Today is UNICEF’s World Teachers’ Day. It is an opportunity to thank God for the teachers in our lives. For me, it was the Franciscan Sisters in St. Boniface Parish School, then the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in St. Agnes Academy Parish School in San Francisco that taught me the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. Then, at the Ateneo de Manila High School, Fr. Ernie Javier, Fr. Paul Limgenco, Fr. Jim Waterbury and Fr. Johnny Gordon; in college, it was Fr. Wally Campbell, Horacio de la Costa and Ed Martinez, all Jesuits. After becoming a Jesuit, the most influential teachers on my life were Fr. Roque Ferriols, Dr. Ramon Reyes, Fr. Rudolf Visker at Ateneo de Manila, then Fr. Peter Ehlen at Berchmanskolleg in Munich, and Fr. Hans Rotter and Fr. Walter Kern at Leopold Franzens University in Innsbruck. Teachers, named and unnamed, in pursuit of religious mission or contractual duty or the simple joy of helping another human person learn, have left their indelible marks on my life. I am grateful. Unable to gather them all to acquit my personal debt of gratitude to them, with the rest of the world today, I simply say, Thank You, Teachers!
The UNESCO theme for today’s celebration is: Invest in the future, Invest in teachers! I am not sure whether the commercially-laden term “invest” is the most appropriate word here. But I do think that it is important to think of a tomorrow that is not just the perpetual extension of today. And I do think that both basic and higher education is essential for this future. This future entails not only tighter international relations and economic inter-dependencies; it is also needs to guarantee the inviolability of the human person (including the rejection of videoed beheadings), while more effective structures of shared understanding peace are built amidst greater religious and cultural diversity. For this future, we need people prepared for dialogue and complex conflict management, but also people to ready to pay the price of protecting the common good.
The role of skilled teachers in delivering the basics of education complemented by wise tertiary-level teachers calling forth unconfined, out-of-the-box, critical insight and reflection on humanity, nature and God, and preparing students for professional and productive engagement in society, cannot be gainsaid. For this reason, the appropriate academic preparation of all our teachers must be one of our most pressing “investments” in the future. Teacher preparation must be as thorough, creative and efficient as preparation for engineering or medicine. It must be as intellectually challenging as a course in humanities, the natural sciences or the social sciences.
But beyond the academic interventions, I think the most pressing “investment” in the teacher for the future must be cultural. We must create the cultural structures through which teachers are recognized, respected and revered in our society. That may be gauged by the manner in which society regards the teacher. The priest is met with reverence, the politician with fear, the doctor with awe, and the engineer with admiration. How is the teacher regarded? Perhaps, today, we can say with growing respect. At least, hopefully, less and less with the condescending, “Ah, titser ka? That’s nice…” We are working on it. We are realizing the debt we owe to our teachers – especially those working with students who are not pre-screened by strict entrance exams, and those mission-driven teachers working in far-flung areas beyond the reach of our public schools. Public school teacher compensations have been raised. State-supported private-school teacher compensations must, I believe, be increase proportionately as well. It’s a work in progress.
I think it all must begin with the gratitude we have for our own teachers – the good persons who taught us how to read, write, add, subtract, divide, multiply, to develop and hone our skills, to reflect, think, achieve insight, and pray. Perhaps, a bit of time off to recall the teachers and their influence in our lives might be helpful. For private-school teachers in isolated barangays, for public school teachers in DepEd’s ubiquitous schools, for Catholic school teachers in provincial towns and municipalities, for the Ustadzes in the Muslim madrassahs, for the instructors and professors in state universities and colleges (SUCs), local colleges and universities (LCUs), and private HEIs, our deepest gratitude.
Thank you, Teachers!