2017, In Transit


My 2017 is the year of transitions.

In January, I moved in to a new office within DepEd for the last six months of the Alumni Ambassadors Program—some sort of government internship program of Teach for the Philippines. From the Quality Assurance Division of the Bureau of Learning Resources ( for nine months), I transferred to the Office of the Undersecretary for Planning and Field Operations (OUPFO).


On April 4, I celebrated my first DepEd anniversary.

It was there where I had a deeper understanding of the complex Philippine education system—that it is governed by a gamut of policies and memoranda—which I never bothered knowing about when I was in college or even when I was already teaching, primarily because it’s almost impossible to squeeze in the time poring over those text-heavy documents, even if they were accessible through the DepEd website.


Coming from a teaching background, it was a breath of fresh air learning about the other side of running a public school system—the intricacies of hiring DepEd personnel, managing public-private partnerships, formulating policies, dealing with leaders, politicians, and education advocates, etc. As a teacher-turned-technical assistant,  sometimes, it was difficult taking in and out this ‘fresh air’, especially that afternoon when I had a to face a mother who needed help so her son would be allowed to march on stage even if his son’s report card is still in his previous school, the days when I had to be firm on my suggested edits for a public document, the calls I had to endure because the irate taxpayer is entitled to complain about and suggest tweaks to improve the education system, the transmittals/ letters of complaint and request I drafted and never heard about, except for a few offices who gave us updates. It is through those tough situations that I have ‘further adult-ed’—become wiser, seen things from different vantage points.


The Wonderwomen of the OUPFO during a late-night meeting. Brilliant humans of DepEd.

Even if I had an idea on what I had signed up for, I was still taken aback when USec. Mateo, and the other executive assistants asked me to draft completed staff work (I don’t even have the faintest idea what it is), speeches for minor speaking engagements, and replies to letters from our distinguished legislators. For someone who is not so confident at technical writing—make that writing, in general—that is one big, herculean task. But because you can’t say no to your boss—the USec, the Filipino people, I did those writing assignments anyway. It prompted me to read, read, and read a lot of related materials before I could come up with a decent one-page speech to be cliniqued the next day. Short runs in PhilSports’ track oval and cups of iced Americano were my constant companions on those nights.


Team Titans Manila welcomes non-members in their training sessions.

Those experiences affirmed my decision to stay in the Department. Although I mentioned to some friends before that I might hop from one non-government organization (NGO) until I make it to UNICEF or any international NGO, I realized, and maybe this is a very adult thing to say, that I have arrived to that stage that I finally wanted to establish a career—to flourish in my sweet spot. So sometime in April, I found myself in the National Educators’ Academy of the Philippines (NEAP)’s meeting room answering interview questions tensely, as always. (NEAP is the training arm of DepEd.) In the initial list that the Personnel Division released, there were forty of us vying for the two positions—chances were slim but my hope was anchored on the fact that this is where God wanted me to stay. A couple of days before my 29th birthday came the good news.


Sometimes, bus rides get pretty interesting as long as you stay awake hugging your backpack.

The career moves brought in residence transfers. From April to September 2016, I had to endure the Pasig-Ortigas traffic and the Lifehomes flood, which made me decide to go back home and commute every day from San Jose del Monte, Bulacan to DepEd in Meralco Avenue in Pasig. Since work at the USec’s office doesn’t end at 4 pm, I gave space-sharing in the Metro, this time in quiet, flood-free mini-subdivision in Cubao, another chance. Three kilometers of slow-moving traffic from Shaw Boulevard to EDSA-Cubao is quite tolerable. When I transferred to NEAP, my third office in DepEd, I didn’t know that it would entail a lot of out-of-town travels, so it was not practical paying 3K+ monthly and staying only in my Cubao space on weekends/ a couple of weeks. I, for the second time, moved back to Bulacan—back to waking up before four in the morning, back to taking catnaps while in transit.


This space in Cubao is just a block away from EDSA.

