HEROES IN OUR MIDST

It was in one of my Economics subjects back in college that I was able to learn an important lesson….and it had absolutely nothing to do with economics.

It happened 26 years ago but I could still remember it quite vividly.

After seeing my dismal score at the front cover of my blue book that our Econ 11 teacher just handed me, I immediately leafed through its pages, hoping that my teacher made some kind of mistake in checking it. I even borrowed a seatmate’s blue book and compared our answers. Right after dismissal, I hurried after my teacher and, right there at the crowded corridor, I told him, “Sir, I think you made a mistake in checking my blue book. My seatmate and I have almost the same answers. You considered his answer correct, and mine incorrect.” Tight-lipped, he told me, “You should not compare yourself with others. You compete only with yourself.

I didn’t know if he was just in the mood to be philosophical right that moment, or if it was his instinctive reaction when a student happened to catch him out committing a mistake. Nevertheless, it worked. I did not pursue my complaint. More importantly, I took his profound words to heart. It became one of my guiding principles in life.

That teacher is Mr. Rey Yumang.

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A TEACHER’S TRANSFORMATION

Sir Yumang (or Mama Rey as he was fondly called in the campus) received his degree in Economics from the University of the Philippines in Pampanga in 1989. He graduated Cum Laude. In 1993, he completed his master’s degree in Business Management, also in the same university.

Although teaching is in his blood –his father was a retired public school principal and his eldest sister was a teacher–, he did not heed the call right away. Fresh out of college, he worked for a year for the Department of Trade and Industry as part of a special project for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) beneficiaries in Pampanga. Then, stumbling upon a chance to give back to the Alma Mater that had been very good to him, he accepted the offer to teach in UP Pampanga as an Economics instructor. It was during his 3-year teaching stint there that he was able to take and finish his master’s degree. In April 1993, he started a promising and financially-rewarding banking career with the Bank of the Philippine Islands as an Operations Manager. He resigned after nine years, with the initial plan of studying abroad.

But Fate had another plan for him.

Their parish priest in Macabebe, Pampanga asked him to handle the high school department of their small archdiocesan school even for just a year. He agreed. Apparently, he found his true calling there because this is now his 14th year as the school principal and one of the teachers of the St. Nicholas Academy: CCEI.

A TEACHER’S CHALLENGES

Teachers in the Philippines –especially in private schools– might be among the most grossly underpaid, overworked and unappreciated professionals.

Each school year, Sir Yumang experiences firsthand the repercussions of our faulty educational system. They encounter incoming grade 7 students, for instance, who have difficulty reading or cannot read at all. Those are students who get promoted to the next grade level, year after year, without fully receiving the kind of education that is due them.

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Also, every year, they hire teacher applicants who are fresh graduates. They invest in them through various trainings and seminars. But the moment they pass the Licensure Exam for Teachers (LET), they transfer to the public schools where the pay is definitely better. The only way to prevent this annual exodus of teachers is to offer them competitive salaries and benefits but doing so could only be possible if they implement a tuition fee hike. This move, though, could mean losing some students – a grim possibility that they could not afford since the continued survival of any private school is dependent on the number of its enrolees.

Another constant challenge that teachers have to confront is how to make parents realize that they need to be the school’s fruitful and active partners in molding the minds and characters of their children. There are parents who still have this debilitating mentality that once they enroll their children and pay the fees, their obligation is done.

Sir Yumang is also aware that, as an openly gay principal of a small private school in a small community, all eyes are constantly trained on him. Sometimes, he even gets the feeling that people are just waiting for him to commit a blunder that will cost him his career.

A TEACHER’S REWARDS

However, despite all these challenges, coupled with the daily demands and pressures that being a teacher and principal entails, Sir Yumang has never been this happy and fulfilled in his entire life!

He manages to endear himself to his students by showing them his genuine concern — he listens to them especially with their worries and problems, he pushes them to achieve their goals, he helps them realize their mistakes, he imparts to them words of wisdom and pieces of advice, he gives them second chances, and he never fails to extend a helping hand to those who need it. For his students, he is not just a teacher. He is their mentor, friend and second parent rolled into one. And it brings Sir Yumang great joy when these students come to him –at the end of the day, at the end of the school year, or years after they left the school– to thank him for being the inspiring teacher that he had been to them.

Each school year, he happily welcomes new members to their big family — students whose minds they need to sharpen, whose excesses they have to prune, and whose potentials they must fully develop. At the same time, he says goodbye to their graduates whose lives they have touched in their own small ways. Both prospects –the hellos and the goodbyes—give Sir Yumang cause to celebrate and be thrilled. Like a real mother, he is excited for the new batch of young minds placed in his capable care. He can’t wait to discover the endless potentials, the seeds of knowledge that he is going to plant, and the dreams he is about to cultivate among those children. Similarly, he is excited for the graduating batch. He is anxious to see what they will eventually become. On their graduation day, he unleashes and encourages them to try on their newly developed wings; to fly and to soar armed with his most fervent prayers that the many lessons they learned in school will guide them in their chosen path.

