention of their parents. For every student who waves at me in the corridor, I begin to nurture a budding friendship. For every Teachers’ Day, I see their creativity in pulling off pranks just to surprise me, and later on rewarding me with gifts, mostly handwritten notes and homemade cookies. These little things were enough for me to continue what I love to do, and even though students claim that their teachers inspire them, I would say that teachers are inspired by their students in many ways I cannot imagine.
Me together with my former students in the Philippines
Stepping into the global arena
'Taiwan. The heart of Asia.' I knew this promotional slogan since I started working as a copy writer, and little did I know that I would indeed follow my heart to be here. Despite the inundation of advertisements saying that only native English speakers are accepted, I gave it a shot by submitting my application. I was fortunate to have a former colleague who was four months fresh working here who kept on educating me about Taiwan and what it means to be an English teacher here. After my Skype interview, I had a real streak of luck happening. With patience and dedication, I was accepted in one of the senior high schools in Taiwan. I then began packing my things, bidding goodbyes to family and friends, and closing another chapter of my professional life in my home country. It was heartbreaking, but at this moment, I would definitely say that Taiwan is worth it.
Taiwan is every teacher’s fantasy come true. I bet it sounds like an exaggeration, but for me, this opportunity to touch and inspire lives and at the same time be fully rewarded for doing so is a blessing anyone should acknowledge. And for a Filipino educator like me, Taiwan is a haven of opportunities.
Taiwanese culture lets you feel how it is to be truly Asian and at the same time keep up with the advancements in the global arena. This island country is a perfect balance of tradition and modern culture. Furthermore, its street food culture is even more established than other Asian countries which makes it a practical country to live. And to top it all, Taiwanese people are some of the friendliest in the world. I experienced a couple of times being lost in the streets and had no idea where I was but they have not failed in helping out despite the language barrier. Some of them would use hand gestures to lead me to the right direction. Some would even go as far as drawing the streets on a piece of paper. And they are very generous, too. In the school where I am currently in, co-teachers regularly flood me with food and coffee. Their warmth and generosity always remind me of home.
I have never been this proud and grateful to be able to experience Taiwanese culture, be rewarded for what I love to do, and be able to prove to the world that Filipinos can and will deliver quality teaching experience in the classroom. As a nation that has been subjugated by many colonizers such as the Spanish and the Americans, I would say that this coming together of different cultures works to our advantage. English may not be our first language, but it is our official language. And despite some articles pointing out Filipino-English idiosyncrasies, we embrace English the way we embrace Tagalog, our national language. We love it as much as we love American television series and movies. We learn English since kindergarten and therefore being familiar to it is a reality. But more than these reasons, I would say that Filipino English teachers are capable of teaching the language in the global arena because we know how difficult it is to learn a second language. We know that acquiring a second language and be fluent with it is no joke. Filipino educators learned English the hard way, and by hard way I meant knowing the intricacies of the language and even understanding the lifestyle and contexts of native English speakers. With all these, I hope that one day, Filipino teachers will be given opportunities in this field, and eventually would not be labelled as 'just Filipino teachers'.
Me and my students here at Longtan Senior High School