‘Thanks, Teach’

Ernesto F. Herrera

Ernesto F. Herrera

President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd has declared the period from September 5 to October 5 of every year as National Teachers’ Month.

Proclamation No. 242 was signed on Aug. 24, 2011 by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. “to revitalize the image of teaching as a vocation by increasing public awareness on the value of teachers in Philippine society and national development.”

Some of the happiest days of my life were spent inside a classroom, first as a student, then as a teacher.

Not too many people know that I started out as a teacher before I joined the labor movement and before I went into politics (when Cory Aquino asked me run on her senatorial slate in 1988).

After college, I got a job as a high school teacher in the University of the Visayas. I taught Social Studies, specifically World History and Philippine History.

It was at the University of the Visayas that I first became involved with the labor movement, when I organized a teacher’s union. Later, I was recruited fulltime into union organizing for other sectors.

I always meant to go back into teaching but even in the labor movement my role as union organizer required a lot of teaching, although it was non-formal education, teaching workers about their rights.

Even after I became a senator, I worked hard to finish my Masters in Public Finance so that I could continue teaching and this I did. I taught government budgeting and public finance management to graduate students of the Lyceum of the Philippines
Teaching is very hard work, as any teacher will tell you. One is overworked and underpaid, but the psychic rewards are plenty and almost always worth the effort and sacrifice. I always found a good night’s rest after a day of teaching, perhaps because of the thought that I had done something good that day; that, at the very least, perhaps one student had learned something from me that would hopefully make him or her a better person.

As a student, my teachers were as influential as my parents. Most of them were good teachers who knew their subjects, gave their best and expected the best from their students.

Even today, despite the flak the teaching profession gets, I believe we still have many good teachers, even in public schools. They just need more government and private sector support to do their jobs better.

I could never understand people who tell me they never learned anything in school. I learned a lot from my teachers. I have lot of respect for teachers like them, who were able to prove that motivation and hard work can rewrite the destinies of poor kids like me whom society might be willing to write off.

I think all of them have passed away already, but when I was a young senator back in the 80s and early 90s, I would run into some of them every now and then. They would tell me how proud they are of me, and of all their students who have made something of themselves. But the feeling is very much mutual. I am just as proud of them. We are their legacy, and we try to continue their legacy.

We as stakeholders of Philippine society should recognize our responsibilities in helping restore the teaching profession to its rightful glory.

We should honor and respect our teachers all the time, not just when we celebrate Teachers’ Day or Teachers’ Month. But these events are important too because they serve as a reminder that the teacher is the most critical link, the most central element in the chain of educational development.

Yes, we need more and better books and classrooms and facilities. But material resources are not enough. No material investment can replace the intellectual and spiritual stimulus that is provided by the teacher.

Even as we pay homage to our teachers let us take a look at their problems and see how we can help the government solve those problems.

The list is long, and the teachers have few allies. But even the gruelling hours, meager salaries, poor facilities and stifling bureaucracy do not deter them for making a difference in the lives of their students.

I offer my best wishes and sincerest thanks to all our teachers. You are truly real-life heroes.


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