I didn’t know that the 90-180-minute daily commute is just a preview of what I would be doing as long as I am in DepEd-NEAP. Curriculum development writeshops and workshops on different learning and development (L&D) interventions usually happen outside the DepEd complex—in regional NEAP facilities, resort-hotels, and sometimes in comfy hotels (for big events, or when sponsored by the Basic Education Sector Transformation Program). Work-related travels were a far-fetched idea five years ago. This is how ‘all over the place’ I have been this year.


April: (San Jose de Buenavista) Antique

May: (El Salvador, CDO) Misamis Oriental

June: Biňan (Laguna)

July: Naga City

August: (Malvar) Batangas, Antipolo (Rizal)

September: (Alabang) Muntinlupa, Cebu City, Marikina City, Los Baňos (Laguna)

October: Angeles (Pampanga), Quezon City, (Bauang) La Union

November: (San Juan) La Union, Tacloban City, Tuguegarao City

December: Manila, (Balanga City) Bataan, (Gen. Trias) Cavite, (Basco) Batanes


It is fun until flight delays or cancellations are announced (like the one we experienced in CDO), or when we had to sit through a 12-15-hour bus ride to Tuguegarao. And the truth is, most of the time, we are inside the training venue, and the only opportunities we get to experience the place are when we wake up very early in the morning and run, or stay up late in the evening and stroll. In my case, I would run for an hour—a running tour of the downtown, and visit local coffeeshops for my coffee fix, and sketching project (which deserves a separate post).


On an average, I spend two hours marveling at the scenery and trying my best to preserve it on paper.

In the midst of any transition in life, I rest in the fact that the anxiety and excitement of the uncertainties are just temporary—that I am always a ride or run away from home. Dr. Michael Brown perfectly verbalized why being in transit is a beautiful thing–





Finding and Living in that Sweet Spot*

This was written a few days away from the finish line of the two-year fellowship.


Teaching in the public school is a dream that I have put on hold for half a decade. And now that it has been fulfilled and about to culminate, my heart is swelling with gratitude for all the precious memories and insights that I have gained in this  journey.

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As a state university graduate, I have always wanted to do something to give back to our country. Teach for the Philippines came at an opportune time when I was a hundred percent decided to do more for our nation.

Yes, volunteering once a month in a non-government organization that aims to improve the literacy skills of public school students is good, but if I can do more, why not? I came to a point when clicking the like and share buttons of posts by friends who are part of 2013 Cohort just wasn’t enough anymore, so I told myself– if they were able to take a step of  faith, step out of their comfort zones and step up for this cause, why can’t I also? These thoughts fueled me to embark on, by far, the most exciting ride of my career.


Turning Dreams to Reality


The public school is the nursery of many budding nation-builders. It is where I planted, watered, and waited for my dreams to flower and bear fruits.
One of my tasks is to make my pupils keep their dreams in mind. Countless times, I have asked them to write, draw, and talk about their short- and long-term goals. I have high hopes that doing those activities would instill the enduring idea that they should hold on tight to their dreams–to keep their eyes on the goal. That mindset, hopefully, would up the chance of putting them in a better life path. This came with our succinct battle cry for the past two years: “Malayo ang iyong mararating.”


A day-trip at Luneta Park and Museong Pambata with four of our third graders–from Region 4A to NCR

But the reality is not everyone believes that they would go places. Case in point is Michael**. During our lesson on probability in Math 3, he told the class that chance of achieving his dream to become a soldier or even getting into college was very slim. This eleven-year-old Grade 3 pupil’s honest pronouncement hit hard on me. A brief, but to the point, lecture followed as I told the class the importance of holding on to their dreams because there would always be that someone who believes that they could achieve them. That day, all the idealism, twined around reality, made me revisit the importance of engaging all the stakeholders in a child’s education–the school, the parents and the community–if we really wanted to make a difference in these children’s lives.

Yes, I did cry over that experience. The initial feeling of powerlessness was turned into a challenge to do more, to teach better and to inspire students to dream bigger. And though far from the ultimate reward of witnessing him turn his dream to reality, seeing Michael in school regularly the following year gave me hope that someday he would make his dreams happen.

Being a teacher-fellow also reconnected me to some almost-forgotten goals. One of them is to get involved in campus journalism. I had a taste of being a school paper adviser when I was tapped to train contestants for various writing contests. I was thrilled and honored to impart my knowledge and experience on writing that date back to my grade school years. For a seasonal writer and trainer, the victories of the pupils under my wing reestablished the fact that the seed of being a writer is still in me and is waiting to be cultivated.


Coached this pupil from a non-section class who eventually qualified for the Regional Sci-Tech Writing


I also had a chance to take part in coaching students in their monthly performances/ contests. This photo was taken after the kids presented a children’s rights-themed dance. And we copped the top spot in the primary level.


Growing Where You’re Planted


In a profession where learning is the yardstick of success, the fellowship responds to this with flying colors. The past two years were full of opportunities to grow professionally. The Programming and Training Team provides a wide range of Super Saturday sessions that challenge us to try out new strategies to better our teaching, community engagement and leadership skills. The most memorable Super Sat I attended was the Learning Differences Festival where we got to invite our principal and co-teachers. Each Super Sat is also a good avenue to share and learn best practices.


I also appreciate the short and long observations and debriefs I had with my manager for two years Georgina Blackett. As an educator, I like reflecting on how I fare as a teacher. This part of the fellowship made me see my blind spots specially when I have already thought that everything in the planned lesson would flow smoothly. It also made me track my progress in areas for improvement my manager and I identified together. Before, I was afraid that post-observation conferences might just be a nitpicking party, but with TFP, they are a celebration of your strengths and a strategic planning activity to do better in the next observation.


Team Malaban with our Manager (the most beautiful lady on the right)


An entirely new experience I had during the fellowship were the home visits. In other private schools, teachers are prohibited from visiting pupils and their parents to avoid rumors that they are playing favorites. In our case, it was different. We went to their houses to inquire about a pupil’s consecutive absences, to pay our last homage to a pupil who died, to follow up on our request for a birth certificate or just to bond with and get to know our students more. Going home with them and seeing their home environment gave me a deeper understanding of their context.



One of our students lives here. How exciting!


Working Under Pressure


As an Education major, UP Diliman 2005-***40, I have felt the self-imposed pressure to model good teaching to my co-teachers. I believe that to a certain extent, I have achieved this. I have always been in a constant pursuit for ways to improve my teaching that fortunately translated to better student achievement. This means teaching and doing things in addition to what prototype lesson plans state. This includes our inter-section spelling bees, and literary contests, and poem memorization drills to name a few. On top of these, I can confidently say that I have religiously abided by the Child Protection Policy. Yay!


To engage other stakeholders, I brought in persons who also advocate for education to conduct a reading instruction seminar-workshop for teachers (Thanks Michelle Agas of ReadingReady Center and Prof. Portia Padilla) and an art workshop for pupils. I have also tapped the help of my network in raising funds for the needs of our pupils and for other curricular activities. I also got to lead our school group in conducting the Coordinates for Life program, which connected us closer to the parents of our pupils. Knowing that there are many people who are so willing to extend a helping hand gave me so much hope.


A college blockmate facilitated a Cherry Blossoms Painting Workshop for our kiddos. Thank you Precious Gamboa!


Of Impact and Success

How can I measure my impact as teacher-fellow? Two years was not enough to significantly affect their (National Achievement Test) NAT or Language Assessment for Primary Grades (LAPG) performances. What are the chances that they would remember some, if not all of the concepts and skills we learned together? Ten months of instruction could not give me that assurance. What I hope that they would remember more vividly was the fact that they had a teacher who believes in who they are and what they can become. That they had a Sir /’Cher who compensated his shortcomings with careful words and actions. That they had a teacher-fellow who tried his best to make learning fun, excellent, inclusive and relevant.


My measures of success were the ‘ambush parent-teacher conference’ with Piolo’s mother thanking me for the renewed interest of her son for school, the excitement of students to perform on stage during the monthly convocation, the eagerness of pupils to answer in English, the healthy race for the top ten, the giggles when my pupils correctly spelled multi-syllabic words, the teacher’s day letters and flowers from pupils I have and have not handled, and the overflowing joy that I have felt inside the classroom.


The experiences and insights I have gained from my years in the classroom are my guiding light as I continue to push for education equity beyond the classroom.


