[OPINION] Have you asked your teachers how they’re doing in this pandemic?

Sensei Adorador
[OPINION] Have you asked your teachers how they’re doing in this pandemic?
'Does the institution care for our teachers? What if those teachers also become carriers of the virus to their students and family members? Will the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education be accountable for this?'

I sent an email to my students about their requirements for the semester. I was anxious at first, but even though this is an institutional directive, I felt like I had betrayed my own teaching philosophy. This new pedagogy of sending requirements and teaching online does not encourage the students to work hard or monitor their progress since it is all merely for academic completion.

Even in the institutional setting, the school forces its teachers to produce student activities for work-from-home settings in order to justify the salary they are still receiving. Since this global pandemic is reshaping our everyday life, it will further affirm and magnify the power of corporatization in education.

Being a teacher is not a career; it is a vocation

Whenever we talk about vocation, it is always attached to the divine call of religious life. During my short stint as a high school teacher in a prestigious all-girls school in Bacolod, I witnessed the students’ Career Day where they put on the uniform illustrating the career for which they aspire in the future. I was shocked to see one student wearing a teacher’s uniform, out of about a hundred students. She was the only one who wanted to be a teacher in the future. This is not new. (READ: [OPINION] Glorified but ignored: How to truly honor our teachers)

For affluent students, an education degree or career is not one of their top choices. Being a teacher is like marrying your work. It means you need a fervent desire and zealous mission to stay in an environment where you are overworked, less compensated, and viewed as a second-class professional. Crossing the Rubicon River in this time of pandemic to teach and to cater to the needs of children is a vocation, not a career.

The new wave of frontliners

In the absence of mass testing and the threat of the second wave of COVID-19, educational institutions will still resume classes in August. The work force of teachers will report to school to prepare their classrooms. This annual event of preparation is called “brigada eskwela,” which will start on June 1, 2020.

Teachers will be risking their lives as they go back to work. Exposing themselves to different people while traveling to work puts them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because there could be asymptomatic carriers everywhere. A meager salary of P22,829 is not even enough to pay for the hospitalization of a teacher in case he or she becomes COVID-19 positive. This is especially detrimental to teachers aged 50-60 years old, who have to stretch their years of service until the mandatory retirement of 65 for the sake of paying off their multiple loan sharks.

The mortality rate for COVID-19 is quite high for people aged 50 and above. This brings us to ask several questions. Does the institution care for our teachers? What if those teachers also become carriers of the virus to their students and family members? Will the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education be accountable for this? If they managed to provide hazard pay for police and medical personnel during this pandemic, why can they not provide the same for the teachers who are also frontliners?

Corporatization of schools 

Both private and public higher education in the Philippines are hostage to market-driven education. Under the regime of economic Darwinism, the institution coerces teachers to comply with requirements for the sake of salary and clearance. There is no dose of humanity in this system. For the sake of profit, they will squeeze every ounce of labor from the teachers. In the same manner, parents and administrators pressure teachers to produce lessons despite their technological handicaps, honoring the mantra of the “adapt or perish” mentality. (READ: [OPINION] Futures on the line: Why learning through screens won’t work in the PH)

I understand the plight of this pandemic, and this is also where schools collect their funds. However, I do not understand why schools, as a bastion of democracy, turn into authoritarian machinery that dehumanizes its teachers. Take note that the administrators are also teachers. How come they do not give compassion to their fictive kin? For the sake of profit and to secure their positions, they look at their teachers as a mere commodity and repudiate their humanity. 

As education adopts neoliberal policies, it strips off its faculty members the right to question. The administrators’ lapdogs relentlessly attack those who question the former. They equate any critique of decision-making policy as tantamount to behavior “unbecoming of an educator.” Within the framework of neoliberalism, administrators become managers rather than leaders. They support hierarchical management and designate their tasks to the low-ranking faculty, and either grab the credit for success, or point their fingers in case of failure. This trend of neoliberal education treats teachers as cheap laborers. Capitalists exploit this force to raise their economic bottom-line while disregarding the rights of academic labor and reducing them as guardians of wisdom.

The irony of academia

Today, academia is no longer a citadel for democracy and promoting the rights of citizens. Academia has become a factory of passivity where teachers are passive and cannot exercise their rights. This, in turn, is why students who are critical of the system are shut down by their institution, who is supposed to be the guardian and promoter of social justice. People inside the academia are hostage to the said narrative. The “hostage-takers” sacrifice the dissenters by turning them into weapons to subjugate their kind – an application of Stockholm syndrome.

I am disappointed whenever I see faculty members with higher academic ranks or with PhD degrees coming from competitive schools. They are supposed to be the representative of their schools to continue the tradition of excellence. However, doctorate holders become beholden to administrative positions and they forget their cause and embrace hagiolatry in academia.

Sadly, those who suffer are the ones in the lowest positions. Higher education and primary education both demystify the purpose and promise of education. Teachers are the primary victims of this vicious system. Despite the massive flock of education graduates and the enticing benefits of being a public-school teacher, we can expect that there will be an exodus of educators after this pandemic because of the inhumane treatment they received – resulting in the murder of the vocation.

If we look at it closer, critical thinking is one of the 21st-century skills and teachers are cultivators of those skills. However, now, we are facing a different scenario. Critical teachers are shunned by the system, and it praises those who are acritical. This pandemic makes me reflect. Should not the school be for freedom and free initiative that honors social justice? Or are we now in a school of slavery and mechanical precision on track to a predetermined destruction? – Rappler.com

Sensei M. Adorador is in the faculty of the College of Education at Carlos Hilado Memorial State College, Negros Occidental. He is a member of the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND).