Is our government truly supporting our teachers?

By Sensei Adorador

Whenever I teach students at the College of Education, where I handle an ethics class, I always start with a question: “Do you genuinely want to become a teacher?” The room falls into a contemplative silence before I ask each student individually. One confident student stands up and tells me, “I want to be a teacher because…”

Before I reveal her answer, I should note that this piece was initially intended for October 5th, when the world celebrates Teacher’s Day. However, I don’t want to dampen the spirit of this celebratory occasion with criticism. During this time, we should be optimistic and thankful, honoring the mentors who have played a pivotal role in our lives. It’s a bit cliché, but teachers are the architects of all professions.

People who excel in their fields owe a debt of gratitude to their teachers, as they shape their students into who they are today. Nevertheless, the question remains: Does our government truly appreciate and support our teachers? The answer, when posed to teachers themselves, tends to lean toward the negative.

The Arduous Path to Advancement

One of the key reasons teachers pursue graduate degrees is to enhance their chances of promotion. This is why many teachers earn master’s and doctoral degrees to climb the ranks and assume leadership positions. Regardless of the school where they obtained their degrees, there’s a standardized point system, creating a level playing field for everyone. In the past, pursuing a graduate degree was a demanding endeavor, requiring significant time and effort to meet the requirements.

Today, it has become easier to obtain a degree if you have the financial means. I recall a public school teacher who earned her master’s degree in just one year and completed a doctoral degree in two years. As education grows more competitive, fast-track graduate programs have emerged to meet market demands. However, promotion remains challenging. In addition to graduate degrees, teachers must conduct research to meet the point system requirements.

Contrary to what is apparent, the Philippine Departments of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) have a structured ranking system. Advancing from Teacher I in DepEd and Instructor I in CHED involves specific criteria and, in the case of CHED, an additional three-year wait. Climbing the ranks requires meeting various criteria, and the return on investment for obtaining an advanced degree may not necessarily result in a significant salary increase.

Teachers often find themselves frustrated due to political maneuvering within the system. The guidelines are sometimes subject to interpretation, leading to cases where guidelines are not consistently followed, and evaluations rely on the discretion of certain individuals. Furthermore, politics plays a significant role, with seniority often taking precedence over merit. The influence of politicians and personal connections within the education system can lead to unfairness.

Low Salaries, High Expectations

Many teachers turn to loan sharks for financial assistance, not because of a lack of financial literacy or discipline, but due to their meager take-home pay. Teachers find themselves burdened with grueling work hours, often stretching from 8 to 12 hours, with Saturdays dedicated to preparing for the week ahead. For instance, the salary for a Teacher I in DepEd at Salary Grade 11 is equivalent to P27,000, while in CHED, the same position offers a salary of P29,165. Even with a master’s degree and published research, teachers find themselves earning a modest income. The demands and expectations placed on teachers far exceed the compensation they receive, making this profession a daunting one.

Competence Levels

Many former teachers in the Philippines seek opportunities abroad, often citing better prospects. A colleague of mine, formerly employed at a prestigious Philippine university, left his teaching position to work in the United States. In the Philippines, he earned 40k, but in the US, he was able to make 150k plus additional incentives. He cited the government’s inadequate support for teachers and the toxic culture within the teaching profession as his reasons for leaving. He believed the government prioritized other professions over teaching.

I concur with his assessment, as the government often prioritizes other funding allocations over education. Special education, in particular, has not been a priority, resulting in a constant exodus of special education teachers. The lack of classrooms, resources, qualified teachers, and an ineffective education system hierarchy hinder the attainment of quality education. The consistent appointment of incompetent officials within educational institutions makes it difficult to demand quality education from teachers.

As I continue to share my commitment to providing quality education to my students, I am aware of the challenges and limitations our teachers face. While it may be challenging, I maintain optimism that our students can effect change in this system.

One thing is certain: education remains the beacon of hope for our students’ brighter futures, while teachers continue to grapple with a system that often falls short of their needs. To paraphrase my student’s answer to my initial question, “Why do you want to become a teacher?” She replied, “Because I want to work abroad. Salaries are higher there, and I aim to provide a better life for my family through teaching.”