Why do I teach for the Philippines?
Simply because education is my sweet spot. It is where my passion, purpose, and skills meet.*


Malaban Elementary School co-fellows before Year 1


After Year 1


After Year 2

*inspired by Max Lucado‘s Cure for the Common Life

**not his real name

On How TPR Saves ESL Classes

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) has always been a challenge to language teachers across different levels. One factor that contributes to this difficult feat is the little exposure that a learner has with the target language. The amount of experience spells the richness of one’s vocabulary, the knowledge of the rules that govern that language and the confidence of the learner to express himself/herself using the language learned.

The dearth of meaningful experience with English leads to learners who are either tight-lipped during English time or the other extreme—garrulous to the point of disrupting the class with their antics and clowning around. Then out of frustrations for the seemingly unresponsive class, the teacher resorts to translating from English to the local language. Learning a new language, then, becomes an arduous task to both teacher and students.

To address this impending distaste to learning English among students,  we can use a well-researched, language teaching technique–Total Physical Response (TPR).

James Asher, an American professor of psychology developed this teaching method. It is based on the theory that the memory is enhanced through association with physical movement.  When you pair up a sentence or any other statement with a physical action, and you do this repeatedly, would increase the likelihood of a successful recall.

TPR is most often used when giving imperatives. Instead of plainly asking your students to bring out their notebooks, raise their hands, or sit properly, couple these statements with appropriate gestures. Upon doing this, you are actually making them experience the language without explicitly teaching the grammar rules. The goal here is that they become familiar with the language and at ease hearing and responding to it.

This technique could also be used with different levels of learners too. For those who already have a considerable amount of vocabulary and a good command of the language, the students could be asked to add actions to his/her answers. For beginners, responding to imperatives is already a sign of understanding of the command or request.

TPR is best used with verbs that call for physical action, but adjectives lend also themselves to this method. For instance, brave is act out with a raised fist, fast is miming a runner with both arms swaying in an acute angle. The key here is to think of a definitive action that the children could easily associate with the given word.

Thank You for the Music

I am not Music teacher,  but I could say that music has been playing a big role in the way I teach and reach out to my students.

If a student ha200213800-001ppens to be in my Hekasi class, he should know at least one song that is related to the topics we’ve had. He probably knows, like the back of his hand, the lyrics of the unofficial opening song of our Hekasi class–Ito ang Hekasi–primarily because it is sung to Taylor Swift’s Blank Space. His favorite line might be “Mahaba-habang kuwentuhan, h’wag sanang antukin”.

Halina at pag-aralan
Kasaysayan, Sibika
Pati na Heograpiya
Nitong ating bansa
Mahaba-habang kuwentuhan
Huwag sanang antukin*
T’yak na ‘ka’y matututo
Ito ang He…KaSi

*At mga gawain (alternate)

I also hope that the songs from different ethno-linguistic groups like Bontoc’s Bagbagto, Visayan’s Si Filemon or Chavacano’s Porque would help him remember how diverse and rich the culture of the Philippines is. The Donna-Cruz-inspired song about population that one group of pupils composed is an affirmation that the lesson’s objective has been achieved.

Songs are also staples of my English class. Concepts stick to memory more easily if they are delivered through songs. The 23 linking and helping verbs are effortlessly remembered when they are sung to the tune of London Bridge.

Be am is are was were been
Has have had
Do does did
Can could shall should will would may
Might must being

Lessons on sentences and subject-verb agreement become less complicated when pupils know the aforementioned song. Transition songs like the Banana Song, with its engaging movements and You Are My Sunshine, with its calming effect, help me manage my Grade 6 pupils.

Aside from helping me impart the target concepts and managing my students, music also gives me a glimpse of my students’ personality and interests. In a survey we have had in class, I have learned that a lot of them listen to the same songs–usually those that are (re)played in different radio stations and other mass media platforms. For a teacher, who does not watch TV that often, this was very indispensable information. I now have a pool of songs that I could use the next time I compose a song in the next months. And I have a wide array of pop culture info that I could use in our discussions.

Indeed, teachers also learn from their students. It might be about the ‘in’ songs of the present generation and how to turn them into a lesson or about how the teacher’s inclinations, in my case, my affinity to music, affect his teaching style.