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Spending time with these young people on a daily basis proves to be a two-way learning process for Sir Yumang. He gets to share with them his knowledge and he learns something new from them every day. More than the top achievers and the contest winners who have trained under his wings, he is just as thankful for having been given the privilege to meet the so-called “others” of the spectrum – the delinquent, the bullies, the introvert and the “socially deviants” — who all have beautiful stories to share. They, too, have made Sir Yumang appreciate the essence of his profession. After listening to them, he learns that hope is not totally lost on these students. They just need someone who will make them realize their mistakes in a compassionate way.

Most of his UP students are now his very good friends and support system. Many years after UP, they still join hands in some worthy causes specially for UP Clark. They still engage in healthy debates on many issues — from Duterte to Kris Aquino and the many topics in between. But most importantly, he is immensely proud of how they have turned out as family men and women.

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Sir Yumang is proudest when he witnesses how his students are able to conquer their fears and shine on stage and when he sees them reap awards after enduring extremely tiring practices and trainings. More than the victories in many interschool academic, cultural and sports competitions, it is the fact that he has seen those students transform and grow into more confident individuals who now know their potentials that really matters to him.

He is also proud that NSA:CCEI holds the distinction of being a powerhouse in campus journalism. Their elementary journalists have clinched their 9th straight overall championship in the Macabebe East District this year, while their high school journalists copped their 12th straight overall championship in the South Zone-Cluster X.

For two years, Sir Yumang and his faculty, with the support of their administrators were able to work for the certification status of their school by the Fund for Assistance to Private Education. This is their third year as an ESC (Education Service Contracting)-participating school.

A TEACHER’S HOPES AND DREAMS

At this point in his career, there is nothing much that Sir Yumang aspires to achieve for himself but to be given a chance in the future to study again, to publish a book or to start a blog. He has a gamut of anecdotes and stories as an administrator, trainer-coach and classroom teacher that he wants to share, especially with the other teachers.

However, for the country’s educational system and for his beloved school, the St. Nicholas Academy: CCEI, his list is quite long.

He hopes that the government leaders and education planners will listen closely to what they, the front liners, have to say. After all, it is they who go through the many, real and enduring difficulties which our leaders need to address.

He hopes that the government will strengthen the public-private school partnership. There are many small private schools in the country that offer quality education, and they also need government support.

He hopes that there is more that he can do in terms of raising his teachers’ salaries and increasing their benefits so that they would no longer entertain the idea of transferring to other schools or, worse, of leaving the country to work as domestic helpers.

He also hopes to strengthen their Senior High School with more tracks and strands next school year.

Finally, he dreams for the SNA: CCEI to be the ultimate private school of choice in their town and in their district. That means a PAASCU accreditation status.

A TEACHER’S OTHER FACETS

The academe may be Sir Yumang’s first love, but outside of his beloved school, he wears many hats.

He is a loving and respectful son to his 90-year-old mother. (His late father was a retired public school principal – well respected, well-admired and well-loved in their community.)

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He is a supportive “bunso” to all his eight siblings. He assisted them in the education of his nieces and nephews. As an uncle and grand uncle, he is strict yet doting.

He is a loyal friend. He does not let one incident or one remark or petty things ruin years of carefully-nurtured friendships.

As a local television talk show host, he is fun and unpretentious. He shows genuine interest in their guests and lets them have their shining moments on the show.

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As an activist, he is realistic in the causes he fights for. He chooses his battles judiciously, and he knows when to stop fighting.

As a son of God, he is very prayerful and is constantly inspired by the never-ending goodness of the Lord. He considers himself a work in progress, though.

As a Filipino, he will always be pro-Philippines. Regardless of who the elected president may be, he will always stand for what is true, what is right and what is good for the country.

A TEACHER AS A HERO IN OUR MIDST

Considering the meager salary that teaching commands and the long hours it demands, one would think that only a fool would want to be a teacher. But for these men and women, grading papers, writing lesson plans, attending meetings, making educational aids and teaching materials, and knowing their students individually are just small parts of their bigger mission. For them, money isn’t everything. Empowering the children to change the world for the better is.

Sir Yumang believes that a career becomes a job and an obligation when one is only in it for the money. However, it becomes a mission, a calling or even a vocation when one’s heart is into it. When this is the reason for one’s continued stay in an institution, fulfillment comes in very easily.

Following his heart led Sir Yumang to this humble profession, his little corner of the sky.

Looking for heroes?

We need not look far.

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