Juanita Blackton’s roots can be traced all the way from Germany, but she was born in Michigan, USA where she grew up and embraced an American way of life. Eventually, she moved to Colorado, raised a family in Kansas, and went on to do humanitarian work in South America. Going even further in her travels and adventures, she has also practiced her profession as an educator in the Middle East and Asia.
Today, Blackton finds herself teaching English to Filipino college students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, which remains to be one of the few state universities in the country. She also completed instruction of a two-week Basic English Grammar course at The Manila Times College, a school associated with the oldest newspaper in the country, The Manila Times, and with whom she shared her interesting story of seeing the world as she pursues one of the most noble callings of mankind.
Love for teaching
Before becoming a full-fledged English language instructor, Blackton was first a sales professional with a degree in International Business. But despite working for over a decade in retail, she felt she still wanted to “do something overseas.”
Sharing her sentiments with a close friend, Blackton recalled she was advised to teach English language in foreign countries to open the opportunity for travel. Her friend pointed out that with globalization in full throttle, many would want to be equipped with the ability to speak most widely used language around the world.
It was then that Blackton considered teaching for the very first time. To her surprise, she realized she had actually experienced being a teacher, and loved it.
“When my sons were growing up, they studied at a private Christian school. It was important for parents to be involved in the school not just from a funding perspective, so I would be the librarian, the cafeteria monitor, and also a substitute teacher. That went on for about 13 years and I always thought it was great,” she recalled.
Blackton then decided to take a Master’s Degree in English, and even before she completed the course was given the chance to teach overseas via an English Camp in Gansu, China.
“At that time, Gansu was one of the poorest provinces in China, but it was a wonderful experience,” she enthused. “That would have been January 2009 and that was when I really decided that I wanted to go into an English language fellowship program.”
Finishing her Master’s Degree, Blackton initially taught in several colleges and universities in the Kansas City area for a couple of years. She then joined an English language fellowship program and has since taught in such countries as the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, and now, the Philippines.
Blackton’s current English language exchange program has seen her teaching in the Philippines since October 2014 as an exchange professor from Fulbright Fellowship.
She explained that schools around the world apply for grants from Fulbright for exchange teachers in different studies. Fulbright, in turn, looks into the school’s qualifications to host a professor for a given period of time.
“They [the Fulbright organization]look for universities that can handle English language fellows and make sure they have accommodations, security, and others,” Blackton elaborated. “Polytechnic University of the Philippines [PUP] met their requirements.”
Blackton, on the other hand, had been teaching for years in the Middle East and had wanted to gain experience in Southeast Asia.
She recalled, “When you’re interviewed [for an exchange program], they don’t tell you what the school will be. They tell you what the university is like, what the living conditions are going to be, the pros and cons. For this one [PUP], they only told me I would be assigned to a university that is very radical and that there may be days when classes are cancelled due to demonstrations.”
Up for the challenge, Blackton found herself at PUP in October 2014, and is due to complete her teaching units at the College of Arts and Letters come August.
“I love my [Filipino] students!” she happily said. “[However] at the beginning, they were quiet and seemed intimidated and nervous. I had to w rk really hard on breaking the barriers.”
Blackton is impressed with her PUP coeds for being hardworking and for being achievers. “It’s a little different here from what I experienced in other countries—they understand how important education is here,” she noted.
As for her experience with The Manila Times College to which she was also assigned as part of the Fulbright exchange program via the recommendation of Training Coordinator Tita Valderama, Blackton was equally impressed with its specialized courses, especially those that are geared toward journalism.
“I’m very much impressed with the programs of TMTC,” she enthused. “Unfortunately, my classes were in the morning and I believe there would be more activities in the afternoon and evening. I really hoped I could see more students.”
The joy in teaching
Having taught English to many cultures for the past six years, Blackton is now fully aware of the advantage her students have with the ability to speak and write the language. During her first couple of years in the profession, she had encountered immigrants and refugees who needed the skill and proficiency for English just so they could apply for decent jobs.
She observed that the same is true for the Philippines.
“Here, education includes the English language. I know there is a whole political thing about nationalism and knowing your first language—and I totally understand that—but if this economy is going to move ahead, English is one of the keys to do so. And if students are taught English in school, they have to understand that that it is one of the things that will get them ahead in life.”
True enough, Blackton is overjoyed when she receives letters or emails from past students who have become successful with the English language as one of their qualifications. It is hearing from them and what they have achieved where she says she finds the most joy and fulfillment in her profession.
“The joy is in watching your students who came into your classroom unable to speak English and watching them progress through the years, and graduate. Because that’s what teaching is all about. You want them to have something to bring with them as they move ahead—to give them the tools and the foundation that they can build on,” she ended.