The profession that never pays enough
By Reynald Denver del Rosario of UP-CMC for Kodao Productions
LUDY LOCSIN would sit in her empty cream-colored office on most school day mornings, waiting for students to arrive. Before long, she would see through her window parents dropping off their children and seeing them off to their classrooms. When the school bell rings at seven that is when her own official day begins.
That she says is the most peaceful time of her workday. As the first classes begin, calm descends on the entire school and she has time to read documents and tackle problems an assistant principal is expected to solve.
The bell would ring again before noon and she becomes busier, greeting parents who would enter her room for whatever concern they have with their children’s education. Preschool students would also regularly drop in with purple stars on their wrists and tell her how its ink has stained their uniforms. She would listen, always with a smile.
In the afternoons, Locsin would meet her class for an hour in the next school building. She dreads this part of the day, she says. It isn’t the chemical equations or the periodic table she would ask her students to master, but the flight of stairs she has to conquer first before she can reach her classroom. For someone who will turn 55 soon, climbing to the third floor has started to become hard.
For an hour, she would stand in front of her class and make sense out of what the chemistry textbook says. She would write on the chalkboard formulae trying to make equations interesting to teenagers. She knows her students find the subject hard. She knows they are sometimes distracted because they are almost always bored with offline activities. She admits to finding high school students increasingly hard to teach. But she coaxes them with patience and kindness. Every student in the school knows her as the school’s motherly figure.
She could have been a chemical engineer, she says. But she chose to be a teacher only because her other friends did. Eventually, she fell in love with it and never looked back. She has learned and taught it all, from literature to science to mathematics. On odd occassions, she is also the school’s guidance counselor, substitute teacher, sometimes its cashier.
“Kulang na lang, maging driver ako ng school bus,” she said, laughing.
She has been teaching in the same private school for twenty years now. She smiles as she looks back at its humble beginnings. From 40 pupils to as high as 600, it has definitely come a long way, she says. She has seen a lot of changes in the school, both good and bad.
Facilities are lacking. An almost-empty science laboratory, outdated computers, damaged speech laboratory equipment. Teachers like her find themselves improvising and finding ways to still provide quality education to the students. The school administration has sought ways to deal with these problems, but it still isn’t enough.
Ludy’s story may be ordinary for private school teachers like her in the Philippines. But rarely is it acknowledged that those like her receive much smaller salaries than their public school colleagues. And this is their biggest problem.
Private school teachers have lower salaries
According to Representative France Castro of Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), private school teachers only receive an average salary of P10,000 per month. She cited a case where a private school in Isabela only pays their entry-level teachers as low as P8,000 a month.
“Minsan nga, umaabot lang yan ng P3,000 e,” she said.
Public school teachers, on the other hand, receive an average monthly salary of P19,620 per month, significantly less than the living wage of more than P26,000 for a family of six.
Teacher Ludy herself was a victim. It was only a year ago that she began receiving the minimum monthly wage from her school. She complained to a government agency, to no avail. She is her school’s regular employee in all but salary and benefits. She did not even remember when she became one.
Schools take care of their teachers, she was told at the start of her career. For two decades, she has learned not to ask for much. Her children, now working, studied in the school for free. Her workplace is a three-minute walk away from home. Her load has become lighter, and in a way, she’s relieved. Her life is simple; her love for teaching is good enough recompense, she told herself.
Her fellow teachers, on the other hand, aren’t as lucky. She has seen them come and go, choosing to find greener pastures. Many of them work now for other institutions. Her colleague for 15 years has recently gone to a public school, and she can’t blame her.
“Mas okay ang sahod doon, at mas magaan ang load,” Ludy says.
Public school teachers also have a relatively lighter teaching load compared to their private school counterparts. It is not always observed, but a public school teacher, by law, is only required to handle minimum of six hours per day, compared to a private school teacher who has to endure nine to 10 hours of work. Some are forced to work overtime but don’t get compensated.
The Magna Carta for Public School Teachers (RA 4670) also guarantees comparably better working conditions for public school teachers than private school teachers. Private school teachers are covered only by the Labor Code, made ineffectual by numerous loopholes and exemptions, that subjects workers to unfair practices and labor conditions such as low salaries and contractualization.
“In short, our private school teachers are more overworked and underpaid than their already overworked and underpaid counterparts in public schools,” Castro said.
Castro added RA4670 by no means make things easier for public school teachers. Teaching in Philippine public schools still needs much to be desired.
“If things are a little bit better for public school teachers than their private school counterparts, it is only because the former are more organized and have taken to the streets numerous times to defend their rights,” she said.
Through two decades of selfless dedication, Teacher Ludy has been promoted to assistant principal. But she still cannot help but wish things are better for teachers like her. In moments of doubt, Teacher Ludy thinks of the job and the students she has grown to love.
“Doon ako masaya. Doon na lang ako bumabawi. Kita mo itong school, hindi naman ganung kaganda kumpara sa iba pero ang daming estudyante. Kasi maganda ang pakikitungo ng teachers. Yun ang puhunan dito,” she says.
School has meant smiling faces and dreams coming true for Ludy. It gives her more hope, more drive to wake up in the morning and go through the daily grind. Her life as a teacher has been a story of compromise, but she endured it all to be a part of something bigger than herself. Seeing students change for the better and achieve the best things in life has always been her life’s biggest reward. For two decades, she’s still enjoys her work. She enjoys being a part of her students’ lives. She sees in them high hopes and dreams, that someday she will read about them in newspapers or see them in television, talking about how successful they’ve become.
But just like other things, she knows it isn’t forever. Last year, Teacher Ludy already entertained thoughts of retiring, but she changed her mind.
“Hintayin ko na yung retirement age ko. Kung magre-resign ako, wala akong makukuha,” she says. She is not sure the school would pay her retirement benefits if she goes through with her plan and that made her decide to wait it out for half a decade more.
Teacher Ludy waits for the day when the school bell would ring for her one last time. She dreams of no longer answering phone calls, climbing flights of stairs and writing chemical equations on the blackboard. When it comes, she plans on taking it easy at home. It would be a happy moment when an odd student or two would visit her, tell their stories, tell her how life had been. She would listen as she now does in her office, she says, because that would just about be the only proper payment she would receive from decades of dedication and sacrifice from a profession that never pays enough. #